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Staying Strong When COVID 19 Changes the Workplace Overnight

By Michelle Hopkins | 04/13/2020

When an event on the scale of the global coronavirus pandemic threatens the health of employees and the financial lifeline of businesses and industries, the first reaction may be a mix of denial and fear. That’s human nature. But business leaders must keep focused to address the needs of all their stakeholders: customers, partners, stockholders, the public and, importantly, their employees, who need answers and leadership.

It helps to know you can count on Concentra to support the health and safety of your employees. In our more than 520 community-based medical centers nationwide and in our relationships with a majority of the nation’s top companies, we are continuing to provide injury care and employer health services, such as physical exams and drug testing. Our standard Concentra Telemed™ is available for workers’ compensation visits in 38 states, every day of the year, 24-hours-a-day. In addition, Concentra centers in 44 states are offering injury care and recheck appointments via telemedicine during center hours, as well as COVID-19 return-to-work evaluations

There has never been a better time to turn to the expertise of Concentra clinicians to support your employees’ health. This article will explore ways business leaders can help their employees stay strong during these unprecedented times. But first, take a moment to learn how Concentra is responding to COVID-19.

How staying strong can help fight the coronavirus

Staying strong in the face of challenges involves perseverance: an iron will, a strong backbone, and a pinch of pluck and grit thrown in for good measure. Personal strength may be forged, like metal in a furnace, through the white-hot trials of life and work.

An article in Inc. magazine recommends 10 ways to build resilience.1 Using this article as a springboard, let’s look at tips to build strength during the coronavirus pandemic. They relate to:

  • Problem solving. This is always a valued skill in business. In fact, a Harvard Business Review study ranked problem solving as the third most important out of 16 skills in influencing a business leader’s success.2 When a crisis occurs, it’s important not just to be a clear thinker, but a person willing to let go of typical problem-solving approaches to embrace new ones, maybe wild and untested.

  • Emotions. Crisis triggers emotions in all of us. You can’t get around it. It’s how we’re wired. Psychologists refer to our “fight or flight response,” our bodies’ involuntary reaction to an acute threat to our survival. Our autonomic nervous system is activated. Our endocrine system releases hormones. Heart rate increases. Blood pressure and glucose levels can change. Stress hormones are dispersed, activating more hormones that restrict blood vessels. A cascade of responses throughout the body takes over.3

    To be strong, we must master our emotions. It helps to keep in mind the setbacks we’ve already overcome in life and work. Which of the many personal traits you possess brought you through those experiences? Above all, focus on what the crisis – even a pandemic – may teach you and contribute to your personal growth.

  • Personal toughness. Try approaching the pandemic environment with an attitude that stares down a challenge with the same fierceness your favorite superhero would stare down the evilest villain. As the situation gets tougher – and you see the number of cases grow on the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus interactive world map, your attitude gets tougher. You become even more determined to stay healthy by being vigilant in following recommended practices of social distancing, handwashing, and more, while urging friends and family to do the same.

  • Growth. As already mentioned, a crisis is an opportunity to grow, although certainly not one we would want very often. The good news is, with each successive challenge in life (and, yes, there will be others), you can become stronger, smarter, and better equipped to do what’s needed – IF you positively embrace what’s happening around you as a graduate course in life.

  • Preparation. Like any emotional, destabilizing event, the pandemic is not the time to immerse yourself in a stew of negativity and worry. Taking steps to prepare or assist our colleagues or community will channel our emotions in a positive way, and this lets us see our strength.

  • Doggedness. You may find yourself working 18 hours a day, trying to keep operations going, soothing the anxiety of customers and responding to questions all around you. At the end of the day, you wonder if you did any good at all. But a person with doggedness and determination knows that tomorrow is another day, and another chance to fight the good fight once again.

  • Rewards. This one seems odd in the blare of newscasts telling us the pandemic is growing worse. But you must resist taking on the entire global challenge as your personal battle. Focus on what you can do. Rewarding yourself for what you have accomplished will help keep your battery charged.

  • Giving. A crisis can bring out the best in people and companies, too. Forbes magazine showcased “50 Ways Companies Are Giving Back During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”4 One example is LinkedIn opening up 16 of its online learning courses for free to instruct displaced employees on how to stay productive, build relationships when you are not face-to-face, and balancing work and family in a healthy way. Another example is Adobe giving teachers and students free at-home access to the cloud.

    Personal examples of giving are abundant, too. On an individual level, giving social support during the pandemic provides special benefits to areas of our brain. Lead researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that giving social support reduces stress activity in the cortex, amygdala, and other areas of the brain.5 It also stimulates reward-related and caregiving-related activity in other brain regions. Giving increases the capacity for more giving.

  • Relationships. It’s clear from the complex web of emergency responders that have joined together against the coronavirus, we don’t get through a challenge of this scale alone. This is a time for business leaders and employees throughout the organization to focus on building relationships.

  • Meaning. Even the strongest among us in working through challenges most likely will, at some point, ask, why is this happening? To me? To my company? There are no easy answers, but many people find comfort believing in something bigger than themselves and spending time in quiet meditation allowing positive energy and gratitude to flow through their mind and body. We need a daily metaphysical or spiritual “reset” to continually persevere.

Five steps for business leaders and employees to build strength

One effect of the pandemic may be to create new meaning of what it means to stay strong and help others do the same. It can be similar to mastering a workout goal in the gym. You build strength during hard times by trying a certain behavior or solution, doing repetitions, seeking help when needed, and persisting to become stronger and better prepared for any other challenges in the future. Here are five tips to assist you:

  1. Re-read your company’s vision and values (or other source that inspires you)

    In trying to stay strong, it helps to keep a hopeful attitude to trigger positive activity in the brain (being open-minded to new solutions, mastering emotions, keeping a determined attitude, and giving to others). At the start of a crisis and as often as needed for the duration, read something that reinforces the idea that you (or your company) is strong.

    For instance, take a look at your company values and mission statement or a description of what your brand represents to customers. It’s very likely that you will find statements – either direct or implied – about your company’s adaptability, flexibility, responsiveness, and concern for others. These statements are not just aspirational; they are who you are. Thoughtful vision, values, and statement of mission were made for moments like these. COVID-19 is your time to shine.

    Individuals can use daily affirmations to create a positive mindset and keep it in place. There are many online sources, such as this one, to help you use affirmations effectively.

  2. Reinvent yourself or your business to meet the crisis challenge

    While reinforcing the positive qualities your company represents is helpful, staying too attached to what your company does may not be. As the pandemic bore down harder on many businesses, they either shut their doors or found creative ways to keep going. Many businesses identified a need they could serve by changing up what they do in normal times. NBC News, ABC News, and the Wall Street Journal are among the news organizations that have profiled many inspiring examples of business reinvention.6,7,8 Specific examples are:

    • Distilleries use high-proof alcohol to manufacturer much-needed hand sanitizer
    • Automakers re-open shuttered plants to mass produce ventilators and other medical equipment
    • A French blue jeans maker saw sales begin to plummet and switched to making face masks instead

    What do you have to offer at this critical time that can advance the cause of protecting public health, providing health and comfort to people affected by the virus, or move toward elimination of the threat? This is no time to hang back. You may be the only one available and equipped to fulfill the need you see. You will have plenty of time to go back to your comfortable role when the pandemic is over – or you may find a new role that you like and want to keep.

  3. Be forgiving, flexible, and supportive

    Staying strong can mean getting out of your familiar box and trying different thinking and solutions. You’re going to have some failures. Count on it. But the potential upside is greater. Just as you will want the support and forgiveness of others during trying times, you need to offer the same to others. Your peers, staff, or family and friends may not be as able to shed their fear or reposition themselves in a positive frame of mind. They need your understanding and support.

  4. Maintain good nutrition, exercise, and restorative sleep

    A hilarious meme on social media used various characters to proclaim, after only a few hours into self-isolation, “I’ve already eaten all my quarantine snacks!” Shut at home with little social outlet and a fully stocked pantry is not an ideal situation for some people, especially those who eat from stress. While there is no evidence that any particular diet will make you more resistant to the coronavirus, eating healthy foods to support your immune system and body functions is preferable to over-indulging in carbohydrates, sugar, and caffeine. Restorative sleep, perhaps more difficult to achieve during the crisis, is essential for everyone. Turn off the news and the computer at least an hour or two before bedtime and find an enjoyable diversion.

    Walks outdoors (at least six feet away from other people) and home exercise help replace the daily movement you are missing: climbing stairs, walking in from the parking lot, moving about the factory or school. YouTube.com offers a wide range of exercise videos and physical therapy instruction to strengthen your body and prevent fatigue that comes from being sedentary. 

  5. Tips for mental health

    Even while self-isolating and social distancing, you don’t need to be in mental hyperdrive every moment. Turn off the news coverage. Find sources of entertainment. Laugh. It’s allowed and encouraged. This means at work, too. Many employees may be working from home, but you can stay connected through email, instant messaging and video conferencing. After the crisis is over, you’ll remember the convivial support you shared as you worked with your teams and colleagues in overcoming COVID-19.

When it’s time to go back to the office, we’re here

Use Concentra Telemed® for all of your COVID-19 return-to-work evaluations. Employees who are asymptomatic after being quarantined or having a positive coronavirus test can simply log onto concentratelemed.com at a computer enabled with a camera and microphone or download the Concentra Telemed app from Google Play (for Android smartphones) or the Apple App Store (for iPhones).

Concentra Telemed also is available for minor injury care, as well as general and physical therapy recheck appointments. Concentra, a leader in telemedicine for workers’ compensation, launched Concentra Telemed three years before the coronavirus pandemic.


Notes:
1 Daskal L. How to Be More Resilient When Things Get Tough. Inc. Accessed March 20, 2020. https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/how-to-be-more-resilient-when-things-get-tough.html  
2 Zenger J and Folkman J. The Skills Leaders Need at Every Level. Harvard Business Review. July 30, 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/07/the-skills-leaders-need-at-every-level
3 Fight or flight response. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed March 20, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/science/fight-or-flight-response
4 Morgan B. 50 Ways Companies Are Giving Back During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Forbes. March 17, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2020/03/17/50-ways-companies-are-giving-back-during-the-corona-pandemic/#39f2dd5d4723
5 Bergland C. 3 Specific Ways That Helping Others Benefits Your Brain. Psychology Today. February 21, 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201602/3-specific-ways-helping-others-benefits-your-brain 
6 Distilleries using high-proof alcohol to make hand sanitizer. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/distilleries-using-high-proof-alcohol-make-hand-sanitizer-n1161371
7 Automakers offer to build ventilators as US faces critical shortage. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Business/automakers-offer-build-ventilators-us-faces-critical-shortage/story?id=69689489
8 Companies retool operations to assist in cor9onavirus fight. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/companies-retool-operations-to-assist-in-coronavirus-fight-11584637831