Who Doesn't Want Lockdown to End?
Last year a client and I had been let down by suppliers and we were bemoaning the fact that the world has seen a demise in true values, such as honesty, integrity and simple kindness. We felt that many businesses hadn’t learnt lessons since the Lehman Brother’s collapse and resultant economic recession in 2008. We also agreed that there was often a new competitive culture of ‘busyness’ in many offices. Outside work, in an era of instant gratification, accessibility to almost anything from a new washing machine to a lover appeared to be just two clicks or a ‘swipe left’ away. People seemed to be rushing around more, driving longer distances to work, spending evenings at their laptops, then cramming weekends with more activities. Being on a constant metaphorical treadmill was taking its toll: Stress and Burnout were rife, with the Health and Safety Executive stating that 44% of workers, who felt overwhelmed, cited a heavy workload as the reason in 2019. They also reported that 602,000 workers suffered from work-related mental health issues in the same year; this equated to a loss of 12.8million working days due to depression and anxiety.
Mental health issues were constantly hitting the headlines last year, with stressed out executives ironically rushing off to silent retreats in an effort to recuperate. Add in the popularity of Greta Thunberg and the final global realisation that we are destroying our own planet, and my client and I observed that ‘the world does appear to have gone slightly mad!’ It felt like many lifestyles had started to become unsustainable and we were hurtling towards some form of disaster. I have a confession to make; I then said somewhat prophetically: ‘Don’t worry, something major will probably happen that makes us all go back to how it was in the Second World War.’ Clearly, I had no idea that 2020 and an unseen enemy would change all our lives so dramatically and cause such widespread heartache. The horror and sadness of the predictable high death toll in the UK from COVID-19 has caused untold pain and tragedy, devastating the lives of so many families. Of course, any crisis will also exacerbate already underlying problems and bring out the best and worst in people; sadly, ‘Refuge’, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, recently reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day.
Just four months ago many of us hadn’t even heard the terms ‘herd immunity’, 'furloughed’, or ‘social distancing.’ It didn’t seem possible that a pandemic would have such disastrous consequences on our own shores. The longed for nostalgic ‘splendid isolation’ of the UK, favoured by the Brexiteers, turned in to ‘social isolation.’ Panic and fear ensued as people scrambled to prepare for an unprecedented lockdown. For those lucky enough to have parents or grandparents, who lived through World War 2, you will have heard the stories of food shortages, rationing, even powdered eggs and black out curtains. You would have been taught to appreciate health, family and good food. Hopefully, you will have also heard the stories of heroism, Community spirit and local dances, where romances blossomed for those men too young to be sent to fight. Reportedly, many who are coping best during the current crisis are the older generations, who arguably are used to being more frugal and socialising less. During our recent virtual Executive Coaching and Resilience Coaching sessions, we have discussed whether introverts are coping better with the lockdown, with some relishing the quiet and not wanting to return to ‘normality’. Whereas, extroverts are having to make do with Whatsapp and Zoom to get their social ‘fix’. Whilst providing Career and Transition Coaching for those who have been made redundant, they have also seen the break in work as an opportunity to 'do all the R's': press the reset button, reflect, re-evaluate, and regroup, concentrating on what they really want out of their work and home life.
For many workers suddenly having to work from home has been a great shock, having to get used to a new routine and struggling to get motivated; conversely, those with a ‘body-in-the-seat mentality’ have been working longer hours during what was their commuting time. Throw in to the mix the challenge of home-schooling at the same time, and working parents instantly had even more of a juggling act to deal with. There are many harsh consequences of the lockdown, such as bankruptcies, jobs lost and, on a personal level, weddings being cancelled, studies postponed. The Millenials in particular seem to struggle with social isolation, missing the camaraderie of the office and the pubs and clubs. It’s no surprise that alcohol consumption rose 31.4% in April 2020 in the UK!
On a more positive note, a crisis can bring people together; as the extent of the impact of coronavirus became clearer, we started to witness the old values of integrity and kindness resurface; the country came to the realisation that we actually rely on key workers, such as our NHS staff, care staff, Council workers, farmers, and supermarkets to keep us alive. Again, anyone with family who lived through the war will have instilled this in to their children and grand-children. It is heartening to see how communities and neighbourhoods have come together to look after the vulnerable, redundant Sales staff have applied to work in supermarkets, and resting sports stars have been volunteering. In the celebrity-obsessed society, new heroes are being acknowledged.
Many who are in social isolation have discovered cooking from scratch, bread-making and vegetable growing. They have been experimenting with new hobbies, such as painting or learning the guitar, as well as finally getting fit. Lots of families are enjoying simply going for a walk or cycle, or exercising together at home. People are at last getting round to clearing out the garage or decorating the spare room. As W.H. Davies wrote: ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’ Overnight, instead of leaping in to cars or planes to rush to attend mindfulness and yoga retreats, many have become more mindful and appreciative, as the horrors of the pandemic consume our TV screens, because many finally have the time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life again. Human beings are able to adapt and the crisis is developing our resilience and testing our resolve. As Charles Darwin wrote: ‘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.’
When some restrictions start to ease and a full lockdown ends, many organizations and employees are keen not to revert to pre-covid ways of working. The pandemic has taught us that we don’t need to cram in to trains, planes and buses to sit in air-conditioned buildings at laptops all day. Memories can be very short so we have to be careful that we don’t ‘revert to type’ post-pandemic and start to take people and things for granted again. Hopefully the restored values of integrity, kindness, appreciation and the sense of Community spirit will become the ‘new normal’.
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