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Transitioning Back To Work During COVID-19 at DUT

Transitioning Back To Work During COVID-19 at DUT

The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Employee Wellness Programme hosted its online webinar on how to identify one’s stressors and strategies to enhance one’s coping capacity to deal with the transition back to work. The webinar titled: Your Return To Work Toolkit during COVID-19 was held on Friday, 12 June 2020. The DUT community was invited to be a part of the online conversation with Samantha Rajcoomar, Manager: Employee Wellness Programme.

In her presentation, Rajcoomar focused on transitioning back to work, coping with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, managing one’s well-being, and creating a conducive environment that encourages the necessary behaviour change to foster engagement and social connectivity whilst maintaining social distancing.

“Returning to work after about nine weeks under the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has placed immense challenges on our mental health and well-being, including that of our families. The varying degrees of emotions filled with helplessness, anxiety and despair experienced by most of us is absolutely normal, acceptable and understandable. Our personal and daily university structured routines were disrupted by the monumental challenges thrust upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Rajcoomar said the expectation to come to terms with the ‘new normal’ is no doubt anxiety-provoking, and it is understandable to feely panicky and anxious about the current alarming increased figures of positive cases and deaths in the country.

“The university has taken the responsibility of adopting the necessary safety and precautionary measures to protect staff and minimise the risks of infection. The current lockdown is a new unexplored territory for all of us. We must have patience and endurance not only with ourselves but with all those around us as we navigate through this ‘new normal’, she said.

Rajcoomar said that returning to work in the ‘new normal’ DUT environment requires DUT staff to have strong coping skills to accept and adapt to that which one cannot change nor control. She stressed that the Employee Wellness programme, therefore, seeks to assist and support the DUT community to ease one’s transition back to work. She said the psychological impact of the lockdown period cannot be ignored as its impact is likely to remain, long after finding a vaccine. Rajcoomar also added that almost overnight, remote work has become mainstream at DUT.

“Our rooms at home have turned into home offices, gyms, playgrounds and schools for our children. It ushered in a dramatic new social and economic order impacting not only on us but by people around the world,” she said. She stressed that some people are ‘wired’ to be better equipped to deal with changes and embracing them, whilst some thrived on routine, avoided change, bringing on anxiety. “This significant psychological impact will definitely be carried to our workspaces. This coupled with the stress associated with the re-integration into our modified university has the potential to destabilise an employee’s mental health,” she said.

Rajcoomar said that whether one is going into one’s physical workspace at DUT or working remotely, this new world of work has created challenges that are directly impacting on one’s productivity, stress levels and the well-being of the people one cares about. She added that what employees were stressing about was the risk of being exposed to the virus at work.

“Whilst employees are finding it difficult to be accountable to managers, on the flip side, in the face of this adversity, managers are also finding it difficult to manage their teams. Stressing about the future of their employment and salaries should the pandemic continue.

It is critical that you recognise what stress looks like, and to try and take steps to build your resilience and manage your new job stressors,” she said. Rajcoomar said there were useful prescriptions that can help enhance one’s coping capacity, and that is to know the facts about COVID-19.

“Communicate with your colleagues, supervisors or your spouse about your job stress. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust is a healthy way to process this evolving situation,” she added.

Her presentation spoke further on the role of employees during COVID-19 and to remember that everyone is an important asset in the university.

“Respect the seriousness of the current COVID-19 crises, respect yourself and those around you. It is essential to maintain regular communication with your manager and your team. Don’t wait to be included. Take advantage of the ‘new normal’ and strive to empower yourself,” she said.

Rajcoomar added that in these uncertain and highly stressful times, there is heightened reliance on managers and supervisors to maintain the well-being, health and safety of their staff. “Remember that managers are also adapting to the new normal. In addition to managing their staff, they have to also manage their own mounting work-life challenges and keep informed about rapidly changing policies,” she said.

Another important aspect she focused on was on how working remotely has increased significantly during the lockdown period and become a necessity. “Although remote working affords us the benefits of flexibility, lack of commute and a relaxed dress code, it also poses a fair bit of new challenges for many individuals to navigate through this virtual reality,” she said.

Rajcoomar further spoke on how one can manage one’s chronic illness during COVID-19 which raises the risk for people with underlying chronic illnesses, particularly for those who are immunocompromised or who have a chronic illness, COVID-19 can cause serious complications and even death. “It is essential that you educate yourself around COVID-19 and what it means to be high risk and ensure the information you access comes from trusted sources,” she stressed.

She urged the DUT community to take note of the availability of online consultations via one’s medical aid and to contact the Employee Wellness Programme for support. Rajcoomar said that it is imperative that one keeps one’s well-being in check during COVID-19.

“With the ease of the lockdown level we need to strengthen our willpower and shape up physically and mentally to embrace this transition to work with ease,” she said. Focusing on the importance of self-assessment and improving one’s coping strategies, is also key, added Rajcoomar.

“Complete your personal health check. This tool will provide you with your own feedback about yourself during COVID-19. It will also provide you with indicators of your declining mental health. If your feelings are too much to bear, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Remember that you do not have to always be in the red or orange,” she said.

She also pointed out that also having a self-care plan that suits one’s personality and the emotional space that one’s in, is vital. “Try to become the best version of you during this difficult period. All it takes is time and commitment. Love yourself enough so that you can support your family, friends and colleagues,” she said.

Besides Rajcoomar’s presentation, guest speaker: Dr Carmen James, who is an integrative medical doctor and health coach, shared her story as a COVID-19 survivor. She highlighted her views on experiencing the virus from the perspective of a healthcare worker and as a patient.

In conclusion, the DUT audience were also given the opportunity to ask questions pertaining to their fears regarding COVID-19, and how to cope with the transition of going back to work.

Waheeda Peters

Picture Credit: Google Images

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