Impact of the Pandemic

Instructor Robert Annis continues this blog series by discussing the psychological impact of people from the pandemic.

The greatest impact of coronavirus may well be seen as the impact on the economy in the form of a recession, but it would be a mistake to only focus on the obvious. There will be many impacts to health systems, ways of working, travelling and day-to-day life. However, perhaps one of the hardest to understand, quantify and rectify will be the impact on people's thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Our workplaces and social lives all rely on interactions with other human beings and this pandemic-based situation has completely changed the rulebook that we have all been governed by throughout our existences. To put it more precisely, we do not yet know the psychological impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

woman with mask working from home with baby

A pandemic like this affects people differently, some extroverts have been clawing at their front doors while some introverts have been scared of the next Zoom call and of others seeing their bookcase; "will they judge me by my Jilly Cooper novels?". Mildly humorous anecdotes aside, these differences between mean that there is no blanket solution to all of this. Organizations cannot simply make the assumption that one working solution come the end of lockdown will be successful for all. They will have to consider being more adaptive.

Within leadership theories (of which there are many) there is the theory of Connected Leadership, whereby leaders need to emphasize both mutuality (common interests and values) and inclusiveness (the willingness to include a diverse range of individuals, without requiring them to conform) (Lipman-Blumen 1996[1]). Included within this is the need for leaders to be able to work successfully with 'the emergence of new social crises'.

In the past decade or two, organizations have moved forwards with emotional intelligence, Agile, servant leadership and the like. Now they will be faced with the challenge of how to build the working environments that match their employee's needs - again, to emphasizing both mutuality and inclusiveness. Workers will need to articulate their needs in such a way that the employer can understand and react to them. The need for empathy will be paramount.

We find ourselves in a rapidly changing world and most organizations aren't yet ready for it. Rapid and unpredictable change is the norm - this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who enjoyed Jeff Goldblum's character Ian Malcom's speech about chaos theory in 1993's Jurassic Park. This new norm has led to the VUCA model: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

  • Volatile; change is violent and uncontrollable.
  • Uncertain; the future is unpredictable, making it hard to prepare for.
  • Complex; with so much going on, things can often feel chaotic and confused.
  • Ambiguous; we lack clarity because it's hard to know what the root cause of the problem is.
isslustration of man with mask working from home with covid virus floating above him
Leaders and their workers lack the predictability of the past and their way of working needs to change to reflect that. Organizations are moving towards an inspection and adaption mode that focuses on continuous improvement within the realms of a VUCA world. Smaller scope and timeline projects to allow for faster realization of benefits and, critically, reduced risk.

The impact will be far reaching and much is yet unknown. How deep will the recession be? How will organizations based upon interactions work when masseurs, shopkeepers and hairdressers finally go back to work? How will travel work locally? Internationally?

The many unanswered questions show that we must prepare for the unknown whilst also building more resilient organizations run by empathetic leaders who build trust and safety for their employees. We truly live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world.

Keep an eye out for the third blog of the series!

[1] Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing World by Jean Lipman-Blumen