Mandy Jeffery, People Officer at Workday
When it comes to mental wellbeing there’s a lot of great advice out there, from how to be more mindful to boosting employee happiness. This has never been more important than now, as we adapt the way we work, live and socialise. The latest ONS study shows that nearly half of people in the UK experienced increased anxiety as the country’s lockdown began, which is to be expected given the unusual and unpredictable circumstances we’re all in.
In order to manage this change, support employees through the pandemic, and protect the mental wellbeing of their workforce, business leaders must embrace emotional intelligence and cohesion in the workplace. This means building resilience that empowers a compassionate team and improves engagement.
Showing employees empathy
Functioning on any level during a crisis requires us to manage our emotions skillfully. Employers need to remember that each person will be facing a different level of personal anxiety and stress based on their individual living conditions and social stresses. Whether it’s worrying about the possibility of furlough and its impact on their personal finances, looking after children while still working full-time, or dealing with the challenges of being with housemates 24/7 — lockdown will affect every employee in some way. In fact, a recent study by Toluna and Harris Interactive found that the driving factors of current mental health challenges are general anxiety about the pandemic and health of friends and family, rather than daily jobs.
Enforced social distancing and quarantine regulations can also make people feel isolated within their team, as we all need a crucial level of support and social connection. Businesses must normalise the emotional experience. By simply talking about personal experiences and feelings, teammates will realise they aren’t alone. So, find the time to arrange a virtual support group with the team. This will open up communication channels, and empowers people to connect over their shared experiences and strengthen relationships within the business.
Another way to find out how teams are feeling is by conducting anonymised surveys that allow employees to share any stresses or pain points that they aren’t ready to openly discuss, for personal reasons or otherwise. Here at Workday, our regular Pulse Surveys have become integral to the way we structure our HR initiatives and wider business strategy. Every Friday, each employee receives a two-question Pulse Survey about the workplace culture, based on the methodology created by the Great Place to Work Institute. Then, based on these responses, our HR team creates a plan of action to improve opportunities and ensure any issues are being tackled with precision.
Ultimately, leaders have the opportunity to make a genuinely positive and lasting change to the way business is conducted, and it starts by showing empathy and understanding the employee experience.
Find resources to support you
Another way to create a shared experience is by encouraging and supporting employees to actively seek out the many resources available to support mental health. Improving wellbeing will not work with a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and can damage relationships if a piece of advice is poorly received — even if the employer had best intentions at heart. At Workday, we’re helping employees to source credible advice by providing them with tools such as Headspace, sharing resources to help employees set up fundraising campaigns for organisations in their local areas, and other initiatives that help them feel supported.
The next step is to make sure that these investments are being used by all employees. The same goes for business leaders who will undoubtedly be experiencing similar worries and concerns as their employees on a personal level, alongside the added pressure of ensuring that each team member is accounted for. It’s incredibly important for us all to set aside the time to tune into how we’re feeling about our own mental health. Communication is vital, so whether it’s resharing links to resources in weekly newsletters, or hosting a specific call each week to discuss mental health, it’s important to make sure that all employees know exactly what support the company offers and where they can find help.
Go with what feels good
Sharing ‘feel good’ experiences between members of the team is just as important as asking about the causes of the stress, and can lead to fun and inspiring ideas you might want to try out for yourself! While employees no longer have their regular tea breaks or go for lunch together, it is advisable to set up informal video calls to chat about new (or old) hobbies, or put forward creative ideas on how to get in daily exercise or share a must-try recipe. Small, but fun, ideas that are focused on employee wellbeing are great team-building tools that will lift everyone’s spirits, and build emotional resilience.
Professor Mary McNaughton-Cassill, clinical psychology specialist at the University of Texas, explains that maintaining a routine while working from home is fundamental to keep some sense of normality. Similarly to this advice, creating new norms to maintain the company culture is just as important to engage employees, and keep any feelings of uncertainty at bay. It’s also widely known that developing healthy daily habits brings more dopamine into the brain, which will lead to feeling happier long term.
Businesses must place high value on supporting employees’ wellbeing in order to be strategically well positioned now and for what’s to come after this crisis. While times beyond this crisis may be unpredictable, that doesn’t mean we can’t be certain about how to navigate through it. The companies that manage to encourage emotional resilience during this pandemic, will be the ones who take the lead in the future.