Hints & Tips Blog

The importance of wellbeing in the ‘new normal’

We’ve already highlighted the importance of clear & regular communication, visible leadership and providing the opportunity for team members to support each other in previous blogs. If you missed them they can be found under the hints and tips section at https://bhp-consulting.co.uk/

Today we’re suggested a few other ways we can support people, whether you’re a leader, manager or team member, given in the ‘new normal’, wellbeing is everybody’s business.

Once the stresses of transitioning to homeworking & getting the IT connected have been sorted, the first few days, perhaps similar to when we’re snowed in, can seem quite novel and fun. However, given the broader current context and the anxiety this brings, plus the uncertainties of how long homeworking will be necessary, that initial stage could well be short lived.

The positive initial impact of not having to battle through the daily commute, being home at a reasonable time and seeing more of your family can soon fade as reality sets in. Being unable to get work done or communicate as easily, having to come up with alternative solutions, starting to feel isolated from your team and what’s going on, and struggling to separate your work and home life can all become exhausting. And people will all have different pressures and concerns. Those with elderly relatives they can’t visit, people home schooling children and those living alone who are struggling with isolation, will all have different experiences and potential anxieties.

How well we support the mental and emotional wellbeing of our teams, and each other, during this period will therefore be critical. According to the mental health charity Mind, 1 in 6 workers experience common mental health problems such a stress, anxiety or depression. And this was before the changes to our lives and work necessitated in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, with more and more employees being ‘furloughed’ it will be crucial not to forget those who are not working at all, and ensure they still feel valued, part of the team, and that they are being kept up to date on any developments.

Spotting the signs if a colleague is starting to struggle or experience declining mental health may well be more difficult when you aren’t actually seeing them every day. Plus the way people communicate and interact will be different when working from home compared to physically working at your company’s location, so any changes in behaviour might be more difficult to identify.

That said, once homeworking has been in place for a few weeks, you will have something of a benchmark to work with. Companies with employees in China have reported that week 3 of working remotely during lockdown appeared to be the most difficult time for people not used to working from home. So once people have got into the rhythm of working from home, but you notice some differences after a period of time, that might be a good opportunity to look out for any signs that all is not well.

These could include, but are not limited to;

  • Changes in behaviour on video or conference calls, being less prepared to contribute or engage, being quieter, or being more agitated than usual.
  • Changes in their work patterns since they have been working from home, either being more difficult to get hold of, or increasing the level and type of communication and support they ask for.
  • Changes in the quality of their work since they have been working from home, or changes in how able they are to focus on and complete tasks.
  • Struggling more than they did working from home initially, in terms of making decisions, getting organised and finding solutions to problems.
  • Appearing to be tired or anxious, or losing interest in engaging with their manager and colleagues.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and if people are showing signs of any of the above, it doesn’t necessarily point to them experiencing mental health problems. Especially in the current environment, in which most of us might be feeling more anxious and perhaps less resilient than usual. However, if you pick up noticeable differences in behaviour since they have been working from home, that might be a sign they need a little more support. So what can you do?

The first thing to understand is that you don’t need to be an expert on mental health. Often small, everyday day actions can make the biggest difference. So here’s a few tips on ways you can help;

  • Simply asking at the start of a call “How are you?” and then waiting. Not jumping in, not offering solutions immediately, just listening. If they are hesitant at first, you could ask other open questions to try and get them to open up, for example; “Is there anything you’re particularly worried about?”, “How are you coping with home schooling”, or “How are you finding working from home?”. The first step is to assure them they are not on their own and you are willing to listen and will understand.
  • People may want to talk about what they’re experiencing, or they may not. But just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important. As is making the time to talk on the phone or via a video link or app.
  • It’s also important to ask how you can help. People will want support at different times and in different ways. So ask what they would find most useful. It can also be helpful to ask more specific questions, not just generally how you can help, given some may not want to feel they need to ask for help. So for example, asking if they would like more regular contact with their manager, or if they feel they need to hand back a specific task, or be part of a specific group chat with colleagues, might work well.
  • Leaders and managers being open about their own situation and anxieties can also help, whether that’s worrying about elderly parents, or vulnerable friends and family, or home schooling pressures. This encourages others to also be open and honest about what’s worrying them. And it can help create a sense of solidarity, acceptance and not being alone in their concerns.
  • Don’t judge. Off the cuff comments like ‘cheer up’, ‘get a grip’, ‘we’re all in the same boat’ definitely won’t help. If people are struggling it can impact on their self-esteem, so showing trust and respect will help them build their confidence. Don’t assume because they are feeling this way they can’t do their job effectively, or complete the tasks they were doing before. So give them the space and support to enable them deliver, as achieving goals and accomplishing tasks can be a great way to build confidence and give them a lift.
  • Be patient. While you may be keen to understand and be able to help as soon as possible, it’s important to let them set the pace for seeking support themselves. But remember, it’s never too soon to ask them how they are.

There are also useful resources available. If you are a small or medium size business with under 250 employees the mental health charity Mind offers free e-learning on ‘Mental Heath for small workplaces’ with 3 modules covering; 1) Building awareness 2) Looking after yourself 3) Supporting each other. You can access and register to do this free online training here; https://bit.ly/2UtYXvN

Another mental health charity, The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, has also adapted its suggested ‘workplace wellbeing action plan’ so that it can be used for working from home. Suggesting your employees complete one of these could be useful in terms of helping them look after their own mental health and wellbeing, as well as enabling you to understand how they feel and what they need from you. The action plan template can be found here; https://www.cwmt.org.uk/working-from-home

Below are also a few other ideas being used by some companies who have found them helpful in supporting wellbeing, productivity and team cohesion;

More regular touchpoints – regular, even daily, team video or conference calls that not only keep everyone on the same page, clear about what they should be doing, but also provide a sense of community.

Regular 1 to 1’s – line manager’s scheduling in regular but informal 1 to 1 check ins with team members that help assess how well they are coping, if there is any additional support they need and also provide some potentially much needed social support. As we described in the last article, making time in these calls to do the social ‘small talk’ in addition to discussing business issues is also important.

Weekly ‘virtual hangouts’ – virtual pub quizzes, sharing ideas across the team about how people are keeping themselves upbeat, how they’re structure their days, learning something new, or fun activities they’re doing with their kids, are all being used by organisations to keep a sense of team. These are often not focused on work related topics, but on social engagement, wellbeing and a much needed sense of fun.

Paired buddies – some companies are finding that linking team members to provide the opportunity for 1 to 1 support or communication between colleagues can help to alleviate the feeling they are ‘alone’. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will be members of the same team, but it will help if they know and trust each other. Having someone ‘allocated’ who you know you can chat to informally about both work and non-work issues, outside of your line manager, can help you feel more able to download when you need to, and equally offer support to another when required.

Switching off working from your home environment when you’re not used to this might lead some of us to struggle to separate work from home life. Without the journey to and from work to allow us to get ready for or decompress after work, it can mean we are less able to switch off and effectively disengage. With the lines more blurred about when we are and aren’t working, it’s helpful to encourage employees to think about how they will structure the hours they work, build in breaks and not fall prey to checking emails out of hours. You can provide advice and guidance on how to do this, but remember each person will have different pressures and responsibilities at home, so providing flexibility and allowing them to take the lead on how this will work for them is likely to be most effective.

Finally, it’s critical that furloughed workers are not forgotten. This might be even more essential if only part of your workforce is furloughed. It’s important to communicate that those furloughed are in no way less valued or important than those who aren’t. That it’s the availability and type of work and how it can realistically be done, plus the individual situation of the company that has driven the decision.

Whether just some, or most of, your employees are furloughed, it’s important to keep them informed and updated about how the company is coping, any new steps that need to be taken and when and how those furloughed will return to work. Regular formal updates, even if there is little to say, will help people keep a sense of connection with their employer and keep anxieties at bay. As we’ve mentioned before in these articles, if information is absent people will fill the void, often drawing incorrect conclusions and sharing scare stories.

While people cannot of course work while furloughed, it does not preclude them from being involved in the other ways with their teams. So if you’ve set up group chats to create a social community for people working from home, make sure furloughed employees are included on those focusing on social support and wellbeing. The same applies to any other additional channels you have set up such as virtual hangouts or other informal communications.

Supporting wellbeing and mental health in your teams is of course the right thing to do, especially in these unprecedented times. But going the extra mile now will also give you the best possible chance of having a motivated, positive and committed workforce that is raring to go and in a good place when we get through to the other side. If you want your employees to look after your business now and in the future, now is the time more than ever before to look after them.

You can find other articles and ideas in the hints and tips section of our website, or you can sign up to receive these direct into your inbox here.