COVID-19 Pandemic | Are South African companies ready for a possible emotional fall out?

As more employees return to work due to the easing of the coronavirus lockdown, one psychologist has questioned whether South African companies are ready for a COVID-19 emotional fall out.

According to psychologist, Mark Baker, many employees in South Africa could return to work psychologically crippled, and this could, in fact, do more damage to some companies than the lockdown itself. Mark Baker insists action needs to be taken to mitigate the toxic effects of COVID-19 lockdowns.



Leanne Manas: Employees return to work due to the easing of the Coronavirus lockdown. One psychologist has questioned whether South African companies are ready for a COVID-19 emotional fallout. I beg your pardon. According to psychologist Mark Baker, many employees in South Africa could return to work psychologically crippled, and this could, in fact, do more damage to some companies than the lockdown itself. Baker insists action needs to be taken to mitigate the toxic effects of COVID-19 lockdown. Well, we’re joined by psychologist and CEO of Mygrow, Mark Baker, who’s going to unpack this a bit more for us. Thanks so much, Mark. Thanks for joining us.

Mark Baker: Yeah, thanks for having me this morning. Yeah.

Leanne Manas: So we talked about this psychological impact that has been had on South African employees. What are we talking about?

Mark Baker: Well, I think you know, they were really problem showing before COVID even was something on people’s radar. You know, I saw some of those stats being flashed up on the screen. Employee Engagement levels were super low around about 9% between 9% and 15%. In fact over the last seven years, and you know mental health diagnosable mental health related to anxiety and depression was super high, you know, and stress levels were just radically impacting on people. And now what you have is this lockdown that’s gone on, for which research shows things like social isolation, solitary confinement, and things like the winter-over syndrome, all just classic results of experiences like the lockdown are going to have a much bigger negative effect on people’s mental health. And so there’s a fairly significant clash coming after the lockdown, which I saw was also shown in one of those visuals that companies are going to need to be hugely successful even more successful than before, if you like because the economy will be more difficult to compete in, and employees are going to need more time than ever before to just recoup and cope in a post lockdown world.

Leanne Manas: I mean, it is. These are real things that we’re talking about. Because, you know, the psychological impact that this lockdown has had on South Africans is; it has been dramatic. And I’m not sure we’re focusing enough in on this. So, I mean, what could this cost our economy because we are gradually reopening, employees are returning to work with these new challenges? This I imagine is going to cost businesses, companies and the economy, in turn, a lot of money.

Mark Baker: Yeah, I mean, it’s quite radical, the cost of this and the problem is that it doesn’t sit on the financial statements of the business. It’s essentially unseen losses to companies and that’s one of the biggest problems. I see one of the stats that was also flashed up there was you know, 12% annual turnover loss. And this is a calculation done just based on psychosocial factors related to emotional intelligence. Things like incivility in the workplace, stress and problematic leadership functions. So if that’s 12% of the annual revenue that’s being lost and just unseen by companies, I mean, what’s going to happen post lockdown, it’s really going to be radical and unless, unless organizations actually focus on reigniting their employees in quite a radical way, it’s going to be like getting back a workforce with a flat battery and no petrol in the tank and expecting them to be firing on all cylinders. And it really that expectation, frankly, I think is just naive.

Leanne Manas: I mean, Mark, we talking about best case scenario, that you return back to work and you actually have a job. But the reality is, is that so many people are not going to be returning back to work. And if they do go back, it’ll be under circumstances where retrenchment letters are going to be handed out and restructuring notices and all of these things that we all dread seeing, but unfortunately, this is something we’ve got to understand. I mean, again, the repercussion of the psyche of anybody that’s been retrenched that hasn’t earned money and all of these months, and the future doesn’t look any brighter. What can you do for yourself? Perhaps we can start by giving a bit of advice to people that are going through exactly what we’re talking about.

Mark Baker: I mean, there’s a whole host of amazing resources that can help people in the lockdown. I mean, one of them is, you know, a group of psychologists from around the country has put together a whole host of free resources. And you know, is the website for that. It really is just a process that can help people as individuals or as families to vote. And then of course, you know, there’s a whole lot of reignition support packages that certainly different tech companies are making available. I know Mygrow, making available a Reignition Support Package that can help leaders and employees to navigate this clash between the needs of employers to get fast productivity now and the need of employees to really be able to recoup and cope. You know, a lot of mental health practitioners are trying to do things online through one on one methods. But I really think that the future is going to be through technology methods that will help individuals be able to go on their own journey of personal development, and which is part of what Mygrow does. So you’ve got the website up there,, the (Re)ignition Support Package. I think the main question for business leaders, Leanne is what if employees come back and they are frazzled, they’re angry, you know, they are really struggling and taking out some of those frustrations on the company and on each other. I think we’re sitting with a psychological lockdown. That could be even that could extend the damage that’s already been done through COVID.

Leanne Manas: Just Finally, you state that the current moment could be used to reset numerous psychological factors within an organization, basically setting them on a brand new trajectory to outperform their capabilities. What do you mean by this?

Mark Baker: Well, organizational culture, leadership and employee engagement, these would have been called the kind of more psychological or psychosocial signs of business, have started to show from all around the world that the new world of work and this was before COVID. So I think this is just going to be augmented, or even more important post-COVID. You know, it’s the human factors of business that differentiate future successful businesses from those that were successful in the past. And now because of the way COVID has shaken things up. I think organizational leaders have an opportunity to shift their focus more on to the human elements of the organization than in the post COVID world are going to be the differentiating factors for organizations that are successful and organisations who don’t focus on those factors that will just be frankly something of the past.

Leanne Manas: Mark, thanks so much for talking to us. Mark Baker is a psychologist and Mygrow CEO who suggests that employees in South Africa may return to work psychologically crippled and says they’re taking action now could mitigate the toxic effects of the lockdown. Thanks again. Thanks for joining us, Mark.

Further Reading:
Find out everything you need to know about Mygrow’s (Re)ignition Support Package – helping employees and leaders navigate the ‘new normal’.
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