Managing change and building employee resilience

Managing change, home working and building employee resilience

Right now businesses are facing many challenges, including managing staff anxiety as Coronavirus continues to spread and employees are forced to work from home. Here Dr David Cliff, managing director of Gedanken Ltd, which offers business coaching, personal development, counselling and mediation, provides some guidance on how to manage this.

Coronavirus has seen whole workforces having to backtrack from office-based to home-based working. Practising social isolation, furloughing of staff and other factors have taken the business community into an unprecedented period of change. This may offer valuable learning for the future but, in the interim, it’s confusing, distancing and stressful for many.

Small wonder people’s anxieties are being spiked by these processes and a mixture of isolation, money worries and business impact concerns. Other factors have led people, often without previous mental health concerns, to experience extreme anxiety.

Perversely homeworking leads to hyper connectivity, involving less intimate but more information abundant systems such as social media, email and 24/7 reporting by news media. We are paradoxically alone yet connected, receiving information overload with “edited highlights” from a whole range of sources with different worldviews and information levels.

The mind seeks certainty to assuage fear. Without this, we regress to a form of functioning from our primitive fight or flight systems rather than higher reasoning capacities. This can generate a flurry of activity that is energetically depleting and from a business perspective, completely ineffective as its key function is to reassure. It’s therefore really important to manage ourselves during this time.

Here are some key areas which require extra thought:

  • Homeworking requires discipline.  Help employees establish clear boundaries and communication within each household so those around them are clear when they are working and when they are not. Do the same. It’s important that we all make time for both activities for the people around us.
  • Working from home is like starting again. You have to acquire new skills or re activate old skills, such as dealing with IT problems or even just finding somewhere to work. Accept there is a need for a learning curve and whilst productivity may go down somewhat focusing on quality is essential, for your own self-respect, for your employees and for your customers’ interests.
  • Limit passive media inputs. This is something we can all do and business owners should encourage. Checking the TV news every hour is not being informed, it is immersion in woe. Look at the news two, maximum three times a day.
  • Share anxieties. It’s important to ventilate concerns without catastrophising. Humankind has faced many pandemics. In 1968 the 69th flu pandemic killed something like 80,000 people in this country and passed by relatively unnoticed because of the limited reportage of the day. Sometimes an over focus on issues amplifies fear not enlightenment.

Many of us already “suffer” from Coronavirus without having a single bug. It is our fear of the virus and its consequences that are causing widescale problems. It’s important we reclaim who we are, ourselves, our families, our business identities and do our best rather than fear the worst. 

Remember, public health professionals must work on a worst case scenario situation for planning and whilst that is a possible outcome, its probability is another thing. Equally, businesses can better survive with a focus on what works rather than what reduces fear. 

Finally, accept uncertainty. The way to kill anxiety and stress is to have certainty. But we’ve never had that in business and however unprecedented Coronavirus seems, there have been other unprecedented events: the 2008 crash, SARS, BSE etc which confirm that the world is far less certain than we would have it to be. The art of living is about understanding that uncertainty – not striving excessively for certainty that cannot be obtained.

Homer said: ” Bear patiently my heart for you have suffered heavier things” and for the majority of us this will be true.