We are about four months into the COVID-19 outbreak and still making the adjustments needed to continue to live, work, and adjust to this new world. Some of us had jobs that transitioned to virtual work easily or had been working virtually for years. Millions have lost their jobs all together and are now forced to seek viable alternatives.
What I Can Tell You About Mental Stress
As a mental health professional, I see strain on people’s mental wellness as they attempt to navigate their life during this change. I’ve made it a habit to reach out to friends and family to check on their mental well-being. I’m a licensed clinician and I make my “roll-call” every other month to my regular clients for no charge just to check up. I guarantee you that the fear of the unknown is something we will process for years after this epidemic has passed.
These normal feeling are a consequence of a societal shift and will have economic, self-esteem, social changes that will continue when we return to the new normal. There is an upside. Humans do not get enough credit for being able to acclimate to involuntary change. WE can overcome a lot. I see it daily in my work and it gives me great hope.
The Explosion of the Gig Economy
The “Gig Economy” will continue to rise in prominence. The Gig job is one that is short term, freelance with flexibility of time and is often transaction specific. Some are forced here due to economic down turns and others embrace it with entrepreneurial zeal. Some see the past work culture of being tied to a single employer as no longer viable for economic stability.
Autonomy is at the heart of this economy. Think of how ride share and food delivery options within the last decade exploded. The Gig Economy is also common in creative and technological areas. Jobs that put the customer and provider in direct contact with little intermediary or regulation to affect the transaction. It’s as simple as a direct payment app on the phone or computer to finalize the transaction.
The Mental Cost of this Work Shift
I want to address this change of our workplace psyche. When an entire workforce is simultaneously called to attention, it deserves our attention and compassion. So much of what we think of ourselves is intertwined with what we do for a living. There is overall an amount of loss that we have to process about who we are if we are not at work. Before this forced paradigm shift, a majority of our workforce arrived daily at a specific place and time to perform our task. We must become comfortable performing in the absence of key elements contained within job satisfaction research that employees say help them to be happy in their work. What adjustments do we need to make to assure these things are still honored?
- Coming together for a common goal
- Immediate feedback of results
- Face-to-face communication
- Having a private or dedicated work space
The Upside for Employees
Although we may have to re-imagine what this looks like, there are some positive outcomes. An overall decrease in work related stress and anxiety by providing an increase in what workers welcome in their workday; 1. Increase autonomy 2. Removal of overbearing management 3. A decrease in office politics 4. ability to manage work tasks with more fluidity. Although new stressors will continue to some degree, this is a major change. This trade off requires individuals to explore how they transition in this time to be successful.
Leadership in the New World
Those who lead teams or supervise others must understand what has been unearthed is a wholesale confirmation of the importance of trust and empowerment of all workers regardless of their station. Those who may not have been thought of as crucial to the workforce previously, are now “essential employees.” I suggest we think very hard about this, and be thankful for them.
One afternoon I called a close friend of mine to ask about how they were making this transition since their job is at a state agency. I asked what procedures were being put in place since they are now required to work from home? They had no laptops to take home for tasks they needed to complete so workers were asked to take their desk computers to set up at home. No assistance from the workplace, in essence, given the job of figuring this out on their own. Employers were carrying the machines to their car. What my friend told me sounded like a lack of leadership. After our call I began to think about what will this pandemic teach us about leadership.
Leaders Must Be Greater
As a leadership trainor, I teach positive leadership that produces by-in, not compliance. A leader who cultivated these skills is finding the fruits of this style apparent. Rapid change and the need for great work synergy to overcome obstacles is crucial.
Authoritarian leaders who just “make sure everyone is doing as instructed,” is at the greatest disadvantage. Now administrations have less direct influence on a group that may be working from different places. There isn’t much left for a boss who leads by title and decree. They will be called on to utilize new skills to be successful. The thing is, nothing about great leadership is new. Leadership experts have been demonstrating this for years. Some leaders have been able to skip these skills, as proximity has allowed them to cheat at leading and just keep bossing.
What Continues to Matter
It is only the HOW we translate the bullet points (listed above) that needs innovation. Because the WHAT employees value in work (below) has always been, and continues to be, what pushes people to work to their highest potential.
- Personal Growth
- Progression in their field
- Clearly defined goals
- Positive work culture
- Transparency and trust
- Having an impact
- Someone to lead them who cares
More focus must be paid on the human being,not the human doing. What we control amidst all this uncertainty is how we treat others in times of crises and more importantly, in times of normalcy.