Coronavirus scare – Another headline for the daily panic list

Let me be clear, Coronavirus (COVID-19) is real. There are real health risks and no-one can be certain of its overall effects around the world. That said – the news media love a good scare story, and Coronavirus ticks all their boxes. A news editor’s mantra of “If it bleeds it leads” is no truer than in the case of a juicy pandemic story.

So whilst there are real, practical measures that we can all take to protect ourselves, our families and colleagues, being whipped into a panic isn’t going to help. Fear is not a helpful emotion (unless you are being chased by a tiger).

I do not doubt the peril of this virus, which has already caused many deaths; however, as a health and wellbeing practitioner, I believe the media has unduly focused on panic style headlines when there are other societal issues destroying people’s lives every week:

Some humdinger social problems just as lethal as Coronavirus

  • Obesity
  • Opioid addiction
  • Gambling crisis
  • Human trafficking and sexual abuse
  • Debt and loan-sharking
  • Homelessness and poverty
  • Toxic relationships and domestic violence (male and female)
  • Workplace stress and depression
  • Suicide crisis

Did you know that sixteen people kill themselves every day in the UK and 400,000 deaths each year in the EU are directly linked to obesity? A 2018 Labour Force Survey in the UK showed 15.4 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18.

The coronavirus health scare is great for selling papers without anyone really knowing the full details of the virus. The supposition in the media is whipping people into a frenzy. Rumours create panic, fear and anxiety.

The workplace can be a petri-dish of problems

Through training, coaching and mediation I see first-hand how scaremongering and rumours in the workplace, especially during periods of restructure, reorganisation and change, can create unnecessary anxiety and stress, often leading to a toxic office environment.

According to 2018 HSE statistics when it comes to the causes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, workload pressures including tight deadlines and a lack of managerial support were the main issues (44 per cent of all cases). Other causes included bullying (13 per cent) and organisational changes at work (8 per cent). In total, 57 % of all working days lost to ill health were due to stress and anxiety making Absence Management a major issue/cost for UK business.

What is real and what is a rumour?

So when bad news and rumours hit the front page it’s useful to ask yourself, “Where’s the evidence? Where are the facts?” If it is true, then drill down and consider, “Does it affect me, does it apply to me? How do I feel? If you find yourself feeling anxious consider what you can do to reduce your anxiety.

My company, Carol Barwick Learning and Development (CBLD) Ltd specialises in tackling business and workplace challenges from a “behaviour” standpoint, and we use a powerful range of techniques and tools to help leadership and management. These include coaching, staff training, and mediation.

The five most common workplace issues I help managers deal with are:

  1. Conflict and a toxic office

Toxic relationships and conflict in the workplace can poison everyone in the team. This is where effective mediation must be employed as soon as possible to avoid talent walking out of the door.

  1. Absenteeism

What are the real reasons for a person’s repeated absence? Is conflict or stress at work the problem? Can mediation or hypno-coaching help? If absenteeism is caused by personal issues how can you as a manager sensitively approach the person. What support systems are in place?

  1. Presenteeism

Aside from absenteeism, a common issue among well-intentioned people is coming to work sick. They do this because they fear being seen as slackers or worry about losing their job; however, such “presenteeism” is estimated to cost the UK economy £15.1billion every year, making it nearly double the cost of absenteeism. (https://workinmind.org/2019/10/17/presenteeism/)

Poorly people operate ineffectively causing failing sales or quality control mistakes as well as making other people sick, impacting productivity. What’s more, a person not operating at their optimal level creates a backlog for the rest of the team which can cause resentment and conflict.

  1. Home problems

Juggling the demands of problems at home carry over into the workplace. Stress, anxiety and depression through a toxic relationship for example, can result in absenteeism and sickness.

Toxic relationships make you reframe how you see the world. It is like a creeping death—death of the old you. It is only in retrospect you know the impact it has.

  1. Addiction

Stress and anxiety at work or at home feed addictions such as alcohol, prescription drugs and food addictions. Knock-on effects such as hangovers, drowsiness and ineffectiveness result, because addicts operate less efficiently than fitter members of the team. Problem gambling is a particularly addictive scourge with easy access to online platforms endemic. Many thefts from the workplace link directly to gambling problems.

Prevention is better than cure. 

An obese person, problem gambler or functioning alcoholic may also have relationship stress with their spouse because they feel they have lost control and are not dealing with the elephant in their room.

The right prescription

Leaders and managers would be wise to identify and reduce the causes of stress and where possible support employees struggling to cope. This means using Emotional Intelligence and genuine empathy to deal promptly with issues like excessive workloads, conflict and bullying in the office, sensitively handling addiction issues and applying the right treatment.

I believe it is everyone’s personal duty to look after their own health before they knock on doctors’ or therapists’ doors demanding drugs, operations and treatment, though sensitivity is vital and the right support given by an emotionally intelligent manager or colleague at the right time can make all the difference.

React before it becomes a contagion

Carol Barwick Learning & Development (CBLD) Ltd provides valuable training to help managers spot signs of stress or conflict, providing bespoke solutions before negativity becomes a contagion. If managers take preventable precautions they can quickly limit the spread of a toxic situation. These include mediation along with easy and effective adjustments to inspire and motivate staff, and building resilience into the team at every level.  Uniquely my strategy includes hypno-coaching to develop mutual understanding and providing people with appropriate tools to control the situation.

A proven antidote

The results are remarkable, enabling people with different ways of working and different personalities to discover real cooperation; agreeing a contract going forward with the other person and reducing stress levels for everyone involved.

Contact me for more information.

P.S. I can’t stop myself from remembering “Corona orangeade” in the 1970s whenever I hear the Coronavirus mentioned on the news. Some of you “older folk” will remember the strapline: “Every bubble’s passed its fizzical”!