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Post-pandemic impact on working life: challenges and opportunities

By: Franco Pavel Arteaga Celedonio, María Alejandra Meza Contreras y Raiza Sthefani Quillahuaman Ttito

Since the beginning of the pandemic and the measures to contain it, concerns have arisen about its impact on labor markets, including job losses and unemployment, which has hit the country's economy hard. Many crises and dysfunctions have originated in the country. In the second quarter of last year, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by 30.2% (IPE, 2020).

Beyond the economic impact, a problem not adequately addressed has been the impact of these labor changes on mental health during the pandemic. In the last two years, measures have aimed to counteract the economic and mental health effects in the segment in question. However, there are still challenges not addressed. What is the labor situation in Peru? Which measures were accurate and which others can be improved?

Lifestyle changes

The Peruvian labor market during 2020 showed alarming figures compared to the period before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a technical report of the International Labour Organization, published in September of the same year, the employed population decreased by more than 6 million people, while the most affected age group is between 25 and 44 years. The impact is especially noticeable in the urban area, with a negative value of 49.0%. The sectors related to construction, manufacturing, services, and commerce suffered the most elevated contractions in terms of human capital. (Gamero & Pérez, 2020)

Of the labor force that maintained during the pandemic (45% of the total), 19% started working remotely, following the conditions established by the Peruvian government to mitigate the spread of infections. An important fact to consider is that this group has become part of a transformation process that will lay the foundations that will affect the future of employment. Not only in Peru but also worldwide. (Bumeran, 2021)

The transformation in the work environment is a product of the technological boom and new trends seeking to promote a balance between the work and personal lifestyle. It appeared for the first time in the Peruvian labor market under the modality known as Teleworking. According to the International Organization of Work, it is "the performance of tasks from an alternative location to the predetermined workplace and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT)"(ComexPerú, 2021) under Law No. 30036 of 2013. In February 2020, there were an estimated 3,000 employees under this modality. The figure had a noticeable increase at the end of March 2021, with a record of 226,000 formal workers. It is important to note that this group was working under a new regulation that supports the current remote work model (Guabloche & Gutierrez, 2021).

The new work modality impacted the economic sphere and workers' mental health. Among the advantages are productivity improvement and the possibility of achieving a balance in personal life. On the other hand, various studies have mentioned its negative impact and short and medium-term consequences on the companies' human capital.

Work stress

While information technologies have facilitated teleworking, recent research has shown that stress is a main negative effect, a psychological barrier that affects not only people but also companies. Stress has its origin in social isolation and work overload. This new form of occupational segregation forces workers to adapt to new work methods. Stress has its roots in work-related activities or its environment. According to a study by InfoCapital Humano, 7 out of 10 employees suffer from work stress (Conexión Esan, 2021).

Employees are the target of unmanageable levels of stress and experience episodes of depression, anxiety, and physical discomfort, which cause them to lose concentration in their jobs. This situation can lead to errors that may affect productivity. According to Compare Camp, employees working under pressure can reduce productivity by 41%. Meanwhile, the American Institute of Stress (AIS) states that 60% of absenteeism cases have chronic fatigue, digestive disorders, and insomnia as its cause.

In this scenario, companies should encourage practices such as active breaks and short breaks throughout the workday to help employees recover energy and improve their performance. Furthermore, promoting a healthy work environment, activities that boost coworkers' interaction, such as virtual recreational meetings or creating non-work-related projects. Another complement should be, enforcing social welfare programs to help employees address their concerns.

Job Opportunity

Since the pandemic started, the government provided different measures to face labor changes and adapt to the new normal. One of them was Emergency Decree 038-2020 which sought to maintain labor ties during the pandemic. Through implementing remote work, using early vacations, and granting leave with the enjoyment of having compensable. If it could not apply, the suspension of labor contracts was allowed.

Likewise, to counteract remote work's negative impact, the government decreed the Digital Disconnection Law through Emergency Decree No. 127-2020. Its objective is to guarantee workers' rights concerning implementing maximum wages, and in case the company does not comply, a fine would be applied. This law seeks to generate a balance between personal and work life.

On the side of companies, they need to be more flexible in their working methods, prioritizing the results above fulfilling fixed schedules. Likewise, several companies implemented the option of having sessions with psychologists to take care of the mental health of their workers.

Criticism and Perspective

An alarming figure is that 52.2% of Lima suffer from moderate to severe stress as a pandemic result (MINSA, 2021). Although workers' mental health has gained importance in the current context, several challenges are still pending. For instance, improvements in the regulation of existing laws, while companies have to ensure workers' mental health, along with their labor rights compliance.

Rest is key to staying productive. Thus, the employer must respect the employee's working days and vacations and avoid contacting them. In Peru, within the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Executive issued a supreme decree that regulates the right to digital disconnection. It establishes that workers have the right to disconnect from the computer media used in their work activities and prohibits employers from assigning tasks during this period.

The last two years witnessed an increase of 50 % in work stress. Despite existing laws that demand regulation and balance of workers' mental health, there is still unfamiliarity with it. Therefore, employees are not capable of asking for its compliance. It is necessary to provide this crucial information to the workers. Also, companies have to fulfill their role by training and informing employees of their rights, benefiting their mental health.



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