College of Business > News & Events > DePaul Business Professor-Psychologist Gives Advice for Dealing with Pandemic’s Economic Impact

DePaul Business Professor-Psychologist Gives Advice for Dealing with Pandemic’s Economic Impact

Coronavirus stock market

This past month, the spread of COVID-19 has rattled the U.S. economy and workers across the globe. Businesses are closing, millions of Americans are applying for unemployment benefits and stocks continue to rise and fall sharply.

William “Marty” Martin, a professor of management at the Driehaus College of Business
William “Marty” Martin is a professor of management at the Driehaus College of Business.

How can we navigate these uncertain times? We asked William “Marty” Martin, a professor of management at the Driehaus College of Business and financial therapist who helps investors avoid making emotionally charged decisions about money management and retirement planning.

A licensed clinical psychologist, Martin researches business ethics, healthcare management, disruptive behavior and entrepreneurship. He’s the author of “Taming Disruptive Behavior,” a workplace guide for healthcare managers, and “The Inner World of Money: Taking Control of Financial Decisions and Behavior.” He’s also a certified sleep coach, has managed health clinic human resources and served as a psychologist in the Behavioral Medicine Branch at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

In this Q&A, Martin explains how Americans can prepare for an unpredictable future – both mentally and financially.

How are investors reacting to the COVID-battered market?

I would categorize my clients in two broad categories: those with previous experience with down markets – including those triggered by previous infectious diseases such as H1N1, Ebola and Zika – and those without any previous experience with down markets of any type. As most of you know, we have enjoyed a bull market for nearly 11 years. As such, many of my clients are experiencing a significant market correction and rumors of a recession and depression for the first time in their lives.

As it relates to COVID-19, my clients are experiencing several concurrent challenges: down market and susceptibility to acquiring or spreading a lethal virus, risk of getting very sick and winding up in the hospital, then the intensive care unit and maybe even dying prematurely. My older clients (over the age of 50) are a bit more worried about hospitalization and death than my younger clients and for good reason if you look at the epidemiological evidence to date, which is changing day by day. For some of my small business owners, they’re also concerned about meeting payroll and making tough decisions about cutting back hours and laying off employees, many of whom have become good colleagues and close friends.

All my clients, regardless of their individual situation, are experiencing anxiety due to uncertainty and some loss due to the changes in working, socializing and most of our daily routines and habits which offer most of us a sense of security and comfort.

With businesses shutting down, economists say we’re headed into a recession in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. How can investors and Americans overall prepare?

The threat of a recession is frightening by itself but when you add to it a lethal virus spreading throughout the globe, then the threat is magnified for many. My suggestion is that individuals determine whether they have more of a fixed mindset (“it is what it is”) or a growth mindset (“silver lining in the cloud”). Dr. Carol Dweck of the University of Pennsylvania wrote a book about these two minds: “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” During trying times, a growth mindset is more functional because you grasp the reality that many current business models will no longer work with social distancing, curfews and disrupted supply chains, not to mention a change in consumer behavior and less discretionary income.

In contrast, a fixed mindset longs for the “good old days” or becomes angry or blames others or simply gives up. These behaviors of those with a fixed mindset become increasingly problematic as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and ripples throughout the global economy.

Americans need to prepare by embracing more of a growth mind by re-channeling fear into creativity, transforming inertia into action and experimentation, and embracing the saying, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”

As investors, you cannot time the market. As such, you must be able to put some brakes on feelings of doom and disaster which cause you to get out of the market and the wrong time and get back into the market at the wrong time. Try not to make investment decisions when you’re stressed, depressed, sleep deprived, physically ill or alone.

However, if you are close to retirement (five-year window or so), you want to make sure that a lot of your investment capital is NOT in risky assets because you may need liquid cash when you retire. As a psychologist, there is a technique created by Dr. Donald Meichenbaum called Stress Inoculation Training. This technique suggests that you imagine terrible things that could happen in your life in the future such as another global pandemic, which triggers another market correction and recession, and then imagine yourself coping effectively. Remember, there are two basic types of coping: problem focused and emotion focused. While you’re imagining yourself coping effectively, you should use both types of coping and another coping resource –that is, social support.

What leadership qualities do public health leaders need in crises such as this one?

As a public health practitioner equipped with a degree in clinical psychology and an MPH, I have had the opportunity to see effective and ineffective leadership qualities during times of crisis.

Effective leadership qualities which I define as seeking to comfort, inform, support and motivate, include the following:

  • Honesty/integrity
  • Selflessness
  • Compassion/empathy
  • Realism
  • Evidence-based decision making
  • Deliberate but unafraid to act
  • Humble enough to pivot
  • Recognize personal areas of weakness and seek out complements
  • Build and nurture individuals, groups, organizations and communities.

It is my opinion that all leaders need to reflect on the value of each of these qualities and the degree to which they can touch the lives of individual employees. Leaders should also consider how they can transform their organizations to deal with the challenges and uncertainties of today, as well as future challenges both known and unknown, including Black Swan events.

How are you coping with the situation?

To be honest, I, too, am experiencing some tough days, but I focus on giving to others and engaging in a bit more physical activity and mindfulness meditation.