COVID-19 – Why we Feel so Bad

Over the past couple of weeks I have experienced the same scenario over and over again with a variety of people. People reach out feeling overwhelmed, concerned, afraid, confused and helpless. The person just isn’t sure why they feel that way. The cause is society’s need to compel everyone to stay positive even in these times.

Even more serious are those individuals who, during these discussions report feeling guilty because they cannot cope with the effects of lockdown on their personal and work lives. Again there is so little self-care in this, it is sad that we live in a world where we are David facing Goliath and it is expected that we will take this in our stride without a hitch.

Then there is the prevalence of Covid boredom. People are tired of masks and sanitizers and a lack of good company and good coffee. They are not really bored, in fact they may be feeling the pressure more than ever, but as with positivity and guilt this is a form of denial and denial is often one of the first phases of grieving. And yes, we are grieving, but we either don’t know it, or we don’t want to show it.

The link between grief and the COVID crisis

Before I get into theory let’s take a look at grief. It is a construct that we so often fob off because what we are going through is “not that bad” especially when “no one has died”. Grief however is prevalent wherever there is a sense of loss. So being retrenched, losing a home, getting divorced (or ending a long standing relationship), big changes in physical or mental abilities, and the like all can bring on grief. Let’s take a look at what exactly what we are grieving right now.

As always I want to dust off Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those of you who don’t know Maslow’s theory, here is the CliffsNotes version. Maslow identified five stages of human motivation, and they need to filled in a linear progression, from the bottom of the diagram to the top, to best meet human needs.

The first two levels, at the bottom, are inward looking and refer to physiological needs and safety needs. At level 3 and 4 Maslow holds that humans have a need to belong and to be appreciated for their contribution. At level 5 humans start to self-actualize and their contributions become more significant as they focus on fulfilling their potential.

If we take a look at the impact of the Covid-19 and the lockdown on the average family we see the following:

  • Physiological needs
    People losing their jobs, their, homes and their ability to sustain the most basic of needs.
  • Safety needs
    Security is being lost as people are losing jobs, being forced to take unpaid leave, having salaries reduced. Along with this is the constant fear of themselves or a loved one getting ill and having the resources to care for them, get them hospitalised when healthcare resources are scarce.
  • Love and Belonging
    The most benign threat here is our inability to spend time with loved ones, which is in itself causing mental health issues. At worst the threat ranges from a loved one having to die in isolation to not being able to honour cultural and religious practices for fear of infection. Humans are social beings and without serotonin and oxytocin we are at risk of developing mental health concerns due to a lack of input from others.
  • Esteem
    There is no part of this facet of motivation that is not challenged. For those that are infected are stigmatised and ostracized from their communities.  For their families there is the guilt of not “doing enough”, even when freedom was sacrificed for the hope of avoiding infection. 
  • Self-actualization
    With so much uncertainty it is challenging to focus on self-improvement and further eats into self-confidence.

In short, what most of humanity is experiencing is an attack on every level of human need and in many cases multiple people in the same group, household or family are under attack at a variety of levels at the same time. This is why there is so much tension within relationships right now, and due to social distancing and isolation we have no escape physically from these tensions.

So has this article contributed to the fear-mongering and the sense of helplessness? I certainly hope not. I hope that I have shown you why you feel the way you do right now. That the way you feel is not due to your own shortcomings, and that there is a very real external threat that is putting unreasonable pressure on you. I hope this awareness helps you feel less helpless, guilty and inadequate. In my next post I will look at ways to deal with the emotions in a constructive way and use them to build solutions, albeit it short term

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.

Replacing Normal with a Next Normal

As lockdown has started lifting here in South Africa, I have heard people talking about going back to normal. On one hand it is wonderful to see how people anticipate increased social interaction, especially with friends and family – which has been severely impacted by the lockdown regulations. However, hearing this is sad as so many people have found inner strength, a realignment of values and a better understanding of what they cherish in life during such a difficult time. It would be a loss if these learnings were to be folded away and deposited with yoga pants and sweatshirts in the cupboard – discarded for the return to normal.

 One of the unexpected places we see this growth is in business. So many businesses have done so much to secure the health and safety of their employees. Reports in the media have shown how employees felt valued and cared-for as their employers take all the measures necessary to protect them from the COVID virus. The purchasing of PPE safety gear, the routine of having it washed at the end of each day and knowing that the next morning it is ready to continue protecting them has been received as a caring gesture. That along with other safety protocols such as regular disinfecting of workplaces and health and safety protocols posted to walls seem fairly mundane. However, employees are accepting that as caring behavior even if employers have no option but to comply. One cashier in a local store told me that she is proud that her PPE bears her name. Not only does she know that every morning she gets her own gear back, but that each piece (mask and face shield) is for her personal protection. Without these measures the employees would be without jobs, money and whatever limited security there is to be had at this point. Again, it would be a huge loss to ignore the learnings, and gains made during the crisis which has created social cohesion in the most unexpected of ways.

What if these learnings could be leveraged to move forward and instead of going back to normal, a place to shape a next normal? A next normal is not simply going back to a new normal where the old and new are haphazardly tossed together in a pot. A next normal asks that we consciously shape a normal that takes the best of all worlds and uses it to forge an even better path.

 The following three steps explain how to shape the next normal. You can do this exercise on your own, with your family or with a team or entire business. The process stays the same and there are no wrong answers.

 1.    Reflect

The normal expectation would be that everything about lockdown was detrimental. I would like to suggest though that it is easy to find times of love, purpose, meaning, connectedness, maybe even success and rebirth. Make a list of these.

For example, a younger team member may have learned that they are capable of independent working than they thought.

 2.    Review

Work through the list carefully considering what each item means and what was positive about it. The idea here is to get a concrete understanding of what improved or worked and why it worked and how that can be measured?

In our example our team member above may find that given clear and unambiguous goals with specific timelines it is possible to self-manage smaller elements of projects. It may also be important that the team member has the necessary project management tools to increase transparency on task progress.

3.    Reinvent

Consolidate the items above and see how these learnings can be applied in the next normal. What do we need to achieve as a family, business, personally, etc? Which of the learnings above can be used to improve on our processes and results from the past? Design the new process around these.

To end off with our example it may be a good idea to incorporate these learnings into remote work practices so that more employees can work from home during the lockdown. However, the process can further be adjusted so that once lockdown is lifted the remote working policy can become a flexible work policy where team members can work from home one or two days a week. This is a low risk, low cost way to provide a benefit to employees. Thereby an emergency measure is converted to a win-win situation in the businesses next normal. 

 I would like to hear any learnings you would like to share and am happy to answer any questions on the process. I can be found at innocente@performforward.com, or follow me on FaceBook @innocenteburgerspeaker or on LinkedIn.

Dear Manager, this is not remote work, this is work-from-home

In a matter of days I have had numerous discussions with concerned business owners about remote work and how it has been forced on their businesses by the measures taken against COVID-19. They have been finding the shift from local to remote work challenging and have seen a dip in performance which few can afford given the economic realities of the day.

COVID-19 has forced many companies to implement remote working practices, but this presents two major problems. The first is that not all businesses have been set up to support remote work. The other is that what we see is not remote work, but rather work-from-home” under very stressful circumstances.

This is what a properly considered and executed remote work looks like in an organization:

  1. Remote work should be appropriate to the vision of the organization.
  2. Remote work should reflect the organizational culture.
  3. Implementing remote work should be well-planned from a systems and process perspective.
  4. Employees should be supported in creating a remote work location.
  5. Employees should be given time to adapt to working remotely.

From this list, it is clear to see that converting a workforce from local to remote work is a complicated process. In order to help employees adjust to remote work, the systems and processes need to be in place so that when they start using these the transition is a smooth one. When this is done properly the individual employee performance should not be impacted negatively by the transition.

This is what we are seeing:

  1. Employees do not have the same technological resources at home.
  2. Employees may not have had time to set up an ideal workspace.
  3. Employees may be sharing space with family members during isolation.
  4. Employees may be enduring the isolation alone and feeling disconnected
  5. Employees will react differently to the separation from fellow team members.
  6. Employees may be supporting an ill family member during this stage.
  7. Employees may be feeling poorly themselves.
  8. Employees may be feeling vulnerable during the crisis phase of the virus’ spread.
  9. Employees may be grieving the loss of a loved one to the virus.

In a regular remote work environment, where there is no COVID-19, most of what we are currently experiencing falls away. At worst the team members may go through sickness or loss but at random times and the entire team is not subject to the constant threat. Therefore as we have not had time to set up remote work in business, and the employees are in a state of distress we should not judge the efficiency of remote work for our organizations right now. Deal with work-from-home for what it is and slowly start looking at the list above to make minor adjustments to gradually shift your business from chaotic work-from-home to productive remote work.

If you would like assistance in setting up, or managing, your remote team look at our online training or reach out to us on +27 (0) 82 550 8867.

The Importance of Real Human Connection for Optimal Productivity

The recent shift to remote working by organizations trying to protect employees from the Corona Virus has increased the use of digital communications. The question remains how do we keep engagement high and relationships real in distributed teams.

What is the Impact of Employee Engagement?

When researching Employee Engagement, one finds masses of statistics showing its impact on business. Some of the general findings show that engaged individuals deliver the following:
1. Improved customer service – this drives sales and profits.

  1. Increased quality – this creates satisfied customers who are also more open to price increases, this increases profits.
  2. Improved safety records – This makes for happier employees, as they don’t suffer injury due to negligence. It also means that employees have more time and energy to building the rest of the business. Decreased safety incidents also save the company money from a risk perspective.
  3. Better collaboration and teamwork as employee retention is higher and therefore teams have time to build deep and trusting relationships.

What is Employee Engagement Really?

The site CustomInsight defines employee engagement as “the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.” Therefore engaged individuals feel:
a. free to be openly passionate about their jobs,
b. that they belong within the team, project, and organization, and;
c. that they want to “go the extra mile” to ensure the success of the company, team, and project. (Note here that although they too want to succeed, their primary goal is the success of the team because they know the team will honor the employee’s role in the success.)

For this to happen they must feel that they belong and that they are respected. That makes sense but let’s look at why those particular factors are so important.

How Does this Relate to Levels of Motivation?

In the 1940s Abraham Maslow studied human motivation and proposed his  Hierarchy of Needs. In this system, we find Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualization in the hierarchy. When individuals have achieved a sense of Belonging in the team (Level 3) and the team has shown appreciation for their contribution (Level 4) their Esteem needs are met. Only when those two levels have been achieved can someone start to Self-actualize (Level 5). At the Self-actualization level, we see people achieving greatness because they are functioning to their full potential.

What is Considered a Real Connection?

The important point here is that the only way for someone to feel accepted, appreciated and supported is for them to be their authentic self without fearing discrimination. This is the basis of real human connection. This is when we really “get” someone, not just know them and how many family members they have. Instead, we connect with their challenges, their passions, and their concerns. Therefore, for people to really perform optimally, and be most productive, they need an environment where they can be appreciated for their real selves and be as strongly connected to others. It takes real empathy and caring to get a relationship to this level.

The rapid switch we are seeing to digital channels should not be undertaken without acknowledgment that we need to keep things real. That teams will bond around their attachments, not their commitments, and therefore we have to keep the real contact alive.

If you would like assistance creating the human connection with your remote team look at our online training or reach out to us on +27 (0) 82 550 8867.