The global pandemic COVID-19 has affected the way the world lives and works. After many countries across the globe implemented lockdown policies and social distancing, many aspects of the economy have been impacted negatively. Some of the effects are short-term while others may last beyond the pandemic and so business leaders have been challenged with the need to pivot and plan on how to start building resilient teams post-pandemic.
The pandemic has resulted in the worst recession since The Great Depression. As a result of this, SA’s growth is 6.6% lower by IMF forecasts; whilst it has been projected that the economy will partially recover in 2021 but GDP will remain below pre-virus trend. The pandemic has also caused business liquidations to rise and market sentiment, compounded by slowing economic recovery & new “oil war”. Furthermore, there has been a substantial disruption to international travel & tourism (SA National Treasury, 2020).
Other global trends include slowing consumer spending due to lockdowns and fear of exposure to the virus at large gatherings; translating into changes in consumer spending patterns. The domino effect of COVID-19’s disruption to the global economy lead to disturbances to global supply chains, increased disruption of domestic production due to illness or lockdown and an increased risk of workers being temporarily placed off work or retrenched due to lack of demand. In an attempt to curb these effects, governments across the world have tried to assist individuals and businesses with funding. However, these actions by various governments have proven to be unsustainable, as there may rise a need to prioritize public finances towards health while reducing spending in other priority areas (SA National Treasury, 2020).
COVID-19’s impact on other areas such as individual finances and isolation may affect the general mental health of people and these effects could remain beyond the pandemic. Since national lockdowns have been implemented most people have been working from home, which escalates stress (Staglin, 2020). Based on a study by Lean-In.org and Survey Monkey conducted in April 2020, women are more vulnerable to stress and mental health issues during the pandemic. This is because a coronavirus-era schedule for a typical woman who works full-time, has a partner and kids is equivalent to having 2 fulltime jobs. Women are disproportionately working overtime to keep households afloat such that 1 in 4 women are experiencing severe anxiety with physical symptoms. People are also generally worried that they won’t be able to pay for essentials in the next few months, which makes the stress factor even more unbearable (Sandberg & Thomas, 2020).
SA’s Depression & Anxiety Group said volumes of calls to their helpline has doubled since the start of lockdown, they now receive between 1200 and 1400 calls a day. Employees say that their employers have not made an effort to rework their priorities or narrow down the scope of their work or taken steps to increase flexibility to help them cope with the unprecedented times (Ellis, 2020). We’ve lost the workplace as a great equaliser of employees of different backgrounds and this has exposed underlying inequalities; as working from home can also complicate performance management (Bloom, 2020).
If necessity is the mother of invention, then COVID-19 should provide opportunity to pivot, innovate, reshape and safeguard in every area of business, specifically areas that involve people aspects. Employers must help employees avoid burnout and illness. Leaders and managers should move deadlines that are flexible, revise targets that were set pre-pandemic, reconsider the timing of performance reviews and eliminate low priority items from employee to-do lists. Moreover, employers need to show empathy towards their employees by providing emotional support where possible. Actions such as implementing HR policies that support work-life balance i.e. extended childcare benefit and leave options to support caregivers, can go a long way in mental health stability for over-stressed employees. Leaders must encourage team interactions as often as possible as loneliness has shown to be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. Companies need to review which traditional ways of working exist because of convention instead of necessity then adjust accordingly. Post-pandemic Success will require a working model that links workforce management processes to broader decision making (Banerjee, et al., 2020).
While employers can do a lot to help their employees navigate mental health issues during the crisis, employees need to also be intentional with protecting their own mental space. Individuals must take responsibility for themselves first before anyone else can step in and help. The American Psychiatric Association Foundation has suggested the following actions for individuals to take in order to maintain mental health while working from home: keep a regular schedule, stay connected, keep your immune system strong, prioritize personal hygiene and limit contact with others, exercise and stay active, get some fresh air, stay informed but limit media consumption, set boundaries on work schedule, distract and redirect, get creative to stay connected.
The uncertainty of what the future looks like or when the world will finally get out of the woods with the crisis means that businesses and individuals across the world are operating in survival mode and will continue to do so for the unforeseeable future. Businesses need to start planning on how to come out of this period more resilient and successful; therefore, leaders should seek the necessary help on aligning company strategies to current trends. The famous saying about doing business in the 4th industrial revolution: “disrupt or be disrupted” still applies to the current situation, flexible businesses with the best capability to pivot will do better than their peers.