By Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist.
The news at the moment about COVID-19 is very alarming, and for many our anxiety levels are on high alert which in the long term can be at the expense of our mental and physical health. So what can businesses do to help ease anxiety and panic and to deal with the current economic uncertainties?
Uncertainty is difficult
The brain finds ‘the unknown’ the hardest to deal with and research shows that uncertainty is scarier and more alarming than known outcomes, even if they are bad outcomes. When faced with a perceived threat the body responds by releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, readying you for action. These hormones narrow down our focus in order to concentrate on survival, which decreases our productivity. Try and focus on the fact that this difficult period will end and that we just need to find ways to best get through it in the meanwhile. Planning, building routines and timetables may help.
Look at the big picture and think vertically
What solutions can you provide and what could the positive impact be? Think about what problems your customers or clients are currently experiencing and what solutions can you offer.
Make good use of the time
Find ways for you and your employees to make good use of the time catching up on administration, writing manuals or building a new website etc. If you are able to keep paying your employees then think creatively about how they can help with all the things you aren’t normally able to get to or achieve.
Stopping socialising can obviously deeply affect our mood
Humans are social creatures and when we hang out with people we like, feel good hormones like dopamine and serotonin are released and reward neural activity is stimulated in the brain. Arrange online and video meetings as much as possible and check in with known vulnerable employees.
We often see the very best in people in very difficult times.
Think if you or your team can help others in any way. Think laterally, creatively and with kindness. More often than not these things always come back to help you or your business in the future.
Be a strong leader
Be confident that you have the strength and versatility to overcome challenges when required and that this difficult period will pass in time. Demonstrate credibility, passion and your commitment.
Being panicked makes people susceptible to ‘fake news’
When the brain perceives a threat, it works very hard to neutralise the hazard and make you safe again. People are naturally inclined to believe information that lies close to their current inherited beliefs even if they are not based on solid science. Stress hormones decrease your rationality and critical thinking and make you more susceptible to inaccurate information. Avoid listening to other’s ‘strong opinions’ and check government websites for official advice.
Don’t descend into treating each other badly
During times of confusion and anxiety our stress hormones rise, we sleep less and consequently can be more irritable and shorter tempered. Be aware that this happens and make a conscious effort to smile and be positive. Positivity also rubs off on people, so smile and find things to laugh about, one of our best healers.
Give your staff autonomy
Studies show that productivity and morale increase when people are trusted and respected to make their own decisions at work. Don’t micromanage just because the team may be working from home. Trust your employees and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised, not least because work might provide a much needed distraction right now. Trust breeds loyalty.
Be as flexible with work patterns as you can
This is an unprecedented time. Studies show that people increase their productivity when they work from home, a clear benefit to the business. Your staff will have greater morale and commitment to the business if you facilitate them to be flexible with their working hours. They may have family members at home who need help, or they may need to go food shopping at a specific time.
Communicate clearly and honestly and allow both your employees and your customers enough time to acclimatise to the change. Try to find capacity to answer any difficult questions. Not everyone will be used to remote working so offer guidance and use line managers to check in regularly on their teams.
Plan. Plan. Plan.
Know what the company’s limits are and ask for help well in advance. Some kind business landlords are for example suggesting retailers prioritise their employees’ wages over paying rent. Think about what the financial and strategic impacts of these problems are and start looking for solutions.