How To Navigate Through Conflicting Demands on Your Values During Times Of Uncertainty

Taking It One Step at a Time Helps as Jonnie Was About To Discover

Photo by Emily Underwood on Unsplash

Jonnie’s job as Concierge came under immediate threat when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. As with organisations across all sectors, the hotel he had worked with for ten years was forced to close its doors. Despite the promised furlough support from the government, the hotel management took the early decision to reduce staff. Their reasoning behind this was that the time needed for the industry to recover would far exceed the length of time of the furlough support. They decided they needed to cut their losses sooner rather than later.

So, along with his colleagues, Jonnie had to re-interview for his job, or rather a variation of it, as only one in three of the team would remain with the organisation. This meant their roles and responsibilities would change significantly. They were already a small team of just fifteen staff, running a busy hotel in the heart of London. This worked because they had streamlined their processes and had built a team that worked well together. Now that was about to be pulled apart, causing a lot of angst for everyone. People were worried about how they would survive if they lost their job. They were also concerned about how they could survive the demands of their new role if they kept their jobs.

Going through the interview process triggered Jonnie’s anxiety disorder. A condition he had lived with for many years. Through medication and therapy, he had learnt to manage it, but now the signs, which he recognised as early symptoms, were beginning to show. He was feeling nervous and had a sense of impending doom.

Jonnie didn’t know what to do for the best. He talked it through with his partner, Flora, who was due to return to work from maternity leave, just as the pandemic hit. She had been immediately furloughed for six months when her organisation closed its doors.

Flora also worked in the hospitality industry. She was the supervisor at a long-established Youth Hostel in the City of London. Flora felt her job was safe and that security, she believed, would support her and Jonnie and their four children through whatever was to come.

Knowing the severity of Jonnie’s anxiety in the past and understanding the demands of their industry, Flora was concerned if Jonnie were to remain in work at the hotel, the impact this would have on his mental health and wellbeing.

So was Jonnie. Maintaining good mental health and wellbeing was one of his values, which was about to come under threat. But he was experiencing conflict because providing for his family was another of his values.

Jonnie decided to go through the interview process. He reasoned that he needed to give it a fair shot. It might turn out that he wouldn’t keep his job, at which point his next steps would be clearer, in that he would need to apply for a new job. He was uncertain how easy it would be to secure a new position because of the immediate and longer-term impact of the pandemic on his industry. He felt his only option was to take a step-by-step approach through these times of uncertainty and focus on managing his anxiety the best he could, in line with whatever happened.

He was also questioning if he was overthinking or thinking the worst about what would happen if he did keep his job. His heart, mind and gut instinct were telling him that there was no way a team reduced from fifteen to five could manage the running of the hotel. But he felt he was basing this concern on his experience and knowledge of his industry in general and his hotel in particular on what had been, rather than what was to come. They were, after all, figuring out what everyone had coined ‘the new normal’ whatever that was to be. Maybe it would be manageable in the short term until things got back to how they used to be.

The interview process became a long, drawn-out affair. Throughout which communication between management and the team was extremely bad. Weekly team zoom meetings, which were supposed to keep everyone in the loop about what was going on, were cancelled time and time again. When they did go ahead, promised updates following on from meetings was never forthcoming.

Two months went by before Jonnie had his first interview, he was required to have a second interview, but as much as he tried to set a date for this, he couldn’t get an agreement. There was always a problem with the availability of the interviewers, or some other thinly veiled excuse, which was causing concern, not only for Jonnie but also for the rest of his team. They were experiencing the same delays. A rumour was going around that the hotel was about to fold, and they would all lose their jobs. The whole team were in a state of limbo. They couldn’t apply for new jobs because there simply weren’t any advertised. They were receiving furlough payments for their current position. That was the only lifeline they had, but the situation brought immense uncertainty about their livelihoods.

Another month went by before they were told the hotel was facing closure unless they could find an investor. Jonnie had no idea what this meant to his furlough status — neither did anyone else — management included. It was such unprecedented times. There was no process or procedure for this. This resulted in more cancelled team zoom meetings and no updates about what was happening.

Then, a few weeks later, an emergency team zoom meeting was called, at which everyone was informed that the hotel was being taken over by a larger hotel chain. A hotel chain that Jonnie was all too familiar with. It was the hotel chain he had worked with at the beginning of his WorkLife. It was a hotel chain with a bad reputation for how it treated or rather mistreated its employees. It was while working at this hotel chain that Jonnie’s mental health and wellbeing had suffered. It was then that Jonnie’s anxiety disorder had begun.

Jonnie’s anxiety was once again triggered, this time more severely. He saw his doctor, who immediately increased his medication. He couldn’t see his therapist because of Covid restrictions, but he could arrange a zoom meeting, which, although it wasn’t ideal, was still helpful to Jonnie in managing his anxiety.

Jonnie had now been at home for close to four months, the time he was spending with Flora, and their children helped his sense of wellbeing, in that as much as he was anxious, he was also able to relax a little. His family kept him going, and he also kept himself busy doing jobs around the house and garden that he hadn’t time to do when he was working.

He and Flora discussed how even if he were to leave his job and lose his furlough support, she would still have her furlough payments, and he would be entitled to support from the government, and that this was enough to allow them to survive until he found another job.

But this didn’t rest comfortably with Jonnie because it went against his value of providing for his family, and he also didn’t want to live off the state. He found himself conflicted once again about whether he needed to honour his value of maintaining good mental health and wellbeing or his value of providing for his family. With the current status of how things were, Jonnie didn’t feel he could honour both.

External circumstances were about to force his decision about what to do. Flora’s organisation, unlike Jonnie’s, had maintained excellent channels of communication throughout the four months since people had been furloughed. Everyone had been kept informed at every step along the way in line with government decisions and support of their industry and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

When the hostel had initially closed its doors to guests, it had opened them to homeless people. This had originally been from March to September, at which point the management felt the hostel would be returning to its original purpose of serving visitors to the city. The hostel was a Charitable organisation governed by the local community and church. Now that they had more awareness of the impact of the pandemic, which was going to continue for much longer, than they had initially thought, the management decided to continue to provide beds for homeless people, extending the arrangement for a further six months. The organisation knew they couldn’t continue to furlough staff for this long, so everyone was given their notice. The process was actioned efficiently and effectively. Within a few weeks, Flora had received her redundancy settlement and had signed up for out of work support from the government.

The financial support she would receive from the government was much less than the furlough payments. She had been with the organisation for just two years, which meant her redundancy settlement was small. This impacted their financial situation significantly. It simply wasn’t enough for them to survive in the medium to long term.

Jonnie was forced to reconsider his options once again. And once again, he reasoned that he needed to give it a fair shot — maybe if he were to keep his job, it wouldn’t be as bad as when he had worked there before, after all that was over ten years ago.

And so, he went through the interview process. Then after a further long delay of several weeks, he was offered a position. But it wasn’t a Concierge position. It was the role of ‘Supervising Manager’. Jonnie didn’t know what that meant, but when he asked for a job description, it wasn’t forthcoming. Against his and Flora’s better judgement, Jonnie accepted the role. His reasoning was any job was better than no job, especially in the current climate.

He quickly learnt how wrong his reasoning was. From day one, it was the job from hell. He was expected to do everything, from managing budgets and financial records to the few and far between booking enquiries, and many complaints, to cleaning and maintenance work, promotion and marketing, and anything else which happened to be needed at any given time. Much of this work was new to him, and he was expected to do it without any support or training.

There was no one he could turn to for support, he didn’t have a manager, and there was no longer an HR team. He went online to see if he could find some guidance and discovered that if his job had changed significantly, he had one month to decide whether he wanted to remain within it or to ask for a redundancy settlement. Jonnie asked for the redundancy settlement. Once again, that wasn’t immediately forthcoming as the company tried to challenge it. But they didn’t have a leg to stand on. This was a standard requirement, protected by the Employment Rights Act.

So, Jonnie left his job, and within a month, he had received his statutory redundancy settlement for his ten years of service. This, together with the out of work government support Jonnie was entitled to, gave him and Flora a little breathing space.

He immediately began to apply for jobs, not within hotels, because there simply weren’t any advertised, but for concierge work in other related and non-related industries. To his surprise, he was immediately invited along for two interviews.

One was Concierge at a shopping mall — which was actually more of a Security Guard role. Although the retail units remained closed because of the pandemic, there was a requirement to have security in place. In Jonnie’s zoom interview, he asked how the position had come available. The interviewer was open in saying they couldn’t maintain staff because the job was so boring.

The second interview was for a Concierge position at an apartment building complex in an elite part of town. Jonnie first spoke to HR, and that went well. He then spoke to the Managing Partner and that that went well too. He was told that they were interviewing more people and he would have their decision by the end of the week. He actually had it the next day when he received a call offering him the job. He asked for a day to think it through and to discuss it with his partner — it involved night shifts as well as day shifts, and he needed to be sure this would work for the family.

Together he and Flora figured they could make it work, and the next day Jonnie accepted the position. He started a week later, and this time from day one, the job was great. It was less busy than he was used to at the hotel, partly due to the pandemic and the number of owner/occupier guests staying, but mainly because his workload was fair and support and training in getting up to speed with everything that was required was available.

Words of Wisdom

As Jonnie reflected on how he had navigated through conflicting demands on his values during times of uncertainty, he realised he had done it by taking one step at a time. Although he had a vague realisation at the time that he was doing this, he hadn’t a full appreciation of how important this had been. 

He had the further realisation that the tools and techniques he had learnt in managing his anxiety had served him well in managing this situation.

Taking it one step at a time had allowed him not to become overwhelmed.

Talking things through with Flora at every step and when needed, his therapist, too, had really helped.

Appreciating the time with his family, which was everything that was good about his WorkLife, had helped his mental health and wellbeing by keeping him grounded and relaxed. 

So had keeping himself busy with jobs around the house and garden.

Jonnie felt this step by step approach had allowed him to push through mental barriers to give everything a fair shot — from the interviews to the actual job. This was a significant achievement, and he felt good about it.

He also realised that it was OK to listen to his heart, mind and gut instinct too. To trust his feelings, thoughts, and initial reactions. These had served him well throughout his WorkLife in knowing the best decisions to take to honour his values. But his anxiety had caused him to lose confidence in his decision-making abilities. The situation he had just navigated his way through served to help him regain this lost confidence.

He also realised that in the end, he wasn’t forced to choose between honouring his value of maintaining good mental health and wellbeing and his value of providing for his family. He had found a way to honour both, and in these times of great uncertainty, he knew that was a great accomplishment.

Jonnie felt a sense of strength from how he had come through a challenging situation. A sense of strength that instilled an even greater sense of confidence that he could manage his anxiety. Jonnie felt good about that.

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As a WorkLife Learning Practitioner and Writer, I create learning programmes and resources to help people manage, develop and transition their WorkLives in good, challenging and bad times. 

The focus of my work begins by helping people identify a WorkLife path that’s true to their core values, purpose, and motivation. This is followed through by creating meaningful short and long-term WorkLife plans while enabling self-coaching, self-directing, and self-leadership to drive these plans.

My book, Your WorkLife Your Way focuses on helping you live your best WorkLife by managing your learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful questions and the ability to shape and tell your unique story. Click on the title to see a preview of what’s inside the book.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of School Of WorkLife Books & Your WorkLife Your Way: Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of www.schoolofworklife.com My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.

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