These last few weeks have been filled with uncertainty and anxiety, and it is perhaps slightly ironic that April is #stressawarenessmonth. Many employees have been furloughed; a term that pretty much nobody knew about before lockdown, mortgages have been put on hold, and our individual health, plus those closest to us has become the number one priority again. Covid-19 has become the only thing occupying the airwaves and so it would be remiss of me not to talk about this and the overall impact.
Just for a minute, picture the current pandemic in the same way you would perhaps look at an increase in workload, the pressure of deadlines or having difficulty with a colleague. These are all external pressures or #stressors that are placed on us (with the obvious differences in severity). What we do with them from a personal point of view is the #stress that we place on ourselves. We take on the information, we process it in our own way and ultimately respond in a way we deem fit. And here lies the unpredictability; what causes stress for one person may feel like a drop in the ocean for another. It is personal, it is individual, it is unique.
It is therefore important to recognise that this current situation will be different for EVERY SINGLE PERSON out there. Some will read every news article and will only reflect on the negative ones, some will read every news article and only reflect on the positive; some will have their own ‘uneducated’ opinions of what should be happening, and some will choose not to get involved in social media bun fights because they know it does nothing for their personal well-being. The point here is that we all have our own ways of dealing with this process, and therefore we should really think before we pass judgement.
What is now the standard for everyone, however, is that we are all required to stay at home and for some, work in a completely new setting. Whether that’s using your wife’s dressing table as your desk (that’s me!), you’re wedged into a small room to find some peace, or you are having to wait for a colleague to finish looking after their children before you have that important call, we all have this unique challenge to conquer. We have all been forced into a situation that nobody has chosen, and this is the time, more than ever, to show some empathy towards colleagues, family, and friends.
And on reflection, it really feels like the whole nation has become more empathetic. People are courteous, there is more camaraderie than we have ever seen before and you only have to stand outside on a Thursday evening at 8pm to understand what every single NHS worker means to those of us who live in the UK right now. I saw a post recently from someone who quoted their child saying the UK is becoming ‘northern’, in that everyone says hello and acknowledges each other now. Being a northerner living in the South, I smiled to myself knowing what they were referring to, and I sincerely hope this is not simply a short term change.
So, what else can we do, other than being empathetic, to turn this challenge into a positive? Here’s a small, 3 point plan for employers and employees that I hope will resonate.
A short guide for employers
- One of the main things that employers can try to do is instil confidence in their workforce that things are going to be ok in the long run. Understandably, this is easier to say than to do, given the current economic predictions, but the more that people can be reassured their jobs are safe, even if they have to take a hit on their wages, the better they will feel mentally whilst they are stuck at home and the higher chance of them repaying that faith when they do return to work. The current professional rugby union teams are accepting a 25% reduction in wages, and as one player has said to me, they would rather have a job to go back to than a club that is no longer in business. The government have provided extensive support to all businesses across the country, so it is important everyone understands how that will help them in the short term.
- Understand that there needs to be more flexibility to the working days. Those with partners who are key workers, and those with children, will undoubtedly have certain times in the day where work is simply impossible. Giving employees the opportunity to choose when they work, rather than feeling under pressure to stick to the ‘usual’ routine, will definitely help them.
- The IT departments will have been on over drive in the last few weeks to make sure that all technology capability will be sufficient to cope with this new way of working. It is important that everyone in the organisation shows some empathy towards these people because, whilst there may be a few teething problems, you can be assured they will be doing everything they can to make sure people stay connected.
A short guide for employees
- Control what you can control.
Create your own boundaries around social media and listen to the experts, not those who merely have an opinion. If you’ve been told to wash your hands and stay away from people, that’s quite an easy thing to control!
We are creatures of habit; creating a routine offers stability and way to promote health and wellness through structure. Wake up at the same time, get out of your PJ’s, and plan what your day is going to look like. This will help to avoid the worry of ‘will I get everything done?’
There is a lot of pressure to suddenly become the fittest, strongest and fastest you’ve ever been! “With that time you’ve saved commuting, why can’t you now become Mr or Mrs Universe?!” There’s a lot of online exercise content to suit your needs but remember to be kind to yourself and do what you can do. It links back to controlling what you can control.
There are, of course, many more things that will help, but the important thing is to find your own way and stick to those as best as possible.
We do not know when this will end, and what the overall impact will be in 3 months, a year or even 10 years from now, but all we can do in the short term is to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. And, perhaps be a little more northern!