America could face a “pandemic of unemployment,” said Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development Professor David Blustein in a recent interview with the BBC.

The toll of widespread job loss, as well as many changes for those who must now work from home, compound the challenges and stresses of the global spread of Covid-19, said Blustein, a professor of counseling, developmental and educational psychology.

David Blustein

David Blustein

An authority on the psychological importance of work in our lives and the author of last year’s  The Importance of Work in an Age of Uncertainty: The Eroding Work Experience in America and the editor of of The Oxford Handbook of the Psychology of Work, Blustein offered these thoughts on the growing employment crisis.

Fears about an uncertain future

“One of the major concerns for many is the fear about a recession and major job losses. These are real concerns; however, people should try to take the situation one day at a time. Stress management approaches such as mindfulness, exercise, distraction, and connecting to others (albeit with social distancing) can help. For the millions who have lost their jobs, the situation is much more challenging.  Support systems, such as benefits offices and One-Stop Career Centers, may be overwhelmed right now. But it is important to continue to seek out their available resources.”

Challenges of working from home

“The challenges of working from home include creating manageable boundaries between our family responsibilities and work, and structuring our time. The need to continue our work is critical, especially in light of the intense demands created by the virus outbreak.  Communicating our expectations and demands to our family members and housemates is important so that they know what to expect. Taking breaks with our loved ones, though, is a wonderful treat that we can relish during this difficult time.”

Managing the isolation

 “Working provides an essential means of social connection and relationships. The need for social distancing has certainly complicated the natural striving to connect with others on a regular basis which work has helped to fulfill for many. In this new reality, it would be useful for people to structure their relationship time during their workdays. Some ideas include keeping your Zoom account or Skype open so that people can check in with you and you can check in with others. Scheduling meetings and chats with people is also going to be important. Another outgrowth of this new era is the increased outreach people are doing to connect to old friends as a way of checking in and of reducing isolation. All of the efforts are important and essential in maintaining our well-being and mental health.”

Using newly found time as a gift

“Is there some kind of silver lining in this storm? Possibly. Prior to the coronavirus, commuting has been a bane of our existence for many people. However, for those working from home, time has now been added to our days. Not commuting offers some folks up to 10-12 hours of additional time per week. Treat this time as a gift. Think about what you need to do for yourself and for others that you typically felt was beyond your reach in terms of time commitments.”

Blustein said our jobs help individuals meet their needs for food, shelter and other goods essential to their wellbeing. Work helps individuals survive and thrive, connect with others, contribute to something greater than themselves, care for others, and, ideally, to live without oppression and harassment. The loss of that support can be devastating.

“This is going to be a global pandemic of unemployment,” Blustein told the BBC. “I call it a crisis within a crisis.”

University Communications | April 2020