After The Pandemic: Will We All Be Bouncing Back Together?

12. July 2021 - Stuart Schofield, Client Director in Mannaz Share this page

Summer is finally here. It’s been well over a year since I wrote my last Covid-related article for Mannaz and LinkedIn. At that time, the pandemic was in its early stages, and I was interested in how trust and cooperation could play a role in helping us weather the storm.

Over 12 months on and the storm is finally starting to abate. So much so that many of us have been whispering excitedly about how bright the future might be once restrictions are fully lifted and life begins to settle into some kind of new ‘normal’.

Shouldn’t all of this have been worth something?

In fact, the mere thought of bouncing back seems quite exciting. Clearly, I’m not the only one feeling relieved. In fact, recently I’ve noticed quite a few articles written about a phenomenon called ‘Post Traumatic Growth’ or PTG. The phenomenon refers to the possibility of a positive psychological transformation following a traumatic experience. In other words, “It’s bad now, but it will be OK, and this challenge might even be an opportunity for positive personal change”.

As an idea, PTG is an attractive one – especially now. Much of the Western world is slowly beginning to emerge from a sociologically, economically, and psychologically crippling set of lockdown measures. Some of the less fortunate among us have experienced serious health concerns and financial difficulties. Shouldn’t all of this have been worth something?

Perhaps…But what if the answer to that question is not a straightforward ‘Yes’?

When positive thinking becomes an added pressure

 

The problem is that some of us might not be ready to start thinking about personal development right now. The pressure of striving for perfect, or ‘even better’ at the end of this pandemic might be too much to ask of us. I worry that PTG, if not carefully considered, might become a question of how we ought to be ‘doing trauma right’. Even worse, I worry that the experience of stress after trauma will in some ways, be regarded as a personal failure to turn a bad situation into something good. Amongst everything else that’s going on, who needs that kind of pressure right now?

The problem is that ‘positive thinking’ might already one strategy for coping with Post Traumatic Stress

Positive psychology plays a role here. The positive psychology movement is so helpful in most situations as it reminds us that we can take control and create positive futures for ourselves. Yet positive psychology has also provided us with a temptation to think that ‘positive thinking’ is enough. We can overcome the miseries of this global pandemic if we just learn to think more positively about it. However, the problem is that ‘positive thinking’ might already one strategy for coping with Post Traumatic Stress. We may do it simply to get us through the hard times. For example, most people who have experienced trauma report to being somehow improved by it. But this is not the same thing as actual positive growth, which researchers have found much trickier to quantify and prove. As Anthony Mancini (Associate Professor at Pace University) suggests, after trauma ‘perceived growth’ might be for some a “positive illusion’”…real growth is something else!

So how should we as team members and managers respond to our colleagues as this pandemic subsides?

Managing the reboarding

 

Firstly, any experiences of trauma should not be minimized. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to process trauma, and we should not judge anyone’s unique individual responses to it. Perhaps as managers or peers, we should simply show tolerance and patience as our colleagues react in their own way to the slow return to ‘normal’. It is also clearly true that some of us will benefit from adversity. We should encourage people to share their positive stories, if these are honest and true, but we should try and resist the temptation of pressuring others to demonstrate or articulate their examples of growth and personal development. Some of them may not have any. Or they may not have…yet!

Let’s be patient, listen and take our cue from others

Secondly, I am reminded of the ‘grief curve’ – an idea first formulated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. At some point in the last 16 months, most of us will have experienced some kind of shock, denial, anger and possibly depression. What Kubler-Ross tells us is that we cannot ‘force’ people to land on the final stage of grief – Acceptance. This stage can only be achieved by moving through the grief stages in our own time, in our own way.

As we start to think about how we best ‘re-board’ our teams now that we are slowly moving back to the office, we might try and show some curiosity about where people are on the curve. Let’s listen. Perhaps some of us are still struggling to accept the ‘old normal’ of the pandemic. People might not be ready to indulge in excited talks about how we’ll manage the ‘new normal’ of non-remote or hybrid work. Let’s be patient, listen and take our cue from others.

Maybe we have all learnt something after all!

 

Finally, maybe there is some growth here for all of us…just not the kind of growth that we might be expecting.

In the process of moving through this pandemic, we may have been growing our ability to tolerate anxiety and fear – our ability to stay in a place of uncertainty.  Yes, we may have acquired new skills and approaches – but even if we haven’t, we may have still grown our ability to allow for the emergence of new thoughts or perceptions instead.

Maybe we’ve figured out that it’s alright not to have everything figured out. The need to have an answer at least (even if not the answer) is likely to be particularly strong for those of us in leadership roles. Maybe as leaders and team members we have learnt to be patient, to simply be comfortable in not knowing how things will transpire

Perhaps this is the most valuable gift the pandemic has given us.

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Stuart Schofield

Stuart Schofield is a Client Director working for the International Division, based out of London. He is a chartered occupational psychologist and has had 20 years of experience developing leaders across the globe. He has worked both in London and Hong Kong.