Exploring Personal Experiences, Feelings and Events During COVID-19 in SA
By Dr Cristy Leask, Professor Cecile Gerwel Proches and Dr Upasana Singh
The COVID-19 pandemic wave that spread like wildfire was similar to a personal wave of anxiety with tension heightened by media images and reports of increasing daily infections and deaths, leading to a desire to keep one’s family safe. There was a sense of panic at home, with people physically distant and locked-up… in a type of survival mode!
The panic was propelled by fake news and questions about the personal impacts on family, issues around finances and decisions regarding the education of school-going children and those at university. Added to all that was the challenge of juggling responsibilities involved in looking after young children and returning to work.
The presence, infusion and intrusions of technology are clearly visible - far more than previously. A few days before lockdown many people had to make a hasty and sometimes reluctant decision to get their home connected to the internet.
Conscious decisions prior to COVID-19 to keep technology in the home to a minimum - at a safe distance - went out the window when it became obvious that home as we always knew it was about to become office, school, entertainment zone as well as a place of rest, among other things. And so quite suddenly all sorts of electronic devices and equipment were acquired.
The true meaning and intensity of our dependency on technology became more entrenched with each passing day, while weekends didn’t feel the same and the working week took on a new look with boundaries blurred.
Those now working from home need to be mindful of the new demands and directions that work will take. Life has without doubt changed for many.
Burn-out and increased pressure to perform are also issues. This has to do with reduced job security but also an inability to “step away” from work to a place where you can unwind. It is clear that accountability and self-discipline are critical, as is being able to steer past moments of self-doubt, loneliness, and fear. Many may have found themselves having to multitask during these times, with possible not so healthy changes in sleeping patterns.
Businesses have had to embrace digital technologies faster than they would have chosen to sustain their existence in the competitive market. Future organisational structure design has been accelerated with remote working a current reality.
We have seen the rapid growth of e-commerce since the start of the pandemic. Online shopping is the preference for those with a high fear factor of being infected, which has led to retailers having to introduce new socially distant delivery methods, or expanding their current delivery service. The finance sector also adapted to assist customers in a variety of ways.
Families have had to re-structure their daily activities to accommodate the “new lifestyle” demanded by the virus and the lockdown. Neighbourhoods have been devoid of the laughter and play of young children while the elderly are confined to their homes. Households previously dependent on domestic assistance have had to manage without. As COVID-19 infections increase in South Africa, we begin to fully realise our vulnerabilities, and are aware that we are only as strong as our weakest link.
A post-COVID-19 world is not that far away but for now we know that we need to prepare for the peak. There is also a new pressure that has in a sense arisen as workers have become isolated in their homes with the spotlight shining more on their individual contribution and worth. The workforce has slowly returned to the workplace but an uncertain future awaits. It is evident that organisational structures, culture, processes, physical space, operations and the very raison d'être of life will come under intense scrutiny.
Just as lockdowns are criticised because of the balance required between the health of the population and the health of the economy, so too will organisations need to be mindful that there is a fine balance between cost-cutting and being humanitarian and philanthropic. The workforce has been shaken and traumatised to varying degrees and this may negatively impact on productivity as well as motivation and job satisfaction levels. Many customers may be under financial stress and could be questioning their choices, buying behaviour and spending patterns. This will in turn contribute to increased pressure for many businesses.
We encourage a process of reflection to facilitate personal growth with the emphasis on learning by consciously looking at the past and thinking about our future. In such a way, an analysis of experiences, actions and feelings may facilitate learning in a variety of spheres.
This concept of reflection as meta-thinking and self-awareness - a self-regulation process that manifests itself in the continuous reflections on one’s mental states - may help in shifting from a limbic panic into a pre-frontal cortex space of creativity, innovation and renewal.
In a stage of uncertainty, with little or no certainty about what will happen next, it is futile and unethical to offer baseless reassurance - the focus instead should be on an internal locus of control, living purposefully to impact on inequality and climate change.
· Dr Cristy Leask is an adjunct faculty at UKZN’s Graduate School of Business and Leadership; and a skilled organisational consultant at Symbiosis Consulting, and Capella University in the United States
· Professor Cecile Gerwel Proches, is an associate professor at UKZN’s Graduate School of Business and Leadership and lectures at postgraduate and masters level in Leadership Studies
· Dr Upasana Singh is a senior lecturer in the Discipline of Information Systems and Technology at UKZN.