We are in very uncertain times however there are things we can do to ensure that we look after ourselves and others.
Last weekend, Anzac Day heralded a new way to observe the sacrifices of our forebears as many Australians stood at the end of their driveways, candles in hand, to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who endured one of the most difficult periods of Australia’s history. We stood as echoes of the Last Post floated above our neighbourhoods in respect of those lost, those who returned, and those who endured to build the Australia we know today.
It was a nod to the resilience of our country in the face of crisis and as we all grapple with our current challenges wrought by COVID-19, it was also perhaps an opportunity to put into perspective some of the sacrifices Australians are having to make to our way of life to ‘flatten the curve’ of a health crisis most of us have never known before.
We’ve all been impacted by the scale and speed of change resulting from the arrival of COVID-19 and we’re having to adapt very quickly in how we work and live. But here’s the thing: We don’t know how long it will take for coronavirus to be eliminated—or if it can be—and we don’t know how long it will be before a semblance of life as we knew it can resume.
For that reason, it’s important to focus on what we can do amidst the uncertainty.
Recognise that this is an endurance race, not a sprint
Most consultants are typically familiar with having to hit the ground running in a new project, engage with new people and processes, and deliver quickly to achieve expected outcomes. On the surface of it, it would seem we are well equipped to meet some of the new stresses of adapting to distributed working, managing demands from co-workers and families when working from home, and maintaining good health.
Those of us with a lot of project experience understand that there are projects that have clear outcomes and there are those that are a walk in the fog. The social distancing and other restrictions currently in place in Australia have set us on an untimed endurance race in unfamiliar terrain without a clear outcome. Whilst our delivery skills may hold up in the early weeks as we adapt, the pace and cadence required is different when the urgency to act and deliver is over and we have to start pacing for the longer-haul.
As most of us know someone who has been stood down, made redundant, or is grappling with reduced income and now working from home, this can be very challenging. Those of us who remain in work often feel quite a lot of guilt or stress for having been initially spared from being stood down or being made redundant, whilst also knowing the future remains uncertain for us too.
The scale and undulating nature of this change are very different from what most of us have experienced. Work can be stressful enough at the best of times but coupled with the changes we’re all grappling with means that we need to be especially careful managing our mental health and being aware of the people around us who may be struggling.
Ensure you secure your own mask before helping others
How many times have we tuned out from the airline safety messages when we’re travelling? The one that tells us that we should secure our own oxygen mask before helping those around us? It might go against instinct to help ourselves before others but there’s a good reason many airlines have resorted to deploying humour to get the message through.
It’s the same deal with mental health—both in the workplace and at home—that to be helpful to others in challenging times, we need to be okay ourselves. There are some simple things we can do:
- Ensure we are getting enough sleep
- Doing some form of daily exercise that gets us up and moving away from the desk or designated workspace.
- Ensuring your workspace is fit for purpose and that you have everything you need to be able to work comfortably and safely in your environment.
- Take breaks for meals and to momentarily disengage from work, especially if we’re working virtually.
These are practical disciplines that we can train ourselves to do and have immediate benefits for our wellbeing.
Cultivating resilience behaviours, however, are important investments of time and energy that will go a long way towards supporting our mental health. These require even greater discipline and commitment, but are worthy of the effort:
- Checking in with ourselves about what we’re feeling and acknowledging that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed with significant change or news that triggers underlying anxieties.
- Working to compartmentalise the information load that seems so pervasive in modern work and home life—and this is especially important with the relentless updates on the pandemic. It may be as simple as only checking the news once a day or using tools to limit our access to news sites while we work.
- Taking regular breaks to help manage energy, attention, and reset both are really important when working virtually – the incidental walks in the office or casual conversations with colleagues may not be easily replaced but it is important to move about and disengage periodically to stay fresh.
- Learning to respond to stressors rather than react to them helps to develop mental agility, for example, pausing to step back and observe a situation before trying to solve a problem that’s immediately before us.
- Practising compassion for ourselves as much as the people around us – this doesn’t mean taking on the stresses, but it does mean being able to sit with the discomfort of difficult situations without necessarily trying to solve them.
- Recognising when we need help that our families or workplace can’t give and reaching out to online and phoneline mental health resources that can help such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline.
Managing working from home or isolation
While a lot of our consultants are coping well with working from home, it’s not for everyone and they may be dealing with clients or colleagues who are very suddenly without the structures, teams, or resources they are used to engaging with every day.
As if that is not challenging enough, many also have kids, partners, or housemates at home trying to cope with their own changes. The refrain of ‘we’re all in this together’ is allowing some flex and slack when virtual working may result in unexpected background activity on our Zoom calls, but there will come a time when the pressure to deliver may outweigh the tolerance.
It’s important to establish a work routine as soon as it’s practical to ensure you can work from home efficiently. That may include creating workstations for each person, designated work-free zones, and establishing a clear quitting time. While there is a lot of advice about how to do this, no one’s circumstances are the same.
Staying connected to your client, colleagues, and team to communicate any challenges as effectively as possible is vital, as is recognising that some process or deliverables may need to be re-negotiated. Being proactive is essential–where it’s possible–to ensure that expectations can be effectively managed.
Staying connected in a time of coronavirus
As many of our teams and daily structure is now dispersed, it’s important to acknowledge that while you may feel like you’re more productive than ever without the distraction of interruptions and unscheduled meetings, but it’s also possible that the sense of isolation may be more intense.
It’s important to reach out to your colleagues, but not just for work-related engagement. A simple query about how they are coping and engaging in conversation can do a lot to alleviate stress for those around us as well as for ourselves. What’s important is to know you may not be able to solve their challenges – or they yours – but a willing ear is often just as valuable.
As an organisation, Quay has been awed by how well our consultants are supporting one another through this time. However, if you are feeling isolated and unable to speak to colleagues, Quay, or family, there are resources like Beyond Blue, Black Dog, and Lifeline that offer professional support. There are times when talking to a stranger with the right expertise can actually help to offload some of the pressure and stress we feel. We’ve included links below to help you access support if you need it.
Reach out to Quay for support
As a business, we really believe in supporting our people. Please reach out to us via phone or email if you are challenged or struggling with your engagement or to get some support from the management team.
For Mental Health assistance
If you need additional support please contact:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14 or text 0477 131 114
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511