Eileen Dooley is a principal and executive coach in the leadership practice of Odgers Berndtson, global executive search and leadership advisory firm.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one consistent reinforcing message has been that we are in this together.
For many, this was a comforting sentiment as emotions ran high, from mild anxiety to fear to outright depression. In our working lives, we have tried to make the best of it with frequent check-ins with our colleagues and fun with virtual backgrounds on our video calls. We even made light of frequent distractions and interruptions, such as children and pets.
So, what has happened over the past month as economies began to reopen, and restrictions modified? Support and encouragement have been replaced in some cases with self-righteous indignation. From protesting and outright defying mask mandates to shouting about plans to return to the workplace and school, it seems that common shroud of togetherness has been ripped apart at the seams.
Everywhere you look, whether in the mainstream news, social media, or at a (hopefully) small gathering, you hear outrage and ridicule about pretty much everything that has been announced. We have switched from being in this together to being in this for ourselves, regardless of what is best for the larger picture. Lockdown, when people and employers trusted and followed medical advice, seemed way more civilized.
What can we do to bring back the togetherness of the pandemic, and return to supporting ourselves and each other, even as we see COVID-19 case numbers again rising and a second wave threatens to hit?
Pause, think and (hopefully) trust
Almost immediately, once back-to-school plans were announced across the country, people loudly complained it will not work for their family. They are shouting on social media, e-mailing the school principal and board office, and outright refusing to go along with the plan. Company back-to-work plans are also being met with considerable criticism, well before they go into practice.
No large plan, especially one that is untried and untested at such a societal level, is likely to be completely foolproof. Especially in the case of the pandemic, plans are meant to act as a starting point, to be revised as needed. Barring massive glaring errors, the plan needs to be rolled out first to make those incremental revisions based on evidence, not emotion.
By all means, voice your concerns, but use the feedback and consultation tools provided, rather than ranting on social media about your school or employer or sending all-caps e-mails to elected officials. And, in the spirit of togetherness, offer constructive suggestions on alternatives which may assist as plans are retooled, as they will be in the coming months. Above all, give the plan, educators and employers a chance to make it happen, and expect that they will not nail it on the first round. The plan will adjust, as should you.
Follow advice from medical officials
By now, I would guess that we can all name our top provincial health official, someone we had not heard of until mid-March. They are in a position of public trust and provide updates on what we have so far, and advice (or directives, if necessary) on what to do next. They also say things many do not want to hear, such as recommending or insisting on wearing masks. Let’s face it, nobody wants to wear a mask – except maybe my husband, who would love an excuse to wear a full-face space helmet in public.
Provincial medical experts and health officials worldwide, backed by medical evidence, have determined that wearing masks helps protect us. Generally, it’s someone else wearing a mask that helps you, and vice-versa. Accordingly, we all need to take part for the approach to be mutually effective. Some jurisdictions are mandating mask use when indoors and on public transportation, mostly because people are not wearing them voluntarily.
Think of masks as a temporary form of seat belts, which had to be mandated 40 years ago to save lives (especially your own). This is a temporary measure, unlike seat belts. Get in this together and wear one, regardless of whether your jurisdiction has mandated it or not.
My first column during the lockdown talked about how our collective behaviours in a time of crisis define the quality of our generation. Let’s make the pandemic a time we can talk about later with a positive tone, remembering how we came together and co-operated on common initiatives, whether we agreed with or liked them. We thought more about the bigger picture, not just our own insular lives.
If we are truly still in this together, let’s start acting like it.
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