Tough Problems—Living in the Time of Coronavirus

How to handle cabin fever, plus tips for job hunting during the pandemic.

Posted Mar 19, 2020

 NCI/Wikimedia Commons
Source: NCI/Wikimedia Commons

This is the latest in the Tough Problems series. In each, I present two composite questions that my clients face and my response to each.

Dear Dr. Nemko: I’m already going nuts having to stay home most of the time, and I’ll have to do this for weeks, maybe months. I’m grateful to have a job and am able to do much of my work from home but the workload has declined amid the coronavirus, so I have more spare time than usual. I’m already getting sick of movies, reading, and TV. I’ve phoned, texted, or emailed everyone I care to. Now what?!

Marty Nemko: Might any of these appeal?

Upgrade your work or avocational skills? It could be as simple as watching YouTube or taking short online courses through Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Udacity, Coursera, or EdX.

Do you want to practice or take on a new creative activity such as singing or playing a musical instrument, writing a song, article, poem, short story, non-fiction book, novel, or screenplay? Or even something unusual like learning magic tricks or futurism? Might you want to take lessons remotely, or if your jurisdiction allows, one-on-one, following the 6-foot social distancing rule?

Spring is here—the perfect time for growing things. Want to order some houseplants online, maybe something exotic like orchids. Gardening is America’s #1 hobby and for good reason: You get to see the miracle of growth, it’s good exercise, and you get to grow your own fruits and veggies—no supply chain problem. Even if you live in an apartment, order seeds or plants and plant herbs or flowers in a window box or even on a sunny windowsill. Here's an article on growing your own.

Take up or practice a sport. Even in jurisdictions mandating significant social distancing, you’re allowed to exercise: Want to do more walking or hiking? How about practicing your sport solo—for example, shooting hoops, practicing tennis or pickleball on a wall, or if allowed, playing those sports. You’ll be more than 6 feet apart from other players, and it’s outdoors so any aerosol transmission is very diluted. (I do suggest minimizing contact with door and gate handles, avoiding touching your face, and washing your hands or using sanitizer when you leave the court.)

You say you’ve called everyone you want to. But might you want to develop some new relationships, for example, by participating in an online forum related to your career or avocation? Or deepen an existing relationship: A close friendship is a treasure and can also be key to career success in an era in which good-quality, stable jobs may become increasingly rare.

Video games. The preponderance of the a priori and empirical evidence suggests that video games are unduly maligned. And many fine games are not violent, for example, Stardew Valley, Portal 2, and Journey.

This could be a great time to adopt a dog. Most social-distancing mandates allow walking a pooch. And a dog provides contact that many people crave. Yes, there have been two dogs in Hong Kong that had a minor amount of coronavirus in their nostrils, but the evidence is pretty clear that as long as you don’t let your doggie kiss your face, the risk of transmission, let alone it causing serious illness, is very low. There are save-a-life pet adoption websites, all with searchable databases: PetFinder.com, adoptapet.com, and petharbor.com. Is it time for you to save a life?

Dear Dr. Nemko: The coronavirus has caused my employer to take a huge hit and so cannot make payroll, and so has furloughed all but essential staff. I’m in HR and so have been deemed non-essential. Projections are that it will be months or longer until business turns around. I only have enough money to pay two more months' rent, and that assumes I stop paying my student loans. I need to find paying work now! 

Marty Nemko: In the short-term, hiring will be most robust in the small percentage of businesses that serve the public in light of the coronavirus. Examples: supermarkets including their delivery services, Amazon is hiring 100,000 people. I’d imagine that delivery services such as UPS, FedEx, DHL, and food delivery services such as DoorDash and Postmates are hiring. Then there are health care organizations. With you in HR, you can’t directly serve patients but there are many administrative positions. (Some would say too many, but I’ll leave that issue for another day.)  Relatedly, manufacturers and distributors of medical equipment and supplies are, alas, in growth mode. If schools will be closed for a while, online education should be hot. Want to sell home-schooling online curriculum? Be a consultant to home-schooling parents? 

In addition, employees in other organizations may have more time on their hands now and so this may be a time to reach out to your current and former colleagues in and outside of HR to strengthen your connections with them so when the job market improves, they’re more likely to go to bat for you in landing new work. 

I read this aloud on YouTube.