Safeguarding the mental health of your team during Coronavirus

For those employees encouraged and enabled to work from home at the start of the isolation period, they have probably settled into the new routine by now.

Safeguarding the mental health of your team during Coronavirus

For those employees encouraged and enabled to work from home at the start of the isolation period, they have probably settled into the new routine by now. They may well be enjoying it. They have probably filled the commute time with spending time with the kids or doing online exercise classes – or they may just like rolling out of bed (a little later) and straight to their desk!

However, even for the most enthusiastic home worker, there are probably going to be strains on their mental wellbeing. Stress, doubt and loneliness are all likely emotions and apply to work-lives just as much as anything else right now.

But what are the issues exactly and how can you, as an employer, look out for the mental health of your team at this time?

Social connections

Gone are the days when everyone went to work and kept their heads down until their working day was done. The social aspect of working in an office is hugely important. Indeed, for some, connection to colleagues can be a more significant part of their job satisfaction than the salary or other rewards. Having a human connection can really improve motivation and confidence.

So, get your team together virtually. Group video calls are a great way to improve the social connection. It will make a difference to your team if they can smile and wave to each other, not to mention checking physically that their colleagues are OK. During these chats, let your team discuss any challenges or achievements work-wise, any concerns they have about the virus itself and be sure to include social conversations, as you would had you all gathered in the kitchen by the kettle. Check their family situation is OK, ask about home-schooling, how busy the supermarkets are, what their favourite new lock-down pastime is…

This could really form the basis of your remote-working culture and will nurture – and perhaps even build upon – the social connection your team feels when they are all in the office together.

Effective communication

You will, of course, also need effective communication with relation to work and your team will really benefit from clarity regarding the line of communication. This is well-established in the office environment but, if you haven’t yet, make sure your team members know who and when to call and how to reach the right person. 

Employees unused to working from home will often phone to ask what might seem like silly questions. It’s perfectly normal but you should have a structure to help avoid it so you can all get done what you need to.

This could manifest itself as structured contact times, putting aside set times to speak to team members and, as above, conference calls for group conversations. These are good ways to restrict the number of telephone calls.

And don’t fall back on emails – in the environment we’re experiencing, that will not do! You still need to nurture the human connection. Plus, written communications can be misconstrued and it’s far easier when speaking in person to understand what your team member is saying and to question and clarify as you go along. If possible, video calling is probably always best.

Tackling stress

In terms of stress, your employees are going to benefit from things like the lack of commute, not worrying about their office attire, etc. but they will still be stressed.  They’re worrying about the virus itself, about their family and friends and, inevitably, about the security of their job.

A recognised way to tackle stress is having regular, straightforward and transparent conversations with team members. Diarise a time and get in touch to talk about what is going on. Tell them openly and honestly how business is going. Make sure your team understands what actions are being taken and what the contingency plans are. Even if the truth is unpleasant it’s still better than being dishonest or sugar-coating things.

Again, bring your group together on Zoom or Skype, as well as speaking to them all individually. Acknowledge the stresses that they might be feeling and encourage everyone to speak openly and honestly about them.

Safe socialising

Whether it’s with colleagues or simply their own friends and family, assisting your team to make social contact safely outside work will help their mental wellbeing too.

You could supply a list of things they can do at different points in their day / week and be reasonable about how they might fit these things into and around their working day. For example, should they Facetime their best friend and “have lunch” with them? Can they have an afternoon coffee break while chatting on the phone to the person they usually sit next to at work?

Also, if they are members of groups in their free time; such as art classes, quizzes or even darts competitions; can you help facilitate virtual alternatives to these, too?

Perhaps you could even set up virtual team exercises and activities such as cooking competitions, crosswords or online scrabble or hook up employees with home gym equipment so they can work out together. 

Extra motivation

Exercise is also a great way to boost motivation, not to mention the mental health benefits that we know come from regular exercise. If you encourage the team to share their exercise routines with one another, you also have another topic of conversation.

Really important for motivation is showing trust and empowering your team to work from home. If they feel they can achieve what they need to and be recognised and praised for it at this time, it will encourage them to keep going, while looking forward to a time when they can go back to working normally. 

Keep your targets short-term. No one really knows the duration of this situation, so you’re much better off planning on a monthly basis. Goals that are achieved in a short period of time are a great way to keep your team engaged and driven and also gives you the perfect opportunity to praise your team regularly, thereby encouraging them further.

And never underestimate the power of thanks. Make sure each and every team member knows you are grateful for what they are doing and achieving at a time of such uncertainty.

Looking forward

It may feel as though there is little to look forward to at the moment, but we will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many of us have a mental list, whether big or small, of what we are looking forward to when the pandemic has passed. Why not give your team something else to add to their lists? It’s another great way to maintain motivation and gives them something else to talk about in those virtual meet-ups.

You could take ideas from your team or you could come up with something you know they will love. For example, you could take them to a sporting event that your team enjoys or, if they are a music- or theatre-loving lot, perhaps a performance or even a way they can do it for themselves. Of course, a wellbeing-themed activity probably can’t do anyone any harm at the end of a pandemic.

Make counselling available

Even with all the measures I have described in place, it would not hurt for you to have counselling available to your employees. You may already have an internal person who is trained for this kind of thing or you can look to engage a professional externally. 

You could offer individual and group wellbeing sessions and address issues that arise, whether that’s anxiety, sleep issues or diet and nutrition, or how to stay focussed.

As a business, you need to be flexible and responsive in order to get through this time and you need your team so your business can survive, just as much as they need the business for their financial and job security, so it is absolutely vital that you put their mental wellbeing at the top of your list right now.

Craig Bulow
Craig Bulow

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