It is generally acknowledged that subsequent periods of lockdown during the current pandemic represent a very different challenge to business resilience in the first such period. The response first time around was driven by a natural emergency response and was characterised by an almost wartime spirit, rainbows in windows, clapping for health workers, and a sense of novelty. The current prevalent sense is one of general fatigue and a blurring of the work/life balance. Patience with the feel-good platitudes such as “we will get through this” and “we’ve got this” is negligible as it is clear that we are not in control of the pandemic and that is naturally uncomfortable. These are perfect conditions for a deterioration in mental health and disengagement amongst colleagues. Indeed, it has been shown that, in the military, boredom and waiting are more stressful than actual combat.
This is a new challenge for business leaders to firstly motivate themselves and then ensure that their teams, in turn, are energised to ensure business resilience.
Maintaining focus has become much more difficult so an advisable approach is to identify challenges and help teams to clearly prioritise what they do each day. Breaking up deliverable packages of work in order to help clear the “mental fog” felt by so many who feel overwhelmed. This is also a good time to consider forthcoming business challenges in a proactive manner and not fall into the excuse of “waiting until COVID-19 is over”. Nobody knows how the current cycle of lockdowns will continue and using that excuse could be the death knell for businesses unprepared for the likely rebound in demand when we can all enjoy that freedom.
Recognising the increased mental strain in subsequent lockdowns means that business leaders need to show real compassion. A recent survey of 270 insurance companies shows that they now view mental health as risky as smoking. It is important that this risk is taken seriously and intervention is done sooner rather than later. Managers must be helped in recognising the early signs of such problems and leaders should not underestimate the value of being open about the challenges they feel themselves at this time. Admission of such difficulties will help others to admit problems which can then be managed in a supportive manner.
As ever, the role of those in management positions is to energise teams. There is a delicate balance here between showing the right amount of compassion without portraying a message that this is a hopeless situation. There is also a balance between ensuring work is completed as expected without over burdening team members who may be struggling more than others.
Business resilience remains the key quality to navigate the current situation but the challenge in subsequent lockdowns relates to stamina as opposed to adrenaline-fuelled reaction nature of the first.