Exploring personal experiences, feelings, events during COVID-19 pandemic in SA
The wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spread was similar to a personal wave of anxiety that was experienced. Personal anxiety was fuelled by media images, rapid daily infection and death tolls, which gripped the need to keep one's family safe.
In this limbic panic at home, physically distant and locked up, it was survival mode. The panic was propelled by fake news and questions about the personal impacts on family, considerations pertaining to finances, and decisions regarding the education of school-going children and those at university. The personal juggle of looking after young children while working started.
The presence and infusion of technology is visible - far more than was the case previously. A few days before lockdown prompted a hasty decision and somewhat reluctant move by some to ensure the home would be connected. A conscious decision, prior to COVID-19, had been made to keep technology in the home to a minimum - at a safe distance, but there was no choice when it became obvious that home was about to become conflated into an office, school, entertainment zone and place of rest. Access would have been an issue and would have resulted in adults and children alike being left behind. A few days later and the printer arrived, and devices of all kinds soon piled up.
The true meaning and intensity of this new dependency on technology becomes more ingrained with each passing day. Weekends feel strange and the working week has taken on a new life. Boundaries are blurred - it is evident that those who work from home need to be mindful of the new demands and directions that work will be taking. There certainly is not any constant to speak of anymore, except for the pervasive COVID-19.
Many have spoken about burnout and increased pressure to perform. This has to do with reduced job security but also an inability to step "away" from a day of work to a place where you can unwind. It is clear that accountability and self-discipline are critical, as well as being able to steer past moments of self-doubt, loneliness and fear. Many may have found themselves having to multitask during this time, and possibly find that sleeping patterns changed.
Businesses have had to embrace digital technologies faster than they would have liked to, to sustain their existence in the competitive market. The future organisational structure design has been accelerated with remote working as a current reality. We have seen the rapid growth of e-commerce since the start of the pandemic. Online shopping is the preference for those with a high fear factor, which has led to retailers having to introduce new socially distant delivery methods, or expanding their current delivery services. The finance sector also adapted to serve their customers in multiple ways, like the scrapping of service fees for the withdrawal of cash at non-Saswitch-based ATMs.
Families have had to restructure their daily activities to accommodate the 'new lifestyle' required. Neighbourhoods are devoid of the laughter and play of little kids. The elderly now hibernate at home. When someone arrives to deliver items, we ironically close the doors to 'accept' the parcel. Households who were perhaps previously dependent on assistance have had to adapt to manage these tasks themselves. As COVID-19 infections increase in South Africa, we realise our vulnerabilities, and are aware that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and that our actions are indeed going to contribute to something bigger. A post-COVID-19 world is not that far away, but for now, we know that we need to prepare for the peak. There is also a new pressure that has, in a sense, arisen, as workers have become isolated in their homes, with the spotlight shining more on their individual contribution and worth. The workforce has slowly returned to the workplace, but an uncertain future awaits. It is evident that organisational structures, culture, processes, physical space, operations and the very raison d'^etre will come under intense scrutiny.
Just as lockdowns are criticised when the argument for a balance between health and the economy arises, so too will organisations need to be mindful that there is a fine balance that will need to be achieved between cost-cutting and being humane. The workforce is shaken and traumatised (to varying degrees, of course) and this may impact productivity, as well as motivation and job satisfaction levels. Many customers may be under financial stress and could be questioning their choices, buying behaviour and spending patterns. This will in turn contribute to increased pressure for many a business.
We encourage a process of reflection to facilitate personal growth, and help one learn by consciously looking at the past and thinking about our future. In such a way, an analysis of experiences, actions and feelings may facilitate learning from them. This concept of reflection as meta-thinking and self-awareness, a self-regulation process that manifests itself in the continuous reflections on one's mental states may help in shifting from the limbic panic into a pre-frontal cortex space of creativity, innovation and renewal. In a stage of uncertainty, with little or no certainty about what will happen next, it is futile and unethical to offer baseless reassurance - focus instead on an internal locus of control, living purposefully to impact on inequality and climate change.
Upasana Singh, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, [email protected]; Cecile Gerwel Proches, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, [email protected]; Cristy Leask, Symbiosis Consulting, Durban, South Africa, [email protected]