According to the UK Health Security Agency, at the beginning of this month the R rate* in England increased and was estimated to be between 1.2.to 1.5 and as we saw, the new Omicron variant spread extremely rapidly.
Why start an article with such stark figures? I have a feeling that by the time this is published, the context within Covid-19 will have undoubtedly shifted again. We simply don’t know what’s coming next and we’re living day by day with new variants, policies and a constant adaptation to new and suggested ways of working.
We’ve seen a broad variety of choices of new ways of working amongst our clients; some are still travelling into the office a few days a week whilst others are entirely closed. A handful of companies are considering re-opening their offices, but there’s no unified approach or answer to the pandemic and how could there be?
Companies are trying to do their best by their employees – factoring in employee safety whilst simultaneously trying to support their mental health and wellbeing. This of course includes addressing staff isolation, stress, energy, productivity levels whilst keeping an eye on staff retention, motivation and inclusivity.
Each company that we work with is trying to rebuild to the current context, on a case by case basis and dependent on employee and company needs. One question that arises continuously is where does a company’s responsibility begin and end when it comes to employee mental health and wellbeing?
With responsibility in mind – what is a ‘good’ way to rebuild community in the ‘workplace’ whilst we weather the pandemic? It’s quite apparent that organisation leaders who are tasked with this conundrum are currently trying to do this with empathy – whilst keeping an eye on the business needs, as well as their own personal needs. We are all collectively feeling this, so how does an individual utilise this skill and ability when tasked with a rebuild into the unknown?
What’s in place
There’s a lot to be applauded on just how far corporations have come over the last five years. Initiatives and strategies were already in place pre-pandemic e.g. EAP (Employee Assistance Programs), Mental Health First Aiders (with sound support structures for the MHFAs), on site therapists and career coaches. Additionally many well thought through wellbeing strategies, but how do we truly nurture a working community in a pandemic?
One size fits all solutions are never the target and are just not possible for all the above reasons, however we’ve seen some great supportive ideas implemented already:
Working with a trained, qualified and experienced therapist, some companies have been offering optional wellbeing check-ins for members of staff, for the employee and therapist to collectively determine if they need further support in the form of 1-2-1 counselling or psychotherapy. Those companies that have offered this have seen a good uptake and know their staff who opt-in is being supported through these challenging times.
Based on overall company themes and challenges, a variety of workshops are useful that offer both discussion and takeaways for each employee to add to their very own toolkit whilst reconnecting with colleagues’ post event. If the temperature of the team has been gauged well through questionnaires and check-ins, we have seen very well received workshops, where employees then step forward to further their own journey with the expert if possible.
Our practitioner ideas
Based on what our practitioners have experienced, here are some suggestions to think about:
Dr. Bunmi Aboaba – Food Addiction Coach
It’s important to reduce any unnecessary stress around changing working patterns with foods that help to reduce anxiety and increase mental wealth, focus and productivity
David Rogers – HR Director
There are a number of hidden matters, as well as more obvious ones, connected with a hybrid working environment, one of which is the disruption of empathic relationships.
Voice tone, gesture, recognition of shared experiences etc are significant contributors to the interpersonal dynamic in a work situation. These modes of communication will be lost or, at best, diluted when not all members of a team are physically present. The weakening of these links is an inevitable risk to the maintenance of a fully effective community, and, in order to mitigate potential damage, it’s important to identify which individuals are most likely to suffer in performance and stability terms
Such strategies can help, but place a significant time burden and will, in any event, not work in all circumstances. Thus, a more considered approach is required. Some individuals will cope with the sometimes-lonely situation of working remotely better than others, and it will be necessary to employ a more targeted approach to identify those who are struggling
Mental Health Foundation in the Pandemic study
The Mental Health Foundation is leading a study of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting mental health of people across the United Kingdom in their latest findings* they highlight that ‘amongst all those who are fairly or very anxious about unlocking, nearly three quarters (72%) said they were worried about being amongst crowds’
*Source: Wave 11: 18th June – 2nd July 2021: Total sample size in June-July 2021 was 4,004 UK adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
With regular, anonymised company ‘temperature checks’, mindful of individual and business needs, an alternative community can be nurtured with careful thought presenting a learning process, in the process. Hope, care and empathy need to be a priority from business leaders and adaptable plans made using employee feedback.
To be able to build a community in a hybrid way of working, the message needs to come from the top down – whilst we try and navigate our corporation through the pandemic and put measures in place to keep the company thriving, we need to be listening to the overall challenges of those that work for us.
The Mental Health Foundation survey notes that ‘the level of hopefulness in the general population is rising, with a quarter of those surveyed (25%) saying they feel hopefully in June / July 2021, compared to only 14% in March 2020’
Being adaptive, collaborative, agile, flexible and able to sit with trouble are vital skills for uncertainty. If attitudinally ‘hope’ is an important part of a survey, businesses need to work alongside mental health experts and use their corporate insider knowledge and cultivate this, so each employee feels part of something bigger, a new community if you will and feel heard along the way.
*R is the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.
About the authors:
Francesca Rogers & Katy Holliday are the founders of GetZeN. Www.get-zen.io is a unique mental health & wellbeing platform, offering preventative, measurable and strategic solutions for business health.
Francesca is a psychotherapist, psychotherapeutic supervisor, coach, EFT practitioner and assessor and spent 20 years working in the Advertising Industry.
Katy is a reiki master and group meditation practitioner and spent 20 years in senior commercial roles managing and developing teams across TV, Digital & Ad-Tech.