According to highly respected Not-for-Profit, The Black Dog Institute (BDI), COVID-19 has impacted organisations negatively in terms of both short-term and long-term psychological consequences. Lockdown anxiety specifically is recognised as a stressor with its impact increasingly under scrutiny when it comes to employees’ productivity at work.

The effects of a pandemic impact individuals in one or more ways e.g. distraction from work while working from home (WFH) and home schooling, remaining positive and productive to counter feelings of job insecurity caused by repetitive lockdowns. According to mental health practitioners, there’s a direct connection between these effects and how productive employees can be at work, irrelevant of whether they WFH or attend their workplace as an essential worker.

So, here’s four common lockdown-induced occurrences and how they impact work productivity:

1. Working overtime
Whether you WFH, work in a hybrid arrangement or attend the workplace continuously i.e. an essential worker, this consideration applies equally. The standard “9 to 5” working hours is no longer uniformly applicable; starting and finishing times vary considerably. Those for whom work has become their main stimulus, excessive hours are worked. In either circumstance, conventional overtime provisions may not apply. Communicating working hours and reasonable overtime expectations will mitigate work errors and OH&S risks.

2. Loss of work-life balance
Where work hours fluctuate i.e. in either direction, an employee’s ideal balance of work and life is easily tipped. Mental health practitioners propose that anxiety and mild forms of depression negatively impact the cognitive state i.e. “the average brain’s processes about 70,000 thoughts a day, whereas an anxious brain processes two to three times that amount.” The time spent navigating so many thoughts will diminish work focus, quality, output and ultimately, balance.

3. Lack of job security
With many employees “under-utilised” in organisations more severely impacted by the pandemic, a sense of insecurity prevails. As a result, job satisfaction and organisational commitment levels may well have unintended consequences e.g. withheld resentment, resignation. These will challenge an employee’s identity and behaviour in a manner which is inconsistent with producing expected results.

4. Feeling trapped
The feeling of suffocation during an on-going lockdown is difficult to escape and consequently, overcome. The BDI’s longitudinal research of those WFH employees during lockdowns indicates that with minimal or no control over circumstances, the longer the period the heightened the risk of negatively affecting individuals’ health and their capacity to contribute productively.

How can leaders help?
The onus on organisational leaders to support employees throughout lockdown periods, in conjunction with maintaining productivity and viability is significant – even imperative as their post-lockdown operating model emerges. The following suggestions may benefit leaders, at all levels, manage this process:

1. Provide clear, timely and regular information regarding pandemic/lockdown related impacts and changes on operations; including timelines and estimated end dates.
2. Establish access to mental health advice and services e.g. Employee Assistance Program.
3. Consolidate optimal working arrangements with employees, seeking their input and insight, as well as focusing on agreed outputs.
4. Inform oneself on research into behavioural impacts and strategies that alleviate isolation during a lockdown.
5. Demonstrative support to employees who indicate anxiety and distress.
6. Review and adopt a wider application of overtime and leave provisions.
7. Audit employees’ WFH environment, particularly technology, safe working practices and security.
8. Implement formal and informal teams/cohorts which focus on problem-solving and innovation, as well as maintain dialogue between employees (respectively).