Devastating Repercussions of Covid-19.
By Eric Sambu
Loans from financial institutions have been causing financial distress to salaried employees. The majority have hit their borrowing limits, and are receiving very little net pay The situation has been exacerbated
by lower income after the onset of COVID-19 which limited travelling. Related out of station allowances were also curtailed. Austerity measures to mitigate the pandemic’s impact caused drastic pay cuts, unpaid leave or outright retrenchment, resulting in distress.
Working from home had a negative effect on many employees who are now struggling to cope. Most of them do not have a proper environment to work. The presence of other family members at home diverts attention and concentration. Reliable internet access was limited and the situation exposed digital illiteracy. Personal relationships took a beating due to pressures of living together in one place and working in the same house.
Tasks allocation may become strenuous, because of reduced manpower in many sections, either due to shift patterns implemented to meet the COVID-19 containment measures, or permanent reduction of workforce to stay afloat during the pandemic. The same work will still need to be completed by the few remaining staff, hence distress at the workplace. In addition, timelines and deadlines set for submission of completed work was piling pressure and stressing employees.
Supervision by seniors can be a source of anxiety as well. The pressure to deliver, even with new systems and remote working, have been intense, making many break down. There was little social support, given the impact of COVID-19. New systems and tools were introduced to support remote working. Many employees were not adequately prepared, but were nonetheless expected to cope. This hampered productivity.
This state of affairs may have caused many employees to score less in their appraisals leading to little or no bonuses.
Fear was instilled and travelling was shunned, sending a number of people to solitary confinement, to the detriment of their mental health and wellbeing. This caused much stress, as the changes were sudden with little social support to enable employees to cope.
Covid-19 containment measures resulted in less physical activities, yet employees were still eating the same
amount of food or even more due to proximity to food, resulting in sudden weight gain, causing distress and reducing their self-esteem. (Gangji, 2021). Beccuti and Pannain (2011) research supported the view that sleep disorders and obesity cause distress. Fear of contracting Covid-19 became a key source of worry. Information and misinformation about the contagion was immense, causing many to view anything and everyone as a source of infection.
Fear was instilled and travelling was shunned, sending a number of people to solitary confinement, to the detriment of their mental health and wellbeing. This caused much stress, as the changes were sudden with little social support to enable employees to cope. While Covid-19 is a health disaster, it can also be a mental health crisis if action is not taken (Mashologu, 2021). It is noted that when people have been less physically
active, they experience more harm to their mental health (Mashologu, 2021). Isolation from the usual office affects mental health.
Physical isolation and lockdowns caused a lot of psychological turbulence and excessive use of internet caused dysfunctional behaviour (Wambugu, 2021). Job insecurity increased due to austerity measures and became a key source of stress. This was compounded by what was perceived as low productivity of individual employees during the pandemic. There was no consideration of specific matters facing employees during that period, many employers found ways of coping with less employees, rendering many redundant. Technology came in handy in bridging the gaps with artificial intelligence, leading to the automation of many tasks.
Stress prevention and treatment measures
Awareness training makes people conversant with what is ailing them and hence measure to counter stress
(Peganix, 2021). Self-assessment tools can be availed for people to be self conscious. Consultants, if engaged, may help staff in these awareness trainings. Employers may also continuously review processes and policies to ensure existence of accommodative policies and procedures by employees. These measures need to be in place to help employees have a work-life balance that can boost productivity in the workplace.
Deliberate job redesign also helps, with a focus on utilizing employees’ skills well. The redesign was intended to be compatible with demands outside work, for instance, flexible work schedules that encourage telecommuting. Monitoring of employee’s workload is advisable to minimize chances of stress (Lee 1999). Encourage staff to engage in open communication at the workplace given that open dialogue encourages employees to vent out emotions and enables management to clarify issues and therefore avoid ambiguity.
Employers can boost staff morale by being clear on career prospects. A workplace conducive environment
can be supported by positive organizational culture. Top leadership should encourage interaction of
stakeholders, avoid bullying in workplaces, sexual harassment, and any form of discrimination. An effective
whistleblowing mechanism, monitored externally, supported by a positive culture in the organization, enhances the environment at the workplace. Employees however should be held accountable, with tasks, targets and objectives made clear in advance. Superiors should involve juniors in matters affecting their work, leading to a two-way consultation process in a participatory leadership style, which is proven to work.
Mental and emotional wellness programs are encouraged, since workers’ health is not just physical but psychological too. Fadel et al (2010) found that mental health risks to workers, such as occupational stress and depression, are on the increase. Therefore recognizing and promoting mental health is an essential part of creating a healthy and safe workplace. When employees experience positive physical and mental
health, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated and productive in their roles (Fadel et al, 2010).
Job insecurity increased due to austerity measures and became a key source of stress. This was compounded by what was perceived as low productivity of individual employees during the pandemic. There was no consideration of specific matters facing employees during that period, many employers found ways of coping with less employees, rendering many redundant. Technology came in handy in bridging the
gaps with artificial intelligence, leading to the automation of many tasks.
Resilience training is recommended, perhaps semi-annually, as part of team building exercises for all employees. Whenever one is faced with a challenge, resilience enables you to deal with it, process it, and get back on track. Developing mental toughness can improve employees’ performance in every area of
life, and resilience training provides them with the injection of mental stamina they need (Peganix,2021) Resilient people bounce back from difficulties faster, thrive under pressure, adapt better to changing environments, have higher energy levels and are better able to manage stress (Peganix, 2021).
Employees are then able to train their brains to stop feeling dejected, victimized, or angry, so respond quickly and constructively to crises./Rest and restoration are key elements of helping employees ‘refuel’ and feel rejuvenated. In addition to the statutory annual leave, some employers grant employees rest and restoration leave depending on the nature of work. Those in hardship areas should get more days off duty to enable them travel out of their sites.
Rest is encouraged and all staff should be subjected to stress self assessment periodically to note how they
rest. They provide statistics on sleeping patterns, physical exercise pattern, screen time and nutrition. An app may be created specifically to monitor this, and staff should receive feedback to enable them change for the better. Physical exercises have been proven to burn excess energy in addition to contributing to the physical and mental health of employees (Warburton et al, 2006). Some employers have joint aerobic exercises done after office hours, with results tracked quarterly and employees meeting targets awarded accordingly.
Others may team up for jogging, cycling, swimming, tennis, basketball, football etc. Employers may provide them with sport kits and facilitate travelling out as part of team building exercises, and avail awards for winners in each category. Counselling is one of the most effective ways to treat stress. Employees are taken
through sessions and socially supported to cope with stress in workplace by a dedicated team of counsellors internally and supported by external counsellors.
Consultants and experts in workplace stress and productivity may also be called in to observe how tasks are assigned to employees and have a discussion with them. The 360-degree feedback usually informs the policy and procedure changes, and appraisal input.This can help immensely if you want to have a conducive environment for employees. Empathy by top management should be experienced at all levels, especially during peak periods where timelines need to be met by the entire organization. The top leadership should prepare for behavioral variations in response to crisis and implement support strategies across the branch network to ensure everyone copes well.
Coaching should be part of the performance management process at the workplace. This is where employees can be helped to cope and adapt to a workplace environment when they are supported to work better in groups and teams. Spiritual nourishment also helps and employers should encourage aspects
like meditation, nature walks, yoga, and prayer sessions. Stress can be defined as any challenge to the balance (also known as homeostasis) of the body, whether physical, psychological, emotional, real or imagined (Selhub, 2019). These challenges can range from complex and traumatizing world news to simple
issues like weather changes.
Robbins (1989) defines stress in terms of a situation that creates excessive psychological or physiological demands on a person. Therefore, the situation, often referred to as the stressor, and the response, together create the stress that an individual experiences. Selye (1976), who pioneered study on stress and its effects, developed a model dubbed the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) that suggests that stress
occur in three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion, also defined stress as “nonspecific response by the body to any demand made upon it.”
We respond physiologically to stress, and Cannon (1963) coined what he termed as ‘fight or flight’ to describe the inborn defense response to threat or danger, meant to ultimately ensure survival. Cannon (1963) described the reaction as body releases stress hormone like adrenalin and cortisol into the bloodstream, causing our senses to become hyper-alert and aroused, pupils to dilate, muscles to tense up in preparation of fight or flight. Liver also releases stored sugar to give us energy, lungs work faster to increase breathing rate, heart pumping faster, blood pressure rises, and immune system provoked (Cannon, 1929).
Stress is not necessarily negative, as it spurs us to function. But it remains a matter of concern as it affects the productivity of workers. COVID-19 prevention measures resulted in remote working, functioning with less teams, and often with outdated or ill-introduced systems. Financial strain set in, insecurity increased. Organisations ought to have put in mechanisms to assess the new situation and put in programs that
all employees are facilitated, with aspects like guidance and counselling, facilities, training, revision of scope of work and flexible delivery patterns. However much a company tries to minimize or eliminate stress, it is incumbent upon an individual to be self-conscious and handle their situations well in order to cope.
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Reprinted with permission of the Vancouver Sun.
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CPA Eric Sambu is the Managing Director of SGA Security and is based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Email address: [email protected]