Our psychosocial director GRAHAM FAWCETT thinks practically about how managers are brilliantly placed to support colleagues during the coming months.

Graham Fawcett

Managing staff and organisations is a challenge at the best of times. These aren’t the best of times, and yet we have a wealth of tools to understand what is occurring and how to support colleagues.

What We Are Noticing

As the northern hemisphere goes through a second wave and equatorial regions see increasing cases of Covid19, we can see how - this time round - things are subtly different. People tend to be more miserable than anxious, and many (in their own languages) are talking of being ‘fed up’. People are reporting increased levels of fatigue, agitation and sleep problems. 

We think this is explained in part by something called ‘learned helplessness’ - a state of mind that occurs when, no matter what we do or how hard we try, problems don’t go away and we give up. We did our best until September. We thought we were promised the worst would be over and yet, here we are.

We are also noticing an increase in people reporting that they are unusually sad or anxious, particularly amongst young people, including those who are normally considered ‘resilient'. In part this is down to isolation – the kind that can’t be solved by Zoom or Whatsapp. Think of the incidental spontaneity of stopping to chat to people in a work setting, making coffee for others, going to the copier, the chat before a meeting. All of this was a by-product of working and was, essentially, effortless. Now it takes effort to make a call, create a Zoom meeting or Whatsapp call, and people are reporting that the less they make the effort the harder it becomes. For many younger people, their lives have shrunk to a few square meters of a bedsit or a house shared with people who didn’t sign up for being quarantined or locked down together.

As if that were not enough, the festivities that happen around this time of year are under threat. Whether it’s Divali, Hannukah, Thanksgiving or Christmas, we can’t make plans or, at least, not ones we are confident about.

The Role of Managers to Support Staff 

Managers have a central role in helping to shape the environment that will help colleagues to flourish. Managers, especially senior managers, can’t be in touch with everyone remotely, but you can be in touch with a proportion of staff at random. This is not something to be delegated somehow to HR. Did you used to check with reception in your way in? Give a receptionist a call. Who would you bump into in the lift or hallway? Call some of them. Who might be isolated? Get in touch with them. All of this hopefully enhances their day but also provides crucial feedback that isn’t available from pulse surveys or wellbeing feedback. Here are some other thoughts.

Communicating about what is happening within the organisation is fundamental. Organisations with staff who are happy and motivated have good communication at all levels. Any communication is better than radio silence – even if it is to say things are uncertain. Communication doesn’t have to be via e-mail – far better via Twitter or other approaches with a feedback loop.

A top tip for all the Zoom / Team meetings is to insist on video but to encourage people to switch off self-views. Seeing ourselves is a combination of distracting and oddly disturbing. The other top tip is to find creative ways of checking in that aren’t too intrusive – what’s the view out of the window, lunch today will be… favourite cat video….. and so on.

Help to communicate healthy messages – getting people out during the day if possible, banning work e-mails outside of work hours, encouraging people to talk once a day to someone just for the heck of it all help to bolster a working culture where self-care is prioritised.

Where possible think about regular on-line huddles – brief gatherings at the beginning or end of each day (or in the middle) as check-ins – what people are doing, what is getting in the way.

Be prepared to contemplate the welfare of staff. If they have children at home, a rocky (or worse) partnership or marriage, health concerns or are isolated, then think about how to check on those issues and also how to help staff talk, either on a walk, when in their car or on their way to shopping. A noticeable amount of counselling is happening at the moment with people who are ‘taking the dog for a walk’ – not everything can be spoken about at home.

Finally, of course, ask yourself how you are doing. Is there any of this advice you need to take for yourself? If helplessness or isolation is underpinning how you are feeling then consider one small thing you can do that gives you a sense of accomplishment or connection, take a breath, reach out and do that.

Contact us for support 

Meanwhile I or my colleagues in Thrive are delighted to support you with coaching, organisational solutions or - if your thinking has taken a swerve to something more dark - counselling. Email us to see how we can help...

To book an appointment, email us: info@thrive-worldwide.org