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
- ISTJ: ISTJs don’t like crowds, so the idea of being in a group of people who may be spreading Covid-19 could be stressful. At the same time, they will probably love working from home and feel guilty that they aren’t excited about the end of lockdown.
- ISFJ: ISFJs typically worry about their loved ones, even when there isn’t a global pandemic. Now they may find themselves overwhelmed with concern and could even find it hard to stay on track and deliver.
- ESTJ: ESTJs feel great when ensuring that everyone toes the line, but can get frustrated when things are done badly and they can’t step in. An ESTJ who thinks the authorities aren’t doing the right thing may feel anger that could boil over if they suffer illness or loss.
- ESFJ: ESFJs are extremely loyal to their loved ones. When they are taking care of family or friends, they will feel a visceral fear if they believe their loved ones are threatened, particularly in a pandemic.
- ISFP: ISFPs are free spirits who hate having their liberty taken away. If they are upset about lockdown, this may lead them to feel extremely guilty and even ashamed during a pandemic in which they see people losing their lives.
- ISTP: ISTPs are fiercely independent and self-sufficient. If they need to rely on other people, they will feel trapped, and, like ISFPs, they may then experience guilt about having these feelings.
- ESFP: ESFPs are similar to ISFPs and fear a loss of freedom. They will feel angry about ongoing lockdowns, but this may make them withdraw in order to keep their feelings from others.
- ESTP: ESTPs love to be in control of themselves and their surroundings. The pandemic has taken this away from them, and they too may experience guilt when their desire for freedom conflicts with the need for restrictions.
- INTJ: INTJs will certainly feel the effects of Covid-19 if the illness affects their loved ones, but they are probably secretly enjoying lockdown, leading them to feel guilty when they remember the cause.
- INTP: INTPs are very similar in their fears to INTJs. They may even fear lockdown coming to an end, which can lead them to experience guilt when they witness unhappiness in other people.
- ENTJ: ENTJs can thrive despite lockdown, so they will probably feel quite good. However, they most fear mediocrity, so if they feel they are being hampered in their success because of the pandemic, this will be causing them stress.
- ENTP: ENTPs fear being controlled, so their feelings about the constraints of lockdown will not have changed, but if they have experienced loss, or are seeing others do so, some guilt around their desire for freedom may creep in.
- INFP: INFPs are idealists who use a strong sense of their personal values to understand others’ points of view with great empathy. Unfortunately, their reserves of empathy may have been exhausted by the ongoing situation.
- INFJ: INFJs crave equality, compassion and freedom. They haven’t had freedom, and compassion and equality have also been challenged, so they may be experiencing an internal fight between craving freedom and feeling compassion towards those affected.
- ENFJ: ENFJs generally hate being alone. Their lives will have been emptier and will have lost meaning during lockdown. They may feel guilty about having these feelings when they can see friends, family and colleagues suffering.
- ENFP: ENFPs need to feel connected to humanity. They need their social groups, supportive friends and honest relationships, so the pandemic may have left them fearful of becoming disconnected.
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.