When I identified resilience fatigue – people growing sick of having to cope – last summer, it felt as though the coronavirus pandemic had gone on for ever. Now, after 16 interminable months, what I am seeing in friends and colleagues is different to what we have seen before. I have spoken to several people who say that, for the first time in the pandemic, Covid-19 is creeping closer to home and it is frightening for them.

This may be down to the rise in young people catching the disease in the UK – we have recently had a number of younger employees off work with coronavirus – but more often, I am talking to people who have lost family members to the illness and who are clearly feeling the pressure to keep a stiff upper lip, not least because they aren’t alone.

How do we know? We have some colleagues experiencing stress-related health conditions. Others, usually ebullient and vocal, are withdrawing and quietly getting on with their work, uncharacteristically keeping their heads down. Lockdowns in the UK and South Africa, where we have a large office, have been repeatedly lifted and reimposed, and although we are now supposed to be sensing things lightening, many people feel quite differently.

Using MBTI to help address fear and guilt

What I lightly termed resilience fatigue is now being replaced by fear and, to a lesser extent, guilt. What people fear is complicated and can differ vastly from one personality type (identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI) to the next. Why people feel guilty is just the same. It’s a lack of understanding of different types of fear and guilt that leads people to avoid certain topics and to keep quiet. This is a good way forward in some instances, but not so great in others.

If you are a manager, this can be difficult to tackle. Fear and guilt are extremely personal and it is impossible to say exactly what people are experiencing: our upbringings, families and home lives do not run purely on MBTI preferences. However, it does help to use a framework that sets out basic expectations, to enable a more tailored discussion. Below are some suggestions that may provide leaders and managers with food for thought, if they suspect that colleagues aren’t quite themselves.

How each personality type is likely to feel right now

It is important to be aware of the switch that occurs between the Thinking and Feeling preferences when people are distressed or under extreme stress. If someone in your team with a Feeling preference has become hard and logical, this is not a welcome change: it shows that they are not doing well. Similarly, if you have a logical, cool Thinking type who has become uncharacteristically emotional, do not applaud: they have reached their limits.

Remember that Covid-19 is not your problem to fix

We all wish that the ongoing issues relating to Covid-19 could be swept away, but ignoring these problems is not the way forward. My advice is the same as it was at the start of lockdown: speak to the people in your team, ask them how they are coping, listen to what they say and don’t try to solve anything that is beyond your powers. Keep asking them how they are and ask them what they need.

Consult the table above before you hold any discussions, but be prepared for something different to come out of them. As a manager, you don’t have to fix this massive problem and your team members don’t expect you to, so you can have these conversations safe in the knowledge that you do not have to carry their burdens just because you have asked them to open up.

If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), make sure you keep its phone number to hand. EAPs provide everyone in a company with counselling, practical advice and support, costing around £1,000 a year for up to 20 people. If you do not have an EAP, suggest to your firm’s decision-takers that they put one in place: it will give you, as a manager, the confidence that the buck doesn’t stop with you.

Otherwise, a discussion with a colleague, in the form of a supportive chat without judgement, will go a long way. Unfortunately, the message has not fundamentally changed: we still need to be kind to ourselves and to others, and no, it isn’t over yet.

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