How The Pandemic Impacts Workplace Psychology

Take control of your mind before it takes control of you.

Posted Mar 15, 2020

Source: Naeblys/iStockphoto

Coronavirus is now officially a pandemic. These tiny particles use their spike proteins to infect human host cells, eventually causing respiratory distress, and in the worst cases, death. Though the death rate is widely debated, the impact of this virus on the behavior of our society is unparalleled in recent times. 

Schools are closing down. People are fleeing the city or isolating. Our society has been transformed into face mask-wearingsuspicious and slightly paranoid individuals, fighting over toilet-paper and selling hand sanitizer for $50 a bottle. Though many places have been transformed into ghost towns, the virus has created a quiet pandemonium that could wreak havoc on our brains. The following questions could help you develop a mindset strategy at work.

1. Is coronavirus making you deal with things in habitual ways? It's a well-known scientific fact that stress will likely make you rely on old habits and it will decrease your inclination to innovate. If you recently pursued a new business venture, like a merger, for example, you might choose to wait this one out. But beware of old habits standing in the way of new opportunities and discuss this with your team to ensure that it's not just that stress is holding your brain captive.

TO DO: Re-examine any stalling tactics on your end, and ask yourself if you can take on one new innovation to not fall into this trap. Discuss this with your team.

2. Is coronavirus making you fall into the prudence trap? While caution is one option, it is not necessarily always the best one. For instance, when irrational factors make the stock market slump, holding onto your money must be weighed against taking advantage of this opportunity. 

TO DO: Ask yourself, "In which instances am I being too cautious?" Hold team meetings online to discuss this. 

3. Is coronavirus freezing your financial progress? Humans freeze in response to threat stressors. While this can be helpful in certain instances, it can also be harmful. Income-generating events are being postponed. My uber driver yesterday told me that he had a few food stalls outside Central Park in New York, but made almost no money.  He, however, acted on this and switched more of his income-generating hours to Uber. Although this was no financial windfall, it at least gave him some way to make money.

TO DO: Ask yourself if you can switch your spending budget to online alternatives. Set up team meetings to brainstorm how you can weather this financial storm rather than staying paralyzed and hoping it will pass. 

4. Is coronavirus making you blind to sunk costs and other unconscious factors? When you've been investing your time and money in something that is just not generating money, stressors will make you keep doing this, especially if the stress is something that reminds you of death. This phenomenon is called mortality salience and changes your psychology without your being aware of it. According to Terror Management Theory, human behavior is motivated by the fear of one’s own demise. And research demonstrates that this is in fact true. When we are reminded of death, it has the following effects: It makes you more concerned about yourself and less concerned about social needs like poverty and hunger; it makes you more insular; it increases social anxiety; it makes the brain more sensitive to differences and can make you less inclusive and more racist

TO DO: Ask yourself if you are throwing good money after bad. Also, ask yourself if you are falling for the brain distortions caused by mortality salience.

5. Is coronavirus making you lose your sense of possibility? I understand that it seems ludicrous to be optimistic when there are no signs of an epidemic dying down, but know that your sense of hope may be reduced by constant reminders of death that unconsciously put a dent in your self-esteem. For those who have been traumatized by this, the future will seem bleak. This is not a fact written in stone; it is what trauma does to the brain.

TO DO: What are you doing to keep a sense of possibility alive in yourself and your team? Are you resisting the impact of trauma-based thinking by focusing on your resilience? This is the time to build resilience on your teams. Don't wait until this reaches a peak or is all over. They will be exhausted from all this mental stress. Ask them to plan on a week-by-week basis, to practice mindfulness, to think of how they will work once this is all over, to let go of what they cannot control, and to direct their attention toward solutions.

If you focus on innovation, take measured risks; unfreeze, thinking of the big picture; and commit to a bright future with a sense of possibility and resilience, you will meet coronavirus with an entirely different mindset. By all means, be cautious. But if you meet the challenges with this proactive approach and mindset strategy, you will be ahead of the curve with your business and ready to bounce back just when you need to.