Before the Covid-19 pandemic, stress related ailments already accounted for 75 - 90% of visits to the doctor, and depression and anxiety were estimated to cost the global economy a whopping $1 Trillion in a Forbes article written in April 2019. The World Health Organisation has also described stress as the “health epidemic of the 21st century”.
A brand new study by Qualtrics carried out at the end of March this year shows that 66.9% of the people questioned reported higher levels of stress and 57.2% have reported more anxiety since Covid-19.
If you think about those numbers in addition to the numbers from prior to Covid-19, this highlights the increased importance of looking after employee wellbeing now and as we transition down the alert levels and to our new normal.
Mental Health is definitely being discussed more in recent times and most businesses will have a policy around the topic, however, if asked, how many of those businesses employees are aware of such a policy?
Now is the time for businesses to step up and ensure employee wellbeing is top of their priority list.
Managing the Transition
Ask lots of questions & actively listen - Everyone has been working in different ways and there will be positives to take from that. What have your team leant from working remotely? What worked and what didn’t? Is there anything they want to discuss taking into their new normal? We’re all guilty at times of asking questions but then only listening to the parts we want to hear. Listen with no agenda. How can you learn from your teams experiences to be more productive going forward?
Communicate (lots) - The study shows that most people want communication at least once a week, a third said they would like it daily. When there is radio silence and you’re not communicating, especially in uncertain times like this, you’ll find that people will make their own stories up and speculation becomes rife. This simply adds to the stress and anxiety being felt by your teams. A major part of mental wellbeing is feeling connected, so set expectations about when your teams will hear from you next and be transparent, clear and consistent with your communication and make sure your teams always have someone to reach out to, even if just for a chat. This is new ground for all of us and so take your team on the journey with you.
Autonomy - Working remotely or differently during lockdown will have afforded far more autonomy for your teams, which they probably enjoyed! According to Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’ (highly recommended reading - go here for a summary), Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the three key components of intrinsic motivation and so before you go back to micro-managing your team, ask yourself what that will achieve (other than making you feel in control). Instead think about how you can create more autonomy for your team and get their input too.
Be flexible - We’re all going through a lot, probably way more than most of us have ever been through before, and each time our situation changes as we go through the alert levels, new challenges will rear their head. Those team members with children will have been with them 24/7 and when that changes there could be anxiety from the children which will just add to the parent’s stress. In the Qualtrics study, only 2 out of 5 workers feel supported by their manager and those who don’t feel supported are 48% more likely to cite worry about their job as a primary reason that their mental health has declined. Having empathy and compassion for the challenges your teams will face will go a long way in making the transition smoother for everyone.
Have meaningful conversations and regular check-ins - Most managers have, or should be having, regular one to ones with their team members to check in and find out how things are going, discuss performance and development and talk through any concerns. Using this time to check up on your team’s wellbeing is more important than ever and if your team are currently working remotely, make sure you pick up the phone or even better video call them. Checking in via text or email is very different to hearing their voice and seeing their face, as their body language will tell you a lot about how they’re coping. That said, many managers may not have the tools and experience to know how to have those conversations. All too often someone is promoted to a managerial role and given no additional training on how to coach and talk to their team. So invest in and train your people managers to be able to coach their teams. Get feedback from the teams to find out how supported and listened to they feel.