With 1.6 billion of us locked down and working from home, mental health, employee engagement and productivity are now more important than ever.
First let’s deal with the big one in this blog – mental health. Isolation is an endurance; it’s used as the worst punishment in prisons and jails, even to this day. Being on your own for extended periods of time can push mental stability to the limit. Obviously today everyone is not going to isolate entirely, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Most of us, sitting in our home offices, won’t anthropomorphise inanimate objects like footballs and start talking to them. Or at least I hope not.
So we’re not stranded on a desert island. However, there are some very frightening 1960s psychological experiments conducted to understand the impact of sensory deprivation and isolation on humans. Put it this way – they thought they would run the experiment for weeks, but most subjects did not last even two days and, by that time were suffering hallucinations and an altered state of reality. Worse still, this new changed mindset did not necessarily leave them after they re-joined the world. All a bit scary stuff.
Even in less extreme studies, researchers have found that loneliness interferes with our circadian rhythms (our sleep behaviour). It impacts attention, logical and verbal reasoning. [A more harrowing truth is that chronically lonely people have higher blood pressure, are more vulnerable to infection and are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.] A very clever scientist has figured out that social isolation unleashes an extreme immune response – a waterfall of stress hormones and inflammation. It is assumed that this benefited our caveman ancestors because in those days being on your own was a risk to your safety – it takes more than one man on his own to kill a woolly mammoth. Emotions assist us in our navigation of society and community. We derive emotional meaning through contact with others. If no one else can help us regulate ourselves we lose a bit of reality and identity.
So that’s the low-down on isolation to highlight how badly we need our social interactions, whether that’s office based or home based. Now back to us and our current state of lockdown. Most of us live with other people. We can join meetings online and chat to our families. But our lives have changed, dramatically. We can no longer casually wander to a restaurant or café; we can’t go to the gym or play sport and we can’t socialise face to face as much as we like to, or as much as we need (whether we understand this or not). This will have a keen impact on our minds. In the next few weeks, while we won’t nickname our laptop and engage in deep philosophical discussions with it, our moods will alter. Some people might feel the dark call of depression, some might feel an agitation. Everyone will respond in their own way. Some of us may feel out of the loop, paranoid and take the hump with brief emails, believing the other person to be rude, not hurried. This loneliness has the potential to cause an abundance of miscommunications and misunderstandings, whether with family or co-workers.
And what that means is that it is now paramount that we check in on our family, our friends and our colleagues regularly – more regularly than we are accustomed to doing. In 2018 Ernst & Young ran a study they called the Belonging Barometer. They discovered that you can increase an employee’s engagement by a whopping 40%, by simply asking them every day (either virtually, face to face or via tech), how they are. Showing that interest and caring about someone is an incredibly powerful gesture.
Of course, there is a lot you can do for yourself to manage your own mood. We have created the list below:
- Create a Routine and stick to it Monday to Friday. It works for the army and they have been going for centuries.
- Physical Exercise everyday or as close to everyday as you can get. This guy has it all sorted. https://makeyourbodywork.com/how-to-exercise-at-home/
- Get Outside as much as you feasibly can – if you have a balcony, garden – sit and read a book there or do your exercise outside.
- Try keep your place Tidy. Not OCD or Marie Kondo standard. Just a bit tidy as it creates the illusion of space. And the feeling of being hemmed in is what we are trying to fight.
- Meditate. Obviously. It worked for Gandhi, Mandela, Papillon and Madonna so bound to work for working at home. Try create some peaceful time for your mind every day – this also means watching how much corona articles you read and also observing how much time you spend on social media. Facebook have just reported a 1,000% increase in usage in certain European countries which have locked down.
- Make an effort to chat to someone everyday for a laugh. Ringing a work colleague and having a laugh with them is cool and groovy but doesn’t count as it’s work related.
- Start a long fun and easy project which will take time. It doesn’t have to be arduous. Myself and my husband are re- watching Game of Thrones one episode per night.
- Treat yourself. There’s a reason God invented chocolate and red wine. Don’t go guns blazing on a spartan routine. Make sure to reward yourself every so often.
- Keep good Sleep habits
- Segregate your work area from the rest of your place. It may not work but it’s best if you can close a door on work, literally, at the end of the day and not see your computer. Otherwise you never stop thinking about work which can lead to burnout.
And lastly, the abiding principle is this – be kind to yourself and be kind to others. If you focus just on that, you will be grand.
Next week I’ll blog more on the impact working from home has on employment engagement and productivity.