We are all living in completely unknown times. The past couple of months has seen so many changes to the way that we work, rest and play; none of which we would have realised would have such profound effects on us all. For people in services, it has been extreme beyond all measure explains Martin Summerhayes…

Speaking to customers and partners, it is clear that many do not know why they are feeling the way they are. Some are feeling angry. Many are feeling frightened.  A few are in denial about the current situation. A small minority are feeling that this is only a short term situation and everything will return to “normal”, whatever, they may describe as normal.

Managing the mobile workforce during covid-19

It reminded me of the “Change Curve of Loss” that I was taught a number of years ago and have used on many change programmes. So, what is this curve? The theory is based on a model originally developed in the 1960s by a psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, to explain the grieving process. Since then it has been widely developed as a method of helping people understand their reactions to significant change or upheaval.

It is such an extraordinary time; that I took some time to refresh myself on what the model describes. The model, in its simplest form, has four stages associated with it. These stages are:-

  • Stage 1 – Immobilisation and Denial
  • Stage 2 – Anger and Bargaining
  • Stage 3 – Depression and Testing
  • Stage 4 – Acceptance

Note: Since writing this article, the HBR – Harvard Business school, has published an article on the same subject, details of which can be found at the end of this article.

So, what do these stages describe? Before we jump in. let me ask you to spend a moment, just a moment, to write down on a piece of paper, the word or phrase of where you are feeling in the current situation. It will help guide you through the detail, for you to know where you are in the “change curve”. Please be aware, there is no right or wrong answers to any of this and this is only a guide. Let, me explain the stages and the details behind them:-

Prior to Stage 1 – Stability

Prior to the onset of Covid-19, we were working, living and experiencing relative stability in our lives, our work and our social surroundings. Yes, there were challenges, but for many; we were living in relative stability. Then came the announcements of virus infections; illnesses; deaths; closure of services; restrictions on movement; social distancing and finally; lockdown in your own home. Within a relatively short timescale, a bow wave of significant changes and upheavals hit us all, all effecting us in different ways. How these have affected us, then follows the four stages….

Stage 1 – Immobilisation and Denial

This is the “rabbit in the head lights moment” where we go “OMG” what on earth is happening. This stage occurred just prior to and at the point of the lockdown, here in the UK.

  • Immobilisation: We suddenly feel immobilised. Full of fear. Confusion sets in. We feel overwhelmed with the news and the social media “storm” that ensued.
  • Denial: Next comes denial. We saw that as soon as the government announced restrictions, with some people ignoring them and continuing to meet up and get together. “Its’ not going to happen to me Gov”, was the argument.
Stage 2 – Anger and Bargaining

This is where another aspect of our view of the world kicks in. We kick back, feeling anger at the situation. Our “fight or flight” base feelings kick in at this stage.

  • Anger: Anger at the loss of freedom. Anger at the loss of liberties, the freedoms we all had. “Why me” is often cited at this point. Often, the anger can be expressed in physical means, striking out, or trying to discharge the emotional turmoil.
  • Bargaining: Strangely enough, next comes bargaining. This is where you try to minimise the impact. “If only I do this or that, then the situation will not affect me.”
Stage 3 – Depression and Testing

This is the lowest ebb in the change curve. Being aware you are in this stage, is a good starting point to trying to understand, cope and deal with it. None of us are professionals in mental health, so if you feel that you are not coping well, please reach our to friends, colleagues, loved ones, family, or contact the NHS for support.

  • Depression: If the change curve of loss is followed in sequence, then this is the next phase. This is where the sense of loss and frustration turn inwards. “Why me” is often spoken of. If you considered before this situation, 1 in 5, yes, 1 in 5 adults in the UK had experienced some form of stress and potential depressive episode, during their working life; you can only imagine the numbers that may enter this stage over the next few weeks.
  • Testing: This is where you start to lift out from the depressive phase. It is where you start to test the “new norm”. Where you begin to try new alternatives. Perhaps it is walking. Perhaps it is exercise. Perhaps it is Skyping a friend or relative.
Stage 4 – Acceptance

This is where you feel that normality is returning. It is not going to be the same normal as what there was before; but we have a fantastic ability to adapt.

  • Acceptance: This final stage is where you respond to the change realistically.

That acceptance of the new norm is, in fact “normal”.

It is important to recognise that we are all going through this “Change Curve of Loss” over the coming weeks.

Our customers. Our partners. Our field engineers. 

How quickly we go though this change curve and to the depth of curve cycle, is going to be personal for each one of us. How people recognise and understand that it is perfectly natural to feel this way; how well individuals respond to the changes as they occur and how quickly they move into the acceptance phase, is all personal. I would encourage us all to take the time to be thoughtful of others. To take a moment of kindness and reflection in this uncertain time. We will come out of this period of uncertainty. We are, after all, human.