The Value of Mindset: Supporting Your Team During Difficult Times
Aside from the obvious negative physical health implications of COVID-19, one of the other major negative effects is its impact on mental health and wellbeing.
A recent research paper that was published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal was from an international group of psychiatrists who argued that the pandemic is having a ‘profound effect on peoples’ mental health.’
They noted that many of the consequences of coronavirus – bereavement, unemployment, increased social isolation and loneliness – are key risk factors for mental health.
Worryingly, the paper also predicted that there would be an increase in the number of people suffering with anxiety, depression, and engaging in harmful behaviours due to COVID-19.
This demonstrates why companies across the UK have been doing their best to support their employees’ mental health, alongside taking practical steps to help reduce the spread of the virus.
The platform we have created recently – The Value of Mindset – is a place where our candidates and clients can share their experiences from the past few difficult months and learn from others. Recently, we asked this community what they had been doing to support their teams and the results show just how caring the majority of UK employers are.
Supporting others during difficult times
The instruction that anyone in the UK who could work at home must work at home was given by the government on 16th March. This means that many people have worked from home for a significant proportion of 2020 which creates a challenging landscape when it comes to mental health.
Leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, Willis Towers Watson conducted a COVID-19 Pulse Survey of 100,000 employees across the UK and found that a large majority of employees are experiencing some level of general anxiety (92%), distractions from work (70%), and/or financial worries (61%).
Employers and managers do have a general statutory duty to ensure the health and safety of their workers (including their physical and mental health) but many companies are committed to going beyond their legal obligations.
So, what are the four main ways that our clients have utilised to support their employees and teams during lockdown?
1. Staying in contact
The coronavirus outbreak is dramatically changing our lives and our relationships as it has certainly done its best to keep people apart.
Social distancing, although vital in controlling the spread of a virus, is not without its own risks. Humans are social animals and we are hardwired to crave connections. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and can have a significant effect on our mental health.
This is why staying connected has been an essential part of the support network created round employees and teams in recent months. Hearing a friendly, familiar voice, or reading a message from someone reminds people they are part of a team and can be a lifeline for those who are struggling.
Unsurprisingly, ‘staying in contact’ was the main strategy that was cited by our clients:
Stuart Beeley Headteacher at Wellington School in Trafford – “It’s tough as we’re a profession that depends and thrives on social interaction. To help staff, we have implemented virtual team meetings for the first time; we are making sure we also maintain regular contact with our varied range of stakeholders (students, parents, governors, partners, and the wider community). I’m also a firm believer that a really genuine ‘how are you?’ never goes amiss.”
Stephen Clarke MD & Owner of Trade Together – “The key change for us has been a greater commitment to make sure we have regular team calls to kick start the day to give focus, support and hopefully a bit more fun. We’ve also been seeing our customers and suppliers as an extension to this.”
Andy Hall, Aftermarket Director from Groupe PSA – “My team is spread across the UK but a greater focus on regular internal communications has become an essential element. Daily digital update meetings with the team and making more of an effort to talk to my colleagues individually has been paramount.”
2. Encouraging authentic connections
With everyone working remotely and, until recently, no hope of genuine social engagements there has been less opportunity for casual chats round the office or organic discussions that arise outside of meeting rooms.
Hosting informal virtual meetups has been a tool employed by many teams up and down the country. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England states that ‘arranging more informal sessions such as a remote team coffee every morning can help teams stay connected and reduce feelings of isolation.’ Indeed, MHFA England introduced collaborative music playlists, virtual yoga sessions and a company radio station to maintain a culture of support and collaboration. They also launched a ‘My Whole Self’ campaign to give other employees ideas on how to stay connected.
But what about our clients? How have they stayed connected to their teams?
Huw Jenkins, UK Divisional COO, Leidos – “Making sure we inject some fun into our daily virtual team meetings has been important and we have WhatsApp Groups for team challenges, quizzes etc. Taking more of an interest in the person and not just the job has been key.”
Karen Adegoke, Corporate Director, Bollington Insurance Brokers Limited – “Every Friday at 4.30 me and my management team have ‘drinks’ and occasionally do a quiz or something similar. I encourage the managers to do the same with their teams. Our intranet is full of advice on working from home and looking after yourself from a mental health and physical health perspective and we have a confidential employee helpline that people can call if they need help with any number of things.”
3. Exercising flexibility
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England’s director of people, Sarah McIntosh’s number one advice for employers wanted to support their teams during coronavirus is to ‘Be flexible and compassionate.’
Working around children who would usually be at school or supporting elderly relatives who require assistance have naturally added to the stresses and strains of everyday life. Employers who have encouraged flexible working hours and paid extra attention to helping people balance their ‘work’ and ‘home’ lives will have significantly helped their employees’ state of mind.
Darren Goodson, Principal Enterprise Architect, AstraZeneca – “Our company has been really proactive and supportive, and has been accepting of meeting disturbances, whether it’s pets or children for example, even on some occasions inviting them in to calls for introductions. We’ve also been more flexible on the working day, letting people work different hours etc.”
4. Being transparent
As we have already mentioned, communication has been key in recent months. The communication about specific coronavirus-related issues or updates has needed to be particularly clear, honest and transparent. This helps employees and team members to feel secure in the company’s position and can significant help to alleviate any undue worries or anxieties that may be building up.
What did our clients say about transparent communication?
Raman Sankaran, CEO, VDS – “It has all been about support and communication. At the beginning of the lockdown I was ensuring daily communications to the whole business, so they knew we had a plan and kept everyone updated. We have also been very transparent on the principles and factors we have taken into account for short term decisions such as furlough.”
Neil Ejje, Founding Partner, Leathwaite – “I would say the best thing we have done has been our clear, transparent and frequent communications. For us this means a daily team call updating on any good news that we may have and to try and bring some humour to the situation. We have even offered mental health support and given people the chance to talk more. We’ve also been completely honest at all times throughout this period – even if this has involved bad news such as furlough or redundancies.