The coronavirus crisis is shaking the foundations of our society. We are experiencing an unprecedented paradigm shift in culture and values. And undoubtedly, this situation is also affecting the world of work.
On the one hand, new forms of work and organisation are being imposed at a dizzying pace. As we are seeing, teleworking, remote teams and online service delivery are here to stay. Agile, creative decision-making and adaptability are more important than ever.
On the other hand, people, at all levels of organisational responsibility, have experienced an exponential increase in stress and anxiety levels this year. They are under a lot of pressure trying to adapt to all these changes, to reconcile family and professional life and to manage fears, anxieties and uncertainties in a completely unknown context until now.
If already in 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) set off all the alarms about the increase in work-related stress and its serious consequences – qualifying it as a global pandemic and recognising the burn out associated with mental, emotional and physical exhaustion caused by work as a disease -, now, as a result of Covid-19, the situation is becoming unsustainable.
According to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), in 2019, Spain was the third European country with the highest levels of work-related stress, with levels close to 60% of workers. Globally, in 2020, levels of distress increased by 35% in China, 60% in Iran and 40% in the USA, three of the countries most affected by the pandemic, according to the WHO.
This situation has dire consequences from a business perspective: decreased productivity and concentration levels, increased absenteeism and the risk of accidents at work. This leads to costs and financial losses and has a negative impact on profitability and the bottom line.
Therefore, in this process of change, we are faced with a complex panorama in which the great challenge is how to effectively manage both the transformation processes and the individuals involved in them.
In other words, how to adapt to this new reality, how to innovate and implement new ways of working and how to carry out a cultural change of this calibre, bearing in mind the emotional time bomb we are experiencing.
If we want our companies not only to survive this crisis, but also to emerge stronger, managing stress levels and its causes is a top priority.
According to neuroscience, emotions are present minute by minute in our lives. An emotion is a complex reaction of the brain to a stimulus, both external (something I see or hear) and internal (a thought, a memory or an internal image), which prompts us to perform an action.
Whether we like it or not, science has shown that emotions are a fundamental pillar of our mechanism of functioning as human beings, they allow us to deploy our full potential and develop all the skills we need to manage any situation in life, both professional and personal.
Ignoring this reality, denying the existence of emotions in the work environment or simply trying to block them out for fear of being “too emotional or unprofessional”, will lead to structural dysfunctions that will further increase stress levels, frustration and ineffectiveness when making decisions and solving problems. In the medium to long term this situation, as we have seen, is unsustainable and will end up negatively influencing motivation and work performance.
On the contrary, knowing this reality and coming to terms with it will help to better understand who we are and why what happens to us happens to us. It will help to generate a pattern of understanding of how people and organisations work (since they are created and run by people) that will allow us to manage our emotions more calmly and to have greater control over our behaviour and our environment.
If we want to successfully face the challenges of this new normality, now, more than ever, a new style of leadership is needed, where agile and effective management of emotions is at the forefront of business strategy.