Panic Toilet Roll Buying: Lessons from neuroscience for companies who are telling their people to work from home

People are panic buying toilet roll. Why? Fear and feelings of loss of control and uncertainty from contradictory information.  Our brains constantly seek patterns, information that fits into our existing view of the world and confirms our perceptions and biases.  Covid-19 doesn’t fit.

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Covid-19 is a relatively novel situation.  The world hasn’t shut down like this before.  Italy, an already economically precarious country has ‘locked-down’ 60m people.  The police are nearly the only people on the streets.  Imagine the fear.  Many people will have reduced or no income during the ‘lock-down’.  Imagine the feelings of loss of control about earning enough to feed your family.  ‘Lock-down' with family members for at least 3 weeks: Many people find a few days over Christmas difficult!  

Novel situations and lack of pattern recognition stimulates our natural fear response. The mixed messages about how serious Covid-19 is creates uncertainty (although spare a thought for your older relatives with pre-existing medical conditions for whom the messages are not mixed!). 

What does this have to do with working from home? If you are considering sending people home, consider how much, and what, you will need to communicate with them while at home to reduce the sense of fear, loss of control and uncertainty.  To reduce panic and irrational behaviour.  To allow them to continue to focus on work.

Panic in Singapore has been less than other countries:  The President gave open and detailed information.  In China, information at the beginning of the outbreak was tightly controlled, the virus was not.  In Iran, a health minister tried to reassure people while clearly looking unwell.  Clear, detailed, consistent and honest information is key.

Anyone at home will need a lot more frequent communication about events, actions and colleagues across your whole organisation. In this case, less is not more.  This will help maintain calm, rational behaviour and interactions (which can so easily escalate into mis-communication even in normal circumstance).  The lack of social contact may also be a problem.  Anyone with pre-existing mental health concerns may be particularly at risk.  Offering online meetings and coaching or counselling may be key for people to be able to maintain their work output while at home. 

For further information on anything you have read here or to get help coaching your peole, please get in touch. 

Louise Pollock

Founder, NED, Neuroconomy, Disruptive Coaching, Double Bubble Coaching

I am a neuro-economist (a combination of a neuroscientist and economist) who has worked in industry, the Treasury, the City and the Charity sector. My experience has taught me it is always the people that make an organisation successful, or not. Since having my own family, I have trained to really understand how the brain works, what causes each individual to think and behave differently and what encourages or holds them back. I love working with people. I have found my own investment in learning helps me to help other people understand how they think and feel and how to think and feel better. I have qualifications in economics, finance, coaching, cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy, mindfulness teaching for children and the Grief Recovery Method. I am currently studying for an MSc in the Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at Kings College London. I am qualified as an Executive, Team and Personal Coach. I love melding my corporate experience with the latest research in the more psychology related subjects. I have previously managed a team responsible for refinancing the Balkans after the wars in that region; another responsible for Government financing of small and medium sized enterprises in the UK. I have written speeches and briefing for debates in both Houses of Parliament, represented the UK in various international fora and within international financial institutions, such as the IMF, World Bank and G7. I have been the Head of Operations in a Private Equity firm and a non-executive director in one of the largest nursing agencies in the UK. I have run my own business working as a independent strategy consultant, including working with the Board and senior executive team of a £5bn pension fund to assist them in the development of the strategy that led to the creation of one larger £10bn fund. I have a deep understanding of the requirements of corporate and C-Suite clients and the pressures and challenges they and their organisations face. From the very early stages of my career, I have specialised in providing support for the person with the most isolated role at the top of an organisation. I have been a 'Pilotlighter' in the Charity sector, providing support to Charity Boards. My current working roles: I am currently a NED in Multi-Academy Trust with 16 schools, serving approximately 4,500 children in Surrey and Hampshire. I am the founder of Neuroconomy which is a consultancy which brings together the lastest thinking in economics, business psychology and neuroscience to help people improve thinking and decision making. I am the founder of Disruptive Coaching which merges corporate experience with the latest coaching techniques to create truly unique and bespoke coaching programs for corporate individuals and teams. I am the founder of Double Bubble Coaching which creates coaching products that allow children to communicate more easily with the adults in their lives. These products sell to parents, schools and therapists. Without question, my toughest role of all is that of mother to three children!