These comments are echoed by many of the Health, Safety & Wellbeing leaders interviewed for our latest research on what we have learnt from the COVID Crisis and how we can harness those insights to shape our culture for a safe and healthy future…

Does this ring true for you?

We’re hearing more and more reports of leaders and workforces struggling with subsequent impact on work performance.  Adrenaline is running out.  Exhaustion has kicked in.

Colin Hewson, Lead Consultant at Tribe Culture Change, has led our NHS patient safety culture partnerships for many years.  Before COVID, he shared Tribe’s tried and tested techniques in an NHS setting.  He remembers one workshop particularly well: “I realised at the back of the room, a nurse was silently crying,” he said. “I asked her if she was ok and her response has stayed with me. She said, ‘You’re talking about the patient, but if we can’t look after ourselves, how can we look after the patient?’”

This feels more pertinent that ever. Colin continues, “We think about the doctors and nurses on the wards, but what about other workers, like the mortuary staff and even wider shopworkers, bus drivers, refuse collectors and many more? How are they dealing with and processing their increased workload at this time?”

Fatigue and exhaustion

In our first Crisis Culture insight, we considered the likely transition of people’s reactions to the situation by overlaying them on the stages of the Kubler Ross Change Curve. At the start of the pandemic, we were all in shock, and now we’re finally moving through the acceptance stage.  But the journey has been exhausting and the fatigue is leading to more emotional responses from leaders.

One client told us,  “Normally when leaders make a decision it is a fact-based conversation.  Even if they don’t agree, they will listen to the facts and go with the majority.  But we’ve seen that making decisions around COVID is much more personal for a variety of reasons.  Individuals are working from home and managing child care, others will have experienced illness or loss first-hand or know people who have. We’ve observed leaders struggling to come to an agreement over how to manage situations. They’re feeling more emotionally involved in the decision rather than relying on facts.”

Be authentic

One important point for leaders is to remain authentic. Colin says, “In my previous life, I was a Chief Executive.  I learnt that it’s ok for leadership to say that they don’t have all the answers.  It’s important to be able to acknowledge your own fallibility.”

Everyone has their own challenges and when leaders acknowledge this in themselves, it’s powerful. Our Lead Consultant and HR specialist, Kate Morris, adds, “It’s a strong statement when a leader admits they’re finding it tough. They’re showing their humanity. If you want an environment where people feel safe to speak up, a way to do this is by being clear that it’s ok not to be ok all the time and that everyone has difficult days.”

It’s important to talk about mental health at work – now more than ever – and in our next article, we’ll share how to have effective workplace wellbeing conversations. 


By Colin Hewson