It doesn’t take a genius to notice that people aren’t quite themselves, and despite the fact we are unlocking, there remains a huge amount of nervousness.
We see contrasting groups of staff amongst our client employees. There are some that are dying to get back to work as they find working at home in a small cramped environment very difficult and wish to escape from their loved ones, however loveable they may be.
At the other end of the extreme, we see people who are saying they really don’t want to come back to work as they don’t feel safe. The employers of the latter group are dealing with things to various levels of effectiveness. There are those who are totally intolerant with staff who genuinely feel very concerned. Those employers may feel they’ve made lots of reasonable adjustments, although their staff do not, and there are those who could be swinging the lead. The role of the leader in responding to these various groups is critical and we are seeing a very lackadaisical approach in some environments and an extremely detailed and impressive approach in others.
I think it is worth looking at the cycle of emotion that is going on amongst most people and of course, we’re all different, but many articles have been written lately about the grief cycle, first proposed by Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book ‘On Death and Dying’. I remember feeling at the beginning of lockdown that there was a terrible loss for us all and it is not surprising that when we start to hug our friends again that we start to feel tearful. The Kübler-Ross model talks about the five stages of grief and suggests a series of emotions, specifically from those who are terminally ill or to those who have lost a loved one in this way or other. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
What part does this have to play in Covid19 I hear you ask? Well, let’s draw some parallels. In relation to hearing that you have a terminal illness, the cycle might be: denial – no, it can’t be happening, it’s not happening to me; anger – why me, why on earth is this happening to me; bargaining – if you have God in your life then you might turn to him and hope that by being a better person, you can postpone the next stages and what might happen to you; depression – that in illness terms when you start to prepare for the inevitable; acceptance – often described as the final rest before the long journey. These things are visible even when there is, by comparison with terminal illness, a smaller trauma such as deprivation of something that has been part of somebody’s life, for example, a break-up, which brings with it the many stages of grief.
It is certainly part of the human condition that we have coping mechanisms to deal with very difficult situations but in fact, everybody is different and not everybody goes through the same elements of grief in the same way, nor at the same time and one might skip a particular step and go back to it later, or repeat a step. With Covid19, there is a lot of denial with people saying ‘this isn’t going to affect me’ then there is anger on all fronts, either with oneself making a stupid mistake which makes us frightened or with the Government for making us stay at home which takes away normal life. There is a societal tendency to feel that if social distancing takes place successfully for a number of weeks, it’ll be OK and we’ll all be better again, which, of course, is not the case. Then there is huge blatant grief and sadness - wonder when this is going to end, will it end, what are we going to do if it doesn’t and then the final stage of what next, what am I going to do if I have to live with this forever. The only hope for us in dealing with this, is to have a plan of what we can control and accept that it is only those things we can control. For example, washing hands, keeping a safe distance, learning to work virtually but effectively etc.
We are on a different journey now and everybody needs a different map from risk assessments to how to deal with emotions. If you’d like any help with this, do please get in touch as we are assisting clients with return to work, new flexible work arrangements, getting the best rather than the worst out of remote working and spotting and preventing further mental health challenges.