And how do we get through it?
Our theme for September is The Covid Effect and this article is an introduction to the topics we’ll cover and sets the scene for the work ahead of us all over the coming weeks and months.
People are worried about going back to work. This is understandable but it’s not always in the ways we might expect. Obvious health concerns aside, there are deeper psychological waves rippling through the workplace – from rebuilding our frameworks to navigating through and establishing a level of security.
The first worry about ‘going back’ is the actual physical anxiety of going back in to an environment that was so familiar. It was somewhere we went to each and every day. We greeted the same faces and followed similar routines. We knew where lunch was coming from. We could also walk in any direction we chose! We were very much in a set pattern that provided a steady framework for the stresses and challenges that our work lives demand. From our stronghold base we were able to assess, react and action – and retreat safely. When our baseline shifts, we experience a deep unsettling. And everyone feels it differently, some more keenly than others.
From a health point of view, we face a workplace that increases our exposure to more people. It’s now a place with more signage, boundaries, demarcation and repeated signs to remind us to wash our hands. In many instances, PPE of some form will be a requirement to either get to work or to be worn whilst working. There is also the very real potential for a second spike as the winter months approach.
Then, as if that isn’t quite enough, we can add another layer of disquiet to all of this by factoring in the economy, the overall health of the organisations we work for, our contribution and a consequent concern for the job security of both ourselves and our colleagues.
Furlough has a profound effect on this too. Those who have been furloughed, especially for six months or more, will feel vulnerable as their organisations have functioned without them. Those who have worked through will be feeling tired and potentially resentful at not enjoying time off. It’s a minefield!
And then factor in the psychological effects, worrying for our own health and the health of our loved ones, being in lockdown for several months has taken its toll. I think that many people are dealing with a heightened emotional state without even realising it in some instances.
This is translating into behaviour which is manifesting in an increase in issues in the workplace. People judging other people for how they have been treated, perceiving they have had a better deal; employees unhappy with decisions made by leaders and now watching to see if they can address that through some statutory right - and I think this may just be the tip of the iceberg.
There is all of the above and a whole lot more besides that means that our theme of making work human is just as relevant today as it was six months ago. Negotiating our way through a return to work, with the many moving parts that each business comprises, being mindful of the different personality types, the unique situations of every individual, at every level, is absolutely vital. Maintaining patience, vision, understanding and doing what we can to guide our people through is going to be an enormous, ongoing challenge. And never making assumptions!
Stick with us through September and we’ll air and discuss some solutions. What we know now though is that each person within your organisation is unique and will have a set of characteristics, a home life, personal issues and many other impacting factors that we might be unaware of. Staying compassionate and empathetic is crucial right now.