It’s been a strange year. Although we’ve all heard the phrase ‘The New Normal’ too often, there’s no doubt that a fundamental shift has taken place in our working patterns. In a recent interview, Catherine Loveday, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, considers the objective realities which underlie our subjective experience of lockdown-related slump.

As Loveday points out, formal studies in this area are presently thin on the ground. But she describes all-too-familiar experiences of ‘poor cognitive function’; considers their effects on our attention, perceptions of time and organisational abilities; and speculates on their origins.

She theorises that ‘brain fog’ might arise either from the samey-ness of lockdown and its failure to provide the new experiences which stimulate the formation of memory, or from what she terms “degraded social interaction”, in particular those endless online meetings in which we encounter our colleagues as so many disembodied consciousnesses.

However she – and we – may account for its inception, the fallout from this problem is very real:

  • A new study from the Stress Management Society finds that 65% of UK residents have felt more stressed since the first lockdowns
  • An Ipsos Mori survey found that 60% of people in the UK reported finding it harder to stay positive since the pandemic began

As personnel or HR professionals, it’s our job to manage such fallout. Some of the ways we can help are long-established. Among the important practices for us to keep up, we can:

  • Initiate conversations about mental health issues and promote a working culture which encourages staff to talk through personal issues
  • Maintain a regime in which HR team members ‘check in’ regularly with all staff
  • Conduct ‘back to work’ interviews with absentees, giving them a chance to discuss their reasons for absence
  • Promote and develop the ‘soft skills’ needed to recognise and manage stress, anxiety, and depression

But we should also look for new ways to assist. For instance, we might:

  • Prompt homeworkers to take regular breaks, in particular not eating lunch at their desks
  • Run ‘virtual coffee mornings’ or end-of-week drinks to encourage staff to relax and maintain social engagement

COVID-19 has taken all of us by surprise, and HR professionals are still working out the practicalities of homeworker management. But it’s increasingly apparent that remote working has made it harder to recognise the recurring sick leaves and absences that flag a serious mental health issue. In such cases, LeavePlanner’s software can be a powerful resource, enabling HR managers to spot those patterns of absenteeism which may indicate when a colleague is in difficulties. Contact us to learn more.

For any queries, call Steve on 01252 636 070 or email