Recent times have seen a considerable shift in how we do some of the simplest things. How we go about our day, how we spend time with loved ones, and how we work.
A lot of these changes are outside of our control.
But for leaders, the emotional and mental health of your employees is something that you can have a direct impact on during the working day. So it’s important to get it right.
We looked into the mental health impact the current crisis is having right now, and asked experts how business leaders can step up to prioritise support for their employees.
Beyond Slack, Zoom and Houseparty, here's how business leaders can really "be there" for their team – without being there.
Set your team up to succeed
This is not a time to test your team on their resourcefulness.
It’s vital to make sure that everyone in your business has access to the equipment and information they need, to set your team up for success from the get go.
As Steve Hoblyn, a leadership and mental health coach states, “There’s never been a better time for leaders to know their teams, so they can recognise any changes and where they can provide help”.
It’s a big change, and working from home isn’t something everyone is comfortable with.
Make sure you give your team advice on best practices, and offer support if people are struggling to get used to this new way of working. Emphasise that remote working doesn’t have to mean working alone, thanks to the wide array of tools available.
Communication is key
At a time of uncertainty, what you say, and how you say it, are imperative. As a leader, your role should be to reassure your people.
For Geoff McDonald, a mental health advocate, the delivery of the message is just as important as what you say. “People get less reassurance when the message is written. Take the time to hop on a Zoom call to open the floor up to questions and thoughts, so you can address concerns head on.”
Geoff goes on to discuss the four key principles of communicating effectively as a leader, stating that “It’s crucial to instil trust, hope, stability and compassion in every message you put out there.
"You have to make sure that you are willing to trust your employees, as much as they trust you. Reducing some of the uncertainty by delivering facts, not hearsay, will instil stability.”
Even if you don’t have all the answers, it’s important to convey that you will do your best by your people, and will continue to keep everyone updated on the changing situation.
Keep the communication consistent, by making sure that all leaders within the organisation are on the same page.
Share success stories
And rather than being ambiguous, it is important to give people something tangible to hold onto, such as sharing success stories from other companies.
Take a look around at what your customers, friends and even your rivals are doing.
You might be surprised to see some interesting initiatives that could inspire you.
Sophie Theen, Chief People Officer at Oakam, advises that “businesses should take this time to look and explore the practices of other companies, and use their success stories to navigate their own way through the crisis, and do the best by their people.”
Manage your expectations
This isn’t business as usual, and it doesn’t need to be.
To lead effectively, you need to understand the psychological impact of being in lockdown, and being away from loved ones.
There will be a change in routine, mood and behaviours, all of which are totally understandable.
Your team may not operate at full capacity over this time, but the worst thing you could do is to stay connected by closely watching when people are online, or overwhelming your team with an abundance of unnecessary meetings.
Finding a healthy balance is key: have a forum for your team to catch up and share challenges, but give them the autonomy to plan their own working day.
Many people will have to juggle looking after children with their daily work.
Instead of chastising parents for having children on their call, Steve Hoblyn advises that “giving people permission to be themselves can speak volumes about your company, and you as a leader”.
Put an emphasis on support
Vulnerability is a huge force at play during this time.
Whether you’re in a senior position, or have just started at a company, no one is immune to the feelings of worry and stress that present themselves in times of crisis. And that’s valuable to remember.
We often talk about physical vulnerabilities in relation to the crisis, but mental health is just as essential to consider. For many people within your organisation, these unwanted feelings will feel new and unsettling, and they may not have effective ways of coping.
Meanwhile, others may have already had experiences of poor mental health, and will have a better understanding of the kind of help they need. Whatever the situation, it’s imperative that you provide the right levels of support for everyone.
Make sure you have trained managers to listen to their people, as they will often be the first port of call. Ensure that they feel supported to spot any changes in behaviour, as well as have those all-important conversations with their team if necessary.
Be transparent. Lean on HR
These circumstances may lead people to disclose mental health problems they had previously not done so at work, so train your team to treat these new disclosures in a compassionate and respectful way.
Having a strong HR team to provide guidance is invaluable at this time.
It’s their role to provide any leader or manager within the business with the correct information, and steer the wider team in the right direction.
At Oakam, Sophie’s team hosts weekly confidential mental health support groups, which cover a wide array of concerns that team members may be having. She sees it as a chance for her HR team to “really step up, as they have the power to hold the company together by making the right decisions by their people.”
It’s also an important time to take stock of the kind of support you can actually offer your people.
For so many companies, the physical and mental health of their people hasn’t been a key concern, and Employee Assistance Programmes often fall by the wayside or remain unused.
If you have mental health first aiders within your organisation, use them.
It’s never been more crucial that the right kind of help and support is provided to your people, so you can emerge out of the other side of this crisis in a good place.