How COVID shifted the focus permanently for one AXA XL executive


Authored by AXA XL Country Manager, Canada, Renato Rodrigues

One AXA XL executive thinks the hidden mental impact of COVID could change the way colleagues approach work relationships.

It was early March 2021 when the first symptoms appeared. I was at home in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the coronavirus pandemic is currently claiming 4,000 deaths per day throughout the country.

My symptoms were mild at first but as the week went by they grew increasingly worse. Six days later, I was admitted to the ICU where I learned that more than 50 percent of my lungs had been compromised by the coronavirus.

For the next eight days, I found out just how deeply COVID impacts both the body and the mind. Because I was feverish and my breathing was compromised, I began to experience hallucinations as well as severe panic and anxiety attacks. At one point I was convinced I would have to break out of the hospital in order to survive.

It’s been four weeks since I was discharged, and I am lucky to be almost fully recovered. Looking back, I realize now how much anxiety is present with someone who has a serious bout of COVID. I am going through physical therapy to regain strength but I’m also going through counseling because of the PTSD symptoms caused by COVID. For the first time in my life, I learned first-hand how debilitating mental stress and anxiety can be.

The experience also put into perspective for me what’s really important. As you can expect, while I was isolated in the ICU I was worried about dying alone, not seeing my family again, and how they would go on without me. As I walked out of there having beat the virus, I realized I was no longer as preoccupied about workload and projects and how colleagues would get along with me. I wanted to be a leader who people trust and know will have their backs when things get difficult both professionally but especially, in their own complex, multilayered lives.

Another realization: Other people were going through the same situation. Other people who contracted COVID are experiencing the anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms.

Those symptoms are being triggered every day by news about COVID, and reports of how many people have died, friends or family members lost to the disease. Even people who have not been ill with COVID are experiencing mental challenges and anxiety. The feeling of being trapped, of being locked in the sameness is both mentally and physically exhausting. For colleagues, clients, brokers who had to be hospitalized, that trauma can be even deeper – being around people who are dying or in long-term hospitalization can bring on additional trauma.

It is not just people who are hospitalized who may be experiencing anxiety or depression. For everyone working from home, the lines blur. Home life happens in the same environment as work life. With no separation, exhaustion happens quickly.

The new workplace mindset

That is where companies and colleagues can help. Because we are not living through a normal situation, we can be more understanding. The formalities of work life can be stripped down. It’s okay if the baby cries during your conference call, if the children barge into the meeting, or if the delivery person interrupts. You are doing your best. Even if you are not feeling 100-percent yourself, that’s okay.

For me, my focus has shifted to what I think is a healthier approach to work. It’s a shift that I believe can help all companies and employees move forward and gain more support: Instead of focusing on the metrics and goals, focus more on the team.

As the Country Manager for AXA XL Canada for five months now, I have never seen my team in person. With restrictions on travel still in place, it is unclear when we will be in the same room together. But managing remotely is better when you manage according to purpose.

That was the realization that I had in the hospital – what is the purpose we are trying to achieve? One day, I was solely focusing on the goals and quarterly revenue, and the next day I was focused on whether I would be able to breathe.

With that perspective shift, I began to approach each objective differently, emphasizing on my colleagues’ wellbeing. In just a month, I believe our team is more cohesive. We have a strong sense of purpose, and we support each other. In a way, this pandemic has created a stronger bond among our colleagues. The wellbeing of everyone on the team is foremost and I believe enables us all to meet business and financial goals.

A new perspective

For any company, the mental health of each colleague is as important as their physical wellbeing. A shift in your perspective, and in your approach to how you work with your employees, can create a strong bond among your workforce.

Especially as the pandemic lingers and even peaks in other parts of the world, we need to be aware that our colleagues have more stress. Family situations occur, illness happens, even new babies and weddings can become stressors.

Talk to your colleagues. Focus on how they are feeling as much as how they are doing from a productivity perspective. Create that open line of communication that allows them to talk about their concerns, their issues, and their feelings.

The good of your team means taking steps to ensure they are well and getting the assistance they need. By paying attention to what is going on in their lives, you can help them identify problems and find solutions. Be that safe space for your colleagues. And share your experiences. Sometimes, knowing you are not the only one who has these issues can be comforting.


About AXA XL

AXA XL, the new division of AXA Group, combines XL Group operations, AXA Corporate Solutions and AXA Art, to provide property, casualty and specialty risk insurance and risk management products and services for mid-sized companies through to multinationals, and reinsurance solutions to insurance companies globally. We partner with those who move the world forward.

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