The World Health Organization has warned that the Covid-19 outbreak is globally generating stress. Mental health charities are reporting an increase in calls. Above all, now is the time to focus on good social practice which helps employees learn about themselves, how emotions work and how to manage these emotions to their protect wellbeing.
To understand how to support the emotional wellbeing of others it is useful to examine what humans need to be well. These are often described as emotional needs.
Emotional needs include:
• feeling connected to others
• the opportunity to give and receive attention
• feeling secure
• having a sense of control
• being stretched in what we do
Good practice for those working remotely should aim to ensure employees meet these needs in balance.
Right now, many employees are unable to physically connect with others. A creative approach is needed to then ensure emotional needs are met in a healthy way. If not, the danger is that unhelpful coping mechanisms such as drug and alcohol use, over eating, sleeping too much or too little, procrastination, and/or aggression could be used as an attempt to meet those needs. This could result in more serious mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression taking hold.
Here are some ideas employers can consider to help their workforce meet these emotional needs. The list is not exhaustive. Please share any others that you have used to help build a better awareness of approaches that can help.
1. The need to feel connected to others
Ensure the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees working from home is in place, and consider how this can play a role in making sure people feel valued, known and part of a work community and/or their own broader community.
E-mail, social media, video conferencing and telephone should be utilised with the purpose of building and maintaining a sense of connection. Make use of internal social networks too. For example, if using Slack, set up a separate channel to support the wellbeing of those working remotely.
Use communications to remind staff of the organisation’s mission, vision and aims and how each and every one of them has a role to play in achieving these to give them a sense that what they are doing each day matters. This situation will pass. Reminding them of the bigger picture will help broaden their attention and increase levels of engagement and motivation.
Encourage voluntary work with local groups and community organisations. Perhaps signing up to deliver food and other essentials to more vulnerable members of the community. Consider giving them allocated time during the week to do this. If you have an organisation you support through CSR activity, for example, how might staff get involved in this?
Caring creates resilience, makes us feel valued and stops us ruminating about our own woes. Any way in which you can build social connections between people and feel part of a broader community will add to feelings of wellbeing. This will bring an added benefit of feeling part of a group that are ‘in this together’ and build a greater sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Another stress reliever.
2. The need to give and receive attention
Make sure there are good feedback mechanisms in place regarding work. Ensure someone from the organisation checks in with each member of staff on a regular basis. Agree what this ‘checking in’ looks like. It should not be regarded by individuals as policing them, for example. One in person check in a day will also increase a sense of connection and continuity.
Communication should be a two way street. Introduce systems which help individuals feel they have a voice. Could you build chat rooms/forums where staff/teams are able to have discussions with each other? How about a regular teleconference which encourages meaningful conversation? Can you provide opportunity for people to share information and skills?
3. The need for security
We all need to feel safe and secure, and the crisis that is taking hold is making this difficult. Uncertainties about employment or how things might change in the future are inevitably going to result in feelings of insecurity. Regular communication that explains the actions being taken to safeguard the organisation, fostering a culture of openness, transparency and clear communication channels that allow staff to raise issues and concerns will be necessary. Of course you might not be able to tell staff what they want to hear, and undoubtably tough choices may lay ahead, but being honest and open about this is preferable to platitudes or silence. Making sure supervision and support is in place, and monitoring issues caused by the stress these messages might create will be important.
Explanations of human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits should be made available; any concerns responded to within a given timeframe.
It might also be useful to highlight the danger of watching, reading or listening to news that causes people to feel anxious or distressed and therefore less secure. Information sought should be that which focuses on the practical steps to prepare and protect ourselves. The things we can control. Constant and excessive consumption of news is having a negative impact. Facts trump opinion. The WHO website helps separate fact from fiction.
The WHO recommend that we “find opportunities to amplify the voices, positive stories and positive images of local people who have experienced the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and have recovered or who have supported a loved one through recovery and are willing to share their experience”. The Guardian take on solidarity in Italy is also worth a read (and listen!). Seek the good news out. Ask your staff to do the same and to share what they find. Not only will this lift mood, it will shift the muscle of attention away from the negative to the positive. Good news is a powerful antidote to stress in media environment that seems often to only offer up bad news.
4. The need for control
Find those things that might offer employees a sense of control, for example, being given the freedom to choose how and when their work is carried out. Could some activity be moved to a different time of day, for example. We all have an urge to direct our lives. Alongside work this should also include sleep, exercise and eating. It could become all too easy to slip into bad habits without this structure. Diarising time for deep work should also be encouraged noting that we work at an optimal level in 50 minute chunks. After this we need a break. This can help control distractions where sustained focus is essential.
Help employees learn how to regulate emotion. This is an essential skill that can be taught, and helps gain clarity and perspective for those feeling overwhelmed. It can also help raise awareness of the things that can be controlled, and the things that cannot.Take a look at Steven Covey’s Circles of Influence exercise to help identify those things employees can control, influence and not control. This also helps prompt exploration of ways in which people can consider where they might be able to influence those things they felt they had no control over. It also helps reduce the risk of rumination about things we have little control of. Rumination is a factor frequently linked to the early stages of depression. Learning how to relax can also help reduce a sense of being overwhelmed and not in control. Sound has been found to be an effective way of achieving deep relaxation. Check out music for anxiety which has some really great resources including bird sound which is great for relaxation.
The aim is to ensure all feel supported but not micro managed. Clearly there is a balance to be had, as too much autonomy could result in feelings of isolation, but the aim is to ensure a sense of being able to make decisions in how work is carried out.
5. The need for stretch
Humans need to feel challenge and desire to get better at something that matters to them. Consider the need for people to stretch out of their comfort zone from time to time. As people stay at home it could be all too easy to settle into a cosy routine that involves no stretch but this could paradoxically damage emotional health. Find opportunity to dovetail intrinsic motivators, the things that are personally rewarding, with those of the organisation’s needs.
Take a look at Atlassion case study in this TED talk with Daniel Pink. It shows the importance of mastery, a sense of purpose and the enormous power of giving employees the time and autonomy to come up with ideas on their own, which in this case transformed the fortunes of this software company. Could you set a weekly challenge for ideas that staff members volunteer to take part in? For those of you using psychometric measures, such as #Insights Discovery profiles, could you establish teams with representation of a range of behaviour preferences to achieve a breadth of skills and approaches in addressing a challenge or opportunity?
These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling. Times are difficult now, but with just a few measures in place you could help staff learn to cope and grow in a way that could bring real benefits to them individually, and to your organisation in these extraordinary times.
If you would like to have a chat about any of this in the context of your own organisation, or to explore virtual coaching or online webinars to help staff manage some of the challenges they may be experiencing right now, please do get in touch. E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: 07775 507165.