At a glance
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Jobs have been lost, incomes have dipped, and financial and emotional wellbeing has been threatened.
An ABS survey conducted in April of last year found that 35 per cent of respondents
felt nervous, while 42 per cent felt restless – almost double the numbers reported in the National Health Survey in 2017-2018.
Queensland-based professional counsellor and coach, Rohan Watson, has studied the barriers and strategies relating to mental wellbeing in workplaces, with a particular focus on early intervention.
He says that, while “there’s no immunity against curveballs…we can develop an optimistic, healthy mindset, and life-affirming resilience skills, to be well-equipped for managing and coping with times of uncertainty”.
Navigating the storm
Learning how to thrive – not just survive – in times of rapid change and uncertainty is equally valuable for individuals and businesses. Watson recommends some “foundational” steps that can help identify opportunities for growth when times are challenging and stressful.
First, accept that fearing the unknown is natural. Try to approach the experience with curiosity and adventure.
“It’s also a time to stay firm to your values and stick tight to those you love. Giving and receiving emotional support is always a powerful and positive anchor for stabilising mental wellbeing,” Watson says.
Do not dwell in the past or give into wishful musing about the future. Periods of uncertainty are a time to live in the present. Look for opportunities to overcome current obstacles and use setbacks to strengthen your resilience, advises Watson.
“Change is a chance to reassess where your life and career are heading. Explore alternatives and make choices around what will help you best combine your passion and talents.”
It helps to put things in perspective. After all, uncertainty doesn’t last forever.
“You might be in for a wild ride, but hold on – stop worrying, breathe. Things may be different on the other side of the storm, but you will get through it, and you’ll be better equipped to face new challenges. Therefore, value times of uncertainty as a gift, and a gateway, for enriching personal growth,” Watson says.
In touch in tough times
What about organisational resilience? Have businesses come through the pandemic with changed perspectives on culture and values? With some employees returning to workplaces while others continue to work from home, how do leaders ensure a co-ordinated response to mental wellbeing?
Kerryn Fewster, managing director at consultancy Change2020, has been helping leaders and their teams with coping strategies throughout the pandemic.
“Even though panic has dissipated, there is a fog of ambiguity out there and a sense of confusion about what the future looks like,” she says.
“The organisations that are coping best are those that are reflecting and learning from their experience during the worst of the pandemic.
“Remote working has been a bit of a challenge, particularly for some leaders who are used to being in their office suite and people coming to see them. They have had to find new ways to connect and be comfortable.”
We are creatures of habit, and our tendency is to roll back to the way things were before, but if problems with the culture, operations or work–life balance already existed, then this is an opportunity to do things differently, she says.
“It’s a good idea to assess what worked well and what didn’t during the pandemic, to collect stories and ask questions. Perhaps people were more adaptable than was expected. Where, when and why did the business trip up?”
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Clarity trumps certainty
While businesses may not be able to provide certainty for their employees about the immediate future, what they can provide is clarity – and that helps alleviate anxiety. If people are informed, they feel more in control.
“Be really clear about what’s happening, because that gives people something to hold on to,” Fewster says.
Leaders need to be decisive, but also acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and they might get it wrong.
“Sometimes leaders think that, if they show vulnerability, it is going to worry people. It’s not. It’s going to connect them and show that the CEO is human and is having a tough day. They will identify with that.”
Facing the future with courage requires creativity. Fewster says scenario planning should examine the lessons from the pandemic and ask, what can we do in six months’ time – get people to visualise a future and then put structure around it.
“That’s where [leaders] are going to need their courage – to say, we have a clear view. Let’s not wait until the borders are open or whatever it might be. Let your organisation be the pioneers, be flexible in your thinking and be bold.”