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Leading through Covid-19: how to manage mental wellbeing

by Alex Hyde on 07 Apr 2020

Being a leader in a business right now has never been more challenging. And with the unprecedented levels of uncertainty and disruption, peoples’ wellbeing and resilience has probably never been so tested.  

With this in mind, we asked BIE Director Alex Hyde how senior leaders can best support their teams (and themselves) during this crisis. Alex is leading the BIE efforts to educate clients on the work being done in the field of workplace mental health and has recently been nominated to join Inside Out’s Leader Board as a mental health role model.  

Here are some of his insights.

Create boundaries

Your team will take their lead from you. It’s important that you model good behaviours and key to this is creating boundaries between office and out of office hours.

Many of us are working remotely, which means we no longer have commutes to create a distinction between our places of work and rest. Additionally, with schools and nurseries closed, many of us will be juggling caring responsibilities, which in dual-earning households includes balancing our partners’ remote working needs with our own.

Creating space for focused work has, therefore, become a lot more difficult to achieve with little time to prepare. And, simultaneously, while we are all so accessible, it’s easy for expectations to become unrealistic.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Be mindful of the times that emails are being sent and calls are being made. Schedule non-urgent emails to go out during work hours so employees do not feel pressured to reply out of hours.
  • Some senior leaders we have spoken to say they do not start anything new after 4pm, which means they are more likely to finish their working day at a time that works for them.
  • Explore flexibility with the team so that they can get the work done on a schedule that works for them. This should alleviate stress.
  • Be realistic about how much can be achieved each day. For example, starting each day with a scheduled meeting and working in 45-minute bursts, allowing for regular breaks and a lunch, can help everyone with productivity.

Communication

Communicate to your family, and to your teams, what the work and non-work pressures are for you each day, and what time you’ll be dedicating to each of them so you can all work together to find balance.

If you talk openly about what you’re finding difficult it will normalise the challenges we’re all facing. This will give your people permission to work in the same way and reduce the risk of them burning out. We also need to acknowledge and be mindful that many people will be living alone, and isolation will create different challenges for them.

Sometimes we can assume everything is fine, when it’s not. For this reason, I’d encourage you, or someone appropriate in the team, to regularly reach out to individuals and ask the question. Often issues causing overwhelm can be resolved if discussed.

Communicate, communicate – and then over-communicate. Be honest and open (as far as possible).  It’s often the unknown and lack of communication that causes anxiety. Concise communications that focus on the short-term are often enough to keep employees on track.

Focus on you

Carve out some space and quiet time to focus on your own mental wellbeing. Yoga and meditation work particularly well for me – there are some great resources on YouTube (see below).

Rob Stephenson of Inside Out’s Daily Form Checker is a good way to acknowledge and keep track of how you’re feeling, while also understanding what’s affecting your mood – you can then adjust your behaviours accordingly.

At the end of the day, put the laptop and work phone out of sight until the following morning to give yourself a mental break. Some leaders we’ve spoken to find it useful to steer clear of all screens (including TV) for the rest of the evening.

Be kind to yourself. During times of stress our inner critic is amplified, and this can often remind us of the things we haven’t done, or of the things we should have done better. This is our brain’s way of trying to protect us from perceived threats, but if we allow it to overtake it can affect our wellbeing and performance.

Finding quiet time is the best way to understand what really needs your attention. If you’re trying to keep everyone happy and be everything to everyone, you’re likely to become overwhelmed. By looking after yourself you will be better placed to look after those around you.

Leaders and organisations have an opportunity to stand out by doing the right thing when times are tough, even if difficult decisions need to be made. Those who do will be better positioned as we emerge from the worst of this crisis.

Recommended websites, reading and listening

If you haven’t done so already, speak to your HR team about what resources are available through your company benefits or Employee Assistance Programme and share with your team.

There’s great online content available from the likes of Unmind and Mental Health Aware UK on their websites. Mental Health First Aid have also put out new guidance on how to manage working remotely.

I’d recommend contacting Laura Willis of Shine Offline – she’s an expert in digital wellbeing and has run sessions on how we better manage the challenges posed to work/life balance by our technology. Laura’s adapted her content around the pressures of Covid-19 and is delivering webinars that you can share with your team.

Further resources:

Inside Out 

Shine Offline 

This Can Happen

MHFA England

Unmind 

Mental Health Aware UK 

Yoga with Adriene  (try the 30 days of Yoga to get you started. There are four: Revolution, Home, True and Dedicate)

Podcast:How to Fail: Mo Gawdat on how to cope with anxiety in a time of Coronavirus

Alex Hyde

Written by Alex Hyde

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