Mental health support at work should be treated with the same concern and respect as physical health support. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case, until recently. But if this pandemic is teaching business leaders anything, is that everyone struggles with mental health.
We are fast approaching a year since the pandemic really started to hit the UK. It was already causing a wave of devastation across Europe. Then a year ago, the government threw the country into the first lockdown, and everything changed.
Overnight, schools closed. Businesses told staff to work from home. Whole sectors closed. The roads and streets were quiet. The death toll, and infection rate, kept rising. It was and still is, scary.
Let’s not forget, or downplay the fact that nothing comparable has happened in over 100 years. We are living through collective trauma. And this will have an impact on mental health for generations to come. It will shape humanity. This means “getting back to normal” will be halting and tentative, and scary for many in a different way.
How collective trauma from the pandemic is impacting work?
Firstly, let’s go back to that phrase: collective trauma. What does it mean, and why’s it relevant for those in customer service roles?
Staff in customer-facing roles, whether on the phone, providing support using messenger systems, or face-to-face, need to provide a service. They need to answer questions. Solve problems. Be present and able to handle every query that comes in, while adhering to KPIs and other job and compliance requirements and targets.
Most people would acknowledge that customer service jobs weren’t easy before the pandemic hit. Now they are even more challenging.
On a practical level, working from home was a seriously unexpected change for millions of people to cope with. Especially those without enough space to work, such as those with housemates. Parents have naturally found it even more challenging since it’s meant trying to home-school or keep kids entertained during your working hours.
On a psychological level, we are living through a collectively and personal traumatic experience. Which means functioning normally is more difficult. Because we aren’t living through normal times. How can we work “normally”, whilst living through a pandemic?
To put it simply, we can’t. Not consistently.
And part of that is the collective trauma from coping with it. Especially in countries that have struggled to get the virus under control, such as much of Western Europe, the UK, and the US.
Collective trauma is when an event, whether that’s a war, recession, natural disaster, makes an entire country or society fearful. In the case of this pandemic, it’s made all of humanity fearful. Shocked, scared, traumatised. Naturally, those who’ve lost loved ones will be suffering more. But the fear factor, that anyone could catch and spread it is something we are all living with until vaccine programs get it under control.
Some countries are coping better than others, and therefore suffering less collective trauma than in other areas with higher infection rates and death tolls. Political choices continue to make an impact on how people are coping, or not coping, during this incredibly difficult time.
At work, the impact of the pandemic can impact people’s mental health a number of ways:
- Low mood
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Low productivity
- Increased sickness (stress can manifest as colds)
Tiredness is one of the biggest issues, with the pandemic causing people to sleep more, or not sleep enough. Either way, the result is that people simply don’t have the energy to get through a full working day in the same way as before this happened.
One of the reasons is humans are social creatures. We need to interact with other people. With friends and family. We also need to visit places other than home and work. Cafes, pubs, restaurants, bars, museums, galleries; people need places away from where they work and call home. These are known as ‘third places’, which perform a crucial role in society, and therefore positively contribute to everyone’s mental health. Right now, that isn’t possible, which is adding to a collective sense of stress and anxiety during this difficult time.
All of these factors mean that customer service staff are going to struggle with their mental health. Of course, not everyone will find it difficult all of the time. But this is definitely something you need to be mindful of. Now is the time to put extra mental health support in-place, to look after the mental health of your team, to ensure they can look after themselves, and your customers.
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