As most working professionals spend a third of their time at work, it’s been a massive adjustment for the masses to start working from home. It’s hard enough just working from home without the added stress of looking after children and the constant financial and health worries stewing in the background, so it’s no wonder that many are struggling and are not working at their best. Even with countries coming out of lockdown there is still huge uncertainty swirling with many of us very anxious about the prospect of a second peak.

As we see many countries now taking their first tentative and small steps to come out of lockdown, many employees need extra support. To maintain a happy and healthy workforce, here is how to look after staff wellbeing during the coronavirus crisis.

You need to Respect yourself first (before you can take care of others)

There is an anonymous quote that says:

“True leaders always practise the 3 R’s: Respect for self, Respect for others, and Responsibility for all their actions.”

This really sums up well what we want you to take away from this message and this is: to be an effective and strong leader, you first have to look after yourself so that you can then look after others.

If you’ve been thinking how to look after staff wellbeing during COVID-19, you need to:

“put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.”

In other words, you’re only one person with finite energy so to be the strongest you can, you need to replenish this regularly before helping to replenish your staff. (Read The ultimate guide for accountants, lawyers, and consultants who need to lead their team remotely during the Coronavirus)

To keep yourself healthy and strong, here are a few things that you need to be doing consistently:

  • Getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep every night.
  • Exercising often.
  • Eating as healthily as possible.
  • Keeping in touch with friends and family.
  • Finding time to yourself to properly ‘switch off.’
  • Practising the best methods for easing your anxiety (e.g. meditation, journaling, practising gratitude, mindful hobbies).

It’s your responsibility to support your team’s mental well-being during the coronavirus, but you need to be careful that it doesn’t come at the expense of your own. If you prioritise your own health during this time by implementing the above into your daily routine, you can then effectively guide and support your staff to help keep them happy and healthy too.

How to look after staff wellbeing using the 3 P’s

1. PRIORITISE your team’s health

Health and performance have a symbiotic relationship meaning that, if you prioritise the health of your staff, the better they will perform. Sounds easy right? Wrong. Like most things in life, there isn’t a single magic solution to this. People are complex and in such a situation as we find ourselves now, people are going to need more help and support.

Everyone will deal with the coronavirus crisis differently, so as the leader, it is your responsibility to enable and empower your employees to make decisions around their own health that best suit them. This way, you can help them to prioritise their health. Here are three ways that you can do this:

  • Consult best practices and protocols outlined by the World Health Organisation, region-specific public health authorities such as the CDC, and county or city public health departments.
  • Measure and track the stress of your team and respond accordingly. Implementing stress surveys is a great way to do this and with the results, you can then adapt your leadership style or strategy to help support those who might be more affected. (You may find that your HR department is already doing some of these stress surveys across the firm)
  • Provide consistent and clear information. At such an uncertain time, it’s important that you’re providing your team with frequent and clear objectives. This will help give them a sense of control and purpose which is crucial for positive mental well-being. By striving for clarity and consistency, you’re creating the conditions for your team members to feel empowered and supported.

2. PRACTICE compassionate leadership

There have been many books about the art of compassionate leadership and there’s one in particular by Manley Hopkinson which comes to mind now. The author writes about how compassionate leadership gets the best for and out of people through the fulfilment of self-worth, and the book itself shows leaders how to give their teams a real sense of purpose and direction in order to motivate and inspire them to perform at a high level.

As we find ourselves and our teams working from home amidst a sea of uncertainty, there has never been a more important time than now to lead with compassion and empathy. You won’t know what each employee is going through, who has vulnerable family members who may be at greater risk, or who already suffers from anxiety and experiences the uncertainty and fear more acutely. That’s why it’s so essential to be compassionate. As the team leader, the primary goal now needs to be “how can I ease the pressure off at this difficult time for everyone?”

If you want to know how to look after staff wellbeing during COVID-19, you need to practice compassionate leadership with these 5 steps:

  • Stop – Take a step back from the busyness once in a while so that you can see the situation more clearly.
  • Look – Check-in with your team regularly and look closely for the unsaid (e.g. pay attention to people’s energy levels).
  • Listen – Give your team a platform where they can be open and honest about how they are feeling, both mentally and physically. Help them be heard.
  • Feel – Take the time to acknowledge how a team member is truly feeling so that you can respond with kindness and empathy.
  • Respond – Don’t react to situations, pause and give yourself time to respond to them appropriately. At such a stressful time, it can be easy to let frustrations overtake skilful communication so give yourself space to reflect before responding.

3. PROMOTE positive daily habits

While short-term stress and anxiety can be part of a healthy range of emotional experience, chronic stress can tax our immune system and cause other severe problems such as generalised anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance.

Now, in a situation like the coronavirus, where we are currently in an extremely stressful situation with no clear end in sight, we can’t really reduce the cause. What we can do, however, is to control how we deal with it and that involves developing positive habits. (Discover 16 strategies for coping with a big life change)

At a time of such uncertainty and negativity, it can be very easy to spiral. It can be very easy to adopt bad daily habits which we think are comforting but they actually serve to make us feel worse. To give you an example, eating badly may comfort us in the short term but it makes us feel sluggish and increases feelings of depression in the long term. To kick bad habits like this, you need to encourage a pattern for developing positive ones instead. Here are some positive habits that you can encourage to help your staff reduce their stress and anxiety:

  • Making a plan for the week and then every day
  • Sticking to their daily routine as much as possible – also stress the importance of the 4 foundational habits (regular sleep, healthy eating, frequent exercise, switching off).
  • Mindfulness activities such as meditation, breathing exercises, and journaling   – research shows that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression as it deactivates our emotional centre in the brain. Put simply, it helps us understand information and make decisions from a place of fact versus panic.
  • Being proactive versus reactive
  • Taking a step back from social media and the news
  • Making time to properly ‘switch off’

Help your staff help themselves

Many employees are struggling to work from home during the coronavirus so as the leader, it is your responsibility to know how to look after staff wellbeing during this time and to provide them with the extra support they need.

It has been said that “to create great work, the employees’ health, wellbeing and happiness is the most important factor,” so start prioritising their health, practising compassionate leadership, and promoting positive habits. Only when you do this can you maintain a happy, healthy, and productive team who is more resilient to stress and anxiety.

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