Getting Back to Business Post COVID-19 Quarantine
By Michele Bennyhoff, Bennyhoff Products and Services
Most of us never could have imagined the scope of the worldwide response to COVID-19. Adding to the list of precedented action is the at-hand task of returning teams, staff and entire companies back to work after the shelter-in-place shutdown.
Taking a moment to reflect on the impact of that statement and what has occurred: schools and places of business deemed non-essential shut down, restaurants shuttered or operated take out only, warehouse stores officially ran out of products and then rationed re-stocks, grocery stores limited patrons and the checkout-line floors were marked to distance people six feet from each other, hospitals implemented no visitation policies, places of worship closed and did not provide Holiday sermons or community events, even Disneyland closed. All of these surreal experiences are similar to fantasies in the world of books, video games, movies, and TV. Collectively we had to have trust in our leaders and practice the new public health policies in place. We had to adapt quickly to a break in routine, not knowing what would come next or what to do in this unprecedented time.
- Employees shifted to working from home.
- Layoffs and furloughs reached an all-time high.
- Working parents have transitioned to telework while caring for their children.
- Doctors conducted medical appointments through video chat and families had to allow the medical community to care for their loved ones without their presence.
The news cycle centered on the COVID-19 global pandemic and experts guided us to get tested if we experienced respiratory symptoms. Here in California, as spring bloomed and the virus spread, people were uncertain if they had symptoms from allergies or the virus. Yet testing was not readily available. While testing is now growing, the demand to process the tests and provide treatment is lagging behind the curve of infection.
Unemployment increased by 80% in one week – 30 million people lost their jobs in two months – and the death rate from COVID-19 is more than 30,000 people and increasing every day. All of this and more have resulted in a collective increase in shared anxieties regarding the future of the economy and the health of our people and communities.
During this time, we have rapidly learned about the role of public health in our medical system, governments, and communities. We learned that our individual choices have a significant impact on the collective community. National public health experts have guided us in understanding technical concepts such as ‘flattening the curve’ of infection rates as to not overburden our health care system. Another important concept is collective trauma.
Collective Trauma can result from many social issues like poverty, homelessness, disinvestment, or abandonment, or from environmental disasters like hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, etc. Paradise, a town in Northern California that was decimated by wildfire, is experiencing COVID-19 as secondary collective trauma. The Camp Fire, their first collective trauma, affected 52,000 evacuees and incinerated more than 18,000 structures.
Are there multiple traumas impacting your community?
In the workplace, what can we anticipate as results of these experienced traumas?
- In the short-term, meetings may result in less creativity, comprehension, and collaboration due to heightening anxiety, a common residual symptom from social distancing.
- People may ask for reasonable accommodations, like keeping a door or window open during meetings to improve air circulation and abate germs.
- People may experience confusion regarding previous social practices versus new ones. Hand-shakes and shared physical space come to mind.
- There is also potential for hypersensitivity to shared objects like pens, paper, chairs, doorknobs, etc.
This has led me to think about the up-stream approaches needed and the roles of human resources, boards and executive leaders. It will be necessary to have resources available to provide employees when mental health concerns arise. Discussions to process the public health practices that have been instituted as a result of this global pandemic, documenting the community’s history and the collective experience that has occurred, and resources for economic supports beyond employment agreements can aid in the transition back to work.
Are companies looking inward to develop a plan of action to bring back their staff, or are they looking for support from public health experts and consultants to grow their internal capacity to address the collective trauma, and provide the resources, training and cross-sector collaborations needed to support the recovery of healthy community and ultimately increase the bottom-line?
As leaders begin to think about going back to work, it will be vital to recognize and plan for creating a new normal as it will not be “business as usual”.
As an expert in Community Public Health, I recommend companies implement the following strategic and sustainable plans for action:
- Create an organizational culture that recognizes collective trauma.
- Train Human Resources on mental health first aid and the impacts of mental health on the workforce.
- Provide staff with clear policies, procedures, and resources to support them in returning to work.
- Train all staff to understand, listen, and ask for reasonable accommodations.
- Re-evaluate responsibilities, workloads, deliverables, timelines and collaborative processes.
- Provide training and resources on empathetic economics and financial planning.
Michele Bennyhoff, MPH
Michele Bennyhoff owns Bennyhoff Products and Services. She is hired by organizations that want to be a force for good, but their efforts are often derailed by day-to-day operations. The solution is a strategic, sustainable plan of action to grow the bottom-line while positively impacting the health of the community.
Michele has a Master of Public Health in Community Health Sciences from Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and a minor in Culture, Text, and Language. Currently she is vice president of membership for NAWBO Sacramento Valley and the community partnership board director for CHILL Sacramento.
The Nonprofit Consultants Network (NCN) is a collaboration of consultants who serve nonprofit organizations in the Sacramento region by convening, engaging, and inspiring them in professional development and growth. The information and opinions shared in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of NCN or its other members. You can access a directory of local consultants who are ready to support organizations during the COVID-19 crisis here.