Conversations with HR Teams on Building Resilience in Times of Covid-19 – Part I

Right after Covid-19 lockdown across the world, I was a guest speaker for the entire Middle East and Africa HR team of a multinational company at a zoom conference. Zoom calls were something we were getting used to by then. The attendees were as diverse as it gets yet everyone on the call shared one common human reaction to uncertainty: stress. But we needed resilience and hope.

Those HR people attending the call were asked all sorts of support/info about almost “everything” by the employees and they did not have all the answers. It was their job to support others in the company but and this was a BIG BUT, one could only give something she/he had! So, we started talking about resilience.

I don’t think it is going to be an exaggeration to say that since world war 2, humanity has not faced such uncertainty that was caused by Covid-19. The whole world came to a standstill. We had to adjust to this uncertainty in a way that would keep our lives going. HR teams were not an exception either! They experienced uncertainties in their personal environment as well as in the business due to Covid-19. At the same time, they worked so hard to find answers to people, to prepare guidelines to support. So, improving the resilience of HR teams would result in increased business resilience.

Research shows that the number one reason for stress is uncertainty. Our brains react to stress in a certain way like we have butterflies in our stomachs, our hearts start pounding faster. And that is not a bad thing as research shows that we need a mild level of stress to succeed.

Our brains perceive uncertainty in the environment and then start using more energy to cope with stress. The more the perceived stress is, the more energy used by the brain and the less energy left for the rest of the body, this is called “Selfish-Brain Theory”. Of course, how much of stress our brains perceive because of uncertainty in the environment varies individually.
When we are in uncertainty, we get fearful and our brains fill the blanks. That provokes more anxiety and fear. And this fear can be contagious which is called Emotional Contagiousness. Thus, how we see this uncertainty is very important. I think we will agree that uncertainty and challenging times are also opportunities to learn from them If we agreed on the lesson plan.

Covid-19 has been a great reminder that in order to build the future of our world and celebrate diversity as we discussed in our book “ Secret of working across five continents ”, we need to rely on our inner resources, agree on the lesson plan and be hopeful.

As novelist Barbara Kingsolver said once, hope is a renewable option: If you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning.

Hande K. Binns