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Blog post
April 22, 2020

Isentia Conversations with Rachel Clements from the Centre for Corporate Health

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking to experts about the best ways of working and communicating through a time of unprecedented change. 

In this episode, we talk to Rachel Clements, the Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health. Rachel shares some practical tips on how organisations can mitigate psychosocial risks in a time of heightened anxiety – and some advice on maintaining your own mental fitness. Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends across social and traditional media.

What mainstream media is saying, with Ngaire Crawford

3:30 – Over the past week, data from mainstream media suggests we’re starting to get a bit restless. Across Australia and New Zealand we’re talking about:

  1. Lockdown restrictions
  2. Business and Economic Impact
  3. When will life be normal again?

Google searches have largely been about restriction levels and what people are and aren’t allowed to do. People are starting to unpack misinformation and search about interesting theories such as 5G towers causing coronavirus.

5:08 – On social media, people continue to reach out and be creative with memes, but there is still an undercurrent of stress and uncertainty.

5.28 – People are starting to shift their mentality from ‘what i need to care about right now’ to ‘ what i need to start caring about in the future’.

People have specifically been worried about:

⇒ Bills/rent/mortgages – specific items that need to be paid.

⇒ Superannuation – the increasing worry is reflective of the long term view – when will this be over?

⇒ Mental Health – still a concern for people

⇒ Job losses – more so about individual bill payments and reduced personal income as opposed to job losses or business strategies.

6:28 – Having context is incredibly important. As communicators, everyone wants to provide genuine and authentic information. It’s important to:

⇒ Understand who you’re communicating to and what they’re feeling.

⇒ Listen. Add additional sources into your information bubble. Look at what’s trending on Google, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Look at specific hashtags to get an understanding of what people are talking about and are interested in.  

Seek feedback from audiences, but be aware that patience is starting to wane.

Keep curious, consider your own media consumption habits and who you are supporting and why.

Continue to watch what drives emotional responses online such as cancel culture and conspiracy theories, which are usually indicative of wider audience feelings and outrage.

Audiences and businesses are starting to get antsy about normality and what the future looks like – they want to know what will the new normal look like?

Rachel Clements addresses the psychosocial risks during COVID-19

9:08 – Rachel tells us there are many psychosocial risks impacting people around the world in relation to COVID-19. In particular, people are experiencing an emotional journey and a wellbeing journey. She says you need to understand what’s happening emotionally with people, so you can tailor communication according to the stage that they’re in.

10:00 – To understand the psychosocial risks for COVID-19, a framework has been developed that outlines its 3 stages.

Stage 1 – we were (and some of us still are) operating in flight or fight, operating in panic, fear and anxiety and not taking in much information. We were just trying to survive.

We were adjusting to working from home, adjusting to new technology and having to do pivots within our business. There was a need to look at the media and be drawn into the fear contaigum. 

People in this stage don’t take in much information, so we have to be careful with how tailored messages were communicated. 

There are many people still in this stage, but there is a shift of people moving into stage 2.

11:15 – Stage 2 is thought to be more psychologically challenging than stage 1. This is because there is a realisation social isolation and social distancing is our reality and its duration is unknown. Things are unpredictable and this can be mentally tough for people.

11:47 – At the moment, there’s an increase in disengagement, an increase in dissatisfaction, anger, irritability, frustration and languishing – which is akin to depression. If people are sitting in the stage of languishing, they are suddenly feeling unmotivated and not satisfied, a languishing mindset can start to take a toll on their mental wellbeing. 

People are starting to transition into ‘i’m tired’, ‘i’m sick of this’ and begin to break the rules or behave in a way that is opposite to what they are asked to do.

12:22 – Stage 3 –  People start to adjust to the new normal and have a bit of optimism for the future. People begin to become creative again and feel a sense of hope

It’s important to understand the different stages in order to communicate. The success of your communication is based on the stage of a person’s emotional journey and their readiness to take in information.

13:10 – There are some psychosocial risk factors currently seen in our workplace environments:

⇒ Pre-existing mental health conditions. Those who were already in an anxious or depressive state, who’ve been forced into social isolation and self distancing, puts them at risk of exacerbation. Drugs and alcohol are being used as a coping mechanism to deal with the increased fear and anxiety people are feeling. 

⇒ Pre-existing circumstances within our lives such as relationship break-ups, issues with children, financial stressors, don’t stop and people’s capacity and ability to deal with these external stressors have eroded.

⇒ Family dynamics – although our situations have changed, our expectations have not. There are increased feelings of failure, guilt and burn-out as we try to keep up with family life and work life. The inability to change our mindset and expectations to our current circumstance are leading to excessive stress.

⇒ Family and domestic violence – there are increased levels of hostility and an increase in domestic violence during social isolation

17:19 – Employment risks have also increased, some of these include:

⇒ Financial pressure caused by the economic downturn. People are concerned about their job security and their financial position.

⇒ Workload challenges. People are trying to balance their personal life, professional life and their associated workloads. 

⇒ Loss of direction from social isolation. It can also make people feel demotivated and we need to ensure our teams are kept motivated to prevent languishing and dissatisfaction.

18:45 – During these times, people are struggling with their wellbeing. Trends are already being noticed, these include:

Heightened levels of anxiety

Exacerbation of pre-existing mental health conditions

Presentation of new mental health conditions

Increase in social withdrawal

Increase in drug and alcohol use as a coping mechanism

Increase in incidences of intolerance, aggression and conflict. Humans don’t like to be contained and this is why there is an increase in these behaviours. 

Increase in incidences of domestic violence

Increase levels of suicidality

21:05 – Wellbeing needs to be on the radar and there has never been a better time for organisations to communicate and discuss strategies to prevent people’s wellbeing diminishing. These include: 

Equip HR and leaders to lead remotely and equip all employees to work remotely

Identify unique workplace psychosocial stressors – is someone in the team going through a stressful time personally? Is a family member unwell or is someone experiencing a mental health issue?

Maintain connectivity – seeing someone’s eyes can be beneficial for feeling connected

Maintain a balance between work and other commitments whilst working remotely

Develop and maintain a ‘new business as usual’ – find new routines and effective ways to work. People respond well to routine.

Supportive and visible leadership

Recognise early warning signs of poor mental health

⇒ Manage anxiety and maintain resilience

Have R U OK? Conversations

Promote employment assistance programs and virtual onsite support

If you would like to view other Webinar Isentia Conversations: Communicating through Change:

Isentia Conversations: with Katherine Newton at RU OK?

Isentia Conversations: with Bec Brown at The Comms Department

Isentia Conversations: with Rochelle Courtenay at Share the Dignity

Isentia Conversations: with Helen McMurdo at MTV

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