4 key skills to combat emotional labour during COVID-19

Living in today’s world isn’t easy, let alone adding the fears and uncertainties around COVID-19. Whether it’s as a parent, partner or professional, we are now living in extraordinary times.
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We are expected to do more with fewer resources, with even less time, whilst experiencing the intensity of social isolation and having to quickly adapt to new ways of being and working. Put it this way, if I was a computer, I think my chip would have burnt out a few weeks ago!

How do we manage to keep it all together?

The easy answer is that most of us put our worries, concerns and frustrations aside. We disconnect and make compromises in order to get on and simply survive. We do all this whilst putting on a positive front – the mask that we show the rest of the world.

Theres a name for it

When we do this, it’s actually called emotional labour. It’s when we continue to physically function, perform our duties and maintain a positive persona, when inside, at best, we feel utterly disengaged and at worse, we feel like having a complete meltdown. Sound familiar?

Labour takes many forms:

Physical labour – The guy with the hard hat and shovel repairing the road is doing labour. It’s physical. It’s takes a certain fitness to work with a pick and shovel all day.

Mental labour – Someone who spends all day banging away on a keyboard is doing labour. It’s mentally taxing. 

And then there is the silent assassin we call emotional labour – A parent who spends all day with young children, trying to maintain normality, care and routine. An employee who spends all day being asked to do more with less, who’s also worried about their loved ones and how and when this will all end. A manager who has to keep it all together and potentially announce redundancies, whilst not being certain about their own job security. They are all doing labour. It’s called emotional labour.

Emotional labour is the hardest work of all

It’s when we hide away our feelings of fear, uncertainty and isolation. We hide away our personal and professional issues and make ourselves appear the total opposite! When we engage in emotional labour, we basically control our feelings in a bid to both protect our loved ones whilst trying to fit in and fulfil the goals and expectations of the organisations we work for.

We say one thing and feel another and learn to outwardly disengage with the world around us. Whether we choose to admit it or not, it impacts our ability to perform at work, our relationships with others and our mental health. 

The fundamentals needed to combat emotional labour during COVID-19:

One of the most effective ways to deal with the realities of emotional labour is to arm ourselves with a set of practical skills that will boost our ability to manage stress and difficult relationships, rather than hiding our emotions inside.

The following 4 skills have been taken from our global award-winning Resilience Advantage Programme:

Skill 1 – Whilst we are outwardly trying to keep it all together, inside it’s easy to buckle under the pressure and loose ourselves to catastrophic thinking about the worst-case scenario: 

  1. Ask yourself: 
  • What is the worst thing that can happen? 
  • The best thing? 
  • The most likely? 

Now plan for the most likely scenario. Access COVID-19 information and advice only from trusted sources and limit exposure to social media where facts can become both blurred and exaggerated.

Skill 2 – It’s understandable to feel a lack of control during these extraordinary times and it’s simply not possible to influence and control everything. The 3C’s skill will reduce emotional labour by enabling you to put your energy into proactive and practical action:

  • Begin by listing all the things you are currently concerned about. 
  • Now identify those ‘concerns’ that you feel you can influence or control. 
  • Now focus ONLY on putting your energy into the things you have identified as being able to proactively influence or control. Take action!
  • Example 1: a concern might be the worldwide spread of COVID-19. We can’t influence it globally but what we can do is influence it individually through social distancing/self-isolation. A proactive stance might be to research on-line delivery outlets for foodstuff and making an inventory of food as and when orders need to be made. 
  • Example 2: you might have concerns that your boss isn’t being as supportive as possible. A way to proactively influence it might be to tell them how you are being affected and what you need.

Skill 3 – Acts of emotional labour tip our minds into unhelpful patterns of thinking that fuel our stress levels and poor relationships with the people around us. Take time to tune into what you are telling yourself in your head when you feel intense emotions that inevitably drive emotional labour: 

  • Watch for times when you find yourself ‘jumping to conclusions.’This could be in response to conversations at work, a COVID-19 related bulletin or an argument with a family member. Ask yourself: what evidence do I have to support my thinking? 

Skill 4 – Biologically, our brains are wired for the negative and all this exposure to the COVID-19 coverage means it can be even more difficult to focus on the good things that we are grateful for. Spend some time once a day, reflecting on the positive things or experiences that you are grateful for:

  • List 3 good things and then think of ways in which you can experience more of them. 
  • It’s also a great way to start any team meeting off by encouraging people to ‘grab the good’ on achievements and the things people are doing well.

If we really want to make sure we continue to thrive in today’s ever changing and ever demanding world we need to perceive an element of control. COCID-19 highlights the need to make room for emotions in the workplace because the sad reality is that they’ve slowly and silently come back to bite us on the behind!

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