Back to Work Blues, Post-Lockdown

When your store is open at Alert Level 2, here's 6 key ways to help your team overcome post-lockdown blues.

The mental impact of having to return to work after six weeks under the COVID-19 lockdown is already proving to have some unexpected reactions as retailers prepare to reopen their stores.  Just as your team has adjusted to lockdown, they’re being asked to leave the safety of their bubbles, and venture out into what for some might feel is the “next great unknown”.  If you read our previous blog post “Turning Stress into Strength” you will remember that we said that humans are inherently programmed for survival. 

If you sense your employee is stressed, it's important to communicate with them.

So you’d think that everyone would be chomping at the bit to get back to work because it is so intrinsically linked to our survival, (and to be fair – many are.)  Yet, we are seeing some rather alarming behaviours driven by emotions like disbelief, fear, lack of motivation and even anger.  Naturally this begs the question – “what on earth is going on?”

The short answer is “change”!  In reality, it is not so much change in itself that is the problem, but rather the uncertainly of change that causes a lot of this seemingly uncharacteristic behaviour.  With change comes stress.

Stress is normal in these unprecedented circumstances. Changing back to another "new normal" will take time to adjust.

Strangely enough, these are normal reactions to a very abnormal set of circumstances. Over the coming weeks, keep an eye out for signs of emotional distress as your team navigates their way back to yet another and ever-changing “new normal”. As you reopen your store, remember that COVID-19 won’t be gone, nor will the concerns that surround it, so it is best to accept that it may not be business as usual for some time to come.

There really is no typical or right or wrong reaction, but some behaviours might be difficult to comprehend and will be counter to what you need from your team right now. So, rather than allowing this to elevate your own stress levels, know what to look out for and where to get help.

Common signs of stress include low self-esteem, becoming easily agitated, pessimistic, or irrational.

Some common signs that someone is under stress can include; becoming easily agitated, frustrated or overwhelmed, low self-esteem, avoiding others, being forgetful and disorganised, an inability to focus, poor judgment, irrational, pessimistic, procrastination or not meeting deadlines, avoiding responsibilities, lethargy, nervous behaviours such as nail biting, fidgeting, pacing etc.

As you work to get your operation back on its feet, unproductive staff struggling to function is the last thing you need, so what can you do?

  1. Don’t ignore what you notice! Be sensitive to changes in behaviour and communicate your observations to the person in a caring and gentle manner. E.g. John, I’ve noticed that you are a little on edge lately and seem to be struggling to focus.  I’m a bit concerned about you right  now, let’s make a time to have a coffee and have a catch up.  (Use an informal, friendly, caring approach).
  2. If John is willing to talk about how he is feeling – great, then just listen non-judgmentally, don’t try to fix the problem or give advice, but rather refer him to a professional who can help.
  3. If a possible solution it is something that can be changed at work, then do your best to come up with a workable plan.  (Remember that Under H&S Act of 2015, you must make accommodations where reasonably practicable).
  4. If John doesn’t want to talk to you – that’s okay, don’t take it personally, but if the matter is impacting his productivity, mention your concern and suggest that speaking to a professional person can help and that you are willing to support him. If he refuses and there is no improvement, you may need to consider disciplinary measures.
  5. A great way to gain trust and express empathy is to “Acknowledge, Validate and Normalise” For example –“John, I can hear how working reduced hours has impacted you financially (acknowledgement).  It’s no wonder you are struggling to focus on work right now (validity). Anyone in your situation would be feeling like you do (normalising). 
  6. Do what you can to help, but encourage John to take ownership of his own problem.  Your job is to run your business.  Refer him to someone else who can help so that you can get on with things.

There are excellent free services that you can refer to:

There are excellent free services you can refer to, for mental health support.

1737 – call, text or email

Lifeline – 0800 LIFELINE (0800 54 33 54) or free text HELP (4357)

Suicide Crisis Help Line | 0508 TAUTOKO (0508 82 88 65)

Or speak to Retail NZ’s Advice Line about using our partner Workplace Support’s Employee Assistance Programme without the annual fees.

By Natalie Frauenstein
Retail Operations Specialist
Retail NZ

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