If I’d heard the term “essential worker” back in February, my thoughts would immediately have turned to healthcare workers. Even in a pre-COVID world, we needed them, simple as that. Fast forward to late May, and as the (very lengthy and 6ft-spaced) line of people outside my local Trader Joe’s in Austin moves slowly inside the store, people stop to thank the employees for their service.
The definition of “essential worker” has significantly changed, and not just in terms of guidelines or rules. The term itself now holds a meaningful place within our emotions – inspiring gratitude and pride. These are the people who put themselves at risk so that we could stay home. These are the people who helped us all to keep going – providing food, sanitation, infrastructure. These are the people standing outside Trader Joe’s in masks, wiping down hundreds of shopping carts every single day. So when we say “essential worker” now, it’s understood that this means those brave healthcare workers, but also grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, distribution center operators, and even fast food servers. For people like me who have spent their entire career working in an office environment, it’s humbling.
But as stay at home orders end, and hazard pay and benefits for many of these essential workers is walked back, has anything really changed? And if so, what are employers doing to reflect this?
For healthcare workers, “hero status” has rightly been conferred. We literally applaud them for their work. At a time when celebrities feel irrelevant (Madonna bemoaning this “great equalizer” from one of her mansions didn’t sit well with most of us), we are increasingly seeing and hearing from our frontline healthcare workers, and looking up to them as role models. Dr Fauci’s #PassTheMic campaign brings this idea to life with nurses, doctors and medical experts taking over the social media accounts of celebrities including Julia Roberts and Millie Bobby Brown.
We are far from the end of this, and the long-term effect on healthcare professions is yet to be seen. But, for now, while most of us are in awe of them, many people want to be them, with universities reporting a rise in numbers of applications for nursing programs (similar to the surge in recruitment of first responders that followed 9/11).
But what about those essential workers who are on a different frontline? Will the same hero effect remain for our grocery store workers, sanitation workers, and delivery drivers? Many of these often hourly-paid workers felt that they had no choice but to go to work or risk losing wages and benefits. There have been significant difficulties, and we’ve seen walkouts from Amazon, Walmart and Fedex, as well as fast food franchises and Instacart.
No doubt, it’s an unprecedented challenge for employers to manage, but they must realize that their employer brand and reputation are now one-and-the-same as their business brand and reputation. It should come as no surprise to them, precisely because many are seeing record sales at a time when they could not have functioned without their employees taking on some level of personal risk.
For right now, what are they doing to protect their employees? Do they have masks? What kind of leave is available should they become sick? Hazard pay was introduced by many in March, but is now coming to an end or being limited. Yes, stay at home orders may have been lifted, but for workers who come into direct contact with the public, the hazard has not disappeared. The way that employees are treated in these circumstances can – and will – be shared on social media. And it stands to reason that the safer your employees feel, the safer your customers will feel too.
But beyond the immediate crisis, how do employers share the value that their essential workers bring?
It’s even more apparent than usual that businesses thrive because of the people who bring them to life. And those people have stories to share. As essential workers during a global crisis, they have adapted, learned, set standards, and experienced new situations that the rest of us are blind to. Employers should empower their people to share those stories – and to do so authentically. Yes, there will have been times they felt stressed, and scared. There will be times that they didn’t know what to do. Sharing such insights only helps us to better appreciate and respect the work that they do. There will also be great, heart-warming tales that celebrate the impact essential workers have made.
I started this article discussing the definition of “essential worker”. But more important than how we define the term is how we value it. At some point this crisis will come to an end. That won’t make essential workers – all of them – any less essential. By celebrating the efforts and endurance of their people, employers can help to make sure that we don’t forget that value, and in doing so magnify their own employer brands and their meaning in society.
April Bryce, Director of Creative and Strategy
Havas People North America
Breaking up with multi-tasking: how my time in quarantine is helping me move on from an unhealthy relationship
Over the last few weeks many of Americans, myself included, have launched into full-time #WFHLIFE. While some of us have been exposed to the occasional work from home day, I don't think anyone making the transition was quite ready for the challenges it would present. And while everyone’s experience with working from home is unique, my experience has led me to one conclusion. I need to stop multitasking. Here’s why:
Studies have shown that when humans try to multitask, our brain creates a type of selection “bottle-necking” and as a result, leads to time lost as the brain decides which task to perform. I don’t know about you, but I already feel like there are not enough hours in the day. So, the idea that multitasking is actually making me less productive is reason enough to stop.
Research has also shown that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline. This was my ah-ha. For the longest time, the days where I felt the most productive also happened to be the days that I felt the most stressed. I would finish a day trying to accomplish a million and one things physically drained and with a splitting headache. Realizing that this was not sustainable, I have started to rewire my brain and focus on the task at hand. Now, when I hunker down and start working on a task, I eliminate distractions. I turn off email banners on my computer, I put my phone on silent and I set a timer. Once the timer goes off, I allow myself to check my emails/text and see if anything urgent came in. If not, I set another timer and get back to the task at hand. So far, this is working, and nothing has gone up in flames. I am getting my work done, I feel just as productive and at the end of the day I feel a sense of accomplishment – not stress.
Adjusting my expectations
There have been many days in quarantine that are filled with good intentions to accomplish 100% of what I set out to do. Unfortunately, life has other plans. Living in New York City comes with many challenges, most of all space. On top of that I also am working from home with a two-year-old and a husband who is also working from home.
Can someone tell me why I started this quarantine thinking I needed to bake a loaf of bread twice a week? There is so much pressure on social media to “make the most” of the time we are stuck at home, but when you are already time poor those expectations start to feel like a burden.
I’ll admit, I initially had very high expectations for myself and a very glamorous vision of what working from home is like. It took about a month, but I have since lowered those expectations and that vision is now covered in peanut butter and jelly. And this is okay. I don't need to work out twice a day, read a new book once a week, start a blog, all while working full-time and taking care of another human. Coming to terms with this has helped me tremendously and when I do manage to do something for myself like read, I am focusing on doing it one chapter at a time.
There is no doubt in my mind that many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the new state of work. However, I do think that we will come out of this with a better understanding of what we want the world of work to look like. I expect that employees will become better advocates for themselves and employers will need to make adjustments accordingly.
As for me, I hope that my willingness to NOT multi-task carries into an office environment. I except initially it will be hard to not be distracted by my co-workers and will naturally find myself multi-tasking again, but just like I did with #WFHLIFE, I will focus on making it work one day at a time.
Sarah Green, Account Director
As we continue working from home, we asked a few of our US colleagues what their routine looks like, what gets them through their day and what they miss from an office environment. Hint: its people – it’s always the people.
Here is the second interview from our series:
Tim Middleton, Agency Director
If you could describe your WFH self in ONE WORD, what would it be? Fernweh (German word for the ache for distant places/travel. Opposite of homesickness.)
What does a typical WFH day look like for you? Do you have a set routine that helps you focus? I’ve been thinking a lot about routines. It’s been important to find ways to delineate the start/end of my days now that I don’t have the walk to/from the subway and rides to make that clear. So, whether that is stretching or actually getting out of the house for a walk – I take some time to make that distinction clear.
Beyond that, I’m trying to avoid establishing too much of a routine or rigid approach to WFH. While this time may go on for longer than I hope – I’m trying to avoid establishing any ‘new normal’ I’ll have to abandon later on.
Tell us more about what your "set-up" looks like! Currently, I’m in the kitchen using my island as my de-facto office. I typically have a podcast, YouTube nature stream, or Twitch stream running on the TV for some background/white noise. Once it gets warmer out, I’ll shift to the balcony for sure!
What's you go to way to beat the afternoon slump? In the office, it used to be another cup of coffee. That meant cleaning my mug, taking a walk to my favorite coffee machine, maybe meandering in a conversation or two, before getting back to business. That’s not a ritual I’ve found success mirroring at home yet. On good weather days, I take my bike out for a quick ride. On days I can’t make it out, I just end up bothering my cats a whole lot!
What's one thing you now know you took for granted about working in an office? Doing more than just a nod and hello when I pass by someone in the hall or wherever. There are people I have seen almost every day for years where that is the depth of our relationship. Now I’m not saying that necessarily needs to or will change in all cases. And I’m probably not going to magically transform into the most gregarious, outgoing person ever. But, wow I really miss all of the small talk and being around familiar faces that aren’t part of my day-to-day team. The folks you wouldn’t really ever work with who are still part of your working experience.
At Havas, we’re fortunate to be part of one of the world’s largest marketing and communications groups. Havas People is one part of that, and we ourselves are global, with colleagues spread around the world from Melbourne to Austin, and at many points in-between. By the very nature of a global crisis, we’re experiencing this pandemic together.
Recently I picked the brains of some colleagues in different regions about their take on ‘pandemic working’ and how their lifestyles are changing. Some cultural differences were apparent, such as existing attitudes to remote working in different regions, which range from it being extremely rare to the norm. Of course, we’re all at different points on this weird and uncertain journey. While things are just starting to reopen in my home state of Texas, colleagues in Singapore have been in and out of lockdown, and are now back under lockdown for the second time, and for the next few weeks.
We’re in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats. However, certain things seem to ring true across our regions. I asked my colleagues what has surprised them most. Below, I share some of their responses. If you’ll please allow me a moment of intense cheesiness: we might be going through this in different corners of the world, but in some ways we’ve never been closer.
You can see and hear more from our global team by following Havas People on Instagram, where you can check out #HavasAtHome, and our #QuarantineRoutines.
Eleni Konstantinou – Berlin, Germany
The most surprising aspect for me has been a little piece I like to call #coronacomms. And by that I don’t just mean corporate communications, but also the increase in communications with friends and family. My husband and I both live abroad. He’s from Iran, which is heavily impacted, and I’m from Greece, so catching up with loved ones has become a part of our daily routine. This includes the challenge of caring remotely for our parents – helping to set up online grocery orders and prescriptions while keeping up with the latest rules and regulations. All with a smile on our faces as we need to keep their spirits up!
It’s been interesting to see a sense of camaraderie evolving. Somehow distances no longer matter. People seem to be much more understanding and willing to support others.
Tim Middleton – New York, USA
It’s not a surprise to me, really. We already had a strong culture and great working relationships, but I think we’re expressing it in different ways now. There’s an appreciation for having one another. For experiencing something unknown together. Seeing people thrive, or adapt, or just maintain is inspiring. People’s resilience is wild!
That said, no matter what, losing a sense of close proximity is extremely difficult. Your synapses just don’t fire the same way having a conversation over Teams vs. doing it in person. But as long as we keep making it a priority to care about each other, I think we’ll come out of this with an even better appreciation of each other and how we fit together.
Charlotte Fenney – Manchester, UK
I think people are being nicer to each other! Whether on email or over the phone or video conference, there’s a very friendly attitude and an interest in each other as people – an appreciation of what people are coping with. I’ve had meaningful conversations with people who I haven’t spoken to properly in six months.
We’re pretty resilient in Manchester. Our sense of humor continues to shine through! And I do see people becoming more considerate and thinking of others. I’m a Trustee at Manchester Central Foodbank, and the generosity we are seeing right now is incredible. Let’s hope that continues once things return to normal.
April Bryce, Havas People North America
Creative and Strategy Director