Guest blog by Dr Noreen Tehrani, Occupational Health Psychologist
Organisations face increasing uncertainty and challenges created by the devastating impact of the COVID-19 virus. Attention is now moving to the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, considering what this might look like and what they should be doing to prepare. Not surprisingly much of the attention has been on dealing with reducing the physical risks[i] including:
- Establish the maximum levels of workplace occupancy to maintain social distancing
- Inspect the working environment to identify and remove potential hygiene hazards
- Arrange a pre-return to work deep-clean of soft and hard surfaces and equipment
- Establish and maintain ongoing daily cleaning schedules with regular monitoring
- Define standards for personal and workstation/workplace health and hygiene
- Review food and drink preparation areas and facilities
- Provide masks, gloves and other protective clothing as appropriate to tasks performed
- Consider travel arrangements, staggered working hours and worker rotation
- Review Ill health reporting and health screening procedures
- Train, promote, monitor and review of standards and procedures
Whilst ensuring the physical safety of workers is essential, it is also important for management to spend time thinking about what should be considered in terms of the psychological wellbeing of the organisation and its workers. To assist leaders in the preparation the following guidance framework have been developed.
The COVID-19 virus has been catastrophic for many organisations and within the lives of its workers. Whilst many may wish to get on with life and put the disaster behind them, this is not the best approach as there is a need to recognise the magnitude of the losses experienced by the organisations and workers alike. It is recommended before the organisation starts operating senior management consider how they will acknowledge the losses experienced. This may include the death of colleagues, family members and friends but also the business losses such as those brought about by redundancy, loss of markets, sales outlets and opportunities. These losses may create increased symptoms of chronic traumatic stress leading to hyperarousal, avoidance and re-experiencing. If there is a group acknowledgement of the loss and pain, the sharing of these widely experienced feelings can provide a shared sense of belonging and comfort.
Signs of traumatised workers
Arousal: Being irritable, jumpy, over reacting and lacking concentration
Avoidance: Staying away from all reminders of what has happened
Re-experience: Dwelling on what has happened, unable to move on
Signs of traumatised organisations
Arousal: Being over-reactive to information, comments or suggestions
Avoidance: Failing to recognise or address real issues in the workplace (elephant in the room)
Re-experience: Repeating old responses to challenge, change and opportunity
The lockdown has given people time and space to consider other ways of being. Many have developed new skills and achieved greater freedom of expression. Some of these advances and changes will provide benefits to the organisation but may require a re-think of the practices and procedures of the past.
- Which changes in working practices and procedures have been beneficial?
- Which changes have been harmful?
- Thoughts and ideas for improvements
- New skills learnt
- Gaps in systems ways of working identified
A key to success lays in creating greater agility in the development of responses and communications designed to maintain a shared sense of common purpose.
- Feedback - a way of communicating with team members in a way that provides opportunities for positive and constructive growth.
- Stand-ups are short meetings to keep teams informed on progress made, current and intended activities, and any blocks.
- Showcases are opportunities to communicate to wider groups the steps a team or a group are taking and the achievements made.
- Retrospectives provide a forum for looking at what is going well, things that didn’t go well that might be improved.
Some team members may continue to struggle. It is important to identify those who may be disadvantaged or struggling where additional organisational or professional help and support is required[ii].
- Changes in mood, behaviour or engagement with others
- A fall in quality of work or increased accidents
- Appearing tired, jumpy or withdrawn
- Increased smoking and drinking
- Consistent late arrival or increase in sickness absence
Refresh and Renew
Having embraced and responded to the changes brought about by COVID-19 progress against key indicators of success should be undertaken, restarting the cycle to create a process with the aim of building an opportunity for post-COVID personal and organisational growth[iii].
Dr Noreen Tehrani is an Occupational Health Psychologist, she has worked with organisations in developing polices, procedures and interventions to protect workers exposed to trauma in their roles as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, teachers, social workers, humanitarian and others. She is internationally recognised as an author and researcher dealing with crisis, disasters and trauma.