For the last 12-months we’ve been robbed of our freedoms, our workplaces and our social lives. But while most businesses have been quick to enact new ways of working to tackle the challenges imposed by lockdown, many have failed to account for the silent killer – mental health and wellbeing.
According to McKinsey, 9 in 10 employers report COVID-19 specifically affecting the behavioural health and/or the productivity of their workforce(1). While the World Economic Forum(2) says, “Lockdown is the world’s biggest psychological experiment and we’ll all pay the price.”
We have faced the relentless monotony and challenge of being locked away with the same people for 12-months – living together, working together, socialising together – while worrying about and possibly losing loved ones, stopping our children seeing their friends, and juggling home-schooling with working full-time. None of us can experience lockdown without being affected. Research published in medical journal, The Lancet, highlights the destructive force of lockdown measures, warning clinicians to be aware of the possibility of depression, anxiety, fatigue and even post-traumatic stress disorder(3).
Our leaders are most at risk
Faced with an uncertain market, where conditions change daily, leaders are forced to make multiple decisions on the fly, which can lead to decision fatigue. In addition, they’re responsible for their team, making sure that everyone remains productive while constantly checking up on their wellbeing. As well as the wider business to consider – which is operating in a more remote and disparate way than ever before. And now rather than ‘quick catch-ups’ over coffee, everything is a scheduled video conference meeting. It’s exhausting.
Over time, if a leader fails to inspire and influence those around them, the business is prone to serious challenges. Absenteeism, presenteeism, lack of engagement, low morale and burnout will all impact productivity, and if left unchecked, can be highly damaging to a company’s brand.
So what can we do to move forward with a positive mental attitude?
It all started when you lost your energy
This time last year, our world changed forever. But what didn’t change was who we are, our values, needs and how we are energised. Over the last 12-months, we’ve faced changes that are beyond anything we’ve experienced before. And because we are constrained, we cannot energise ourselves in the way we normally would. This leaves us feeling flat and over time, like we can’t be the person we want to be for our family, friends and colleagues.
You tried to fill the void
To distract ourselves from the negative things going on around us, we blindly follow the latest lockdown fad, making marmalade with Nigella, listening to podcasts or taking up needlework – did you know sales of John Lewis embroidery and cross-stitch kits are up 261% in January 2021 compared to the same period in January 2020?!
They’re all great, positive ideas, but they aren’t necessarily helping our energy levels.
Energy is an individual thing. Extroverts tend to get energy from being with people, whereas introverts usually need some time alone to energise. But regardless of whether we are an extrovert, introvert or somewhere in the middle, we all need some human connection to feel energised.
I have both introvert and extrovert tendencies. Over the last year I’ve really missed having those periods of intense, productive work with my colleagues. I’ve missed the office banter and getting to know people through just popping by their desk for a casual chat. I miss seeing my clients – I’m a change management consultant, now on my second client engagement where I’ve not met any of the team face-to-face. It feels strange and very difficult.
Video conferencing isn’t the answer
In this new world, like many people, I’ve become dependent on video conferencing – and while it’s massively better than nothing, it just isn’t the same. I like to be able to pick up on the body language of my clients. I want to hug my family. I need to go for a long walk over the hills with my best friend. Things that used to make us feel energised are now tainted by boredom and the fear of infection. Sadly, video conferences just don’t give us the same connection.
And right now, we have additional drains on our energy. Working out the logistics of how to have an important work call while the children are in the background having their lunch break is really stressful. Then there’s the worry about the global economy, whether our parents are safe, when we’ll find the time to clean the house – not to mention what we’re cooking for tonight’s dinner. It’s all utterly exhausting.
So what do you do?
You need to look after #1
Without you, nothing happens. So first off, you need to tackle the practical side of boosting your energy – all the things you’ve heard a hundred times before: getting enough sleep, eating balanced nutritious meals and doing regular exercise. These are the foundations on which your energy is built and they cannot be ignored.
But what about the emotional side?
Unfortunately there isn’t a golden answer because we’re simply not designed to live under lockdown conditions.
But firstly, accept lockdown is never going to feel great – and that’s absolutely normal. You can’t create the same environment or experiences you could before – but you can still find ways to energise through the limited interactions you have. Remember you’re not alone – we genuinely are all in this together and it’s ok to say if you need help. I admitted in one of my WhatsApp groups recently that I was struggling a bit and within 5-minutes, two friends had contacted me to set up times to go for walks.
“If you’re doing your best work right now, you’re a psychopath.”
I wish I’d said this but it’s from a podcast by Pandora Sykes (what can I say except I was trying to fill the void!). Essentially, be compassionate towards yourself. Be kind. These are exceptional times and you’re doing ok, probably much better than you realise.
If you’re feeling like you’re struggling right now, start by writing down what used to energise you. Then think about how you can continue doing these things, even if it might look and feel slightly different right now. I have Friday night cocktails with my girlfriends from university. We don’t live near each other and before lockdown we didn’t see each other regularly, but now it’s a highlight of our weeks. We share, we empathise and we laugh and laugh – it’s such as release.
In fact, if you do nothing else to give your energy a boost, just laugh. It releases endorphins, which instantly make you feel better, it’s contagious, it’s central to all our relationships, protects our heart from stress and even has similar effects to antidepressants(4).
This time will end
It really will. This time next year you’ll be in the same room as your colleagues solving a complex business problem, hugging your family, or enjoying a drink with friends, and it will feel so much better for all that we’ve endured.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the world we knew forever, but we will get back the energising connections we crave. So until we meet again, do what you can, keep going, and find energy and joy in life, just in a different way.
On Wednesday 21st April at 5.30pm we are hosting our second webinar on the ‘Secrets of the 16%’. Join our panel of experts as they discuss people, strategy and leadership, and how you can affect change with each to ensure your future success.