Workers during the pandemic, both frontline and those who worked from home reported high levels of stress. Credit: John Alvin Merin / Unsplash
By Fairuz Ahmed
NEW YORK, Jun 22 2021 (IPS)
For Dr Farzana Khan, a frontline worker and a second-generation immigrant from Pakistan living in California, social media helped her connect and realign herself during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Khan has not seen her family for more than six months, she said in an exclusive interview with Inter Press Service (IPS).
“I was working extra hours and saw death up close. It was nerve-wracking to see my patients at this stage. It has been over six months that I have not seen my family,” she says, recalling the impact of the disease on herself and the community she serves. “The only solace I had was to talk with my mother, who is 67, and with my nieces over Facetime.”
The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way we work, engage, and communicate. The crisis put communication at the front of all priorities and has made it imperative to have real-time information available. For most organisations – online or offline – efforts to keep people informed and engaged became the new “must-haves”.
Shraddha Varma, the co-founder of online platform Fuzia and a resident of Maharashtra, India, where the COVID-19 pandemic hit hardest, says the impact on frontline workers was the worst.
“The situation was already bad as we were recovering from the first wave of the coronavirus, but (then) it went out of control during the second wave. It had catastrophic effects on the world, especially with frontline workers,” Varma said. “They had to act as shields to keep us safe. Moreover, they faced isolation, stress and had to cope up with all the chaos surrounding them.”
Discussing how Fuzia, a global platform aimed at connecting humans in a non-judgmental space, supported frontline workers, Shraddha says the platform made a point of standing beside those who risked their lives each day.
“Fuzia was able to assist women frontline workers all over the world with creating events, information sessions, live connections, and we served them with a space to speak, learn and even vent. We wanted to have their backs and be there as a platform where they can engage and have some comfort.”
Khan says the isolation from family and community was devastating but being connected helped.
“I also used to speak with other doctors and learn about the latest updates on a few social media platform groups. Seeing people all around the world sharing their stories during the pandemic, I could connect and realign myself.”
A recent study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) dealt with both frontline worker stress and the additional burden employees often felt working from home and splitting their roles between work and family.
Sarita Das found some solace in creativity on the Fuzia platform (handout Fuzia)
Frontline workers were most concerned about “increased workloads, longer working hours, and reduced rest periods”.
In addition, the study found “they may be worried about getting infected at work and passing the virus to family, friends, and others at work, in particular, if appropriate protective measures are not in place.”
For those working from home, there was a desperate need for support. The ILO study found that 41 percent of people who worked from home “considered themselves highly stressed, compared to 25 percent of those who worked on-site.”
Fuzia wasn’t alone in recognising the needs of workers, and big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook prioritised assisting and informing the frontline workers with updated news, data, safety protocols, vaccination information, and more.
For non-profit charitable organisations, Facebook launched Workplace for Good, helping organisations like Save the Children, It Gets Better, War Child and others. It also helped small to large organisations stay connected with their employees.
Amazon invested in supporting employees, customers, and communities during the pandemic, from enhancing safety measures to increasing paid time-off and helped to ensure that their employees and their communities have access to COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.
Amazon provided more than $2.5 billion in bonuses and incentives for teams globally in 2020 and established a $25 million relief fund for partners such as delivery drivers and seasonal associates facing financial hardship or quarantine.
Fuzia also recognised that many had lost jobs and collaborated with Wishes and Blessings, an NGO raising funds for their COVID relief project operating in seven states in India. The initiative was aimed at serving three meals a day to thousands of homeless and daily wage earners and providing nutritional aid to about 4000 at-risk families affected by the lockdown. The project was active in Assam, Delhi, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.
The shift to the virtual world or work resulted in burnout among employees. An article published last year in Microsoft Stories Asia documented the increased burnout as workers struggled to find a work-life balance.
The decrease in work and personal life boundaries added stress. On average, close to one-third of workers in the Asia Pacific cited increased rates of burnout. Surveying over 6,000 information and frontline workers across eight countries globally, including Australia, Japan, India, and Singapore, the study found that Singapore and India were the top two countries where workers complained of burnout.
Sarita Das, a Fuzia user, says the site helped her during the pandemic.
“Communicating with other Fuziaites really helped me get out of my head. There was so much bad news circulating online that it increased my anxiety levels,” she said, finding the creative element in the site most soothing.
“I found a way to relieve my stress and joined the Fuzia Talent events. I found painting a much better distraction than browsing online. It requires focus, stops you from obsessively checking the news and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you paint your own creation.”
This article is a sponsored feature.