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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Minnikin

How to be kind to your employees during difficult times

Has the world ever been more uncertain?

Even before Covid19, work was making our wellbeing worse. According to the CIPD Good Work Survey there are worrying levels of work-related poor health. About a quarter of workers report that their job has a negative impact on their mental or physical health. One in five say that they always or often feel ‘exhausted’ at work, a similar proportion say they are under ‘excessive pressure’ and one in ten say they are ‘miserable’.

Work isn’t working for so many people; things are broken, people are broken, leaders are overwhelmed. People are scared, anxious, and worried about their futures.

Looking at a recent CIPD survey…

  • 38% of furloughed workers think it likely they’ll lose their job in the next 12 months.

  • 39% think their financial security has worsened since the COVID-19 outbreak – rising to 57% for furloughed workers.

  • 44% are anxious about returning to work, rising to 62% for those with underlying health conditions.

  • 53% with increased caring responsibilities are anxious about returning.

  • 31% of respondents felt anxious about commuting, rising to 52% in London.

Do these statistics surprise you? As a leader in an organisation, maybe you’re feeling the same way too? Add worries about your organisation, markets, customers, the political landscape and caring responsibilities too? What can you do to ensure you’re being kind to your employees during these difficult times?

1. Prioritise your own self-care

Clients are always surprised when we mention this first. When leaders are faced with a crisis they have a tendency to dive in and start helping other people; looking after everyone and completely neglecting themselves by just ploughing on.

We’ve spoken to many business and HR leaders this year who are struggling with their mental health, they’re exhausted. They’ve spent so much effort and energy making sure that their people are ok and leading them through these uncertain and volatile times, while also juggling caring responsibilities.

You’re not infallible. It’s not selfish to look after yourself, it’s crucial - you can’t pour from an empty cup! Take time away from work, spend time doing fun things - spending time in nature, arts and crafts, playing games, ordering a takeaway or watching a movie. Schedule it in. Make it a priority.

If you are feeling like you are struggling to cope, you’re not alone. You need to find a professional to speak to.

2. Understand what happens to you when under pressure

Self-awareness is so important. When people are under pressure, their behaviour may change. When you’re under pressure, do you find yourself becoming more irritable, frustrated with interruptions, become a micromanager, struggle to make decisions or bury yourself in work?

It may be useful to ask people around you how they know when you’re under pressure. Get some feedback to see how you can ensure that your behaviour is not making the situation worse for your employees. Bringing your under-pressure-behaviours into consciousness will mitigate the risk of you having an adverse impact on people around you.

3. Lose the ego & tell your people the truth!

Let’s face it, nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future… who planned for a global pandemic? During periods of rapid change and uncertainty, leaders need to be willing to stretch themselves out of their comfort zone, lose the ego and be open-minded enough to rapidly learn and embrace new concepts.

Nobody expects leaders to be able to predict the future and have all the answers, but we look to leaders to give us clues about how to behave. Role-model the behaviour you wish to see in your people.

When you don’t know something, you’ve got to admit that you don’t know and are making the best decisions you can with the best available evidence. Don’t be afraid to admit you are making things up as you go along - you can’t know everything! And don’t be afraid to change your decision when you discover more information - be honest, it’ll be appreciated.

4. Communicate and listen

Feeling a sense of belonging is so important. Do your employees feel that two-way channels of communication are open to them? Do they feel listened to? Have you asked them?

When we are feeling insecure in our work due to instability, people get worried. Our brains crave stability so will literally make things up to have some certainty. This is how you get rumours, which function to make sense of something that’s already unclear. Rumours help explain a confusing element of the world. But the impact of rumours can be devastating to organisations. This is why clear communication is so important.

5. Give your people an outlet to share how they are feeling

Giving people a safe space to ask questions and share how they feel is crucial in times like this. For some daily check-ins work, for others they are happy to be left alone to get on with their work and a less frequent chat works for them.

Don't assume you know what’s best, make sure you ask people what they want and listen to them. Do they want check-in calls on a 1-2-1 or team basis? Give them options.

Everyone reacts differently to change and uncertainty, some get really anxious and stressed while others are surprisingly resilient and seem to almost enjoy it.

When giving people this safe space, it’s crucial to know when you’ve gone from a listening ear to a scenario where someone needs professional help - and how to signpost them.

These proactive suggestions should help you create an environment of trust and a feeling of belonging, which will give employees a sense of being listened to and cared about.

After all, this is what we all need right now.

Get in touch to speak about our support programmes to help you navigate these choppy seas.

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