On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Four days earlier, I had been in Punta Umbria, Spain, competing for Great Britain in my age group at the European Sprint Duathlon Championships. I, along with many other amateur athletes, arrived back in our home countries with our lives suddenly turned upside down. Many countries were already in complete lockdown. Working from home quickly became the new normal. Sporting events were cancelled, along with all other forms of group gatherings. Pubs, bars and restaurants were all closed. Travel stopped, which meant no visits to distant relatives, holidays would have to be cancelled and day trips put on hold. Had we all been put in a terrible nightmare, a futuristic world only films and books portray? No, this was, and is, the new reality. And no one knows how long it will last.
But there is a way through. We all have our own way of dealing with things, and my way is to feel ALIVE. I can, and will, make choices every day about how I will deal with this new challenge. Feeling ALIVE for me means being Active, Learning, Inspiring, being Versatile and Embracing this new normal.
This was my first challenge. On returning from the duathlon, I didn’t feel well at all. It could have been COVID-19 – some of the symptoms were similar, but others were not. I fell the day before the race and, although I didn’t know it at the time, damaged my ribs, which in turn led to pleurisy, an infection of the lining of the lungs. Before the duathlon, I had been training six days a week. Without being able to run or cycle, I felt a major part of my identity had been snatched away from me. So my main aim was to get well. I rested, and rested some more. And now that I’m finally fit enough to be training again, I feel alive! There are so many benefits to being active, from boosting our physical well-being to improving our mental health. Being active gives me the energy to stay motivated at work. Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study shows that energized employees are five times more likely to say they are thriving, and also feel less likely to burn out (60% compared to 81% of de-energized employees).
Feeling ill not only meant I was restricted physically, I also lost my motivation at work. This wasn’t like me. I had no energy to face the challenges of a new role I had taken on. Energized employees are two times as likely as de-energized employees to be excited about the prospect of reskilling and three times more likely to be satisfied with their company, with no plans to leave. I knew I had to get better so I could learn the new skills needed for my new role. After getting advice from others, and taking some time out and some medication, I got my mojo back and felt excited to be learning again – ready to take on the world! In the last few weeks, I have learned how to connect better in a physically distanced world, I have learned how to create more engaging online presentations, I have learned about new propositions at Mercer, and I have definitely learned the benefit of patience and of listening to others and to my body. Learning makes me feel alive.
There are so many ways to inspire people, and one of the best ways is to role model the behavior you expect of others. This can be much harder in a physically distanced world, so we have to use the tools available to us – for example, social media – to get messages across in the right way. But this has to be done thoughtfully; social media posts can too often be taken as “showing off.”
We have a new internal social media tool at Mercer, so I have chosen to regularly post there as well as to my usual external social media channels, showing colleagues how I am living our brand and culture, how we are all engaging empathetically with our clients at this time, and how I look after my own health and well-being. Communication is hard work; now, more than ever, we have to think about how we will inspire others through new channels. The next time you do something you think will inspire others – tell someone, be generous, think of it as a gift to others. You will be surprised how alive you feel!
As an extravert on the Myers-Briggs scale and a yellow on the Insights Discovery profile, I get my energy from others and love to be active, engage with people and share ideas. But then – boom – suddenly I have to work on my own, in the same location, at the same desk all day, every day, for the foreseeable future. As a child, I was told I had “ants in my pants.” I rarely sit still for longer than five minutes at a time. While I’m in the office I can get up, walk around, have a chat with people on the way to the coffee machine, but none of this happens at home. On my third day of working from home, I actually went into my 22-year-old daughter’s room, sat on her bed and just started talking – and I got a very odd look from her! So we have to be more versatile. I’ve decided to use some carryover vacation time to start work a little later twice a week so I’m not sitting at my desk as long; this also gives me more time for my morning run. I book in time at lunch every day to ensure I take a break. I book in “active” breaks in my diary so I’m not on Zoom calls for longer than two hours at a time. I bought a green screen to vary my Zoom background – a small thing – but it makes me and others laugh. These are some small adjustments that help me feel more alive.
And finally, I’m embracing this new normal. I’m using my EQ more than IQ more than ever. Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study shows that thriving employees are twice as likely to work for an organization that effectively balances EQ and IQ in decision-making – something less than half of companies get right today. At Mercer, all of us are encouraged to use our EQ more. Our first and foremost objective during this crisis is to ensure all our employees are safe and healthy. All our leaders and managers are having regular check-ins with our teams. We also have coffee chats, lunch dates and evening drinks. We’re being empathetic to our clients’ needs. They are delighted when we are at the other end of the phone to help, no matter how small the problem. We’re also providing excellent thought leadership through free access to many resources during this pandemic. I’m hosting my first external events by converting in-person workshops to interactive webinars. We’re being more human, fusing empathy with economics – and that makes me feel alive.
We have many challenging times ahead of us, but we will get through this. How we choose to deal with our teams, our clients, our friends and families will mold who we are in the future. As humans, we need a purpose and need to feel alive. I hope this blog post has helped you do that.