With a lot of countries looking at a phased approach to coming out of lockdown, my first reaction is the positivity of these steps out of isolation. However, the impact on our mental state will be lasting.
As an extrovert, my social network is an extension of who I am. Over the last 8 weeks, being forced to social distance and self-isolate has been incredibly tough. Whilst I am lucky to be in isolation with my immediate family, not being able to visit extended family and friends has been really hard. Add to that the pressure of managing “home schooling” means that I feel like I need to be switched on more than ever and have found it harder to turn off at the end of the day (or the week). Whether your socialising is with a close circle of friends in their homes, or going out for coffee dates or clubbing, all of this stopped for many of us in March.
We are looking at a new reality, both economically and socially and where the welfare of employees is going to be key to the success of any organisation. Looking at data from the Kantar COVID-19 Barometer, over 70% of people across the globe feel that companies should be focussed on the health of their employees. In fact, this was the number one area where respondents feel companies should be taking action. Whilst the impact of COVID-19 has had a far-reaching impact on many aspects of business and our lives, it has the potential to move us to a new organisational era; The Responsible Era.
Data shows that adults frequently link loneliness to dissatisfaction with one’s family, social and community life – and what COVID-19 has done is enforce a situation where physical interaction is limited. Technological advances have meant that our virtual interaction has actually increased but the lack of physical presence can impact the sense of loneliness, stress and anxiety. From my own experience, I am finding the social distancing harder than the isolation – which is impacting my anxiety, stress levels and my own sense of worth. Having struggled with comfort eating for most of my adult life, that was the first thing that I reverted back to and even though, I put measures in place to help me cope, (measures included mindful exercises, video calls, online communities where I could try to feel connected and counteract the loneliness in new ways), but it’s not always easy.
At the beginning of the lockdown, I started thinking about who this would impact the most. The elderly and those living alone are the obvious sufferers but what about the very nature of who we are? This led Kantar to explore the differences between extroverts and introverts and whether those who were used to a highly social life would adapt differently to fewer social dealings in their day to day life. What did we find? Initial research shows that 41% of extroverts find the self-isolation lonely, 5% more than introverts. Work life balance is felt to be better for introverts (44% vs 38%) and in fact 4 out of 10 introverts generally enjoy it more than normal life.
In 2019, Kantar’s Inclusion Index showed that 36% of people consistently felt anxious in their jobs globally. Over 85% of them worked either in an office with some working from home flexibility. When you cut this data by diverse groups, you see these figures spike and when you look at employees with pre-existing mental health symptoms, this figure to rose to 60%.
What 2020 has brought is a change in working patterns throughout the world. We have seen companies using technology to ensure employees could work from home, employees moving to reduced hours on a global level, being furloughed, made redundant, and this will and has had a knock-on effect on anxiety levels, how can it not? We are all struggling with a level of fear of the unknown in terms of job security, financial security, health concerns, lack of human contact, the inability to see loved ones. How can this not have a dramatic impact on mental health?
We are all diverse, and how the current situation is going to impact you goes beyond personalities and depends on your own individual circumstances.
Whilst senior leaders are continuously trying to cope with country specific government guidelines, ensuring that the company can survive a global crisis as well as ensuring that staff are safe and secure, we all have a role to play in helping each other through this time.
There is no right answer, there is no blueprint, and we have to be flexible in terms of taking risks, trying things out and adapting to the circumstances that we have been given. What is important is for businesses and their employees to recognise this change and work together to encourage openness and support for all. Why? Well apart from the fact we know that an inclusive and diverse workplace can drive up to 9% increased revenue and for every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity, now is the time to be responsible. As we have seen in the streets gathering to clap for key workers, to communities rallying together to help elderly neighbours, there is a power in coming together. It has never been more important to be there for each other and to respect difference in who we are and how we feel. Understanding this and making the right decisions has never been more critical than now as we prepare for life post COVID-19.