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Lessons for COVID-19 – Part 5: Strategies to influence behaviour during a pandemic


Part 5: The ability of leaders to encourage better sense-making during and after challenging times

For the past few months, business leaders and in fact all employees, have needed to create and implement emergency (& evolving) plans in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Knowing the threat pandemics pose to businesses and their people, Mapien’s Isaac Baker has been helping with strategies and techniques to drive behaviour change during this uncertain time.  His seven part series on this subject has covered, shifting behaviour, creating a shared social identity, updated and refreshed social norms and flexibility & optionality when making decisions

As Australia is seeing a promising reduction of new cases per day and a move to gradually lift restrictions, leaders must be on the front foot to handling a transition to a new normal for their people. As with the transition from pre COVID-19, to State working conditions during the pandemic (albeit accelerated and thrust upon us), there is a process to optimising the transition for your people post COVID-19 restrictions.

In our 5th article in this series, let’s look at the barriers which can get in the way of making a transition back to effective work?

Barrier: Low Sense Making Apparatuses

The COVID-19 pandemic has put most of us through novel and stressful challenges, while having to do so with great uncertainty for the short and long term future. These have had significant impacts on our people’s health, wellbeing and financial states. These experiences are etched deeply into our memories.

The whole experience has forced us to make sense of a situation that is so complex, ambiguous and uncertain that a single brain cannot handle it. As individuals we are often limited by our first-person perspectives, limited knowledge, and narrow expertise. It is impossible to fully comprehend the gravity and inner workings of this pandemic.

Focusing more on the individual experience, even this poses huge challenges in effectively comprehending and handling our in-flux emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.

If the transition “back to work” is to be efficient, we must address our sense making apparatus.

Solutions: Acknowledgement and Sharing

Your people have gone through challenges, many of which you are likely not aware of. Indeed, many may not be aware of each other’s experiences. These experiences are not sunshine and rainbows. These experiences involve very real feelings of anxiety, dread, loneliness, and stress.

To restore the overall wellbeing of your people it is crucial their stories are acknowledged and shared.

This is a call for DEBRIEFS (plural).

People must know that they were and are not in this alone. People must be reconnected to their social networks and have their connections strengthened.


Provide opportunities to share

These opportunities can be dedicated meetings, forums, and events where people share, reflect upon, and attempt to make sense of their past, current, and future states. 

Psychological safety is crucial. If an environment is not supportive of people sharing their vulnerabilities, debriefing will be ineffectual, and you will see poor wellbeing and performance.

Leaders and influential members of organisations have a critical role to play in creating opportunities to share. They can arrange the times and events to do so, but they can also be the first to share. They can lead by example and role model the desired behaviour. Share the ups and downs. Doing so will only build trust, respect, and stronger cohesion within the team, department, and organisation.

Keep in mind 1:
This process has to be facilitated as soon as possible. Do not wait. It must precede any expectation to get back to 100% maximum performance; indeed, without it you are unlikely to get there anyway

Keep in mind 2:
This is a gradual process. These opportunities have to be maintained…for as long as it takes.

How do you know it is working?

Listen to your people. Collect data and track their wellbeing and performance. As you see wellbeing increase, you will likely see performance follow closely behind.

Our team of organisational psychologists and behavioural scientists have created a scientifically validated Wellbeing reporting system that tracks team, department, and organisational wellbeing outcomes on a weekly basis. If you want to know if things are trending up as a result of your Acknowledgement and Sharing and related actions, reach out to me here.

By applying these and other techniques grounded in behavioural science evidence, you give yourself the best opportunity to make better decisions as a leader.

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This article is Part 5 in a 7 Part series applying behavioural insights to drive behaviour change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about the Behaviour Change Toolkit from which these insights are grounded, or if you would like to discuss the application of behavioural insights to your organisation during these challenging times, please reach out to Isaac Baker here.

Alternatively, contact us today and one of our Mapien workplace strategists will be in touch within 24 hours.

Isaac Baker
Isaac has a thorough understanding of the science of human behaviour and creates effective, specialised interventions to solve complex people problems.