Communication essentials: the freeze

When I say ‘the freeze,’ many of us here in Ohio think about how we spent Mother’s Day. Because it was freezing. Literally—rain, snow and sleet. On May 9. Mom deserved better.

However, there is a much more important definition of ‘the freeze’ we should be concerned about: that stuck feeling you get after a trauma. The trauma being COVID-19 and the stuck feeling being how people look at returning to work and ‘normalcy.’

This week I’m going to theme the communication essential blog a bit. The theme? Some steps you may be overlooking as you help workers return to work—return to normalcy. On Thursday, I’ll explore the topic of vaccine policies, as in should you have one. But today I want to look at something a little harder to prepare for—how it’s the brain that really decides when we return to normal.

As usual, I will be referencing an article that I think is an essential read. Today’s is from Business Insider (this one is free to everyone), titled:

Still scared to return to normal life? Maybe you have ‘the freeze’ like me.

In it, the author shares real-world data supporting the freeze reaction. The easiest example is looking at when a zebra is attacked by a lion. The zebra has three choices: attack (fight), run (flight), play dead (freeze). In the event of playing dead works, the lion leaves and the zebra pops back up, right? Nope. Science has proven that the autonomic nervous system determines when it’s safe to pop back up.

The author draws the parallel to where we are now. Even vaccinated, she is anxious about resuming day-to-day activities. The reason? The freeze. Or more scientifically put, COVID anxiety syndrome.

You can read more on that in the article. But the real reason you should read? Because as organizational leaders we need to be aware that this feeling is very real. And very much in need of being addressed as you prepare, modify and evolve your work policy.

In a way, 2020 has been the year of empathy. For many reasons. Every day we are learning new reasons why this is so important. I often say that leadership is about everyone but you … and that rings so true with this. To prepare your workplace and workforce for a return to normal, it’s important to understand that everyone’s definition of normal is different—and we are all in very different places in our pursuit or return to it.