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Five keys for a successful business rebound – Take into account the psychological impacts of containment [Chapter 4]

As a strategy and innovation consulting agency for major corporate decision-makers, we have been exchanging with our clients since the beginning of the economic crisis linked to Covid19 on the roadmaps of their ExCom for restarting.
In a series of 5 successive posts, we would like to share with you here our vision of the keys to a successful recovery resulting from the analysis of these strategic roadmaps.
  1. Knowing where you’re starting from
  2. Thinking recovery beyond the company’s borders
  3. Don’t assume that everything will change or that everything will be as it was before
  4. Take into account the psychological impacts of containment
  5. Integrate a new decision-making framework

We also invite you to share this analysis during a webinar to be held on May 5th from 10 to 11 am.

Chapter 4: Take into account the psychological impacts of containment

The economic shutdown linked to the confinement of populations has frozen the planet for already 2 months. The situations are very different according to the geographical plates, the political strategies of the countries, the economic situations of each company. The business rebound consists in restarting the production tool and the consumption of individuals and companies from different starting situations. In the United States, some states have not stopped. Businesses and workers in North Dakota do not have the same starting point as those in New York.
Business rebound is therefore the combination of several collective factors. But the armed arm of the rebound will be none other than the human being. If digitalization has enabled the rescue of the vital organs of the majority of companies (at least for the time being), and can facilitate the restarting of collective organizations, the impacts on individuals are more violent and anxiety-provoking. Direct unemployment (7.1% rise in unemployment in France in March 2020, an unprecedented increase since 1996, 10 million additional unemployed in the United States between 16 and 28 March), short-time working (10 million French workers in employment at the end of April), restrictions on individual freedoms, media saturation of alarming information, and uncertainty about a return to normal are all factors that influence the psychological state of employees.
The human factor in your company is an essential component that is increasingly valued by human resources policies, particularly with regard to the new requirements of the younger generations with regard to the working environment. Well beyond organizational issues such as short-time working, teleworking, new health measures for those who need to travel to the workplace, taking into account the psychological state of your employees is essential to get them on board for a successful rebound.

In a context of a very gradual resumption of economic activity, with many uncertainties about possible back-and-forth between a return to normal and coercive measures in the event of a resurgence of the pandemic, how can this psychological factor be taken into account in the recovery plan? What are the individual situations that need to be taken into account in order to successfully get your teams involved in the restart? How can you prepare for deconfinement from a psychological point of view?

6 individual situations confronting post-traumatic stress disorder  

Your collaborators experience highly differentiated individual situations that need to be nuanced at the level of each individual.

However, they find themselves in one or more of the following 6 individual situations, or live with relatives living some of these situations :

  • Individuals directly impacted by their proximity to the mass death due to the epidemic: mainly health personnel, managers of nursing homes, political leaders…
  • Individuals who have experienced the death of a relative but have not been able to provide bereavement support
  • Individuals who have suffered strong psychological consequences due to confinement in difficult conditions (limited living space, promiscuity with other people, lack of occupation, etc.).
  • Individuals who are uncertain about their jobs, either already unemployed and afraid of the sluggishness of recruitment for a long time, or fearing that their employer will not be able to keep them for a long period of time.
  • Individuals at risk of losing everything (jobs, financial resources, production tools, debts…). Especially the self-employed, managers of small businesses, people with high debts. This category differs according to the support measures taken by the public authorities in different countries (strong support in Europe, weaker in the United States), but remains real despite strong political measures because the reality of bank maturities is difficult to mitigate durably.
  • Individuals who will go through the Covid-19 crisis outside of these categories, but who will come across people who are in post-traumatic stress related to the other categories on a daily basis. This is the majority category among your employees, especially if you manage to keep the jobs and reassure them about the economic viability of your company, but this does not mean that this population will come out of the crisis completely unscathed.

Your colleagues as well as yourself experience very different psychological situations in confinement depending on where you live, who you are with, your physical and psychological state of health and those around you. And these situations have a direct impact on the people you will gradually find on your premises during the restart: on their motivation, on their attachment to the company, on their values, on their shape, on their points of reference.

Knowing the individual situations of each employee and their degree of closeness to people in difficult individual situations is the first key to adopting the right HR policy for restarting. Without entering private information, your company has a responsibility for the psychological well-being of its teams and its HR policy (well-being at work, leave management, post-crisis daily life support…) must comply with it.

The new stress of coming back to the office

In addition to the 6 individual situations experienced, the modalities of reopening closed workplaces during containment, whether stores, offices or factories, are a source of additional stress and influence the psychological state of individuals.

In the first place, the in-between of the gradual reopening, which calls for the continuation of teleworking when possible, a system of shift rotation in companies, and changes in schedules to smooth out the traffic congestion, is a first loss of reference. An employee who has to alternate days of travel to the office and days of teleworking will have to find new points of reference.

Second, the uncertainty and caution of reopening workplaces subject to certain regional and national indicators is a major source of stress because it tells the worker that he or she is at risk and that society demands constant vigilance and patience (having to wait their turn to board public transit).

Thirdly, learning new reflexes in order to be able to interact with society again is particularly anxiety-provoking. Individuals will have to learn to live wearing a mask, to respect distances with colleagues and clients, and to adopt barrier gestures. Constant vigilance, fear of doing wrong, of feeling guilty.

Fourth and finally, the very organization of workplaces is a powerful source of stress. The retailer will have to constantly “monitor” the attitudes of his customers, the respect of barrier gestures and safety distances. The office worker will be afraid of having to take the elevator to climb the 20 floors of his tower in La Défense. At the sight of the very sparse open spaces created by the elimination of workstations in order to increase the distances between employees, a certain collective stress may set in. The visual impression of a void stimulates the imagination and can give the impression that some colleagues have disappeared, have lost their jobs, and that this could soon be our case.

These stress factors, due to stress on health, on individual responsibility towards society, on the sustainability of jobs, generate an anxiety-provoking climate among the teams. The human brain only becomes more serene if it returns to its routines. Accompanying employees in this transition is more than essential to initiate a successful transition to recovery.

Preparing for the post-confinement period with pragmatism and lucidity about human nature

Voices are being raised to underline that the crisis highlights the changing relationship to death in our 21st century societies. The philosopher André Comte-Sponville spoke recently to emphasize that the extreme mobilization of our societies to fight the epidemic has to do with a certain non-acceptance of death and a belief in the omnipotence of science to guide our societies.

« The first thing to remember is that the vast majority of us will not die from coronavirus. I was very struck by this kind of collective panic that gripped the media first, but also the public, as if all of a sudden we were suddenly discovered to be mortal. It’s not exactly a scoop. We were mortal before the coronavirus, we will be after…It is a society, a civilization that demands everything from medicine. It is a society, a civilization that demands everything from medicine. Indeed, there has been a longstanding trend to make health the supreme value, rather than freedom, justice and love, which are the true supreme values for me. Be careful not to make health the supreme value. » (André Compte-Sponville, show “C à vous”, France 5, April 21, 2020)

In the same vein, Ludovic François, doctor in management sciences, believes that our vision of death is accompanied by the prevalence of individual interest over collective interest.

« Today, our acceptance of death and suffering is profoundly altered, as science has gradually taken the place of the divine. We therefore believe we can oppose nature, we defy death. This requires an unprecedented and total mobilization. […] Finally, our vision is less and less based on collective interest: the individual prevails. As a result, individual suffering has become socially unacceptable and requires immediate and categorical treatment, sometimes despite the potentially deleterious consequences for the future of the collective. » (Economie Matin, April 26, 2020)

We are experiencing a kind of considerable collective mobilization to try to save as many individual lives as possible, while opening the door to a sum of future individual suffering in a damaged collective system.

If the consequences of containment are violent on our collective system, if only through the economic impacts on businesses, they are even more violent in terms of individual suffering. Today, the psychological impacts of the health crisis and containment, according to the 6 situations we have just described, are little taken into account in the face of the urgent need to fight the epidemic. How are we going to treat them? The crisis highlights great uncertainty about the future and about how human nature will review its value system in the light of the consequences of Covid 19.

Anticipating post-traumatic stress in individuals

A successful relaunch will only be achieved through a genuine effort to reintegrate employees who have been disconcerted, to take into account their psychological state and to manage the stressful and anxiety-provoking climate.

We recommend to start the reintegration by a complete onboarding when the teams will gradually come back from partial unemployment and return to your premises, as well for :

  • assess the psychological state of each employee according to his or her situation among the 6 types of situations, to help him or her manage post-traumatic stress disorder
  • train the teams in the practical aspects of organising the workspace in accordance with new health rules and reassure them of their ability to comply with the rules
  • support teams in new ways of working, increasingly oriented towards multi-localized teams, in order to give them new reference points and new routines
  • set out new common, realistic and motivating objectives for the rebound phase in order to boost motivation
  • instil a “fresh start” dynamic around your company’s project

Our companies have a real role to play both in the economic recovery of a viable collective system, but also in helping individuals overcome the psychological impacts of the crisis. Our relationships with others, our models of collaboration and work, and our collective and individual value systems will be profoundly modified.

Follow our news and join us on 5 May 2020 from 10 to 11 am for a webinar dedicated to this topic!