Working from home for long periods of time amid the Covid19 scare can lead to panic working

Hyper-productivity is becoming a new workplace phenomenon due to working from home for long periods of time under uncertain conditions. Covid19 is leading people to panic work, says Dr. Ali Fenwick, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Hult International Business School in Dubai.

Covid19 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.

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

1.  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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

According Dr. Fenwick,

In summary, people have different ways of dealing with the Covid19 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.


Ali Fenwick is Professor of Organizational Behavior at Hult International Business School in Dubai and London, and a behavioral expert at Nyenrode Business University in The Netherlands. Ali’s research focuses on the behavioral foundations of organizations and management and explores how psychological interventions can be applied within the (digital) workplace to increase employee well-being and organizational performance. Ali is also an expert in human behavior and helps others to understand the psychological drivers underpinning modern-day life such as the current spread of, and response to, Covid19. Ali is also the Founder and CEO of LEAD TCM&L™, a global behavioral science advisory firm developing nudges and psychological interventions for Business, Retail, Education, Media, and Government. Ali is a Harvard Business Review Contributor, Forbes Contributor, TEDx and Keynote Speaker, Behavioral Expert on TV, Conference Chair, Author, and Strategic Advisor on the Future of Work.

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