Dealing with the Fallout from COVID
It’s becoming increasingly clear that COVID-19 is going to be impacting us for a lot longer than was initially hoped. The surge in cases this month is a pretty devastating blow to the hope that things would begin to return to normal: just 4 weeks ago the 7 day average of daily new cases was a bit over 20,000; today the average is approaching 60,000. There will be no V-shaped recovery, so some smart coping strategies are what’s needed right now.
While millions have lost their jobs, the vast majority of workers are still employed – and unless you’re independently wealthy or on the cusp of retirement you probably want to stay employed. It’s critical to remember that employers are in the driver’s seat now in a way that they haven’t been for a decade: the financial pressures on organizations are leading them to take a harder look at the contributions and value of their employees, and because there’s a surplus of labor (the millions of laid off workers form a gigantic pool) employers can be more demanding than ever.
Because of this shift you need to be extra careful about making moves that could be seen by your employer as a signal of diminished capacity. Although you may well be experiencing increased pressures associated with your job as you are asked to do more, not to mention the pressures of child care or income reduction, you should resist the temptation to opt out with a leave of absence or some other reduction in reduced output. Instead, seek ways to find a win/win solution for both you and your employer – perhaps, for example, by offering to plug part of a hole left by a departing employee in exchange for greater scheduling flexibility.
It’s really, really hard to not only stay the course but even amp up your efforts when so much is pulling at you to ease up, slow down, and shed responsibilities. But now just isn’t the time. You need to dig deep within for the extra resources that most of you undoubtedly have (see EMOTIONS below)
All this said, obviously if you hate your job you may decide that the extra burdens imposed by COVID provide the perfect reason to quit. Just recognize that, although there is still some hiring going on (depending on the type of work you do), in most fields it is significantly less than pre-pandemic. And the uncertain future outlook for the economy will make the job security of anyone who’s newly hired questionable.
COVID is going to have a greater impact on career trajectories than any other phenomenon since the advent of the Information Age 40 or so years ago. Dramatically negative and/or disruptive effects will be felt on travel and tourism, entertainment, retail, meeting/convention/event planning, commercial real estate, state & local government, child care, and education, although the duration of the impact will depend on how long and deep the effects of the pandemic are felt. In any case, if you work in one of these areas you need to begin a process of seriously determining how you are likely to be affected, and, if indicated, initiate exploring alternative career paths. Developing and reinforcing professional and social relationships should be the foundation of any plan to do that exploration, as those relationships can open doors otherwise inaccessible. And, as additional education, training, and/or certification may be necessary to shifting your career, you will need to take those needs into account in your financial planning.
A quick word of advice on $$ – given the uncertain economic outlook, an outlook hazier than almost ever before due to questions about the rate of progress that will be made on taming the virus, changing consumer behavior, and rebuilding consumer confidence, now is the time to rein in spending and build a financial buffer that will help you cope with unexpected developments.
Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Guilt, Hopelessness, Boredom, Anger, Jealousy, Resentment. I’m encountering them all in clients I’ve been working with over the past few months. The strains of the current situation throw people out of whack and they find it increasingly difficult to stay centered. Here are a few tips on restoring an even keel:
- Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which makes you feel better. And the feeling of embracing and mastering the challenge of exercise when that’s the last thing you feel like doing will give you a sense of control and accomplishment, which are so often lacking right now.
- Routine. Another way to give you a sense of empowerment and control is to set a daily routine for yourself and follow it religiously. It could include things like prayer, exercise, meditation, writing a daily list of things for which you’re grateful, 15 minutes learning French on Babbel, or even making your bed or weeding the flowers.
- Don’t overdose on news. I have clients (and a brother) who start and end their day listening to a news station, and check in on it often during the day. Let’s face it, the news channels specialize in airing content to inflame negative emotions. The last thing you need right now. Partake gingerly.
- Tune in to uplifting content. Comedies and superheroes make us feel good and take us far away from the travails of daily life. A couple of weeks ago I was having a “down” evening and decided to turn it around by watching an inspirational movie. I chose Forrest Gump and it worked wonders!
- Connect. Physical distancing means a lot less social interaction, which can lead to feeling isolated and alone in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Take the initiative to reach out to friends and family – preferably via a visual medium (FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype) that gets you close to the actual feeling of physical connection.
Finally, please keep in mind that experience is not just what happens to you, it is what you decide to make of the experience and the actions you decide to take as a result. Yes, your objective reality may suck but you still have some choice as to how you want to experience it. Victor Frankl, a prisoner of Auschwitz, summed up the lesson he learned about the power of the meaning we make of objective facts with the words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing – the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. Practice choosing yours!