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Resuming to some kind of normality after lockdown in the workplace

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From the outset let me explain that I’m not a counsellor, but I am a survivor of the July 7 London Bombings in 2005.

These days, I hear a lot of people asking, “will life ever be the same again?”

Back in 2005, following the terrorist acts, people would often say “Life will never be the same”. 

However, the thing is, over time people got back to their normal routines. Trains, buses and tubes were once again running at full capacity during the rush hour – actually more like bursting at the seams! 

The only difference I observed then, was that some of us exhibited a higher level of vigilance to our surroundings and in particular, on the transport system, towards those passengers carrying a rucksack.

The correlation between the July 7th terrorist acts and the current Covid pandemic, is that evoked a large dose of fear and anxiety in the population.

One of the obvious distinctions between that event and the current crisis, is that this is an invisible enemy, with sadly even more deaths and repercussions for the bereaved families and friends.

As the Government ease the lockdown, good employers and those able to, will follow the advice of making adaptations to the workplace. They’ll make changes to environment factors under their control, such as hygiene, social distancing and working practices etc.

My concern in the current situation, is the climate of fear.

The fear that exists for both the many who are now expected to return to work and also those that never stopped going to work.

We only need look at the news headlines and social media to realise that divisions between people have been created.

There are those who support how the crisis is being managed and are happy to adhere to the Government guidelines, and others who may have concerns and are still wary.  Over the past weekend we even saw demonstrations by some people opposing any form of lockdown.

This division may even become more apparent as people start returning to work. 

There will be those delighted to be back to their normality and once again being able to engage directly with colleagues, as opposed to virtually. There will be others who may be feeling a lot of fear at having to engage with those outside their household.

I believe that it is important to recognise that we are all different and as such, we will have a variety of different expectations that need to be respected. It is therefore helpful not to rush to create a ‘fake normality’, but instead to acknowledge that workplaces may need to be different, for some time at least.

As an employer or an employee, I would urge you to be mindful that people will be experiencing and processing things in their own time and in their own way – and this may be very different to yours.

My aim is to help you support others and to minimise the potential of creating additional and unnecessary stress, frustration, and conflicts. Particularly when your intentions may be to help bring about ‘normality’

Reflecting on my own personal experience back in 2005, having narrowly escaped serious injury, one of the biggest frustrations for me at that time, was of others needing to project their views onto me. 

However well intended, and I genuinely believe they were all coming from a good place, these views actually caused me much frustration and internal conflict. 

My inner voice wanted to tell them to shut up, yet my compassion of not wanting to upset or hurt them, stopped me from doing so. I was able to recognise that they too were going through their own internal journey – trying to make sense of the events that took place, albeit from what they had read or seen via the media.

Here’s some views others tried to project onto me directly after the bombings:

“You must have been really scared”

“I bet you were shaking”

“Oh, you poor thing I bet you never want to go on a bus or tube again”

“It must have been terrible for you”

“How awful, horrible bastards”

“Bloody Muslims”

“Oh my god I thought you were dead”

The frustrating thing for me was, that I felt none of the above. I was acutely aware at the time, that I was not physically harmed, I was safe and I was lucky, whilst others sadly were not.

These were their projections and prejudices, and they couldn’t be further from the truth!

What no one thought to ask was, what were my thoughts? what did I need? 

When others inadvertently or deliberately push their projections onto you, however well-meaning, it can be exhausting and very unhelpful. Their feelings are based on their own interpretations, fears, biases and judgements.

I did not feel frightened. I was relatively calm during the event and immediately after.

What I actually felt at the time, was a sense of excitement, yet a calm clarity; a strong desire to survive and the need to help others; followed by a feeling of numbness. In the days that followed I felt angry. Angry that strangers had exposed me to my vulnerability. I no longer felt in control of me and as the anger left me, I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt. Guilt for surviving when others had lost their lives in that moment.

I came to realise that well-meaning, kind hearted generous souls wanted to rescue me. All I wanted was to get back to some normality and take back a level of control of my life in my own way. I wanted to face my fear but also to find a way of letting go of the debris of my anger and guilt that remained. Thankfully I was able to successfully achieve this over time.

When I said that I wanted to get back to work the following week, my compassionate boss at the time offered to pay for taxis to ferry me to and from work. I thing is, I had never expressed to him that I was scared.

This again was his projection and his need to do something – perhaps his desire to protect me.

When I declined his kind offer, my colleagues offered to accompany me on my journey to, and support me back to work.

Again, although I appreciated the generosity and kindness shown to me, my desire was to get back in control and be ‘my kind of normal’, not the ‘normal’ others wanted to provide for me.

So, my suggestion is that, before you attempt to support others in their transition of returning to work, it is helpful to firstly check-in with yourself and consider your own thoughts in these times, so that you may serve others better. 

This is similar to when we travel by plane and during the safety demonstration the flight attendant informs us that we should first secure the oxygen mask on ourselves before we aim to help others with their masks. 

Do not

      • Project or force your views onto others, particularly when your views have not been invited.

      • Trivialise or make light of others experience or views by undermining them with your response or gestures. 

When a person feels undermined, they may withdraw or be made to feel weak, inadequate or worse still result in them shutting down completely.

Do

      • Encourage a mentally safe environment where people feel validated. This does not mean that you have to agree, but instead acknowledge and respect their view.

      • Consider the individual and instead of assuming, inquire how they feel. Allow the individual’s state to be validated. By all means have empathy, listen and ask questions to help you understand where they are coming from and accept that their interpretation. Their reality may be very different to yours.

Validation is a powerful tool which can reduce resentment and other forms of inter-personal conflict, but it does take reflection, awareness and self-discipline.

Remember some people may live alone, others may have lost loved ones and not had the opportunity to say goodbye. Some people may be under financial pressures. The variations are endless and the implications overwhelming.

To Prepare your mindset as to where you are right now you may want to consider:

        1. What are your thoughts about Covid?

        2. How do you feel about getting back to work?

        3. Do you have any fears?

        4. What are they?

        5. Do you need some support?

        6. What is it that you need?

        7. Where can you get this?

        8. If you are not worried, do you believe people are over reacting?

        9. If others have a different perspective to you how might you respond?

        10. What might the consequences be if you take that approach?

        11. Is this approach helpful?

        12. Will it achieve what you intend? Want?

        13. If yes great, if not what can you do instead?

By increasing our self-awareness, we minimise the potential of inadvertently creating further stress or unnecessary conflict in others.

 

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