Goodbye 2020: Looking back on a tough year

Feel like 2020 has been the longest year on record? If so, you’re not alone. The past 12 months have come with challenges no one could have predicted and many people found their working lives were upended or altered entirely.

But, as we approach the end of a disruptive year, it’s worth reflecting on the impact – and the lessons – to take into 2021.

What were your biggest challenges, and did you find any silver linings?

Here’s a look at how other Kiwis felt about 2020, plus advice and perspectives that could help heading into the new year.

Looking back on a tough year

For many Kiwis, 2020 has been a difficult year. Research conducted on behalf of SEEK shows that 19% of Kiwis say nothing good that has happened to them in 2020.

SEEK’s Resident Psychologist, Sabina Read, says it’s no surprise that the wide-scale disruption and uncertainty of 2020 has impacted people’s mental health.

“The loss, the grief, the shock, and the fear that people experienced could absolutely lead to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless,” she says.

“I don't like to sugar coat, but I think there has been an opportunity to reflect on what has worked,” she says. “What did we learn? What will we do differently? How did we help others? How would I like to reflect on this period in order to change direction?

“If we dig deep and reflect on those kinds of questions, I believe we could all come up with some answers that don't equate with hopelessness but rather possibility and growth.”

If you feel like you’ve learned something about the way you work best and want to make change in 2021, it’s worth considering how to tell your boss you want to work differently now. Perhaps that means asking for more flexibility.

The new year could also be a good time to think about your values to help you find the work that suits you best.

Home truths about remote working

Remote work had its downsides: almost half of Kiwis working from home say their toughest challenge has been adapting to the different environment, while 35% say being physically isolated from colleagues was the biggest obstacle.

“For some people working from home, there was a perception that the quality of their relationships had decreased because they need those regular touch points to feel like they belong,” says Read.

For those not working from home, 22% say their biggest challenge was having less work, while the fear of losing their job was the top concern for 20%.

If you’re still working from home, there are things you can do to handle feeling lonely or isolated, including seeking out or setting up opportunities to connect, and drawing on your past experiences. Looking at ways to bring the social side work to life online can also help.

Looking at the silver linings

Despite the challenges, there were some positive experiences in 2020. This includes 2 in 3 Kiwis saying they gained a new perspective on life and 2 in 5 picking up new skills they wouldn’t have learned if it wasn’t for COVID-19.

In another positive sign, 69% say their company supported them the best they could this year.

Kerry Butler, KPMG Head of People, Performance and Culture, says their employees faced challenges similar to most workers across the country.

“How to work and communicate virtually, how to balance work with looking after and home-schooling children, discovering and then managing the phenomenon of being ‘always on’ because work was suddenly in the home at the kitchen table,” she says. “Similar to most businesses, we needed to help our people find ways of working at home and managing the stress and uncertainty of what was happening.

“Despite this, in the main, our people were highly engaged with how to make the situation work and how to get the best from – and for – each other, and for our clients. It felt like we were the team of 1200 within New Zealand’s team of 5 million.”

Butler says KPMG stepped up its communications throughout the year and provided flexible work options as well as health and wellbeing support.

While all employees managed the challenges differently, Butler says many people were positive about working from home.

“They were able to be at least as productive from home, and often more productive,” she says. “More people have the opportunity to properly explore what flexible working means for them than ever before. There is no intention to just get back to the old way of doing things.”

The year has taken a toll on the working lives on many Kiwis, but Read says opportunities may emerge from the challenges.

“Humans are very capable of finding new ways of thinking,” she says. “This requires challenging the status quo, questioning our fixed beliefs and coming up with new ways of doing things.

“By doing this, you can reflect and grow and adapt in your personal and professional life.”

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published December 2020.