Psychological Impacts of COVID-19

Published on 01 Jan 2021

A man in a workplace giving a socially distanced talk to people in an office

  • How has your workplace been affected?
  • How has your team been impacted?
  • What can you expect to see over the next 6-12 months?

We recently welcomed the FBG Group to the APM Health Portfolio, a boutique organisational psychology consulting firm with a unique approach to organisational wellbeing, leadership, organisational consulting, investigations and mediations.  

We asked FBG CEO Simon Brown-Greaves what workplaces can expect, and how they can prepare for 2021:

What a year 2020 has been! Working closely with a number of workplaces, what have you observed to be the largest psychological impact of COVID-19?

It has been an incredible social experiment – the learnings have been substantial and fluctuating. For many people, their domestic context has been critical – two working parents with 3 pre-schoolers has been quite different from a mature empty nester (i.e., me!) The importance of staying connected has been critical to the mental health and wellbeing of most staff.

Despite many describing a sense of perspective (i.e., “I’m lucky to have a job”) the long periods of social isolation (particularly for us Victorians) have taken its toll. Many have enjoyed the flexibility and a lot of organisations have described maintenance of productivity over the lockdown period, but this comes with a price.

Workloads have gone up for many, and 'Zoom fatigue' is a real thing! A universal positive appears to have been the absence of the commute, but again this has been balanced against work/home boundary creep. We are perhaps living at work, rather than working from home.

As the inevitable return to the office (in an as yet to be determined form) nears, many are now apprehensive about their health, and have a desire to retain some of the flexibility established during lockdown periods.

Any examples of great ways workplaces may have mitigated or eradicated this impact?

We have seen great innovation in many industries – including our own. The obvious increase in effective use of technology has helped many professional services businesses to survive.

Using multiple means to keep teams connected in the virtual environment has also been a feature – Slack; Microsoft Teams, Zoom and the like have been broadly used – but there has also been an increase in project management platforms such as Base Camp and the like.

We have been struck by the amazing conversion of IP and service provision to online mechanisms in a way that has had customers and consumers barely missing a beat – sometimes in contexts that had been struggling for years to achieve any online uptake!

How do you see this evolving, or remaining, in 2021?

The next 12 months will be fascinating. How much flexibility will we retain? Do I ever have to commute again? The answers to these questions will come from a collaborative process that balances organisation/customer needs with the wishes of staff.

I am certain that the levels of flexible working in 2021 will vastly exceed those of 2019. Some of the connection tools and wellbeing strategies (e.g. an upsurge in peer support programs and much broader use of your Employee Assistance Program) will likely continue. Additionally, I suspect that the capacity to demonstrably work away from the office means less of a commute for many of us!

What are your top tips to leaders to prepare their people and their business for a psychologically healthy 2021?

The most important tips for a psychologically healthy workforce in 2021 will be to work collaboratively with staff to extract the value from the COVID/lockdown experience. For leaders, the realisation that not only do most staff want to do a good job, but they can be productive in locations other than the office is critical.

The leadership skills of managing and supervising a more remote workforce will be important, as will our ability to optimise technology to keep staff connected – with each other, their supervisors and the business. The longer-term impact of lockdown has not yet been fully realised and I urge businesses to test and get feedback every step of the way.

Remember – people rallied in the face of a common and urgent enemy – and when COVID (hopefully) dissipates will the same levels of commitment and support be maintained? I don’t think we know the answer to this yet.

Photo of Simon Brown-Greaves and his professional biography