Going up and down through alert levels can be an anxious time for employers and workers alike. Photo / Getty Images
A resident psychologist with one of New Zealand's largest employment sites has warned business leaders the emotional rollercoaster workers are on as New Zealand goes up and down through alert levels.
The past 12 months has seen personal and professional lives upended or altered in significant ways because of Covid-19.
A recent survey by employment site Seek found nearly half found working from home was one of the toughest challenges.
The independent research, conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, interviews 4,000 Kiwis annually.
The lengthy freedoms of level 1 then two snap lockdowns and the restrictions of level 3 has had a huge impact on the mental health of workers and employers, said Seek's resident psychologist Sabina Read.
"It's human nature to want a fresh start for the new year, especially after the shock and fear experienced in 2020.
"The latest lockdown can be triggering and reignite the overwhelm and hopelessness experienced by many last year."
The survey also revealed being physically isolated from colleagues was the biggest obstacle for 35 per cent.
Read said some felt the quality of their relationships had decreased because they lost those regular touchpoints to help them feel like they belong.
For those not working from home, 22 per cent said their biggest challenge was having less work, while the fear of losing their job was the top concern for 20 per cent.
For business owners, there was the inability to control what is going to happen, or when alert levels will change, which can make it hard to plan ahead.
"If your line of work is in hospitality, you have to figure out what to do with food orders when supply and demand can change overnight," Read said.
Read said there were steps employers could take to ensure their workforce was better prepared if and when alert levels change again.
* Communication is key. Check-in with your staff regularly, and via video conference if you can. Being able to see someone's face can reveal more than a phone call might and it feels more personal.
* Remind your employees that you're a team and in this together. Appreciate that your staff could be feeling isolated so find ways to connect your workers where possible.
* Be flexible and recognise that everyone's working from home situation will differ and that there may be other areas in the home that will require their attention throughout the day.
* Acknowledge you don't need to have all the answers and solutions. Sometimes sharing that you acknowledge the problem and how people are feeling is enough.
Read said employees could take steps to decrease their own levels of anxiety.
"Acknowledge that some stress and fear is a natural response to real and perceived threats and challenges.
"Be kind to yourself if you're feeling this way. Recognise what you can control and what is outside of your control."
Here are some ways to get on top of your anxiety as you notice it emerging:
Reduce external pressures
One of the easiest ways to bring your anxiety level down is to minimise any external pressures you can control. Things like planning meals for the family, getting the kids sorted for home-schooling, and 'after school' activities to keep them busy, and getting on top of the household jobs can allow you the space to then focus on whatever work requirements need your attention. It may sound simple, but this can go a long way to alleviating additional stress.
Release your nervous energy
Try an activity that's calming or will help you let that nervous energy go. Where possible, try to get out of the house! Go for a run, meditate or do something that you enjoy. Have some time out for yourself, even if it's just five minutes. This will help you to relax and refocus.
If you are experiencing feelings of anxiety it can often mean your breathing is shallow. It sounds simple, but take the time to breathe deeply - helping you slow down your thoughts, reduce their intensity and quieten down your nervous response. The body can't breathe slowly and feel intense stress levels concurrently, so often breath is the simplest tool we have to help shift the way we feel.
Don't put pressure on yourself when there is enough stress in play. Take a broader perspective, appreciate that where you are right now, you are safe and coping well enough today. Sometimes good enough, is just that...good enough.
Seek out opportunities to connect
Feelings of isolation and loneliness can be common during lockdown or when working from home, even if you're in a busy household.
Take the time to reach out and connect with your colleagues and peers.
Try setting up an online channel for sharing non-work news, having quick, regular virtual check-ins.