Posted by Paula Baciu, Content Executive

I live in London, where we’ve just jumped headfirst into another month of nation-wide lockdown. National guidelines advise that we should adhere carefully to social distancing measures because the risk of contracting the virus is ‘very high’. The neighbourhood where I live has the highest number of cases in London per day, as I found out just yesterday. And yet I chose to write about closeness rather than distancing.

Yes, it’s been a tough year, we all know it. We are also beginning to gauge the side-effects of long-term seclusion and strangers’ looks when sneezing in public. We’ve seen the protests against racial discrimination and counter-protests in some places, then tried to wrap our heads around what the media was saying about these being political conspiracies rather than grassroots movements.

Just like a virus, anxiety stretched its tentacles in all arteries of society.

Now’s the time to focus on unity.

As well as the highest number of cases in London, my neighbourhood is also one of the most culturally diverse. A mere walk in the park at the back of my house will have me hear about 3 or 4 different languages. But cultural differences create an even more incisive sense of division and alienation from each other under critical situations like the current one. People tend to withdraw within their own social circles under stress – and, really, this is also what the government advises us. But that only increases alienation.

Did you know what the antidote to anxiety is?

Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter released by your brain and organism when it experiences pleasure in response to social interaction. So, to counter pandemic-related anxiety, seek to extend kindness and generosity beyond your family this season. A smile can go a long way, and so do little favours, small talks, or giving the takeaway delivery driver a tip. Good deeds don’t have to breach social distancing guidelines, but they do break the walls we built throughout the year. Many of us are already doing this. Also, I also absolutely love the resources[1] given by the Mental Health Foundation for looking after your mental health during the pandemic so check those out as well.

What does that have to do with you, the employer?

Diwali, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are just around the corner and your people are going to long for belongingness – a sense that you, the employer, are well able to foster. And whilst we can’t hug each other warmly or enjoy Christmas dinner with the company, we can still support each other from distance. You, the employer, are in the position to inspire your employees to do so – and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, time, or effort.

For many employees, work is the only form of socialization they will do throughout the day. I know I had days like that myself. As the employer, you should seek to support employees in new ways – and many have already started doing so. I’m not a HR person but I’ve surely found a bunch of ideas on a brief Google search about ways to support employees’ mental health whilst working from home. There’s also a business version of the Mental Health Foundation: Mental Health at Work.

To belong = to be included

HR Executive compiled a list of ways you can encourage inclusion when working from home. It emerges that employees rely on managers for directions on how they should navigate the remote working routine, including guiding them through diversity and inclusion guidelines. As a first step in aiding this, you might want to consider our Anti-discrimination for People Managers test to help you evaluate whether your managers are prepared to lead your teams throughout these challenging times. Because while you may be trying to be a fair-play employer already, here’s some research on the number of incidents that go unreported that I will leave you with as a take-home message:

  • Most of us* will experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace at some point throughout our lives
  • But more than 70% of us will never speak up[2]
  • Research on the experiences of the victims of workplace harassment indicates that 93% of the incidents involved at least one witness
  • But witnesses are more likely to discuss incidents with another colleague (46%) and someone outside work (67%) than with HR (23%)
  • The biggest fear preventing both victims and witnesses from reporting incidents is the fear of consequences
  • Do you what is the most frequent type of discrimination reported to the EEOC (in the US)?… Retaliation.[3]

So, what are you doing to bring your employees together against discrimination and harassment?

Paula Baciu, Content Executive at Questionmark, is committed to developing ready-made test content that increases organizational performance. Specifically, the “Anti-discrimination for People Managers” test enables organizations to identify whether employees with people management responsibilities are familiar enough with the principles of anti-discrimination law in employment to avoid discriminatory incidents and handle them responsibly if they do arise. The test was developed in partnership with human resources experts and reviewed by employment lawyers for congruence with US and UK law.

Inclusivity ties into all aspects of society; during times of crisis, this becomes even the more relevant but, unknowingly, many of us put it on the backburner. This blog article is a reflection on how the lockdown, anxiety, kindness, and inclusivity are linked together nowadays.

* And by ‘us’ I mean us, humans: everyone can be the subject of harassment depending on the context. As you might find out by trying the test, harassment can occur even when the effect is unintended by the author.


[1] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus

[2] Shaw, Elphick, Minhas, download the Whitepaper at https://talktospot.com/research

[3] https://www.eeoc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/OEDA_All%20Charges%20Infographic_052620.pdf