Complex Made Simple

The invisible impact of going back to “normality”

At the core, we act like members of a tribe. How will the post-pandemic workforce look and act like after enduring months in isolation in war-like conditions? What do organizations need to do in the 'new normal'?

Our recently found vulnerability has led us to rediscover the importance of social cohesiveness As we return to the "pre-crisis society", solidarity disappears and usual hierarchies are reinstalled Building trust and resilience depends on our ability to connect the individual to the tribe

Written by: Francesca Ciaudano

Francesca is a Senior Marketer with international experience spanning over 20 years within Fortune 100 corporations. Multi-awarded within the marketing, PR, media and advertising industries in the Middle East and globally. Recognized as Marketer of the Year for her breakthrough contribution to the MENA region in 2015 by the prestigious Effie Awards.

We become human when disaster knocks on our doors and demands attention. What happens when we close the door and we feel safe again? And what can this mean to the workforce as people return to the office?

Our recently found vulnerability has led us to rediscover the importance of social cohesiveness and of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, was the first to notice the positive impact that even war can have on mental health. Every time France went to war, its psychiatric hospitals became less crowded. The same effect was later observed in other contexts like civil-war in Spain, Algeria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland.

The Irish psychologist H.A. Lyons wrote in 1979, that his findings “suggest that people will feel better psychologically if they have more involvement with their community.”

That’s because disaster simplifies things and return people to a more natural way of living. During hardship, we recognize how our survival depends on cooperating with others. As a result, even though we live in industrialized and technologically complex societies, we’re deeply hard-wired to live in tribes and we crave the kind of communities in which our ancestors lived.

Read by same author: Are you capable of leading during this mass experiment?

In this moment in history, we have the unique opportunity to reassess what is at the core of human potential and how can we tap into it. Despite competition and individualism being the cultural norms, it is becoming clearer and clearer that our innate nature requires more to thrive and be happy.

What we learn from history is that as we return to the “pre-crisis society”, solidarity disappears and usual hierarchies are reinstalled, living people disconcerted and anguished.

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger talks about several examples of how former tribe prisoners experience a sense of confusion and desolation as they are freed and have no interest in rejoining their original families. As they deeply miss the tribal lifestyle and sense of connection.

Even with military veterans, studies have unveiled that it’s not just war itself that scars many soldiers. More often, it’s their experience of going back to normal life to blame.

Read: Equipping nationals with the skills of a post-COVID-19 world

As peace is restored, individualism replaces solidarity, and many suffer the effects of loneliness and isolation.

The invisible complications are therefore not within the hardship but what comes after it. The going back to “normality”, the impact of the lost connection from people, from the sense of working towards a purposeful mission, of being visible and needed, it’s what is truly damaging.

Tragedy and hardship bring people together in a way modern society and organisations cannot. As people go back to work, they will find themselves in situations where individualism will mostly prevail again. Where competition is the norm and there won’t be that sense of togetherness and slower pace recently rediscovered.

The exacerbation of the already existing pre-pandemic workplace disorders – disengagement, mental health issues, presenteeism, absenteeism, high turnover – is easily predictable. 

It’s our responsibility to recognize in advance what impact this can the work-force and be prepared to redesign the existing models.

Read:Industry Expert Shares the Truth About Productivity

Models where personal growth, success and development cannot be isolated, vacuumed into a sealed bag as we are ultimately all part of a hyper-connected system. I believe there is nothing wrong about individualism if done as a form of self-expression to reach personal freedom. However, it should be clearer that there is no point in developing ourselves in silos. Individualism needs to be redefined from materialistic endeavour to true fulfilment of human potential.

Building trust and resilience depends on our ability to connect the individual to the tribe. The single employee to the organization. The very local to the global. To make people feel they are essential. Essential to the accomplishment of a shared purpose. As when we feel essential we are unstoppable.

Modern companies have made us feel like we are easily replaceable. The one thing I hope this pandemic will do; it’s putting the focus back where it belongs.

To people.

The “me” needs the “we” to thrive. The individual is no king and if there is one thing that you can do to future-proof your business is to recognize the importance of promoting ideologies that emphasize the collective dimension, find ways of creating a sense of belonging and social well being.

Solidarity and the power of a common purpose, have been seen as holding progress back, while in fact, they could be at the basis of unleashing the true essence of human potential.

Artwork by Francesca Ciaudano © 

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