I wrote recently about The F Word (Furlough) where I described how my 100mph life had halted to a stop over night and how that had affected me mentally and physically. It generated a lot of discussion and great feedback as we all take note of Mental Health Awareness Week.
In the last 8 weeks since lockdown began, the heavenly bird song has become louder than ever, the streets are filled with people exercising and having meaningful walks with their families, there are no cars on the roads, no commuter traffic to worry about, and you can even find rice, pasta and loo roll in the supermarkets. Fast forward to now a place where people are considering venturing out to shops, parks, and even back to work. I sensed a dramatic shift after last week’s government announcement to ease the restrictions which meant people emerging from hibernation in their droves.... mostly to B&Q.
Whilst talking to those who have started to go back to work, I wondered, have we considered the impact that this freedom and speedy return to ‘normal’ is going to have on people’s mental wellbeing? With this weeks Mental Health Awareness campaign, I am catching up with an old colleague to do a recording talking about our experiences of mental ill-health and how we see this situation unfolding.
Not only will the nature of the work be demanding on so many as we start to rebuild the economy which has been annihilated, but the resurrection of our daily rigid routines! Diary management, family management, doing the 9-5, getting dressed up again… its going to take some time to get back up to where we left off with our resilience to the day to day dramas.
It was only the other day I saw a friend post about how he had returned to work and on his first day had mentally crumbled with the volume of work he had walked back into. Numerous phones and radios loudly ringing, suppliers at the doors, email inboxes close to bursting. The noise, the hustle and bustle, the demand on our time, how quickly we can turn round a tight deadline, our resilience. After acclimatising to a slower existence and living in a bubble of tranquillity – was it all too much too soon?
So, I ask the question – as an employer, what are you doing to help your people transition back into work? And as an employee, what are your return to work strategies going to be to look after your physical and mental wellbeing? Although we are all enjoying this slower pace of life, we all know that this is not going to last forever. We need to plan now for a phased return to work strategy to ensure that we can all cope with the ‘new normal’ whatever that will look like…
FURLOUGH… a mandatory career break that you may not have wanted or needed… or maybe you did?
Having worked myself since 13 - part time, always wanting to have my own money from a young age - I have devoted much of my life to my career with great compromises. I counted the other day how many times I have relocated for a role or contract and counted 8 locations around the UK and worldwide with stints in Brazil, Australia and Abu Dhabi.
I have never been the 9-5 type, devoting myself to the goal, the business, to the team where I am working at the time. Making myself available anytime of day and even putting off children, pets, commitments outside of work in order to give myself without distraction and be available should I be needed. This was always my choice and I thrived on being able to meet the demand of the role, support others who were unable to, and be present every step of the way.
With this work ethic and driven ambition, it resulted in a fast-paced existence. One where I would have to consciously schedule quarterly/biannual reunions with my family around the UK, monthly catch ups with friends, weekends away and time with my partner. With his support I was always able to put work first – and if that meant a weekend with work with no consultation – then that would be fine. Networking events, launches, industry events, keeping on top of my game – I gave it everything and did so at 100mph. Paired with trying to get to the gym, social events etc – my feet did not touch the ground.
Then BOOM. The C word brought our world to a standstill. Working for a Travel Management Company I witnessed first hand every border closing, every hotel closing its doors, every airline cancelling their flights, visa’s being cancelled, customers being stranded, customers unable to travel for work or for their holiday of a lifetime – I witnessed the crisis unfolding in front of our eyes.
Sitting in the offices at the time we were in full crisis management mode – working all day, every day, weekends, evenings and with everything against us. As a team we pulled together and undertook roles outside of our remit to help with the thousands of cancellations that were hitting the inbox. My 100mph life had took a turn but was still fast paced and full of adrenaline.
Then BOOM. Then the F word landed. Literally out of nowhere – I do not think I had even heard the word before. I accepted the situation and witnessed the whole country retract and go into hibernation mode. At first, still supporting my team and wanting to help the business I continued to be as helpful as I could. Until – that is – The F word meant you could not do ANYTHING!
At first embracing the rest after a traumatic few weeks – I soon realised I was slipping into a hazy existence. No routine, no deadlines, no to do lists, no structure – I lost all sense of me, my why and what exactly was even happening. The days rolled into one and before I knew it almost a month had passed without really doing anything constructive, proactive or stimulating. I stopped watching TV, the news, social media and was reluctant to join the million zoom invitations, catch ups, quizzes and so on. I needed to do this in my own time and until then – keep myself to myself until my head had digested what on earth was going on here.
Then – something clicked, and I emerged out of this haziness. I started to feel a bit more like myself again and started to pick the phone up, join virtual catch ups, activities and take on some home projects. I ramped up my passion project (The Professional Retreat) and have been hosting online virtual retreats for professional women every Sunday morning helping others to figure out this situation too. Reflecting on the last 8 weeks that I have now spent at home – I think I have figured out what I was going through.
I have been mourning my old life.
I have gone through an internal grief cycle of my past lifestyle, career… just everything that I took for granted about my life and my freedom. I have mourned the potential loss of my job, my work colleagues, my network, the industry we love so much (events and travel), my social life, my planned adventures this year, travel, weddings, birthdays. It had really knocked me for six – and I just did not see it coming.
Coming out of the other end of it now, I am appreciating what this lesson has taught me. Quantity does not equal quality. Social anxieties, FOMO and hectic schedules are not good for you. Your salary, job title or size of your team does not necessarily mean that you are fulfilled, happy or successful. There is more to life than work. Ensure that you are looking after your personal life as much as you are nurturing your professional life.
I see this time now as an enforced career break that I did not know I even needed. I have 2 new rescue dogs to focus on and rehabilitate. Helping them is helping me. I am cooking, enjoying my home, having quality conversations with friends and family as well as enjoying nature, and all the simple pleasures in life.
We have heard in recent days about the extension of the furlough scheme so I will await to hear more on that from my employer. I am at peace with any outcome now – if I look after myself, I can be resilient to anything that comes my way during this time. We take every day at a time and feel thankful that I we have this time to re-evaluate what is important and enjoy our new lifestyles.
I guess the question is – would we want to return to our 100 mph lives? Or are we going to bounce back in a whole new way when this is over?