By Barb Fletcher

Barb Fletcher

None of this will come as a surprise to you, my guess is that you are living the stress daily. You will find August data collected related to the COVID-19 impact paints a picture with some shocking findings. We know that the time since August has seen a resurgence of the COVID-19 with communities either being challenged by restrictions or more intensive protocols. All these changes are contributing to more stress if we hadn’t felt overwhelmed already. 

Unprecedented Times

COVID-19 has created unprecedented levels of stress, turmoil and disruption on a global scale. The impact on employees has been extremely heightened and persistent levels of stress and anxiety that has permeated every aspect of our daily home and work lives. The continuous stress being felt by employees is pervasive and impacts all dimensions of health and wellbeing, including financial, social, physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental and intellectual. This is unlike what most people have ever experienced and they are missing coping strategies to support them moving forward.

Uncertainty and loss of control

The COVID-19 has created uncertainty and a loss of control over many aspects of our daily routines resulting in feelings of increased vulnerability. Employees are experiencing financial uncertainty relating to anticipated or actual job loss and/or reduced wages. There is a heightened feeling of social isolation as the general population is asked by governments to social distance or self isolate or as employees are asked to work from home. From a physical perspective, employees are afraid of getting ill with the virus and the impact that it could have on their physical health or the health of their loved ones. 

There is a fear of the virus being present in our work environments or other public spaces that we all have to navigate during our daily work routines. Intellectually, employees are struggling with a barrage of conflicting information about what safe practices should be adopted including the need for physical distancing, wearing masks or the safety and availability of yet undeveloped COVID-19 vaccines. 

Morneau Shepell Study

The September 2020 Morneau Shepell Mental Health Index report indicates that has been a steady month-over-month deterioration in the mental health of employed Canadians since the beginning of the COVID-19. The report highlights the negative impact that this has had on employee reporting, decreased ability to concentrate at (34%), increased mental health and physical exhaustion at work (39%) and a decreased motivation at work (36%). The report also highlights that women are bearing a heavier burden during this time. The multiple roles played all requiring heightened attention and focus have increased their risk of burnout and illness.

As an employer we expect our employees to seek support & care when needed. Troubling data shows that almost 33% of the individuals indicate that the COVID-19 has made them less likely to participate in health care for physical needs than before the COVID-19. Nearly 25% indicate that they are less willing to participate in care for mental health needs than before the COVID-19. This reluctance has the potential to perpetuate unwellness (physical & mental) in the workplace. 

In addition, there is a definite difference in individuals mental health scores depending on where work is carried out. Those straddling working from home and in the workplace are not doing as well as those who remained in the workplace.

Why doing what we have done will not work

For most organizations, the traditional ways of supporting employees is no longer adequate as new and unanticipated challenges created by this COVID-19 causes major changes in how we interact with each other and the rest of the world. In fact, WorkSafeNB requires employers to have a pandemic plan in place. This plan will not suffice as employees are looking for comfort and understanding. Bridging that gap will occur with engagement and skills. The skills may be different from those traditionally used daily. For many employers this is a new view. 

A way forward

A new perspective which empowers individuals to build resilience in all aspects of their life must be considered. 

• Understanding an individual’s stress response empowers employees to quickly recognize their stress and take steps to feel relief  

• Awareness of emotions, the impact they are having on us (either draining or energizing) is key. 

• Tools that employees can practice in place are necessary, they must be simple and memorable.  

Organizational awareness and support will ultimately ensure a business has the employees they need, are able to carry out their work, be productive, allowing them to thrive in these challenging times.

Barb Fletcher is a stress expert. She empowers individuals, teams and organizations to develop resilience which is the best way for them to stay productive, focused and physically/emotionally well. Her 35 year career as a senior leader for the Province of New Brunswick gave her a first hand view of stress and inspired her to take action. She is a Certified HeartMath Trainer & Coach. 

She spends her time working virtually across North America during these COVID times. An entrepreneur at heart, she appreciates the challenges faced during this uncertain period and creates individualized solutions which fit your business. Barb lives just outside Fredericton with her husband. Family, gardening and learning are her pastimes and bring her joy.

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