Opinion: The psychology of business recovery post COVID-19

A recent headline from the World Economic Forum (WEF) COVID Action Platform brought about a whole new realisation to all the chatter that has been going around business recovery post-COVID. Aptly titled "Lockdown is the world’s biggest psychological experiment – and we will pay the price", the article openly challenged our collective preparedness and business acumen on how we’ve been planning to come out of this.

As the article continued, it argued how with over 2.6 billion people currently under the mandated quarantine and lockdown could potentially lead to a second wave of epidemic around burnouts and stress-related absenteeism in the second half of 2020.

So whilst heads of states, government machinery and NGOs have their hands full serving the front liners fighting to contain the COVID pandemic at hand, as business leaders we need to collectively look beyond stock market movements and supply chain recovery measures, into a potentially deeper cycle of economic depression coming from psychological issues of both our customers and employees.

Both grappling equally with the after effects of prolonged social distancing and work from home situations as quoted by Boston University of Public Health epidemiologist Sandro Galea, as she believes that this uncertainty could manifest as increased levels of anxiety among other health issues in all of us. And as per the report published on Intelligence.com, eminent clinical psychologists from around the world echo a similar sentiment relating to a damaged state of mind, where one in unable to look forward and plan. Not a conclusion we want to hear at a time when we all are itching to jumpstart life and the economy all over again.

Reigniting human resilience and the role of business leadership

Surely coming into our own will be much harder this time around whilst we come out of our homes into the post-COVID era. A reason both governments and NGOs are stretching to facilitate WEF backed programmes such as EveryoneOK in Belgium which aims to:

- Offer self-help interventions that can address the needs of large affected populations;

- Educate people about the expected psychological impact and reactions to trauma, ensuring that as citizens we all understand that a psychological reaction to such stress levels is normal; and

- Have a go to platform for people seeking answers to these psychosocial issues.

But the question remains what is the role business leaders and corporations can play in ensuring physical, mental and emotional well-being of its employees and the communities it serves in (including customers)?

Earlier this month we released our Edelman special report on Brand Trust and COVID, that clearly underscores the role all of us as citizens are envisaging for the corporate leaders, as 49% of us believe that our respective employer is better prepared for viral outbreak than the overall system. Meanwhile, 61% agree to put more trust in their employers, second only to health authorities and experts on responding effectively and responsibly. Also, 78% concur that businesses are in charge of protecting employees and local communities.

An overwhelming mandate that re-affirms the aspect of how engaging employees while WFH could possibly be our best bet to jumpstart business recovery in the post-COVID era. An approach that puts special emphasis on creating bespoke programmes to ensure physical, mental and emotional well-being of our employees and communities we serve in.

Building resilience in the virtual world of WFH

In the past few months, following examples particularly stood out as a testament of how few forward looking organisations are investing in building human resilience across their ecosystem through various employee engagement programmes. 

1. Edelman

We created our own three-week engagement quiz program that entertains and tests the IQ, EQ and FQ levels of its employees, compelling them to converge at the end of the day fun virtual quiz programme.

2. Goodway Group

Programmatic agency Goodway Group hosted a half-hour “Family Fun Friday” for employees with kids. It included “music, magic and laughs.”

3. Vox Media

The media company is hosting a daily story time for parents with kids, courtesy of its parent employee resource group.

4. LiveIntent

Martech platform LiveIntent created Slack groups #the-bark-side, #thedailybaby, #parentsofliveintent and #WFHTipsandTricks, where people can stay positive and productive.

5. Engine Group

Creative and media marketing services company Engine Group started a meditation series Zen@Home. The optional 15-minute sessions offer tips to get through their day with better mental and physical health.

6. Merkle

The agency distributed printable artwork so people could spruce up their video conferencing backgrounds.

In sum, we have seen these thoughtful collective actions from all of us ensure our teams and extended partner ecosystem stays safe, sane and excited during these unprecedented times. But most importantly as business leaders, what we need to do is take care of our people, and rest will take care of itself. That periodic act of genuinely checking in on each other, getting to know them better, and even welcoming their kids, parents and pets into our virtual team huddles goes a long way in building stronger human bonds in these testing times.

Trust you’ll find some of these thoughts useful for your organisation and we are happy to share more on how we can continue to spread excitement while containing the virus.

The writers are Mazuin Zin, MD, and Sailesh Wadhwa, chief strategist at Edelman Malaysia.