The wellbeing of your team is vitally important in periods of intense change. It’s been moving to the top of the business priority list for some time, but recent events have made it even more crucial.
A 24/7 culture and relentless connectivity can contribute to poor mental and physical health, not to mention affecting how we work with and relate to others in the workplace. We also know that a crisis can trigger a wide range of physiological and psychological responses, including shock, anger and depression.
In fact, a study carried out by Qualtrics and SAP during March and April 2020 found that 67% of employees report higher stress. Furthermore, 57% are feeling greater anxiety, and 53% say they feel more ‘emotionally exhausted’.
So what can we do to ensure we as team leaders and team colleagues get the best from each other during a time of crisis?
Create a climate of trust
It stands to reason that trust is essential and this should be in place at all times, not just in crisis. Are you feeling well supported at work? Does your team feel able to come to you with problems? Do individuals or groups feel trusted?
Sarah Danzl, head of global PR and communications at education technology company Degreed, says: ‘As a company that has always worked 100% remotely, we have always had to be creative with gelling teams together. For me, that means getting to know the humans behind your colleagues.’
In times of crisis it’s important to create psychological safety. Allow your team to be heard and supported but not judged.
Danzl adds, ‘When you start to see your colleagues as humans, rather than just people you work with, it creates a much stronger team. This has helped us build a culture where people are always willing to pitch in and help each other out to get a job done if someone is struggling. It means that people are trusted to work flexibly, to put their families first and take time where they need to. This all has to stem from a place of trust. When you trust your team to complete projects in a way and at a time that suits them best, and puts their wellbeing first, we find this is reciprocated with greater trust and loyalty in return.’
Caring for yourself while you care for others
Supportive relationships with colleagues are among the most important determinants of employee health and engagement, especially during tough times. Practising gratitude daily can help you focus your attitude towards yourself and your team. Recent research has shown that happiness can directly affect physical health and that people who took part in subjective wellbeing intervention reported fewer sick days.
But it’s important to ‘put on your own oxygen mask first’, as the saying goes. Supporting others in distress can sometimes be draining, particularly if we're over-empathetic. If this is you, try and be compassionate instead. Be kind, be there and show you care, but also find someone to engage with who brightens and enlivens you. It's important to look after yourself or you can't be there for others.
Spot the signs – and act on them
Uncertain times can play havoc with energy and mood and it’s important to be able to spot the warning signs in your team (and yourself), such as low motivation, avoidance of responsibility and victim-like behaviour. Avoid making assumptions about the wellbeing of others, ensuring you check in individually, instead of just offering a blanket invitation to share. Nearly 40% of people in the Qualtrics research said their company had not even asked them how they were doing since the pandemic began. Just asking the question and really listening to the answer can mean a lot and make a big difference.
The little things go a long way
In more normal times, it might be easy to pep up your team with a nice lunch or implement a spot of laughter yoga. During lockdown, plenty of companies have stepped up with daily Zoom check-ins, remote quizzes and even virtual karaoke sessions.
But you don’t have to be playing ping-pong every day to be having fun with your colleagues. During lockdown, Ad agency ELVIS, for example, created its own Big Brother-style online diary room – ELVISOLATION – for its 50 staff to visit and contribute clips ranging from how to cook the best brownies to how to do magic tricks. ‘Having the diary room available is helping ELVIS staff to continue to stay connected with the wider team and have those non-work related conversations they usually enjoy in the office,’ says Tanya Brookfield, ELVIS CEO.
Wellbeing gestures don’t have to be grand or daft. Joanna Swash, CEO of outsourced comms company, Moneypenny, sent her employees food vouchers during lockdown so they could all have a virtual dinner together. ‘This was a great way to informally check in with staff and ensure they were feeling okay,’ says Swash. ‘We find that these small gestures go a long way in making our team feel motivated and appreciated.’
The company’s other random acts of kindness include special deliveries of brownies to all employees thanking them for their support, gifts for birthdays, anniversaries or baby showers. ‘We also have a great in house video team who put together specially designed videos with birthday messages from the employee's team,” Swash says.
A little anxiety can be good for your team
The good news is that some stress can be positive. Anxiety is a normal human emotion and can serve a purpose in keeping us alert and focused. However, if it gets out of control it can be extremely damaging.
Studies have shown that people with anxiety process threats differently, reacting quickly in the face of danger and being more comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. If handled thoughtfully, anxiety can motivate us to make our teams more resourceful, productive and creative, breaking down barriers and creating new bonds.
Personal resilience comes from knowing that we can overcome obstacles and thrive, because we've done so before. Within your team, use challenges as opportunities to develop resilience and master emotions. Taking positive action in the face of adversity can give us a sense of control, even if it doesn’t remove the difficulty. Remembering that stress and change are part of life can have a big impact on how we respond to them.
To this end, taking time at the end of each day to review what went well and congratulate yourself and your team trains everyone to look for success, rather than dwell on negativity and failure. This positive outlook can quickly become a habit that infects the whole team and workplace.
UK-based development company Degree 53 has been organising weekly and monthly remote social events to keep their teams connected. During Mental Health Awareness Week, the company shared lots of useful tips and information about mental health support, including practical information and resources for further help. In addition to the employee of the month scheme, Degree 53 introduced a weekly team recognition scheme so everyone in the business is aware of what other departments have been doing.
The managing director also sent out small packages with Degree 53 merchandise and a handwritten note thanking staff for their hard work. Says marketing manager Jenny Winter, ‘While our departments work together across different projects, it can still be difficult to see what goes on day-to-day before the project is finished, and some projects can take more than a year till they go live. So we wanted to boost morale, especially in lockdown, to encourage our teams to carry on working together, solving problems, sharing knowledge and helping each other to keep the momentum going, and ultimately, to make them aware that their work really counts.’