Blog

The-Psychology-of-Fear

The Psychology of Fear: How Fear Harms Workplaces and People’s Lives

‘El miedo es gratis’ (Fear is free) – Old Spanish proverb.

Most people in Spain have grown up hearing that. Fear is free. What that means is that fear is free, as in, it doesn’t cost any money. But it turns out, they weren’t 100% right, were they? No, you don’t need to pay money to be afraid, but Fear,it turns out, is very costly. It has a high psychological cost, physical cost, and a financial cost, since, at the very least, it stops you from doing things and taking chances.

Today we see the whole world gripped by fear. A fear with a name but without a face. A fear that has been going on since the beginning of the year. A fear that has become imperative we get rid of immediately. Why? Because prolonged fear causes a type of stress that can become really hard to ditch.

THE ROLE OF FEAR

In psychology we see fear as a basic and ever-present emotion. A certain amount of fear is normal, even good for us. It helps us to survive, by having an inbuilt, rapid mechanism to detect danger, and therefore allow us to take action to prevent harm. It is the foundation of our fight or flight response.

The-Psychology-of-Fear

Don't forget to subscribe to our monthly eMag - WorkLife

Expert insights and tips on how to build resilient and mentally healthy workplace cultures delivered straight to your inbox each month.

THE PROBLEM WITH FEAR

The problem is that if our fear response goes into hyper drive, it can cause harm itself. It can paralyze us and stop us from taking actions that would be beneficial to our wellbeing. It begins to control us rather than serve us. And when fear is prolonged, the potential for serious mental distress in the form of mental disorder is greatly increased.

In mental health, we know that all mental illnesses are founded in, or at the very least, accompanied by, a large amount of fear. This means that when someone you love experiences mental health distress, of any kind and severity, you can be fairly certain that at some level, fear is involved. Fear may be lurking just under the surface, or it may permeate every aspect of their life and their decision making.But, how specifically?

HOW FEAR IMPACTS US

Decision Making – A fearful person cannot make good decisions, the decisions that they normally would make, because fear impairs and interrupts good cognitive function. For example, the research shows that when we are stressed, we are less likely to choose good healthy foods. So much for dieting when you’re afraid of being disliked! Another common response to fear is to delay making any decision, because we are too worried about what the consequences might be if we make the wrong one!

Fear

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself” – Franklin D Roosevelt

Risk Averse Bias – Importantly, fear also creates a bias in the way we interpret information. It leads us to focus too heavily on the risks, rather than making an objective analysis of all the facts of a situation. We can easily appreciate this in sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is a disorder where the person becomes fearful of dying, either of unseen microorganisms like bacteria, viruses or germs, or from physical accident, injury or misadventure. People with OCD are not able to make objective analyses of situations and have to be helped, through therapy, to change their association with fear of pathogens. In a work context, in organizations where there is fear, you see groups become risk averse, which is not helpful for growth and development, and sometimes causes the exact result that the executives were afraid of, and trying to avoid.

Problem Solving –It’s also well known that fear disrupts our capacity for problem solving. We become tunnel visioned on our main concern, rather than expanding our thinking to discover and consider a wide range of solutions. In fact, often people tend to oversimplify the problem and the solution to the problem. The solution is often emotional, rather than logical, and does not stand up to scrutiny.

Undermining success – Fear not only impairs our capacity to solve problems and to make good, effective decisions, it also boycotts our chances for success in life. For example, ever heard of the term ‘fear of failure’? Well, we now understand this differently.We now know that often, people that say that they are afraid of failure, when they dig in deeper and explore it, they are also fearful of succeeding. How is that possible? How can anyone be afraid of succeeding? Simple, think of your life right now, as it is. If you were 100% successful and achieved amazing dreams and goals, how many of the people that are around you now, would still like you then? Or would they be envious? For most people, if they were to significantly improve their life, fear would need to take a back seat.

Can you see why fear would not always be useful in a work context?

HINDSIGHT 2020

Today, as a collective, we are experiencing a new kind of fear, which is unique in a sense. This is a fear that is being drummed up, encouraged by governments, some scientists, and the media. Though it may not be the intention, we are reminded to be fearful of others, and fearful for our safety. These reminders to be afraid are conveyed in somewhat subtle ways by the masks we must wear in many places, the visual signs we see alerting us to social distance, the announcements and conversations we hear, and in many other indirect ways. There doesn’t seem to be a reprieve from these (sometimes) subtle, yet constant reminders.

Whether it is warranted or not, is not the question here. The fact remains that we know that fear causes stress, and that long term stress causes an untold number of physical and psychological illnesses.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 120000 people die every year as a direct result of workplace stress. Chronic stress is also linked to the 6 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, respiratory deaths, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

The idea that fear causes physical damage is not new knowledge. In fact, there’s a lovely Sufi story that illustrates the harm fear brings:

“A caravan leader in the middle of the desert crossed the plague cloud on his way. – Where are you going like that, asked the chief? – To Baghdad! I have a thousand lives to take, the plague replied without stopping! A few weeks later, the leader of the caravan again crossed the cloud of plague. – ‘Hey!’, said the head of the caravan, ‘I’m back from Baghdad! It was not a thousand but ten thousand people that you took away!’ – ‘I only killed a thousand people as I was ordered’, retorted the plague! ‘The others were scared to death!’”

Being literally scared to death may sound a bit extreme, but it brings us to an interesting phenomenon that was discovered in the 1800’s, called ‘Voodoo Death’.

“VOODOO” DEATH

Voodoo death is a sudden, unexplained death resulting from spells, sorcery, or curse. From a psychological perspective we may explain it as resulting from belief in the power of those spells, sorcery or curses.

In his article ´Voodoo Death´, Walter Bradford Cannon shares numerous examples from traditional cultures, where there have been instances of death observed in these conditions:

  • In the Tupinambas Indians of South America, there have been cases observed of fright induced death, following the prediction or condemnation by a chief or medicine man with the reputation of having supernatural power.
voodoo-death-doll
  • In Brown´s New Zealand and its Aborigines, there is an account of a Maori woman. who, having eaten some fruit, was told that it had been taken from a tabooed place. She exclaimed that the sanctity of the chief had been profaned, and that his spirit would kill her. This incident occurred in the afternoon; the next day about 12 o’clock she was dead.
  • Australian University Professors have observed that from time to time the natives of the Australian bush do die as a result of a bone being pointed at them, and that such death may not be associated with any of the ordinary lethal injuries.

In today’s terms we may not call it ‘Voodoo Death’ anymore, but we have studied the science, and we now have good evidence for what we now call Somatoform Disorders, and the Nocebo Effect. We can categorically say that fear can, and does injure, harm and, in the most extreme cases, kill.It can be directly, as in the case of the examples above, or indirectly, as in the case of people believing themselves sick and dying of iatrogenesis or side effects of treatment.

THE NOCEBO EFFECT

Almost everyone has heard of the placebo effect. We see the placebo effect when people have a positive improvement in response to a substance, idea, thought or situation, simply because they believe it to be ‘true’ but without it actually having any active ingredient or proof. Their mind, the unconscious part, has taken control of the body and made it respond ‘as if’ the substance or idea is a matter of fact.

The placebo effect is the most studied effect in the history of science since it’s used as the standard to produce relatively safe medicines. What most people don’t know so well is its close cousin – the nocebo effect. That’s where a person believes something benign is actually malignant to them. In this case, the person starts feeling all the symptoms and often displaying the signs of the particular ailment they believe they have, although they don’t have it. For example, ever googled some kind of strange illness and then you start feeling some of the symptoms explained? How did that happen? Well, you tapped into your nocebo. Of course, most people stop just in time of making themselves actually sick, or do they?

Building-Resilience-at-Workplace
Building Resilience at Workplace course

HEADING INTO 2021

Think of this interesting and dangerous situation during the Coronavirus situation: the media actively selling fear, the government promoting fear to get people to follow their directions, the doctors panicking trying to understand a new threat and an increased influx of new patients, and the patients themselves in a state of panic. This is a situation of compounded fear. Fear at every level. What do you think will be the results of this heightened level of fear? From purely a psychological perspective, that’s a PERFECT STORM for ill health in the form of somatoform disorders, mental disorders,iatrogenic deaths and suicide.

So, it is vital we learn to identify when fear is building in us and learn how to handle it as quickly as possible. It can save our lives and that of our loved ones.

6 Things You Can Do That Will Immediately Neutralize The Fear In You

Advanced-Resilience-Skills
  1. STOP, or severely limit, watching the news. It’s a horror movie!
  2. STOP believing unreliable sources that have a vested interest in selling you fear AND have lied to you in the past (politicians, media, etc) when in doubt, ‘follow the money’.
  3. STOP ruminating – it means stop entertaining negative, fear inducing, thoughts. Get busy with another, better thought or activity. Ie watch a comedy, go and play, etc
  4. START exercising – it releases yummy endorphins and makes you happy. Start with some kind of easy exercise
  5. START spending time every day to notice all the things you do have that we usually take for granted (ie clean water out of a tap, hot showers, some of your loved ones ;), the warm and comfy bed you get into at night, etc)
  6. START eating healthy. What we eat does make a difference. The wrong kind of food, or the wrong amounts, can tax our system and produce chemical anxiety. Ie coffee, capsicums, iceberg lettuce, oranges, etc. Every body is different so it is a matter of paying attention to what your body says and experimenting.

This article was first published here

Worklife eMag - Fear Factor
WorkLife emag - the Fear Factor

WorkLife eMag – The Fear Factor: Exploring the Psychology of Fear

There’s no way around it; fear is an ugly and harmful thing. Fear can be all-encompassing and turn reasonable and intelligent people mad. It is at the heart of every mental health problem.

That’s why it’s essential we understand the psychological drivers of fear, how fear operates, and the damage it can cause. This edition of Worklife delves into these drivers of fear and exposes the harm it causes. We have also added some advice as to what you can do to protect yourself from fear, anxiety and stress.

Mental Health and Resilience are more crucial than ever for organizations, companies and individuals. At the Workplace Mental Health Institute, our response to fear is to meet it head-on with education.

We are pleased to present you with our last eMag for 2020 – The Fear Factor.

Don't forget to subscribe to our monthly eMag - WorkLife

Expert insights and tips on how to build resilient and mentally healthy workplace cultures delivered straight to your inbox each month.

Get-people-moving

10 Essential Elements of a Workplace Wellness Strategy – Get People Moving

As Steve Wozniak, the cofounder of Apple, said to me“Take care of your employee’s mental health. It’s a high priority. You’re going to get better performance. Everybody knows that”. And it’s true, when you take care of your employees mental health, businesses perform better. In short, a happy employee is a productive employee.

The good news is that, while happiness is mostly up to the individual, individuals are socially driven. Good environments with good habits set up the stage for individual and collective happiness. Which brings me to element number two – Get People Moving.

Essential Element #2: GET PEOPLE MOVING

What is Get People Moving about? Well, it is about improving the general fitness of individuals. And the number one thing we can do to improve that, is to help people get off their behinds, stand up, and get moving.

Get-people-moving

Let’s face it, sitting is the new smoking. It’s REALLY bad for you. And, on top of that, it wrecks the look of the bottom half of your body through muscle and organ atrophy (due to lack of exercise and compression) – Oh! You knew that? I figured you did but often we need a reminder. Other times we just need a kick up the butt, but we avoid getting one because we are sitting down (joke lol).

Joking aside, the question to ask is – How can we get more movement into what we do every day? A company I heard of moved the photocopiers back into a room so people would have to get up and walk to get their printing from time to time. I’ve heard that at Zappos, every 20 minutes or so loud music goes off, people get up and start dancing. What are you willing to do?

Don't forget to subscribe to our monthly eMag - WorkLife

Expert insights and tips on how to build resilient and mentally healthy workplace cultures delivered straight to your inbox each month.

I’ve also heard that many of the world’s most successful leaders and business owners have standing desks with a slow moving treadmill under them. Not only does this help their physical and mental health but it also helps ideas to flow.

Look, I get it, you know this stuff. Heck, you might even be the one telling others all about it! But, does that mean you are doing it? Knowing is one thing, doing is another. But it doesn’t have to be a huge effort. Sometimes the biggest difference is made by smallest and simplest change.

What small change can you make today that will bring the most results to your wellbeing?

By the way, we interviewed Jenny and Craig recently on the topic of physical and mental wellness. They are a brilliant couple that have a great approach to this. You can watch the video of the interview here – https://youtu.be/z0WXG-MQZyE

Our next essential element of a workplace wellness strategy will be the Smiling Policy.

Talk soon!

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter Diaz profile

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
Facebook-logo Podcast Icon LinkedIN-logo

Work-from-home-burnout

The real dangers of Work-From-Home burnout and how to properly tackle them

Work-from-home (WFH) burnout is a real, serious, and increasingly common risk for remote workers across the globe. Learn the signs of WFH burnout, how to combat it, and where employers/virtual managers and employees can reach out for help.

The world is grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic that continues to take a toll on nearly all aspects of people’s lives. The vast majority of the workforce across the globe has willy-nilly adapted to a new work environment — the new “normal” in the context of the pandemic. But working from home has also opened a Pandora’s box of workaholic tendencies, anxieties and fears, proneness to overworking and burnout, and potential mental health problems.

While the virus itself poses a risk to our physical health, the impact of the whole unnerving situation on our mental health is anything but negligible, and this is especially true for remote workers whose home has transformed into their office. Between working harder and longer hours from home and juggling family responsibilities, people who have been working remotely due to government-imposed restrictions are facing an increased risk of WFH/ lockdown burnout, with potentially long-term repercussions.

Work-from-home-burnout

Different Remote Workers in Different Industries, All Overworked and Burned Out

What used to exclusively be their own oasis of relaxation where they’d spent quality time with their loved ones and unwind has also become their work environment for several months now. In a recent BBC News video, three professionals working remotely in different industries share their WFH experiences in terms of feeling the signs of burnout and overworked during lockdown in the UK.

 

“When I used to work at the gym I’d finish my work at the gym and then get home and rest but this just feels like there’s no end”.

Ana, a young personal trainer living in the UK, has been intensely working from home since March. Stuck at home, she started posting more educational content and live streaming workouts on Instagram, which quickly increased the number of clients from different countries. To provide her services online to clients in different parts of the world, such as the US and Australia, she’s been working almost round the clock. “I’m constantly working”, confesses Ana. From 30 sessions per week, Ana now manages 50-60 sessions per week.

 

“Because I lost all the gig income, I had to really buckle down”.

For David Altweger, a middle-aged musician and owner of an independent record label, the pandemic has had a devasting impact on his gig income. Running a record label online requires a lot of hard work and longer hours, so it’s no wonder that David’s workload significantly increased. He starts his day at 5 a.m. with a strong coffee. David’s workday is around 16 hours, as he’s got to handle every aspect of his business himself, including design work, office work, and, with his distributor closed due to lockdown, even CD deliveries, which are quite time-consuming, taking him at least 2 hours a day.

“Sometimes I feel like Covid Father Christmas delivering music to people’s door”, confesses David. His Moka pot is his “secret weapon”, but at the end of the day, he feels “completely knackered”.

 

“Lockdown has brought out the workaholic in me”

Abbey, a young art director working remotely for an ad agency in the UK has been feeling the pressure to stay productive and has been experiencing the effects of overworking due to fear of losing her job too. “I’m doing ten times more because there’s so much uncertainty around jobs and everything”, laments Abbey, for whom “the need to keep working” at all costs is so strong and deeply embedded that she oftentimes refuses to tend to her physiological needs for food.

She finds it difficult to take a break just to have lunch because she “doesn’t know how to switch off”. A major contributor to her inability to switch off is the fact that work and relaxation take place in the same environment i.e her home. Separating the two is as difficult for Abbey as it is for other remote workers around the globe.

In America, where over 30 million people have filed unemployment claims since March, the pressure to stay productive and even be more productive than prior to the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of overworked people working from their homes. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll , 45% of US adults say that this whole situation associated with the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.

I find myself working all the time, even when I should be getting ready for bed”

41-year-old New Jersey resident and mother-of-two Alana Acosta-Lahullier is overworked and feels burned out to the bone. Alana says she feels “an obligation to get everything done right”, even if doing so is detrimental to her mental health and well-being. Between her full-time job, working remotely for an electrical contractor, parenting, and helping with the schooling of her daughter and son, who has ADHD on the autism spectrum, she’s “constantly on the verge of a panic attack”.

Don't forget to subscribe to our monthly eMag - WorkLife

Expert insights and tips on how to build resilient and mentally healthy workplace cultures delivered straight to your inbox each month.

Panic-Working Is a Manic Defense

Even Gianpiero Petriglieri, a psychiatrist, MD, and associate professor of organisational behavior at the Business School for the World (INSEAD) admitted in late March that “by the time I went to bed at 3 a.m., I was exhausted, edgy, and miserable” due to “panic-working” from home.

The obsession with staying productive at all costs is considered a “manic defense” by psychoanalysts. Panic-working gives us a false sense of security and the illusion of being in control. It numbs us in the short term but this defense comes at a high price – feeling disconnected from reality, our experiences, and other people, and completely burned out.

Fighting Fire with Fire: A Vicious Cycle

Remote workers are oftentimes pushing themselves too hard as a way of coping with their anxieties and fears caused by the pandemic and the recession. But overworking in an effort to stay productive does not serve them well; in fact, it’s akin to self-sabotage because it eventually leads to burnout, more anxiety, depression, and other repercussions on their mental and overall health.

Both employers/virtual managers and remote workers need to be aware of the increased risk of burnout associated with working from home, recognise the (early) signs, and effectively combat it as early as possible.

Working Harder and Longer Has Become the Norm

Transition to a work-from-home culture has been challenging for managers across the globe. Finding new ways to ensure that their remote teams stay productive is one of their main priorities. However, instead of worrying about their teams’ underperformance, virtual managers should be on the lookout for overperformance, which has been found to be productivity’s enemy rather than its ally.

According to a 2017 working paper published by researchers at Harvard Business School, task selection is a common way through which workers manage their increased workload. More specifically, they tend to complete easier tasks, a behavior labeled as Task Completion Bias (TCB). Although TCB has been found to improve short-term productivity, it negatively impacts long-term performance measured by revenue and speed alike. Workers who do not exhibit this behavior tend to be significantly more productive than those who exhibit TCB.

Research shows that the vast majority of remote workers are more productive than their in-office counterparts. They work harder and longer hours than ever before for different reasons, including the fact that employers apply increasingly more pressure for efficiency purposes. for financial rewards, and out of fear. Remote workers fear for many things – they fear for the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones; the economic fallout and uncertainty of the future; they fear for losing their livelihood/financial security and no longer being able to provide for themselves and their family, and more.

But the reality is that overworking makes a remote worker more prone to WFH burnout.

The Warning Signs of WFH Burnout

Work-from-home or lockdown burnout refers to a state of exhaustion on physical, emotional, and mental levels caused by prolonged and excessive stress associated with panic-working/overworking from home and disruption to the work-life balance.

Although burnout is still not classified as a medical disorder, the World Health Organisation (WHO) included it in ICD-11 last year as an occupational phenomenon and is defined as “a syndrome” that results from chronic and unsuccessfully managed workplace stress.

What to watch out for:

  • Chronic fatigue/exhaustion and apathy
  • Depression and/anxiety worsening over time
  • Constantly elevated stress levels and reduced energy levels
  • Feeling overwhelmed and mentally drained all the time
  • Inability to focus and forgetfulness/memory issues
  • Lack of motivation, feelings of negativism toward one’s job
  • Declining performance, avoiding work or inability to switch off
  • Chest pain, shortness of breath and/or heart palpitations
  • Irritability, anger, and sleep disorders (e.g. insomnia)
  • Dizziness and headaches/migraines
  • Loss of/reduced appetite and/or gastrointestinal issues

Early recognition of these signs via virtual channels such as chat apps and video calls is of the utmost importance. It’s worth noting that a worker who is affected by WFH/lockdown burnout does not necessarily have to exhibit all of the above signs, because it manifests differently in different people.

Burnout can also weaken a remote worker’s immune system, which in turn may increase the risk of getting infected with the novel coronavirus.

Tips To Combat Lockdown Burnout

  • Establish clear boundaries that separate work from personal life to prevent work-life balance disruption
  • Set office hours and create a schedule designating work, free and family time to regain control
  • Avoid the tendency of being the perfect worker, which adds extra pressure
  • Take time off to unwind and discover a new hobby
  • Maintain social interactions/connections to avoid social isolation and detachment
  • Don’t suffer in silence -Talk to your team, virtual manager and reach out for help
  • If you are a manager or supervisor, make sure you can provide first aid for mental health incidents involving anxiety, stress and burnout.
  • As an organisation, provide workplace mental health training and resilience building skills training for your managers, supervisors and leaders.

Reach Out For Professional Help From Therapists

It’s absolutely crucial for virtual managers to learn to recognise the telltale signs of work-from-home burnout as early as possible in order to minimize its long-term impact on remote workers’ mental well-being as well as to properly address it in a timely and efficient fashion. The Workplace Mental Health Institute ( WMHI) is here to help virtual managers across the globe with a suite of tailored, top-tier and results-driven telehealth training courses and services, counseling, and coaching sessions on mental health, well-being, and resilience of employees working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you’re an employee working from home and you’ve been feeling the effects of burnout and overworked during lockdown, it’s in your best interest to take some time off to decompress and to speak with a qualified therapist. In case your job offers free counseling sessions through an employee assistance program (EAP), then do yourself a huge favor and take full advantage of it for the sake of your mental health and well-being in these uncertain and difficult times.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter Diaz profile

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
Facebook-logo Podcast Icon LinkedIN-logo

Social-isolation

Social Isolation: How the Coronavirus is Impacting Workers Worldwide

Dr. Greg Iacono was 46 when he decided that his career as a chiropractor was, sadly, unfulfilling, and started to contemplate a new career path. “As an admitted extrovert, I really loved being around people all day, including my staff and patients. At the end of most days, however, I was unhappy and, often, in pain from my own low back issues.” After 17 years in the field, including 6 years in Belgium and 4 in Peru, he made the decision to sell his practice and become a writer, something he dreamt about since being in high school.

Like many, for Dr. Greg the lure of working from home was strong. “I loved the thought of working at home and being able to truly be on my own schedule. No set hours, no early morning stress to be on time.” Divorced and living alone in his 3 bedroom ranch in Kennesaw, Georgia, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, the former “Dr. Greg” converted a spare bedroom into his writing room and, in 2011, began his new career as a blogger and copywriter. At the same time, he also started self-taught lessons on how to write a screenplay. He quickly started picking up clients and learned the intricacies of writing for the big and small screen.

Everything was going well until the loneliness and isolation starting setting in.

“The silence, to quote an old saying, was deafening”, he admitted. “There were many days when I longed for someone, anyone, to talk to about the day’s events, politics, movies, anything.”

Social-isolation

Although he was a father of 2, Greg rarely saw his adult children and had few close friends to pass the time with, and so the loneliness became worse. “There were days when I felt like a prisoner in solitary confinement, locked away from the world. I would go out to the grocery store just to be able to say hello to the cashier or make conversation with one of the other employees.”

After almost a year working and writing at home by himself a number of things had drastically changed. Greg found that he slept a lot more hours every day and, unfortunately, drank and smoked marijuana a lot more as well. “I was definitely self-medicating and in the throes of depression, something that I never in a million years would have guessed would happen, especially to me as I had always had such a positive, outgoing personality.”

It was when he started contemplating suicide that Greg knew something had to change, and fast. “When I started thinking about self-harm I knew that something had to give”. The problem was, he had no idea what that change could, would or should be. The solution came from an unlikely source; the local dog park.

“I was at the local park where they have an area for dogs to play with other dogs, and there was someone there with their dog and its puppies, giving them away to good homes.” Greg adopted one of the pups and named her Xena, Warrior Princess, after the beloved TV show of the same name. Never having owned a dog, it was a brand new adventure, teaching Xena basic commands, learning about dog habits and dealing with ‘accidents’. But something happened during those first few weeks and months that Greg never expected; his despair and loneliness faded.

Today, Greg and Xena are inseparable and can be seen around the park in Kennesaw nearly every day, running and playing together. “I never knew how important companionship really was until Xena came into my life,” he says, “but thank my lucky stars she did, because I was really a mess. I think Xena might just have saved my life.”

Don't forget to subscribe to our monthly eMag - WorkLife

Expert insights and tips on how to build resilient and mentally healthy workplace cultures delivered straight to your inbox each month.

The Effect of Social Isolation on a Person’s Mental Health

Right now, as COVID-19 wreaks its wrath on humanity, millions of people find themselves in a similar situation to Dr. Greg, working from home, isolated and, in many cases, lonely and in despair. Some of that despair comes from the fact that the world is in crisis, which is understandable, but some of it also comes from the simple fact that human beings are social animals and, when the ability to socialize is taken away, a negative impact almost always occurs.

For example, while writing her doctoral thesis, academic Frances Hollis, a professor at the Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design in London, found that people who worked from home shared many distinct disadvantages. These include anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, Isolation, lack of self-discipline, little or no exercise, difficulty setting boundaries.

Evolutionary psychology shows us that humans, like many other animal species, rely on each other for survival. Think about the times of cavemen and women, we needed a tribe so that the tasks of survival – hunting, gathering food, maintaining shelter, and keeping the children out of harms way could be shared amongst the group, with the tasks allocated to the most appropriate tribe members for the job at hand. While a lone individual could not protect against a dangerous predator, as a group they could protect the tribe and ensure their survival. To be excluded from the group pretty much equated to death. These days, that same social isolation and disconnection (especially in the form of rejection – but that is another story) can feel like a social death.

Not only do we need and want to be around other people, it seems these days many of us actively avoid being alone. In fact, in a study at the University of Virginia, 25% of women and 66% of men chose to subject themselves to electric shock rather than be alone with their thoughts.

So while it is certainly true that working alone at home brings a certain level of freedom and flexibility, the lack of human interaction, however small, can be problematic. The nuances of even small interactions with colleagues, let alone large meetings, working one-on-one with a partner or sharing stories with workmates, simply cannot be replaced by the disembodied avatars that are so popular in today’s virtual, online world.

Does Isolation Affect Introverts and Extroverts Differently?

The answer to this question is both yes and no. While there is nothing wrong with being either an introvert or extrovert, per se, isolation seems to affect extroverts more adversely simply because they seek out companionship and are energized when around other people. When isolated for an undue amount of time they can become tired, depressed and even desperate. lacking the human interaction they crave.

On the other hand, studies have shown that brain activity in introverts is higher than extroverts. Introverts are ‘deep thinkers’, so to speak and, in times of isolation, all of that thinking and internalizing their thoughts can lead to overthinking. That includes both positive and negative thoughts. During an extended period of isolation, introverts may find themselves dwelling on their negative thoughts which can lead to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and even feelings of worthlessness.

In short, whether extrovert or introvert, long periods of isolation like we are now experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic can be detrimental to their mental health and thus solutions must be found to overcome this pressing challenge.

Could isolation it be beneficial?

Besides the obvious health rationale in the current context, it is a common theme in stories of personal development and spirituality, that people have often chosen to spend a period of time in social isolation, in order to reflect, meditate and engage in a process of self discovery. Many great thinkers such as Lao Tzu, Moses, Nietzsche, Emerson and Woolf have championed the intellectual and spiritual benefits of solitude.

In the 1980s, Italian journalist Tiziano Terzani holed himself up in a cabin in Japan, passing the time with books, observing nature, and enjoying silence. He reported feeling free from the incessant anxieties of daily life at last I had time to have time¨. Not dissimilar to what many of us experience when on holidays or vacation.

Jack Fong, sociologist at California has studied solitude and speaks of éxistentialising moments´. ´When people take moments to explore their solitude,not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to out maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting´.

Similarly, Matthew Bowker, and psychoanalytic political theorist argues the ´a person who can find a rich self experience in a solitary state is far less likely to feel lonely when alone´. An interesting thought.

However, the research tends to agree that there are certain preconditions for solitude to be beneficial. And they seem to be a) if it is voluntary, 2) if we can regulate our emotions effectively, 3) If we can join a social group when desired, and 4) if we can maintain positive relationships outside of it.

So with that in mind, and given that at least at the individual level, the current restrictions may not be entirely voluntary, how can we cope with the social isolation during the COVID pandemic, without experiencing loneliness?

Tips For How To Cope with SocialIsolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 Pandemic

If you’re reading this, and are one of the many people now confined to home while the world deals with COVID-19, the tips below will help you to cope, stay healthy both physically and mentally, and maybe even learn something new and valuable.

1- Use Video & Technology To Keep In Touch with Family, Friends and Colleagues

Many people today, especially under the age of 30, use their smartphones to communicate with loved ones and colleagues, usually in the form of text messages. While this is good, it lacks the face-to-face interaction that humans need and desire. For that reason, using a video-chat software, like Skype, Whatsapp and Facetime, is vital. Being able to actually see the face, or faces, of the people you’re talking to, adds the human element to your conversation that no amount of texting can replace. The smiles, the joy and even the tears of those you love and care about simply carry more weight when you can actually see their face.

2- Keep Social Media Use to a Moderate Level

Here’s a fact about social media; it’s been found that when people tend to scroll endlessly through their social media feed on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms, they feel more left out than included. The biggest drawback to social media is the lack of actual face-to-face communication, which can lead to further feelings of isolation from friends and loved ones. In times of isolation like these, it would be better to use social media sparingly and instead use video chat and phone calls (see Tip1).

3- Make a Plan, and a Schedule, and Stick With It

Being forced to stay at home and shelter in place is abnormal, to say the least. It simply doesn’t ‘feel right’ and can add to your anxiety and stress. That’s why you should start every day by making a plan for your day and writing/typing it down so that you know what you’re going to do in the hours ahead. A schedule is also important because that’s what you ‘normally’ have to follow, so set one for yourself and stick to it. Doing these things will help you to feel more centered and calm, as well as proactive, about the situation, which can be quite helpful for your mental state.

4- Reach Out to Those Who may Need Your Help

One of the best ways to boost your mood and feel useful is to help others and, during this crisis, there are plenty of opportunities to do just that. Check on an elderly neighbor (while abiding by social distancing and using protective devices) or call a friend or relative who is sick. If possible, visit your nearest animal shelter and volunteer or send an email to someone you know might be vulnerable.

5- Go Outside and Get Some Sunshine

It’s long been known that sunshine helps the human body create valuable Vitamin D, which can boost brain function and improve a person’s mood. Plus, getting outside (if possible) gives one the feeling of being more connected to the community, can be quite exhilarating and lets a person know that, while things right now are a bit frightening, the earth is still turning and, soon enough, better days will be upon us.

6- Exercise

If you’re not positive for COVID-19 and physically able to do so, exercise is one of the best ways to stay both physically and psychologically fit during this crisis. Being isolated is bad enough but being isolated and inactive is even worse since our mental and physical state often goes hand-in-hand. Below are a few things you can, and should, do while stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Walk around your neighborhood, if possible
  • Practice Yoga, Tai-Chi or another stretching type exercise
  • Ride a stationary bicycle or another indoor exercise machine
  • If you have a pool, swim. (The CDC says that properly maintained pools are safe.)
  • Work out with weights
  • (What other in-home exercise ideas can you come up with?)
7- Engage in Activities that are Comforting and Enjoyable

It’s important that you feel good about yourself and your situation and the best way to do that is to do something that brings you joy. Playing with your dog or cat can be very comforting, as well as taking a nice, soothing bath. Catching up on your favorite TV shows or streaming movies can be very enjoyable, as can cooking or baking something delicious to eat. Hobbies are especially good at this time as well, like working with wood or building with Lego bricks. Anything that brings a smile to your face is good and valuable during this time.

8- Make Plans for the Future

Here’s a fact; the pandemic won’t last forever and things will slowly get back to normal. Until they do, you can make plans for the future and the things you want to do, see or create. Plan your garden for the spring, for example, or a trip to visit your friends in another state. Make a list of goals or things you want to accomplish before year’s end or even plan an event for your family and friends when this is all over. Planning for the future helps you to forget, at least for a short while, about the present problems we’re all facing. As Victor Frankl wrote about in ´Man´s Search for Meaning´, having a future purpose can be the difference in physical, as well as mental survival.

9- Be Intentional with Your Time

When isolated many people tend to simply let days slip by, wasting away the hours doing next-to-nothing, which can lead to increased feelings of desperation and regret. A much better plan would be to use all of this extra time we’ve been given to learn something new, whether it’s a skill, a hobby or even a new language. President John F. Kennedy suffered a number of horrible sicknesses as a child but, alone and bedridden for months at a time, he became a voracious reader. As President, he was a skilled orator and learned historian, likely due to all of those months in isolation that he used to read as many books as he possibly could.

Working from home, whether you choose to or it’s been forced upon you, has it’s ups and downs, no doubt. If you feel like you’re unable to cope, the above tips and message will hopefully give you some solace, as will the fact of knowing that you’re not alone during this crisis. We are all in this together.

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition

Leadership in Times of Crisis

Leadership in times of crisis

Hard times are when we need Leadership more than ever. Leadership is not a part time job. It’s about showing up as a leader every day. There are no born leaders, leadership is not about being chosen. Leadership is about choosing to do the right thing that will make a difference in the most amount of lives in the shortest amount of time, that is sustainable and scalable. That’s what great leaders are all about.

Great leaders require three things. The Right Psychology, The Right Methodology, and Flexibility.

Starting with the right psychology

Crisis = opportunity. That is the psychology of a leader. Whenever there’s a problem or a crisis, on the other side of that crisis, there is always opportunity. In order for us to find that opportunity, we have to ask ourselves three questions. First, where is the good in this? Second, what can we learn from this? And finally, the third question is, how can we use this to find opportunities to improve the quality of our lives, our organizations, our families, and our tribes? You’ve got to get your psychology right.

Second, is the right methodology

This is about following a simple five step system that will make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time that is scalable and sustainable. The five simple steps of this methodology are as follows.

Leadership in Times of Crisis
  1. A vision that outlives the leader

“Without a vision people perish.” Proverbs 29:18. You need a vision, and not just any vision. But a crystal clear vision that can outlive you. This is the only way for it to be sustainable and scalable. Your vision needs to be set up so your tribe is empowered with the opportunity to also implement the vision forever. Whether it’s within an organization, a government, a family.

How do you know your vision can outlive you? Ask yourself, “Does my product, service or organization stand for something that makes a difference in people’s lives long term?”

This is what leaders need to ask themselves, if their vision incorporates others and makes a difference -not just in their own family or their organization, but the world? Establishing a vision allows people to stand for something and not just fall for anything – especially in tough times.

  1. Communication

The number one skill of all leaders is their ability to influence and persuade. Your ability to communicate is in direct proportion with you turning your vision into a reality. Without the ability to communicate, your vision will never be realized or accomplished. Are you communicating your vision in a way, so your tribe practically buys into it? Or are you dictating — forcing your vision upon your tribe? The second type is the fastest way to stop your vision from ever being realized.

There are two styles of leadership and communicating. There’s a Socratic way and there’s an Autocratic way. Socratic leadership is actually asking questions and enrolling and getting buy in for your vision from your tribe. It’s long term and sustainable. The second style is Autocratic, and it also works. However, it’s basically dictating and telling people what to do, which is not sustainable for the long term if you want to develop other leaders and empower them to maintain your vision.

  1. Demonstration

In order for any vision or leader to stay on top to continue leading a tribe or an organization, the most important thing is the ability to demonstrate the core values of an organization that represent achieving the vision. Does the leader demonstrate the example of what needs to be done to empower people from the bottom to the top and the top to the bottom of the organization? This is what allows people to step up and become an example and a leader themselves.

  1. Meaningful Education

The number one thing that empowers us to change the world is education. It’s no wonder the word education was derived from the latin word “Educere” which means “to bring forth” the best in others. Are you bringing out the best in others? Do you teach them how to think, and not just what to do? Ultimately, what changes our world more than anything, is our ability to educate and empower our people and teams to learn to think for themselves. This is how you future proof your business or organisation by creating future leaders who will carry on your vision forever.

  1. Implementation

In times of crisis, There are two kinds of companies. The Quick and the Dead. Which one are you? Your ability to implement your vision and be nimble on your feet as a leader, as an organization — will determine how fast that you can pivot and adjust to the marketplace. The crisis or the opportunity tests your organization to sustain growth in good times and in bad. There will always be a winter, spring summer or fall in life and business. Can you weather the storm of the winter? So that in the spring, you can grow again, and in summer, you can reap the benefits and prepare in the good times as well as the bad? Your business needs to be battle tested. The only way to do that is to weather all the seasons.

Finally, the third key for leadership is Flexibility

This is the ability to adapt to the situation to be flexible and continue making a difference by altering strategies to achieve the vision. The law of the universe is “You Either Grow or Die”. and if you are not adapting to the situation, your company is going to suffer. Depending on how big of a business you have, most businesses if not all, are being forced to work on a skeletal workforce right now, during these times of crisis. Your ability to be flexible can be determined by you implementing what I call the Three W’s and the Three S’s so that you can evaluate your business every week.

Ask yourself these three questions, “What’s working, What’s not working, and What can I do differently”? Finally, once you answer those questions, you ask yourself “What should I STOP doing? What should I START doing? and what should I STREAMLINE?”

This is what I call the ultimate leadership system. At the end of the day, the only thing that changes the world is leadership, individuals putting others and the greater good before themselves. With the right psychology, methodology and flexibility. We can all change the world. Help me change the world.

John-Rankins

John Rankins

Business Growth Expert

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition

How-to-stay-calm

How to stay calm in the storm

9 simple strategies to swim while others are sinking

The storm arrives. A deadly virus spreads. People start dying. Borders don’t matter. Armies are helpless. Stock-markets plunge. Economies around the world tumble. Thousands lose their jobs. Relationships break up under stress. News of doom and gloom is the flavour of the day, every day. Depression skyrockets. A mental health tsunami is at hand!

Welcome to the world we live in. Disruption is the new normal. This is a time of many inner and outer changes; changes that will lead to great stress and unhappiness if left un-managed. This stress can lead to toxic build-up within that creates immense mental health problems and can sabotage the happiness, health and harmony we enjoy in our day to day life.

Neuroscientists have found that chronic stress shrinks the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and decision making, which can lead to impaired cognition. Chronic stress can also contribute to significant health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, anxiety, depression, and more.

How-to-stay-calm

How do we handle this storm that has come upon us? How do we stay centred even as the world shakes? How do we swim while others are sinking? How do we manage our mind to continue to enjoy peace, stability and calmness even as the external storm rages outside?

Wisdom is the stabilizer of life – Vikas

Wisdom is the stabilizer of Life. Wisdom teaches that we live in two worlds simultaneously, the inner and the outer world. Our external world is not always in our control, but our inner world can always be in our control.

To become joyful and experience happiness in our daily life it is necessary that we maintain awareness of both these worlds. Awareness is the practice of staying awake moment to moment; to be fully present, to choose deliberately.

The more aware we become, the greater our control over our life grows, and vice-versa. Here are 9 powerful solutions to a time of crisis, guaranteed to keep you calm in the storm of life.

  1. Have a willingness to make and follow hard choices – Crisis forces you to take a realistic look at the bigger picture of your life and make some hard choices to move forward. Be willing to do this rather than resist it. Make difficult choices if you need to and demonstrate a whatever-it-takes attitude. Remember, it takes less energy to get an unpleasant task done “right now” than to worry about it all day.
  1. Have a personal vision – Having a personal goal of getting out of the crisis, as it will become the light that guides you forward. A goal will motivate you and make it easier to take corrective measures while having no goal will just make you drift and lose direction through the crisis. Goals give you power. Choose not to waste your precious present life on guilt about the past or concern for the future.
  1. Set a clear strategy – To reach the goal, plan a clear strategy, and communicate it to others who are a part of it. Plan your journey forward and walk the plan. It is a truth that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Simplify your life! Start eliminating the trivial things.Eliminate unnecessary commitments.
  1. Focus Avoid multi-tasking; it is tiring for your brain. When you have many things to do, multi-tasking may look like a good idea at first. But our brain cannot multi-task; it quickly switches between tasks so it appears to us that we are multi-tasking. In fact, it only adds to your stress. It is more efficient to do one thing at a time andwith focus, so that you increase your performance and finish the task earlier with less stress.
  1. Take baby steps – A wisdom teaching says ‘If you know but do not do, you do not know!’ To learn how to swim, you must get wet. Take positive and persistent action on a regular basis. Even if the results are not fast to come, trudge on ahead towards your goal. Take baby steps if you have to, but whatever you do, make sure you are moving ahead all the time. The direction you are going in is important, not the speed.Just do what’s in your power, and brush aside all other concerns. Remember as the wisdom master Lao Tzu said, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. So, take action, today!
  1. Be persistent – Probably the key quality to coming out of crisis is persistence – a determined mind that just never gives up. Once your mind is set, stick to your target with crab-like persistence, changing only if a better way shows itself. Practice consciously doing one thing at a time, keeping your mind focused on the present.
  1. Capitalize on opportunity – There is good even in the worst of times. Identify this by looking deeply at how you can benefit in the long term from the current crisis. Be quick to spot opportunity and to seize it to your advantage. Warren Buffet, the world’s best performing investor, is famously known for making his greatest and largest purchases at a time of crisis when everyone else is selling. Welcome change as an opportunity and challenge to learn and grow
  1. Be patient – Be willing to wait for the reward of your efforts. Believe that the strong man is a patient man. A crisis has little flexibility for the impatient or the irritable. Take time to be alone on a regular basis, to listen to your heart, check your intentions; re-evaluate your goals and your activities. If you have an endless to-do list, prioritise your activities and do the most important ones first.
  1. Stay optimistic – The night is darkest before the dawn breaks. Behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. The sun shines even when the clouds cover it. The dark night leads to sunrise and the day will end in darkness. Be aware of the larger movements and rhythms of life and stay optimistic even as you go through this time of chaos and crisis. You are bigger than it, and this is not the end of your life; it is just a comma in the sentence of your life, not the full stop. Having a positive mind-set is the greatest asset you can have in a time of inner or outer crisis.

We may be in the middle of a surging wave, but with the strategies I’ve shared above, we can always learn to surf it, and come out on top.

Vikas Malkani

Vikas Malkani (aka Mr. Wisdom)

Founder of SoulCentre, Asia’s Premier Centre for Meditation, Mindfulness and Stress Management.

Vikas has been called the ‘World’s #1 Wisdom Coach’ and is a TEDx Speaker, a bestselling author and a coach who trainsindividuals and businesses to get maximum results with minimum effort.

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition

Pandemic-of-workplace-conflict

Pandemic of workplace conflict

Are toilet rolls being thrown around at work? Possible pandemic of workplace conflict and how to keep your workplace out of trouble!

Many things don’t make sense right now. Seemingly overnight, our lives have changed globally. Fights in supermarkets over toilet paper show the emotional state people are reaching and while toilet paper hoarding is confusing for most of us, it serves as a signal that during this highly uncertain times, people’s stress tolerance level has varying breaking points and can lead to behaviour that is out of character.

In our workplaces, many of us still have questions about what it all exactly means for us today, what will change tomorrow and what impact will this have for us long term. The gravity of these unanswerable questions leads to the inevitable of our tolerance breaking and people behaving in ways that are out of step with their “normal” state.

Pandemic-of-workplace-conflict

Adding to impact is the shift to isolated working. For most managers, this is completely foreign territory and creating new problems and conflicts.

Traditional change management isn’t going to fly, because we haven’t got time before a disaster could inadvertently appear in your organisation or team.

What are we seeing?

interMEDIATE Dispute Management is a business who deals with workplace issues and provides training to prevent them. I have had managers calling me seeking advice on a range of issues relating to coronavirus that could have been avoided. For example:

  • Disagreements about aspects of the coronavirus itself, one of them ending with a barrage of one yelling at their colleague, knocking everything off their desk and storming off (they are friends).
  • Numerous reports of discussions and judgement getting out of hand about the level of panic and blaming others for being too cautious or not enough.
  • Insensitive comments, jokes or social media clips and pictures being sent around via email or being shown on video link meetings. One explanation was that the employee felt more casual in their home environment and it lead to more a loose conversation.
  • People feeling bullied (perhaps unintentionally) by not being invited to meetings or having the information they need to do their job
  • Reports of managers who are micro-managing remote workers because they don’t trust that people are necessarily doing what they say they are doing.

When I asked them about what they had done, it was obvious that because they hadn’t prepared for this, their organisation had legitimately been dealing with bigger issues (like keeping the company operational) and had no specific strategy for it. Continuing without a plan will lead to big problems such as:

  • bullying and harassment claims
  • serious conflicts (violent and non violent)
  • terminations due to breaches of code of conduct
  • unexplainable resignations, which can turn into costly litigation claims down the track

I then told them the good news, that if your business got serious about this now, you can be as prepared as possible to prevent, identify and manage bullying and harassment and unhealthy conflict. Here are some practical tips on how to avoid sitting at the mediation table in 6-12 months time over something that was easily avoided.

  1. Reminder to all employees of the company’s policies against bullying and harassment

At minimum, an announcement emailed to all staff by the CEO or HR Leader with a link to the relevant company policies and code of conduct.

  1. Educate workers on Workplace Bullying and Harassment, what it is and isn’t, how to prevent and manage it.

Deliver an online course that all staff must complete. This provides assurance that everyone knows how to prevent, identify and manage bullying and harassment. (Incidentally, we have partners with Workplace Mental Health Institute to bring you a modern online course on Anti bullying, which you can access HERE).

  1. Train your Managers

If you manage managers, provide them with training on how to lead and manage remote workers. It is important that they balance keeping people accountable for their agreement frames with micro-management and possible harassing behaviours. If you can, find them a coach that helps them develop their Emotional intelligence so they become aware of behaviour they display that could come across as bullying. Kylie Mamouney, leadership facilitator says “People are feeling disconnected at a time where they need their leader to make them feel secure.” We agree.

  1. Establish new team rules

Managers to hold a special meeting and facilitate the team to establish a new set of ground rules to follow. These ground rules should be around 6-10 statements of how the team will behave and be displayed during every meeting. In the online environment, each person should have a printed copy “in-shot” on their wall/background. Do this with each group you meet with regularly.

  1. Significantly increase your 1 on 1 Coaching and adopt a NEVER cancel culture

Leaders need to noticeably increase connectedness with their people and have them feel that through more frequent effective coaching. Effectiveness comes by using a framework that connects with emotion and logic.

While there are many other things you can implement, for some of us, this can act as plan number one. I wonder what shifts are happening in your workplace and am interested to hear your stories.

Jean-Marcel-Malliate

Jean Marcel Malliate

Principal Mediator, Investigator, Founder & CEO, InterMEDIATE Dispute Management

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition

Managing-a-Crisis

Managing a crisis may be a function of culture

By now almost every country around the world has confirmed cases of Covid-19 and chances are – no matter where you live – you are currently either working from home or at a spatial distance from coworkers and customers. In these surreal times of being confronted with an invisible threat political, community, and corporate leaders are hearing the call to respond, to provide answers and solutions. It is especially in times like these, when contrasts in leadership styles come into full view. As you follow the global news you may have already asked yourself: How come the growing number of countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak are handling the pandemic the way they are? And what might influence these different responses to the health scare?

While there are several factors shaping how societies are dealing with this novel virus, many of the diverging approaches to manage the global pandemic can be attributed to culture. Political systems, societal structures, and emergency response protocols are all results of the collective behavioral preferences of the group that designed them. People from different cultures aren’t just randomly different from one another. They differ in quite specific, often predictable, ways. This is because each culture has its own way of thinking, its own values and beliefs, and different preferences placed on a variety of different factors.

Simply put, culture impacts everything groups of people do – especially, how they solve problems and how they manage crises.

Managing-a-Crisis

As of now, roughly three months into the global outbreak, three coronavirus response macro trends have emerged. Let’s call them the authoritarian (contain at any cost) approach, the liberal (let’s adjust ourstrategyin real time) strategy, and the populist (it’s only a flu spread by China) method.

Before we compare these three crisis management styles, let’s look at a tool set which trainers and coaches in the field often refer to: cross-cultural dimensions. Dimensions are an interculturalist’s measuring units. They allow practitioners to compare behavior preferences across cultures, based on robust data collected in nation cultures all over the world. Dimensions indicate how people act along a certain spectrum: We either value universally applicable laws and rules, or we tend to weigh particular situations separately. People are either more long-term oriented, or short-term motivated. And so on.

Among the cultural dimensions most relevant in assessing the response to the coronavirus pandemic are Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism, Individualism vs. Group Orientation, and Task vs. Relationship.

In countries like China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore the response to the outbreak was rather swift and governments clamped down rigorously. This can be seen as a reflection of the fact that the cultures in these countries tend to be quite hierarchical, collectivist, and relationship-focused. One anecdote from Taipei may serve as an example: During this crisis the Taiwanese government is monitoring people’s movements via the GPS in their phones. When one person’s cell phone battery died it took less than 30 minutes for government agencies to call the person’s landline. 5 minutes later, the police were at their door to check if they were home. While this might seem excessive to many people from liberal Western societies, citizens in hierarchical and highly collectivist cultures find these measures acceptable.

As the virus began spreading throughout Europe the responses to the crisis were as dissimilar as the cultures of the continent are. In mediterranean cultures like Spain and Italy which are one or two degrees less hierarchical, group-oriented, and relationship-focused (compared to the above mentioned Asian cultures), the reaction to the health threat was much less immediate. Only as the rapid spread of Covid-19 became apparent did the authorities dial up the severity of counter measures. Keep in mind as well, that – as part of the European Union – Italy and Spain have a responsibility to coordinate border shutdowns with their EU neighbors, since this restricts the free movement of people, goods, and services among the countries which are part of the Schengen agreement.

This is also the case for Austria, Germany, or France – three countries in which individual civil liberties are highly valued and not easily curtailed. Leaders in these countries only gradually gave in to the warnings of virologists and health experts. It was only with hesitation that German authorities imposed curfews and a piecemeal lockdown of public life.

Then, why is it that the mortality rate of Covid-19 patients in Italy is so much higher than in Germany? Experts are still examining this, and it unsure if culture plays a role here. One aspect to consider, though: Italian households often still consist of three generations under one roof, whereas Germans tend to leave the nest in their early 20s.

The third response group currently on display are countries like the United Kingdom or the United States – two countries like-minded in many of their cultural values. In fact, almost all Anglo-Saxon cultures, including Australia and New Zealand, tend to rank very high on the individualism and egalitarianism scales. Personal rights and individual freedoms are paramount in Anglo cultures and any attempt at restricting these rights are typically met with fierce public resistance. Combined with a sense of exceptionalism, these countries are exploring their own path in the fight against the coronavirus.

In the end, no matter which region in the world will have responded most effectively– culture forms the way they manage the crisis.

Christian-Hoferle

Christian Höferle

Founder and CEO of The Culture Mastery

Christian Höferle is German by birth, American by choice, and Bavarian at heart, and he is the founder and CEO of The Culture Mastery, a U.S.-based cross-cultural consultancy serving multinational organizations through tailored training and coaching programs.

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition