How Covid has Changed the Change Curve

How Covid has Changed the Change Curve

How Covid Changed the Change Curve

Three years on from the onset of the global pandemic and it's still hitting the headlines. 

Here’s a timely reminder of the Change Curve to help you understand what you may have been feeling and may still be experiencing as you watch the news and/or face general ongoing uncertainty, fear, and change.

If you’ve experienced a Merger, Acquisition or restructure at work, chances are your leaders or Coach will have talked you through the Kübler-Ross Change Curve.  It shows the typical emotions we experience when we are faced with Change or grief on the left axis with the right axis denoting the amount of time we need to accept the situation, start making decisions and move on.  

When I’ve introduced this during Executive Coaching,  Resilience Coaching  or Change/Stress Management Programmes, I’ve asked participants to plot where they are on the curve and where they feel their organization sits.  Often veterans of corporate change smile and describe how they’ve experienced the Change Curve many times in their career, therefore after the initial shock they reach the 'Understanding' and 'Acceptance' stages within a couple of days, or even hours.  However, if someone is faced with a factory or site closure and potential redundancy for the first time, they can experience the fight, flight, freeze stress response and spend weeks, months or even years before reaching the Acceptance stage; they may even suffer from PTSD.

In early 2020 when Covid-19 hit the headlines many people in the UK were shocked by the images of overwhelmed ICUs in Northern Italy but were in denial that the virus would affect them as much.  Then, as reality dawned and people started to get sick and the first lockdown was enforced, the overriding feelings were of fear and panic with individuals and companies being forced to adapt suddenly and dramatically to the impact of the pandemic.  As meetings, holidays, sports events, and even weddings were cancelled, some business owners shut up shop completely as the situation seemed somewhat apocalyptic with an air of finality. 

Many people became angry with the government and/or started blaming the Chinese for the virus outbreak.  They also became confused and anxious faced with an uncertain future but,  despite the gloomy predictions, many companies actually started to flourish during lockdowns, especially those that had already embraced digital transformation.  As Darwin said: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’  

As many employees adapted to working from home there was a new sense of being in this together, clapping for carers, meeting, and supporting neighbours.  Many families enjoyed the quieter life, exploring their local areas, reconnecting over home schooling and taking time to cook meals from scratch.

However, by Summer 2020 the novelty of working at the kitchen table or in the spare bedroom had started to wear off as it became apparent that lockdown wasn’t going to last just a couple of months and Covid wasn’t going away anytime soon.  Remote workers became aware of screen fatigue as they started to miss those informal chats round the water cooler or coffee machine when problems could be solved swiftly and answers given to quick questions.  Any interaction with a line manager, peers or colleagues involved scheduling a ‘phone call, instant message or video call. 

For many of those working from home, it became obvious that they had replaced their commuting time with working longer hours. Boundaries between work and home life were becoming blurred and managing to have a healthy work/life balance was often a struggle.  As the immediate fire-fighting and crisis mode morphed into BAU, managers started to see the challenges of trying to motivate and performance manage remote teams. Existing issues, such as interpersonal disputes, lack of engagement, or overwhelm caused by a high workload started to resurface with a vengeance. Mass redundancies began to hit the headlines and desperation, despair, depression, and even PTSD set in for many.  There was a sense of loss of one’s freedom and a lack of trust of information, causing many individuals to decide to return to acting ‘normally’ as opposed to accepting the ‘new normal.’

By Summer 2020 amidst all the uncertainty of ever-changing travel restrictions many workers had to postpone or cancel their Summer holiday, or they chose not to take any annual leave, which resulted in burnout becoming more of an issue.  Anxiety levels rose with the fear of catching the virus, concern over using public transport and returning to the office, or an increasing lack of job security.  Leaders began to look for an exit strategy from being in emergency and operational mode to becoming more strategic and planning for the uncertain future.

By September 2020 and the new term  there was some optimism amidst the trepidation of a predicted second wave of the virus, but this positivity dissipated quite quickly against the introduction of the tier system, threats of a second lockdown, further mass redundancies, added to the uncertainty and potential chaos as a result of Brexit in the UK.

Many who had retained their jobs and had reached the ‘move on’ stage of the Change Curve with renewed enthusiasm often found themselves sliding back down the curve with their new-found enthusiasm being replaced by fear, anger, and blame again.  Many realised that the first lockdown had been bearable, or even pleasurable due to the good weather, but with the thought of Winter approaching, new restrictions were not so welcome.  Then came renewed hope with the announcement of various vaccines, which may have resulted in some complacency regarding restrictions and recommended behaviours.  As the second wave hit harder than the first and the enormity of the vaccination programme registered, many returned to feelings of frustration and impatience.  

Despite preventing mass hospitalisation from the virus, the vaccines didn’t become the single silver bullet that many had hoped they would.  With that disappointment added to increased restrictions in the UK and new lockdowns being introduced across Europe, there was more anger, anxiety, blame, and frustration all over again.  And so continued the roller coaster Change Curve.

Over the past three years and whilst providing support to frontline staff, I have heard so many heart-wrenching stories of people who looked after the dying, lost loved ones and weren't allowed to say their farewells, as well as many who are still struggling with Long Covid.  When providing Career Coaching and Outplacement Support, I’ve seen individuals in despair at losing their jobs, only to be ecstatic when we've worked together to secure a new and often improved role.

For many the Change Curve snce 2020 has looked more like a roller coaster with new intense emotions being experienced along the way.  2023 continues to be another year of uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity with the war in Ukraine, cost of living and fuel crisis, industrial unrest and potential banking crisis.  So, the most important skill required to cope with the pandemic and the resultant changes, pressure, and lack of certainty, continues to be developing our Resilience and focusing on what we can control.

‘I can safely say that we’d have been somewhat lost without your support over the past 2 years.  Thank you for listening to all the concerns and helping out with whatever difficult challenge we sent your way!  All the interventions were so valuable and worth it.’  HR Director

Stay positive!

About Jill Maidment

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