Posted 29 Sep 2021
Pingdemic Pain: Expecting The Unexpected
With Covid-19 restrictions fully lifted in the UK, workers of all kinds are now returning to the workplace. For many people this has signposted a return to normality, perhaps even permission to relax and stop being so cautious. After a long and stressful year and a half, people are understandably ready to move on and think about something else.
To much annoyance, the new “pingdemic” crisis has brought with it a fresh wave of disruption, this time without much warning and it is creating havoc for businesses and mass anxiety for workers.
For those not in the UK being “pinged” is the term for receiving a notification from our National Health Service that you must isolate, meaning you have been in contact with someone that has subsequently tested positive. With people now mingling at a higher rate the numbers being asked to isolate are increasing rapidly and causing difficulties in staffing as well as childcare. Though it is tempting to return to a “businesses as usual” mindset right now, we need to hang in there and keep working on staff support for a little while longer. I came across some excellent advice from Registered Mental Health Nurse Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health which I would like to share.
A Change In Routine
Part of the anxiety so many people are experiencing is the threat of change to their routine. Having adapted to a system of lockdowns and distancing rules we must now adapt again to something new. As Street says “Getting ‘pinged’, or the thought of it happening, is stressful. Despite the disruption of the last year – and the mental fitness many of us developed to cope with it – the unexpected disruption of isolation presents a new set of problems, with no time to prepare.”
Finding out that you must immediately isolate causes all sorts of urgent problems to be solved such as cancelling plans, a sudden absence of childcare, or figuring out how to work from home when your work essentials are at the office. The thought of having to do this at any moment is hanging over millions of people which has of course created worry and panic. Street also points out that the challenges of sudden unexpected quarantine also include “the loneliness of isolation, possible enforced remote working, lack of structure and financial worries.”
So what can employers do to help their workforce stay on top of mental health worries during this period of adjustment to a new way of doing things?
Street advises that “Businesses have a duty to make sure their staff don’t feel alone. Line managers should maintain regular contact and make reasonable adjustments to adapt meetings or projects to include everyone. For example, hosting team calls over a video chat service – even if some colleagues remain in the office – means remote workers don’t miss out on important updates.”
At this stage in the pandemic these solutions are not new and there is no excuse for not being able to accommodate many people remotely. It’s great that face to face has become possible again but please do remember to keep online options available for meetings and make sure that everyone is in the loop after discussions if they weren’t present. I remember acutely the loyalty inspired by making every effort to accommodate staff during the long lockdowns, managing a “ping” will bring the same.
Prepare For The Unexpected
Your staff are going to be pinged. You are going to have to arrange cover, reformat client visits or meetings. Talk about it with your managers so that they know what to expect. Street also talked about planning for the possibility of being pinged as way to help relieve the anticipation anxiety. He says, “Normalizing the idea of unexpected remote working alleviates some stresses for employees, who can hit the ground running with their work, stay connected to their teams and ultimately return to their peak mental fitness despite the uncertainty.”
He is right to touch on this subject as many people feel self-conscious about working from home in the same way that people worry about calling in sick. They don’t want to be perceived as an inconvenience or a slacker. Letting them know that this is expected and normal will help them cope, reach out to those with young children and remind them that they can work flexible hours, put in place accommodations for them. We also don’t want to attach a stigma to remote working as it may encourage people to ignore the guidelines and delete the Health Service app in order to avoid it. On this subject Street suggests that “It’s key to let all employees know it’s okay if they’re asked to self-isolate and that it can’t be helped. Then, put into place measures to mitigate disruption, like nominating a line manager for individuals to report to throughout their isolation period and encouraging all work to be saved online so remote workers can pick up tasks from anywhere.”
Having a system in place is a great idea and reassures your team that you will support them through any future changes that may occur.
If there is one thing we have learned as business leaders during the pandemic is that adaptability is key, not only to staying successful but also to retaining and supporting valued staff. Restrictions and rules will continue to change. With each new step we will also have to consider mental health and do what we can to reduce the impact on those in our network, including ourselves.
Being quick to communicate, ready to be open minded about new ways of doing things and able to provide emotional support is a winning formula, but it has become persistently draining. As employers, it’s really important to adapt our systems, rather than keep expanding our manager’s work remit. For example, in my business we’ve had an exponential increase in safeguarding reports given the vulnerable client group with whom we work and the impact of the pandemic. To cope, we restructured our safeguarding system from one Lead with a Deputy to a team of four, which has given a chance for some more junior members to take a role and they are loving it! The answer isn’t always “managers must do more” sometimes the answer is sharing responsibilities and delegating tasks to those who would love a chance to shine.