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Based on recent trends, it would appear that Canadians have been successful in making it through the first wave of COVID-19 and most parts of the country have started to relax certain restrictions and open up their economies. As this is happening, it is becoming increasingly clear that the workplace and how we go about our work lives is very different from what it was before everything shut down in March. While many people yearn for the return to "normalcy", the onset of this pandemic has created an opportunity to re-evaluate our workplaces and it is likely that many of the changes that have occurred will be here to stay and may actually lead to healthier and more productive work environments.
The physical restrictions necessary for infection control created the need for a large number of workers to shift from an office environment and work from home. As people adjusted to this change, many have found that they prefer this arrangement and may choose to make this setting permanent. While many parents have struggled with balancing work life at home with children also being home due to school closures, this should decrease once children are able to return to schools, allowing people to maintain a better work/life balance. The downside of working from home is the lack of physical contact with co-workers, which many people require, so we may see a blend of office workers/home workers based on people's preferences.
Another idea that has been gaining traction since the pandemic is changing the workweek from five days to four with people working a ten-hour day instead of eight. This probably reflects the longer days that people working from home were experiencing anyway during the pandemic and it has the advantage of allowing workers more time to meet the challenges of their home lives, which should lead to less stress and increased work satisfaction. As a result, increased productivity should occur, which benefits the company's bottom line.
Many employers have been forced by the circumstances surrounding this pandemic to recognize the impact of all of the necessary changes on the mental health of their workforce and some companies have begun to institute paid mental health days for their employees. This is a policy that is long overdue, and I hope that it is one that becomes the norm moving into the future and beyond the impact of COVID-19. By now, we have all become used to the direction to stay at home if you are feeling physically sick but what should you do if your stress levels and coping have reached a breaking point and you just don't feel up to facing the workday? Workers who are forced to work when this is occurring are not productive and are likely to have their mental health deteriorate further leading to even poorer work performance. Developing a policy of paid mental health days allows workers to take the time needed to take care of their mental health needs and recognizes that when it comes to health, we should not have different standards for physical and mental health.
While it may appear that things in our society are beginning to somewhat resemble how things looked before March, the reality is that we are still only at the beginning of this pandemic and will be dealing with this virus for a long time to come. Terms such as "physical distancing" and "social bubbles" have become part of our vocabulary and reflect the new reality we are living with. We have all felt the stress and anxiety over avoiding getting the virus and dealing with the economic impact on our lives and society in general. Hopefully, we can take these lessons and integrate constructive mental health policies into the workplaces and economies of the future. This pandemic has forced change upon us; we can take this opportunity to decide what course this change will take to create a better work environment for all.
Brian Hodder works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.