Staying strong through COVID-19 and beyond

30 Aug 2021

Over 100 GBCA members, partners and staff recently attended a live webinar presented by Jono Nicholas, Managing Director of the Wellbeing Outfit and Chief Mental Health Advisor to EY Oceania. Described by attendees as “refreshing and insightful with a healthy dose of pragmatism”, the session was designed to help leaders and their teams stay strong during COVID-19 and beyond.

Established in late 2018, the Wellbeing Outfit provides specialist training, workshops and advisory to help organisations drive performance by improving the safety and wellbeing of their people. Core to the Wellbeing Outfit’s approach is the belief that wellbeing is the pathway to high performance.

Through his work with businesses large and small, Jono sees first-hand the impact of wellbeing on performance, and applauds those organisations who align their wellbeing strategies with their business strategies. Jono says, “People’s wellbeing should not be the cost of doing business.” 

Jono Nicholas, Managing Director of the Wellbeing Outfit and Chief Mental Health Advisor to EY Oceania.

Mapping the psychological journey of COVID-19

The COVID-19 journey started at the end of a “normal” 2019 when our everyday lives felt relatively predictable. It was a time when we felt safe and – for the most part – in control of our daily lives. As 2020 got underway, we entered an unprecedented period of chaos and, as Jono says, “the illusion of control we once had was stripped away.”

COVID-19 restrictions required us to work and, in many households, school our children, from home. Phrases like “social distancing” and “Zoom fatigue” entered our language, face masks were worn, and travel plans were cancelled. With an escalation in case numbers of the Delta variant in recent months, and a further tightening of restrictions with no clear timeframe for when life will return to “normal”, many people are experiencing a decline in their mental health and wellbeing.

Jono says, “Right now, in Sydney and Melbourne in particular, people are hitting a wall. We’re struggling to manage the day-to-day. Our energy is dropping, and we have lost a sense of agency over our lives. We’re asking, ’What does it matter if I don’t get dressed today?’ or, ‘Why plan a holiday if it’s likely to be cancelled on me?’”.

Emerging from crisis

While the darkness of the present time feels heavy, Jono believes we are entering a renewal phase. “We know the pathway out of COVID-19 because we’ve seen other countries do it. It’s about high vaccination rates, coming together as a community, supporting the vulnerable, rebooting industries and learning to live with it, which we’re hearing more and more about,” says Jono.

Jono explained that renewal manifests with individuals striving to make shifts in areas they can control. “We see this in the churn of the employment market, the purchasing of new homes and cars, and a general desire for change,” he shares.

Jono added that it’s important for organisations to harness that positive energy, and to even prepare for a potential outflow of talent once borders open. “This means we need to attract the right people to our workplace, and then do all that we can to make sure they feel valued.”

If renewal is underway, why are so many of us so unhappy?

Jono said that as we emerge from the pandemic and become closer to regaining control, the angrier people become about not yet having that control.

He also predicted that as we get closer to 50-60% vaccination rates, divisiveness and frustration will also reach new heights.

“Leaders need to be alert to this possibility at both an organisational and community level and prepare themselves to be able to respond to it. We’ve seen in other parts of the world that reaching 80% vaccination is very difficult, so it’s about asking what we can do as an organisation to support that remaining 30-40% who may be hesitant, and to do this in a way that’s non-punitive.” 

Moving towards the horizon

How can leaders best support their team through the renewal phase? Jono’s advice to leaders is to offer hope with a post-COVID vision, to provide a picture of where they want their organisation to be beyond the crisis, and to invite their teams to help them codesign what this picture looks like.

“Right now, we’re all obsessed with COVID case numbers, vaccination rates, and daily government updates, but leaders can help their people imagine a post-COVID world by stretching their eyelines beyond this day, week or month to where they want their organisation to be in the future,” says Jono.

In closing, Jono explained that while leaders cannot provide all the answers or remove the many challenges of living through a pandemic, “they can help people build capabilities to get us to that light on the hill, so we can better navigate the path there and prepare for the future.”

If you missed this webinar GBCA is releasing it free to members and non-members, you can watch it here.

Are you a leader looking for ways to boost the wellbeing and safety of your team during the pandemic and beyond? Learn more about the Wellbeing Outfit.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or its COVID-19 support service 1800 513 348
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • ReachOut at