Managing the COVID-19 blues

Last week I wrote about the loss and the grief that we suffer because of the COVID-19 lockdown and how easy it is to feel overwhelmed by all of these emotions while we underestimate exactly the impact this is having on us. The point of the article was to bring home that we underestimate the reach of the lockdown because we don’t understand all the areas of our lives that it impacts and because of the obsession with staying positive.

A friend of mine who was diagnosed with more than one life threatening medical condition in a short space of time taught me a lot about how to grieve when you not grieving the loss of a physical life but of a future and are combating a loss of “who I am” or “who I was”. One day he showed me a cartoon strip of Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting on a dock and Charlie Brown says to Snoopy “Someday we will all die, Snoopy!”. Snoopy very wisely responds “True but on all the other days we will not”. This example explains how to carry on when things look dark, when we feel that there is an imminent danger. It is in remembering that there is a gap between imminent and current.

Where does this focus on the negative come from? As humans we have a built-in bias towards negativity, this is largely because of a part of our limbic brain called the amygdala, which helps protect us by finding and focusing on danger so we can take the necessary action. Imagine a caveman walking through a jungle and not seeing a snake hanging from a tree he will walk under – this could be a potentially fatal mistake. The caveman’s amygdala acts like a sensor that is constantly scanning the environment for any small sign of danger so that an appropriate response can be formulated. Back to our own amygdalas and, unfortunately, when we have so much danger around us as we have now and it all seems imminent, they flood us with information. So much, in fact that instead of being able to isolate and plan around this danger we are overwhelmed and our flight, fight or freeze response calls on us to freeze because there is not place to run for safety and there is no ideal way of fighting this because the danger is too pervasive.

The answer however is not to ignore our feelings, which are trying to signal all the danger around us. We should identify what we working with – what is the danger and where is it coming from. Once we know this then we can start taking care of ourselves moving through the perceived dangers and start making plans.

A useful tool is to start by triaging the dangers, using the following guide.

Step 1:

Set up a table containing a few rows. Plot all the areas of your life that are important to you. To make this exercise easier you can use the basic outline of a life wheel which may include areas such as work, personal development, money, home, health, friends, community, spirituality, recreation and so on.

Areas  
Work  
Personal Development  
Money  
Home  

Step 2:

Write down all the perceived threats in each of these areas.

AreasThreatsTiming
WorkI feel overloaded at work because we are working shifts to enforce social distancing. 
Personal DevelopmentWhat happens if I lose my job, can I be relevant in a remote working environment? 
MoneyWe may need to take pay cuts for the business to survive. I don’t know if I can financially cope. 
HomeI am stressed because I need to take care of my family and I don’t feel emotionally up to it. 

Step 3:

If you can it is also a good idea to write down if you have a concept of the time when this might happen.

AreasThreatsTiming
WorkI feel overloaded at work because we are working shifts to enforce social distancing.Current as this is happening now.
Personal DevelopmentWhat happens if I lose my job, can I be relevant in a remote working environment?This may or may not happen but it is a concern.
MoneyWe may need to take pay cuts for the business to survive. I don’t know if I can financially cope.This seems to be imminent, but I don’t know when and the details of the pay cuts. How much and for how long.  
HomeI am stressed because I need to take care of my family and I don’t feel emotionally up to it.Current, this is impacting myself and my family now.

Step 4:

Next categorize each entry as follows: red (disastrous), yellow (threatening) and green (concern).

AreasThreatsTiming
WorkI feel overloaded at work because we are working shifts to enforce social distancing.Current as this is happening now.
Personal DevelopmentWhat happens if I lose my job, can I be relevant in a remote working environment?This may or may not happen but it is a concern.
MoneyWe may need to take pay cuts for the business to survive. I don’t know if I can financially cope.This seems to be imminent, but I don’t know when and the details of the pay cuts. How much and for how long.  
HomeI am stressed because I need to take care of my family and I don’t feel emotionally up to it.Current, this is impacting myself and my family now.

Step 5:

This mapping gives us the ability to plan and prioritise to turn from catastrophe into a series of events that can be managed when we have enough psychological and mental space to deal with them one thing at a time. To return to the example above it is clear that the areas to focus on would be the feeling of overwhelm at the office and the inability to cope emotionally at home. These are topics which are the domain of the helping professions, such as coaches, doctors, counsellors, therapists, etc. A good way forward would be to speak to one of them to help formulate strategies on a way forward.

I hope you find this a useful tool which you can apply to yourself, your family, your team, your community initiatives, and so on. I was amazed at the volume of feedback, comments and messages I received from people on social media who where thanking me for the previous article. Some expressed that it helped them identify feelings and emotions that they had not really understood and that they were judging themselves for. I write about a variety of topics normally related to business but as there has been such a big response to this article I would like to hear from you if you like to see more information on a variety of tips, tools and ways of this sort. Please respond to any of my articles on linked in social media or connect with me via my website and let me know if you would find this useful. I would love to be of service where I can.

Working from Home, securing your professional brand

Last year I was asked to speak on Employee Wellness, with specific reference to mental health. As part of my address I told the attendees that they had (supposedly) each won a sports car. I asked them how they would take care of this new vehicle and they enthusiastically called out points such as getting insurance, always keeping it in the garage, not allowing anyone else to drive it, taking it for regular hand washes and valets, maintaining the car with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts and so on. Once we had completed the list, proving that the car was seen as highly prized possession, I asked the audience what they did to take care of their own mental health, shifting the focus to the importance of mental health, which certainly is more important than ownership of a car, albeit a lovely one. Needless to say, the dialogue did not flow as much. The important thing I wanted the audience to connect with is the gap between owning precious possessions, and what is considered precious in general.

Fast forward to last week where I wrote about the importance of having a professional brand and how this has tended to slip with Work from Home during the lockdown. Are we again neglecting a something that is precious? While a premium is placed on expertise in the marketplace with employees and students alike spending thousands on education and personal development it is counter-productive when our professional brand breaks down our hard-won credibility. The question for me centers around how to maintain our professional brands during such a challenging time.

In many of the larger corporates so much time and money is invested in maintaining and establishing the credibility of a brand that the brand itself becomes valuable, just think of Amazon, Apple, Google, ad so on. These brands are valuable in and of themselves and therefore businesses are very protective about the brand and sensitive to the role of the employee as a brand ambassador, especially now with the prevalence of video conferencing. Current realities however cannot be denied and there is a balance to be struck between a professional brand and Work from Home during lockdown. For example, while you may have been wearing a hard hat and PPE on site as a Construction Project Manager, it would be inappropriate to wear those on a video call when everyone knows you are sitting at your dining room table. There is therefore room to adjust and be a bit more flexible, but that should not slip put professionalism at risk.

Following are some of the aspects that businesses raise as concerns around how they are represented by remote team members that can help you hone your professional brand for Work from Home:

While it is tempting to relax standards during the lockdown, it is important to remember that resilience during a crisis is often a good foundation and an indicator for businesses on who can be trusted with their brand. Given the list above, how would you rate your current professional brand. Is there an aspect to this that the article has missed? Do you have different thoughts on this? Let us know.

Working from Home, why your professional brand is so important

With the rapid transition from co-located work to remote work during lockdown it has become the norm that certain standards have slipped. This is only reasonable, and I applaud businesses who have shown empathy with team members working from home under the difficult conditions brought on by lockdown. There is no way anyone could function at 100 percent capacity while working from home with little to no support services like schools, day-care, laundries, helpers, car washes – the list is endless.

Not only is there the loss of these services but also the sudden transition to using collaboration technologies for the first time. I have attended many meetings where meeting hosts were uncertain how to use the programs. Of course, this is entirely acceptable as we all went through a learning phase. However, I am reminded of the Stephen Covey’s principle of starting with the end in mind. And this is where a professional brand is so important.

What is a professional brand?

Although we know better than to judge a book by its cover, studies show that individuals will make up their minds about each other in 7 seconds. This influences their ability to trust and therefore connect with each other. Even the most egoless individuals want to be known for something, even if it is only their humility. This is called positioning in branding parlance. This means that when Person A sees Person B, or an image of them, Person A will get a particular impression which positions Person B in his/her perceptions. Therefore, it is important to understand what your professional brand is. If you worked from an office before you would already have an idea of how that brand merges with your own personal brand. Professional brands can also sometimes be influenced by the standards or expectations of an industry and we need to be aware of how that affects our personal brand. Consider how it would look if an investment manager came to work in board shorts and flip flops.

Why is a brand important when working from home?

All transactions in life are based on trust and that is why companies invest enormous sums of money into establishing a brand based on experience, expertise, competencies, and/or achievements. This is why a huge inhibitor for companies around introducing working from home is the lowering of brand standards. This could be from multiple perspectives as team members, especially those who have contact with clients, vendors and other stakeholders are representatives of the organization.

In essence, the business is asking whether the team member working from home is an appropriate extension of their brand investment. Does the team member show their individual experience, expertise, competencies, actions and achievements related to their industry through their professional brand? Do they engender trust with the business’s clients?

As you can see, especially in the current scenario where working from home seems to be the norm for the future, your ability to create trust and build relationships virtually depends on your professional brand. In the next post we are going to take a look at some of the factors that come into play when expressing your personal brand.