Every day since the COVID-19 virus began to spread, we’ve been hearing, watching and sharing amazing stories of how people are reaching out to others to try to help them through these scary times. From helping elderly people afraid to leave home by delivering groceries and medicine, to making and donating homemade masks for first responders and nurses, to raising funds to help people who have lost their jobs because of the shutdowns, everyday people are taking care of one another.
Research indicates that having a community to support us, be it family, friends, neighbors or co-workers, can actually boost our immune responses. We need connection to stay well.
That means ad agency leaders need to add a duty to their COVID-19 response plans: making sure you and your team maintain good social connections during the crisis and beyond.
How Social Connection Makes Us Stronger
For many people, our work families are our primary social connections. Working remotely stretches the tenuous bonds we rely on, and can add stress and anxiety to an already stressful time. And stress and anxiety are also damaging to immune response.
Even worse are the effects of isolation on the immune system. Studies indicate that increased isolation can lead to increased inflammation in human systems, which lead to increased vulnerability to disease and infection. In turn, illness from inflammatory ailments can increase isolation—a vicious cycle.
Social connection is especially important for younger workers, many of whom report having fewer close friends than older generations, and older workers, who may have smaller social networks due to scattered family, or loss of connections due to age, disease and infirmity.
So what are we dealing with right now? Reduced social connection, increased stress and anxiety, and increased isolation. Lovely.
Leaders Need to Pay Attention to Team Connection
What can agency leaders do to help everyone maintain a sense of well being?
Make a point of holding daily check-ins. Maintaining strong social connections among your team helps everyone feel better.
Reach out to individual team members just to let them know you are thinking about them and are concerned. Empathy is a marvelous tool for reducing stress and anxiety.
Don’t forget freelancers and independent contractors. Regular freelance people may feel especially isolated and forgotten during this crisis, especially if projects they were counting on have been canceled or delayed. Check on those people and see if you can help in any way. FastCompany shared resources for independent creative people.
Make time to just socialize. Many agencies now include social hangouts, from celebrating Hump Day to end-of-week Zoom happy hours that include employees’ families and pets. A few principals report canceling happy hour to shoo employees outside to enjoy the Spring weather with their families. We all need to be flexible and take mental breaks.
The messages we are seeing about being “in this together” are only part of the story. Experiencing the same crisis is one thing; supporting each other through that crisis could actually help us all literally survive it.
As the classic Bell Telephone ad campaign preached: “Reach out and touch someone.”