‘How can we look after our peoples’ wellbeing at work?’ is a question I get asked by leaders often these days. With lockdowns imposed at some stage everywhere in the world, organisations navigated the challenges of entire workforces being remote for the first time. Looking after employees’ mental health fast became priority. It doesn’t matter if you have just gone into 2nd lockdown or you are already moving into a hybrid model where remote and onsite working is combined, mental and physical wellbeing of our people stays front and centre for leaders and organisations. Wellbeing at work is a priority that’s here to stay.
I am working with a client in the UK where workers have gone back into a 2nd lockdown and they know it’s going to be a tough winter for their teams. Being physically disconnected, experiencing loneliness, overwhelm, fear of uncertainty and facing burnout, we are witnessing what we call the 2nd pandemic. This client has returned to daily check-ins with ‘wellbeing moment’s’ where employees are encouraged to talk about how they are feeling and why. It enables open conversations that are not easy to have. But we know that talking about our mental health state and acknowledging emotions and feelings helps alleviate those emotions and creates empathy opens up communication channels.
Here are 6 strategies that help to prioritise wellbeing and mental health at work:
Look out for signs. Leading a hybrid workforce requires a different leadership style where we have to supercharge our social intelligence skills and tune into our people. Being physically disconnected makes it much harder to identify the signs that someone is struggling. Common signs to watch out for are a change in mood or behaviour, feeling anxious or overwhelmed, if they have become withdrawn from their work or display a lack motivation or focus. Also, how people interact with each other and react to situations and conflict. As it is much harder to observe through a Zoom screen, we need to create time and space to ask the right questions and find opportunities to identify these signs.
Empathy and support. People say that we are all in the same boat but that’s not true. We are all facing similar a storm, but our vessels look vastly different. We need to understand that everyone’s experiences and personal situation is different and therefore what we are feeling, or fearing is different from what other people experience. When your people talk about how they are feeling, make sure they know it’s ok, whatever it is they are feeling. No comparisons or judging. Ask what support your people need to improve wellbeing and act on those. This could be anything from flexible work hours to equipment or a certain structure for communication.
Open culture. Create a culture where it is ok to talk about mental health. Normalise the conversation because talking about mental health at work can increase trust between co-workers, provide a safe space for those who are struggling in silence, and create a positive and open culture where employees feel like they can bring their full selves to work. Open a two-way dialogue and create a space for them to raise their concerns and to be vulnerable. This will help you to gain a valuable understanding of their unique situation.
Work life balance. Encourage positive work life balance. With people working from home their work and personal life happens in the same space and we have experienced increased levels of stress and workload. Encourage your employees to switch off at a certain time and enjoy family and leisure time. If you are receiving emails from them late at night, raise this with them. Encourage your teams to take their holidays even if there are travel restrictions. Increase flexibility that suits their family life but also works for the organisation. Often you find middle ground, just have the conversation.
Wellbeing programs. The focus on mental health and introduction or boost of wellbeing programs has increased during the pandemic, yet the number of people rating their mental health as positive is still down compared to before the pandemic. This is a sure sign that the focus has stay front and centre for organisations. There are a number of things organisations can do from social (online) events, health moments and check-ins, virtual group exercises, resources on mental health, community comms channels, recognition and reward programs, celebrations etc. Make sure you check in with your head office and communicate to your teams what’s on offer and encourage participation.
Role model. Show your people that you are vulnerable, and you talk about your mental health. A good way to check in with people is to do a ‘stand up’, get everyone to talk about how they are feeling from 1-10, which number and why. Start with yourself. This encourages people to be specific about what’s going on vs. a ‘how are you doing’ which is too vague. Role model work life balance and stay away from sending emails in the middle of the night. Take part in wellbeing and community events. No matter what you do, remember that people are looking to you to find direction and empathy. Have the tough conversation, ask your people how they are feeling and provide support.
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