1 November 2020

The human cost of crisis

By Dallas Gurney

Last Wednesday I took a call on my mobile at 6:35am.  On the other end of it was a man, clearly in distress, who needed urgent help for his son who was battling some sort of mental health crisis.

While I was quick to realise the crisis services he needed were not the kind we offer at Serious, it took me some time to explain this to him, all while frantically googling the Ministry of Health crisis hotline to try and make some good of an otherwise wasted call.

As the call ended, having provided him with the appropriate number, I wished him well and told him I hoped things worked out OK.

Much, I am sure, like 111 operators do after their shift; I have been thinking a lot about that call.

What sort of a night had he had?

Did he get the help he needed?

Could I have done more?

What did he google to get me?  Clearly my Google Ads need a bit of a tweak.

Perhaps his son had lost his job post-COVID.  Maybe the stresses of lockdown had impacted his mental wellbeing.  Or was this call only the last of many, a father trying once again to pull his son out of his inner thoughts as they start spiraling out of control.

When the COVID crisis is all but a recent memory, it will fascinating to see the damage it has done to our collective psychological state.  Gut feel says the toll will be enormous.  A recent report from Hays found that just 42% of Kiwi employees rate their mental wellbeing as positive, down from 63% pre-COVID, however I suspect that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Driving home yesterday there was an ad on the radio for a law firm.  It was specifically targeting people who had been through lockdown with their significant other and who are now thinking the partnership may no longer be for them.  While on one hand I admired its directness, the ad also made me throw up in my mouth a little.  It felt like crocodiles hunting down a wildebeest crossing a fast-flowing river – the current makes the crossing hard enough without a croc coming nipping at your neck.

While COVID can’t be blamed for a failed relationship, I’m also sure it doesn’t help.  Five couples we know have broken up since the pandemic hit.  I fear when we stats come in; we’ll see many kiwi relationships have been a COVID casualty.

One of the crisis principles we teach at Serious is People First, Always.  That’s a very easy thing to say, but in practise it’s very hard to achieve.  When faced with a crisis you can quickly deal with the areas where the crisis intersects with the organisation, but you don’t-know-what-you-don’t-know and it’s much harder to identify the personal crises your team may be quietly facing.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a good insight into what we, as humans, need to achieve our true potential.  At the base is the basic stuff – food, water, warmth, rest – while at the top is what we need to acquire true fulfilment, a level of satisfaction we all want for the people we work with.

Is one of your team particularly struggling?  Do they need a break but don’t have the required leave?  Are they battling financially due to a layoff in the family?  Is their relationship under stress?  Are the pressures of the COVID world too much to bear?  If you know your people well enough, you’ll be able to identify the signs that things are not right.  Helping them deal with that will create loyalty and foster a culture that generates professional and personal fulfilment.

Crisis at work affects people.  Not just work-life, but home-life too.  It’s impossible to be a top performer when you’re struggling to pay the mortgage or are worried about keeping your job.  As we head into another crazy time of year, with Christmas upon us and targets yet to be reached, truly knowing your people will be key to maintaining productivity and positivity in the workplace.

And it doesn’t take much.

The Ministry of Health has created an excellent learning tool to help you recognise and act when things might be getting too much for your team.  They suggest the following when it comes to promoting a supportive and inclusive working environment:

  1. Check in regularly with your colleagues
  2. Remember your TOES (Timing, Organisational policies, Environment, Safety)
  3. Use your OARS (Open-ended questions, Affirmation, Reflection, Summarisation)

The pack provides some great advice and a structure to get the best out of your people in a stressful time.  But sometimes it’s also about trusting your gut – good leaders know when someone’s doing it tough, so taking the time to ask a couple of questions and drill down into what’s driving that sense is important.

Your people will thank you for it.