Learning from Lockdown

Now that we are on the other side of a second Covid-19 lockdown, I think it wise to reflect on what we have learned, both earlier and in this round, that will make us more resilient and accepting of this new normal.

For me personally, the return to Alert Level 2 in Christchurch, where I live and work, was a ‘lockdown lite’. I had already moved into working predominantly from home, cut down on domestic travel, invested in copious quantities of handwash, and kept my distance from strangers. Now I have the government’s Covid-19 app and carry a mask. My business was able to trade locally at Alert Level 2 and we had no contracts in Auckland during lockdown that we were unable to deliver.

For those around me though it was a bit less simple. Family were back to voluntarily working from home, 4-year-old granddaughter getting a cold and needing a Covid-19 test, mounting job losses as tourism, hospitality, and many other sectors struck heavy weather, and all of the human stresses that these impacts bring.

And of course things were a great deal worse for the 1.5 million kiwis living in Auckland; schools and work disruptions, social isolation, and the very real fear that the virus was out and about in their community.

One of the learnings from the earlier lockdown was that small business in New Zealand (the creators of most of our jobs) run pretty low on financial resilience; many are marginally profitable and are surviving rather than thriving. The New Zealand ‘thing’ is to either invest in growth or take the cash out of the business (and into the beach house, beemer and boat); holding cash in reserve for a rainy day isn’t prominent in this equation.

We need to accept that we now operate in a higher risk environment and that adverse events are more likely. A rethink of how we position our businesses financially to survive this is now timely.

At the household level, we know that many New Zealanders are only two or three pay packets away from financial trouble. The record demand for food assistance attests to that fact. Good old fashioned savings that can easily be accessed when times get tough is a solution here; although difficult to achieve for those on already tight budgets and for those who psychologically live for the ‘now’ and don’t concern themselves with the ‘later’.

At the individual level, stress and anxiety create deep hurt for many of us.  Mental health resources have been over-stretched for many years and are not proving adequate for current demand.  Untreated mental health issues surface in the workplace and employers need to upskill their team leaders to identify and respond to these.

Improved resilience is now a personal growth need for many of us; learning about and exploring ways to lessen the impacts of stress and to bounce back more quickly. We all need to create some life changes to make sure we are better able to cope.

My general sense is that after the first lockdown we got straight back into business as usual and didn’t given much thought to the probability of further infection rounds. Much of the promise that the ’new normal’ offered for changes towards sustainability, equity and justice has not yet been realised.

Perhaps now as round two closes, we may be a bit wiser about the very rocky path still ahead for us, and just maybe we will give some thought to how we can build our businesses, communities and selves to better deal to that.