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  • Writer's pictureKatie Pergau

What the Pandemic Has Done to Our Ability to Cope

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the same basic conversation with 5 different individuals, who all work in different industries. What am I hearing? They can’t believe how toxic their workplaces are right now. “We always worked well as a team, but now that we’re separated into shifts/classrooms/groups/teams because of Covid-19, we just don’t seem to be able to connect in the same way! Can you help us?”

The fact that these conversations span industries from manufacturing to services to education, and all have this same common denominator, has made me question why we’re hearing these statements. Why does it all seem to be unravelling or coming apart now?

Coping Space

Here’s the thing. Each of us has a certain amount of emotional space. We give this space to ourselves, our work, our families and friends, household errands, etc. Usually, we’ve got some leftover coping space. This empty space allows us to take on some of the extra little challenges or issues that pop up around us with little expense to ourselves. Co-worker dropped the ball? That’s ok, you can pick that up and help them out. Husband forgot to do the taxes and now you must pay late fees? That’s ok, you caught it early and can make up the difference. Kids need extra help to get through their schoolwork? That’s ok, you can sit for 30 minutes and work through that “new math” with them. We’ve travelled along this road. We know that there’s some cracks beneath us, but we’re not too worried. None of those are so big that we can’t easily bridge them.

But now! Now, on top of all the “normal” day-to-day stresses, challenges, and worries, our emotional space is being consumed with lockdowns, colour-coded zones, remembering to take a mask everywhere you go, remembering to check if the library is actually open BEFORE you leave the house, remembering to wash the kids masks so that they have enough to get through each day (in our house, that’s 3 per day!).

All those things have piled on top of each other and filled up that empty coping space.

So now, when the husband forgets to pay the taxes, suddenly that’s a major issue to overcome. When the kids ask for help with their schoolwork – who has time to relearn how to do math?? And when a co-worker drops the ball, there’s no room left to give a care whether that work gets done or not.

Trying to remember all the things we now have to remember each and every day starts to feel like too much to carry.....kind of like our ears!

Cracks & Chasms

In the workplace, leaders in organizations could see the cracks in the road, but many didn’t see the need to fill them in with soft skills training or self-awareness. However, now they’re so heavily burdened by staff that don’t have enough energy to care whether the company survives or not that they’re facing real problems. The weight of everything we’re dealing with is so heavy that those are no longer cracks in the road, but chasms that seem impossible to span.

Chasms like deadlines being missed, hurtful and out-of-control office gossip, systems and processes breaking down, a loss of connection between team members, customer service issues because of a lack of connection with clients…..

The list goes on and on! That’s what the recent conversations with those 5 individuals have been about.

These problems aren’t really new problems – they’ve likely always existed as a small issue to be dealt with. The thing is, we’ve been in this pandemic for just over a year now. None of these problems or “little cracks” have been dealt with for that length of time. And now, nobody has the coping space to take them on – hence the chasms.

There is Hope!

I was excited to read the recent open letter from Robert Tremblay, the President of AMCTO (Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurer’s of Ontario) to all Ontario Municipal Councils. In his letter, he urges them to remember,

"One key point that is often overlooked in this pandemic is that many municipal staff were prepared to act and innovate BECAUSE of the professional municipal training and development they receive. The leadership skills, education and technical training prepare your staff in getting ahead of immediate community needs, reacting and responding to new challenges brought on by COVID-19. This unique and sought-after skillset has allowed your staff to provide council with options and solutions for keeping your municipality running.”

The best solution for building your team’s skills of resiliency and adaptability before the pandemic, is to borrow a time machine. If you don’t happen to have one of those lying around, the next best thing is to support them through this time, provide them with the tools they need and ensure that soft skills training gets the priority it deserves within your organization going forward. This will help you address those cavernous issues while they’re still just cracks in the road.

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