COVID-19: Why employee determination is our 'greatest undoing'

'The simple truth is human beings are not designed to endure long periods of stress'

COVID-19: Why employee determination is our 'greatest undoing'

Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the late US President John F. Kennedy, is credited with coining the phrase ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. 

A common interpretation of the meaning is that when a situation gets critical, those who aren't weak-willed work harder and never give up.

Many people subscribe to this thinking and respect themselves only when pushing forward, fighting to break through regardless of how big the challenges are that they face, according to Karen Gately, co-founder of Corporate Dojo. 

Gately told HRD that while it can be tempting when faced with adversity to simply keep striving through, slowing down can be an important way of speeding up toward achieving the outcomes we need and want.

COVID-19 has propelled forward a bunch of opportunities around a new way of working that is more suited to the health and wellbeing of human nature, she added.

Gately explained that organisations can access huge advances in actual productivity levels if they allow people to work in ways that are sustainable and healthy.

“One way to do this is to organise your day in a series of ‘sprints’. This means that you are on for an hour, an hour and a half or two hours and then it’s break time. Then repeating that process”.

And taking advantage of the health benefits of working from home is more important now than ever.

A survey by the University of Waikato suggested that many New Zealanders are feeling stressed about the lockdown and the pandemic.

University of Waikato senior lecturer Dr Carrie Barber said three-quarters of people did not consider themselves vulnerable to the virus, but were concerned about the health of others and the financial impact of the pandemic.

“Reflect for a moment on how often you try to keep going when ‘dead tired’.  How well do you focus and get things done?  Ultimately how productive are you really?”

“We are entirely better off recharging before trying to invest energy in the things that are demanding our effort or attention. 

“The biggest internal barrier to doing that, however, can be the false belief that battling through somehow makes us stronger, or even a better person.” 

READ MORE: Returning to a safe and healthy workplace

Gately said that while determination and drive can be positive aspects of our character, when overdone they can also be “our greatest undoing”. 

“The simple truth is human beings are not designed to endure long periods of stress.”   

As a reformed workaholic, Gately can attest to the very serious consequences of not knowing when it’s time to slow down and give both mind and body a break from the pressures of work and life. 

Gately said that when we are stressed, we’re operating in survival mode and are constantly in a state of readiness to respond with ‘fight or flight’.

However, prolonged periods of chronic stress have been shown to lead to both structural and functional changes to the brain. Gately said that depression, anxiety, hypertension, and insomnia are common health consequences. 

“The fears that many of us hold about the future and our ability to influence that future are entirely understandable,” said Gately.

READ MORE: How to encourage healthy habits in employees

“But responding by working longer and harder is only likely to lead to burn out and a diminished capacity to cope.” 

Gately said it’s critical to recognise that you are “not infallible and will struggle to keep sprinting down the path or climbing challenging mountains” if you don’t make rest and recovery equally important priorities every day. 

“Setting reasonable expectations of ourselves, relaxing, sleeping, exercising and eating well are all nonnegotiable priorities right now. “

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