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Mental health and COVID-19: Three ways managers can keep weary workers engaged and motivated

To rejuvenate the system with new aspirations and initiatives they need to involve the entire organisation in a quick way and make this process a participatory one thus creating ownership across the organisation

Santhosh Babu | October 28, 2020 | Updated 23:37 IST
Mental health and COVID-19: Three ways managers can keep weary workers engaged and motivated
Not just the economy, the country and individuals but also our organisations need to look at rejuvenation and that is the new and urgent role Indian managers need to play

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das said on October 21 2020 that India is at the doorstep of an economic revival on the back of accommodative monetary and fiscal policies being pursued by the central bank and the government.

Indian managers have a new role to play and it is about rejuvenating their organisations.

All of us at some point in time in our life feel the need to rejuvenate ourselves, physically and mentally. And most of us do that by either taking a break, going to an ayurvedic centre or a spa somewhere far-off and come back rejuvenated.

Also Read: India battles mental health crisis as COVID pandemic rages

The current state of our organisations

Organisations, barring a few, are feeling tired as they are dealing with the current challenging and difficult times.Their plans, strategy and predictions have been challenged and changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organisations had to reduce their man power, cut the salaries of their existing employees, invest a lot of money to make work from home possible for a large number of people. All this together has created tremendous amount of stress individually and collectively in the Indian companies.

So not just the economy, the country and individuals but also our organisations need to look at rejuvenation and that is the new and urgent role Indian managers need to play.

Also Read: 47% of India's working women face aggravated stress, anxiety due to COVID-19: LinkedIn survey

When individuals go through stress; they go through three stages and this holds true for organisations as well.

1. Alarm reaction stage

This stage is about the initial symptoms that a body experiences whenit isunder stress. This natural reaction prepares us to either flee or protect ourselves in a dangerous situation. There is an increased level of energy and alertness to fight the danger or threat. With this energy, actions are taken to face the challenge. Many organisations did this well when the lockdown started, and some pre-empted and acted even before it was announced.

2. Resistance stage.

As the stressful situation continues for an extended period of time, like in the case of COVID-19 pandemic, we adapt and learn how to live with a higher stress level. Indian organisations adapted and learnt how to live with the pandemic and its impact on business. We often spoke about the new normal. If the resistance stage continues for a longer period of time, it leads to the exhaustion stage.

3. Exhaustion stage

Struggling with stress for long periods can drain our physical, emotional, and mental resources to the point where our body no longer has strength to fight stress. Organisations are almost at this stage now, trying to put up a brave face to the outside world, and this "trying" probably is creating even more stress within the system.

The new role of organisational leaders

The leaders need to have a strategy to rejuvenate their organisations. There are enough examples that tell us that rejuvenation cannot just be a talk or an eyewash. Increased levels of anxiety and stress can force us to use some defence mechanisms, like intellectualisation or denial. But in the end, we need to face the truth, address it, take action and inject positive energy and hope into our organisations. And leaders cannot outsource this job to consultants. Because this is also a true test of leadership, the ability to rejuvenate and re-energize the system.

The challenge

While most managers and leaders know how to inspire their people and motivate them, a system wide rejuvenation is going to be more demanding than just motivating people with an impactful speech. It will require the skills to co-create new aspirations, strategies and initiatives in a participatory and engaging way. This requires the skills of deep listening, understanding the core life-giving force in their organisations, the ability to be vulnerable and not knowing yet demonstrating confidence and clarity.

Rejuvenating organisations at this exhausting stage also requires a deep understanding of the art and science behind managing complex change and transitions. The process of driving this change and rejuvenation is going to be like flying an aircraft while building it. This demands managers to be comfortable with ambiguity yet act with certainty.

Also Read: Rising stress levels of India Inc: Overwork, financial woes, remote work take toll on mental health

The rejuvenation process

1. Acceptance of reality and effective and authentic communication

We need to be aware of our defence mechanisms that unconsciously force us into denial, intellectualisation or rationalisation, and simultaneously, learn to authentically communicate the current reality, insecurities and anxieties.

2. Setting new aspirations in a participative way

More often than not, leaders have a tendency to absorb stress and take responsibility rather than creating accountability across the system. To rejuvenate the system with new aspirations and initiatives they need to involve the entire organisation in a quick way and make this process a participatory one thus creating ownership across the organisation.

3. Focusing on and celebrating small wins

When we are exhausted it is easy to focus on what is not working, it becomes hard to notice small positive shifts. But the truth is "what we focus on, expands". Hence, the leaders need to pay attention to smaller positive shifts and celebrate them to create a positive energy and momentum.

Where there could be hundreds of other things leaders need to do to rejuvenate their organisations, the above three are important as these steps create faith, hope and collective identity across the organisations.

What does not kill you makes you stronger and leaders need to rise up to this occasion and rejuvenate their organisations.

{The author is Founder ODA (www.odalternatives.com) and Orglens (www.orglens.com)}

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