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Working from home for long periods of time can lead to ‘panic working’

Organizations need to be aware of a phenomenon called ‘panic working’ amongst employees who are working from home due to the COVID-19 restrictions says Dr. Ali Fenwick, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Hult International Business School in Dubai.

COVID-19 creates a lot of uncertainty and poses a threat towards one’s livelihood and health. The different coping strategies that people use to deal with the current situation lead to a similar state of mind, resulting in panic working, of which hyper-productivity is a key aspect.

According to Dr. Fenwick there are four reasons why people panic work when working from home:

The ostrich effect: when situations are uncertain and fear kicks in, home-working employees can choose to cope with a perceived threat by ignoring it. This is called the ostrich effect. Sticking you head in the sand and pretending it is business as usual, while you know there is something wrong. The more one ignores reality, the harder one works, which leads to panic working.

Busy bee syndrome: this coping strategy is common among people working from home. A need to always appear busy. When you are working from home you might feel the pressure to show other people you are busy by sending emails the whole day, making yourself constantly available, or finding other ways to prove how productive you are. Missing workplace cues of validation, acknowledgement, and feedback can lead to panic working.

Working to survive: the fear of losing one’s job or even the fear of death can spur some employees to go into hyperdrive. Survival mode kicks in. This defence mindset is driven mainly through emotions and triggers employees to work harder as a way of acting out their need to survive.

Working to regain control: feelings of confinement and insecurity can make employees feel powerless. When this happens, it is normal for employees to want to regain control over their surroundings. Panic working is a way that employees can exert their control in a meaningful way which leads to excessive working as a way to feel safe and more secure.

Dr. Fenwick says: “In summary, people have different ways of dealing with the COVID-19 situation. Be it working to survive, regain control, act busy, or ignore reality, many employees will react in a similar way by panic working. Employers can easily mistake busyness for productivity and overlook the negative consequences of hyper-productivity to employee well-being and organizational performance”.



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