Navigating through COVID ERA: Good Enough is the New Perfect
By Sevilay Pezek Yangın

Regional HR Director, Turkey, West Asia and Levant, Medtronic
TURKEY PERYON President (2014 – 2017) & Chair World Congress WFPMA (2013‐2016)

 

While we are overflowing with pandemic-related stress, there is a more significant challenge waiting for us around the corner. Our life has changed rapidly following the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in March, HR professionals, leaders, parents, all human beings were pushed to deal with something that is not easy to manage with their current capabilities.

We must take COVID-19 very seriously and enable ourselves, families, and organizations to cope with this disease’s post-traumatic effects. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, was the first scientist who linked anxiety and mental health. His discovery started a new era of healing people with mental complaints. It has been almost a year we have been navigating through COVID Era. We seemed that we are used to living with the pandemic.

 

However, the question arises if we are truly aware of its impact on our lives?

Early June 2020, my master thesis helped me gain this awareness. There was some research on anxiety and previous pandemic relations; however, there were not enough, and limited resources were offered for senior leadership adaptation. Therefore, I have started to search the impacts of COVID-19 on senior leaders to understand their experience. I aimed to understand the similarities, patterns in responses, and adaptations to COVID-19’s new reality to raise awareness and offer some coping strategies. I also desired to know how this affected me as a leader.

I applied an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis blended with socio-analytic interviews; these tools support qualitative findings and are the best fit for the making meaning of the human experience. Interested people can find more detail in the references below 1,2. These methods also allowed me to reflect and use the related psychodynamic and clinical theories I learned during my executive master program in Change at INSEAD. I used myself to provide input for conscious and unconscious data and classified the experience patterns under the themes. If you are an academician, leader, or interested in learning more, please contact me to send you more information about my research.

Succinctly, my research helped to cultivate awareness. COVID-19 pushed all of us into a development gap. It was like waking up one day and realizing we have outdated software with no sign of any available update. The ones who were supposed to provide an update were trying to understand what had happened to themselves. In my thesis, I related this experience to the first day at a new job. There was no one capable and available to onboard us to the new realities. Being experienced in emerging markets, I am familiar with VUCA dynamics. However, this period was unprecedented. This time, all countries worldwide have been sharing similar pandemic-related stress; there is collective pandemic anxiety.

My thesis experience went beyond my expectations. During my interviews with the leaders, I transformed from the “unconscious not knowing” stage to the “conscious not knowing” stage. It was painful. I knew that I needed to change but did not yet understand how. I was trying to keep myself composed and not show vulnerability. One of my realizations was how I unconsciously took the role of a “good mother” to control the things around me. I had no tolerance for any mistake and put pillows around my team members to prevent them from falling and being hurt.

My research showed that senior leaders responded to pandemic-related anxiety with similar defense mechanisms, which I listed under the themes. Senior leaders’ overall experiences revealed that the pandemic created survival anxiety during onboarding to a new job. Additionally, leaders may deny the realities of taking on the parent’s role, triggered by defenses, in response to collective anxiety.

At the visible level, changes experienced by leaders were similar to the onboarding experience of new employees. They were suddenly forced into an unfamiliar environment, thus experiencing a resetting of boundaries, uncertainty, and a lack of clarity regarding their roles. They had to learn a new way of doing things. The first theme emerged from workplace change. Senior leaders need to set the workplace at home, clarify their roles and boundaries, and learn to work in the digital world. The second and third themes that emerged were concerned leaders’ experiences of loss, concern, and anxiety related to the pandemic. Suddenly, leaders were left with limited options being forced to change. They experienced a loss of social interaction and freedom to travel, a loss of promise for the future, and a loss of trust in relevant authorities. Concern and anxiety about being sick, losing loved ones, and job security also emerged. Theme number four represented the senior leaders’ adaptations. This theme refers to how they learned to adapt by increasing their digital sessions or emails due to the lack of social contact and maintain spontaneity concerning workflow. On the invisible level, the key theme that emerged was coping with anxiety. Several sub-themes also emerged, such as continuing old behaviors and adopting a good or bad parent role.

The main theme emerged as the “taking on a learner role,” which covers how senior leaders learned to value their teams and balance their wellbeing with their performance. These themes subsidize understanding the similarities of senior leaders’ experiences. It showed leaders’ necessity to unlearn old ways of doing things to manage anxiety and defense mechanisms.

This study supports leading professionals, coaches, and consultants (among others) by eliciting an understanding of the visible and invisible elements of senior leaders’ collective experiences about taking on the learner’s role in a pandemic and adapting to a new normal.

This experience showed me that the only way to deal with this is to learn how to “let it go.” COVID can be taken as a lesson for humanity to replace our out-of-date operating software. To navigate through the COVID-19 era, being “good enough” is becoming an essential skill.

 

We can learn to take on the learner role to cope with the consequences of this shared anxiety. We can practice reflecting and learning to let it go and relate with our team members with genuine care and love without controlling them. Being aware of what we do not know is a good start. However, saying is more comfortable and more manageable than doing. I am still experiencing the existential pain of swinging between the quadrants of knowing what not to do and doing and learning.

Finally, leaders must remember that employees exposed to pandemic-related anxieties should be encouraged to benefit from mental health services accessibly.

 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sevilay‐pezek‐yangin/

 

References

1 Long, S., & Harding, W. (2019). SOCIOANALYTIC METHODS: Discovering the hidden in organisations and social systems. Place of publication not identified: Routledge.

2 Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design Choosing Among Five Approaches (4th ed.). Los Angeles; London; New Delhi; Singapore; Washington DC: SAGE.