Coming out of lock down is going to mean different things to many people but for the majority of us it smacks of freedom. Freedom to move, to go back to work, to see our families and friends – or does it?

Come 1 May, the reality is we will not have the freedom we envisage we will have. Majority of us will still be under lock down and possibly for months to come as the phased lifting of restrictions starts taking clarity and shape.

People are getting tired of working from home. The novelty is wearing off. Initially there was panic and confusion resulting in bulk buying behavior, then we tried to put a positive spin on things (similar to the dating “honeymoon period”) and it felt great to avoid the daily commute and work from home (it’s what we all wish for right?). We got creative with online or virtual challenges and house parties but, the further we go into extended lock down, the less we are able to sustain the enthusiasm and the more cracks are starting to show.

Researchers have found there appears to be an inflection point where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside suddenly gets harder to endure and we’re are starting to shift into that phase now.

This first thing many people will want to do is connect with their loved ones whether that be family members or friends. You see with practicing social (physical) distancing, we have been touched starved of human connection and physical touch is vital not only for our mental and emotional health, but our physical health, too.

When people lack love and touch (connection) in their lives, it can have a negative impact on their mental and physical well-being. Our bodies produce oxytocin (also known as the love or cuddle hormone) which plays a role in social bonding (attachment) and can help to tackle loneliness. Even a gentle touch from a stranger has been shown to reduce feelings of social exclusion.

SADAG recently did some research on how lock down was impacting people and the biggest challenge people are facing during this time is:
  • 55% Anxiety and Panic
  • 46% Financial stress and pressure
  • 40% Depression

It is going to be critical for everyone to manage their expectations over the next few months with the phased lifting of restrictions, both from a personal and organizational perspective.

For individuals:

  • With schools taking on a phased opening approach, many parents will need to continue playing ‘teacher’ and home schooling. But what if your company decides you need to go back to work and this applies to both parents in the household – how will you decide who stays at home to look after the kids and will organisations be accommodating of such situations?
  • What happens in the case of single parent who does not have any support structure in place, what options will they have in this kind of situation?
  • Some people may be fearful of going into public spaces (e.g. the workplace) for fear of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their families.
  • People are finding they are spending longer hours online as the lines get blurred between personal/family time and work time – and with this comes feelings of guilt, being unproductive and low motivation levels.
  • Individuals who have lost their jobs as a result and are finding it difficult to secure new employment or are unable to pay their bills due to reduced income/salary cuts.
  • Majority of people will still need to remain in lock down with no clear light at the end of the tunnel – managing their emotions and work/home integration – there will be no social gatherings or celebrations for a good many months to come (e.g. weddings, funerals, birthdays and other big milestones etc.).
  • People are suffering from digital fatigue and constantly having to be online moving from one zoom/skype meeting to another, answering emails etc. – it takes different skills to engage online vs how we would do face-to-face.

For organisations:

  • Businesses will want to focus on getting productive in order to generate revenue for survival yet some individuals may not easily transition back into a full 9-5 productive working day as they will be used to their ‘adapted’ routine and it may take them time to re-settle.
  • Companies will need to work very hard to implement the required safety procedures to not only be compliant but also combat  fears and ensure the safety and trust of employees and customers.
  • Companies will need to relook and possibly re-design every protocol at work from interviews, meetings, meals, bathroom time, commutes, check-in’s to the building and the list goes on to take into account social distancing requirements which is a huge task.
  • Leaders are going to have step up and lead both empathetically and courageously into unchartered territories and what lies ahead for all stakeholders (shareholders, employees, service providers, customers).
  • Some leaders have struggled to transition into managing teams remotely and employees are experiencing micro-managing behavior (e.g. daily check-ins or ongoing to do lists) causing frustration and conflict.
  • Business and employees will need to potentially up-skills/re-skill themselves in different ways going forward, not just being able to comply with a phased in work approach but potentially new roles or functions they may need to care-take or step into due to physical distancing restrictions.
  • Some employees may not be able to come back to work due to schools not being open as they have no one to look after their kids – companies will need to be accommodating.
  • Research shows that we are experiencing similar trends globally and there is a great opportunity to learn from and share best practices.

So as you can see, there are still many unknowns and this only heightens the emotional roller coaster we are all currently experiencing resulting in continued stress, anxiety, fear, loss of motivation, procrastination and overwhelm which has a direct impact on our mental and physical well-being and productivity levels.

It’s important for individuals to seek help sooner than later whether it be as a preventative measure or if they are feeling challenged and like they’re not coping.

It’s equally important for organisations to include mental health as a critical factor in their business planning and strategies going forward because COVID-19 and lock down is here for many months to come.

Paula Quinsee: Relationship Expert, Tedx speaker and author of Embracing Conflict and Embracing No. Paula works with individuals and companies to have better and healthier human interactions in both their personal and workplace relationships. More info: www.paulaquinsee.com

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