As the world faces an unprecedented global emergency in the Coronavirus pandemic, people are trying to come to terms with a new normal. We are all currently experiencing unprecedented and unexpected challenges, both in our personal and professional lives, and every single one of us is facing new challenges and hurdles to overcome.
At Adam, we recently teamed up with The Happiness Index to conduct an anonymous survey of our staff, clients, candidates, and followers, which posed one simple question: How are you feeling today? We wrote a bit about the results of this survey here, but this exercise got us thinking – what can we be doing to help protect people’s mental health? What can employers be doing to help support their staff through this?
“As a manager or leader, you must be authentic, transparent, empathetic, and give no false promises. Be very honest with people about where you are at. If you don’t know the answers, don’t make them up,” says Maria Mander, an experienced workplace wellbeing consultant. “And check in on your staff, not just about work. Everyone’s situation is different, and they are facing different challenges. Ask them how they are coping.” Maria also suggests weekly company updates, to make sure that all staff feel up to date and included.
Author and renowned mental health speaker Andy Salkeld agrees, adding that leaders showing their own vulnerability can be beneficial for the whole team. “The single biggest piece of advice I can give to those in leadership positions now is to keep communicating, and to embrace and show your own vulnerability living in this uncertainty,” he says, adding “Your teams are going to be looking to you, but by opening up and showing that it’s okay to talk, it’s okay to struggle and that there is nothing wrong with finding it hard, you reassure them in themselves, who they are, and how they feel.”
Maria also has some advice for people to help look after their own mental health. “Take one day at a time,” she suggests. “Things are changing rapidly, so focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. Only watch the news once a day, and then tune it out. Look to be supportive of your family and friends, but make sure that you don’t get drawn into long conversations about ‘the state of the world’, as this could leave you feeling worse.”
Another topic that came up frequently in the survey is furlough. Furlough is a fairly new term to the vast majority of us, and decisions to furlough a member of staff or not has been another source of anxiety for many people. Some staff who have been furloughed are dealing with feelings of inadequacy and a loss of purpose. At the same time, some workers who have been chosen to continue working can’t help but feel a sense of unfairness. Some are finding it hard to digest that their furloughed colleagues are getting paid not much less than them to do nothing, while they’re expected to work harder than ever.
“This comes down to a sense of purpose. We introduce ourselves with our jobs and career, and now some people who have been furloughed are struggling to find their purpose, because they’ve defined themselves by what they do for so long,” says Andy. “Some people are having to spend time with themselves, their thoughts and feelings, and they’re just not used to that. My solemn advice to those who are finding it hard to adapt to ‘not working’ is to spend the time ‘working’ on yourself.”
And what should employers be doing to help those people who may feel disconnected and isolated from their jobs? “You absolutely must keep your furloughed staff involved, and make sure to communicate with them so that they don’t feel cut off from the rest of the company,” says Maria.
When it comes to dealing with your feelings regarding decisions to furlough certain staff and not others, Andy makes a great point: “This comes down to trust. There is a lot of trust involved in furlough decisions – it’s not an easy decision to make! Furloughed staff need to trust that leaders are doing the right thing. This is a disaster that no-one’s planned for, and we’re all trying to navigate our way through it.”
“Try and change your mindset,” suggests Maria. “If you have been kept working whilst your colleagues have been furloughed, try to change your attitude to think ‘I’m grateful to be here, working, and still employed.’ If you have been furloughed, look at it as an opportunity to better yourself and up-skill. If you feel like you’re lacking purpose, try looking into volunteering opportunities.”
The wellbeing of leaders
An aspect of this current crisis that has been largely overlooked is the mental health of business owners, leaders and management teams, especially of small and medium businesses. “There is no difference between being an employee and being an employer,” says Andy, “We’re all people, we all feel the same pressures, we still have our own responsibilities and obligations and lives that we need to care for and look after.”
What can leaders be doing to look after their mental health during this crisis? “They need to make sure that they have someone that they can talk to, someone that they can go to for support,” Maria suggests, adding “On a plane, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others, and this situation is no different. Invest in your own wellbeing, take time out to relax, and set boundaries. You can’t work 24/7, and you are still allowed to switch off and have some fun.”
Of course, this unexpected pandemic has meant that Maria and Andy have had to adapt their own ways of working. Instead of visiting businesses to help them build mentally healthy cultures, they both have had to quickly adapt their working practices. So what has changed for them?
“I have had to adapt very quickly.” Maria states. “I’ve moved to online webinars, and I’ve been helping employees to adjust to home working – it’s been a huge shock to many! I’ve also provided help with how to structure day, and work/life balance.” Much of Maria’s advice is also published on her blog.
The pandemic has hit right in the midst of Andy building up promotion for his upcoming book release. “Of course, all my live events – talks, book signings and the like - have fallen off a cliff,” he explains, “but I have adapted quickly by moving to promote the book online, and doing more virtual events for businesses.” Andy is also documenting his lockdown experience with his raw and honest ‘Covid-19 Chronicles’ video diaries on YouTube, packed with advice on how to adjust, as well as his signature unflinching honesty about his own mental health.
Switching off, and working from home
Another main comment in the discourse about our new normal is the practicalities of working from home, and its various challenges. The main challenge we are seeing is that workers are struggling to switch off at the end of the working day, as the lines between home and work start to blur. When asked for his advice, Andy instantly quotes the title of one of his favourite albums; “Borders and Boundaries – in a situation like this, we really need to make sure that we are putting these in place. If you don’t set boundaries, you may end up working extra time, just because you feel like you have to. Keep these boundaries in place or else you won’t do either well; you won’t work well and you won’t rest well. Working too hard could end up being counter-productive in the long run.”
Maria agrees with this sentiment and expands upon the ‘borders’ part of this. “If possible, try not to work in your living room or bedroom. Have set hours. When you shut your laptop, put it away so you can’t see it. Put clothes on every day – no pyjamas! When you finish, put your pyjamas back on – this takes your brain out of work mode.”
She also has some great pieces of advice for those of us who find ourselves struggling to sleep. “Schedule daily exercise during your usual commute time – the exercise with greatly improve your sleep quality. And keep a journal, a place for you to ‘dump’ your thoughts before you go to bed.”
One of the unfortunate consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the slew of redundancies that has been unprecedented since the financial crash of 2008. Our LinkedIn feeds have been filled with talented people who have been let go by their employers, through no fault of their own.
Maria suggests immediate, proactive action for those who have found themselves being made redundant. “Take action!” she advises, continuing, “What’s your plan A B and C? Get your CV up to date. Get on LinkedIn. Don’t sit around and wait for things to happen to you. Make things happen!”
Many employees who are still working or have been furloughed still have the worry of possible redundancy hanging over their heads, and this can add to the stress that people are already feeling. Maria again suggests being proactive if you are concerned about possible redundancy. “Look at your options for other employment, just in case, have a good look at your finances, and prepare as much as you can if you are worried that it may happen. Think about what you can control, and act upon it.”
“Be kind to yourself.”
We all need to be looking after our mental health during this pandemic, but it is important to remember to look out for others, too. This unprecedented event has up ended our day-to-day lives, and it still remains to be seen how the business landscape will change as this pandemic unfolds further, but until then, there is plenty that we can be doing to look after ourselves and one another.
“Take one day a time,” Maria advises. “Things are changing rapidly. Try to embrace the changes and adapt as much as you can. If you need to disconnect to stay safe and well emotionally, then do that. And make sure you make time to relax!”
Andy insists that you need to be kinder to yourself. “It’s okay to have a bad day right now. It’s okay to be not 100%, and to say that you are struggling. You are not a failure, it’s just what it is. Be able to say ‘tomorrow is another day’. Do your best, keep doing, get by day to day. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t be hard on yourself. Try again tomorrow. And be kind to yourself.”
Maria Mander, Founder of Mander Wellbeing, is an experienced workplace Wellbeing Consultant providing strategic direction to organisations to create a culture of wellness and increase performance for success. She has created a range of bespoke webinars to support companies adjust to current events. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.
Andy Salkeld is the author of Life Is A Four-Letter Word: A Mental Health Survival Guide for Professionals, which is released on May 14th 2020 and available to pre-order now. Andy advocates positive action around mental health, working closely with business leaders across the UK to help them build mentally healthy cultures. He is a renowned speaker and writer on mental health, entrepreneurship, and finance. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.