Thought Leadership

How can companies better support employees through another lockdown?

A third lockdown, combined with the seasonal gloom of January is placing employees at risk of burnout, making safeguarding the mental health of staff business critical.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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As we sit on the precipice of a new year, many are reporting that life already feels more exhausting than 2020. For the client-servicing and targets-driven businesses within the creative industries, protecting the mental health of staff has always been a challenge. Long prior to lockdown research from NABS and Mind revealed that 64% of respondents have considered leaving the industry at some point because their wellbeing was being affected by their work.

The impact of lockdown is clearly exacerbating mental health issues. Research from Bupa Global reveals that six in 10 business leaders with mental health symptoms have turned to potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms rather than seeking help, with two in five using alcohol and substances to cope with mental ill health. 

According to Bupa Global’s research eight in 10 (78%) have experienced symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, mood swings and disturbed sleep, with triggers including concerns about their business, economic recession, protecting the health of loved ones, coping with reduced personal freedoms and personal financial instability.

Crucially, despite the mantra ‘we are all in it together’, employee experience of lockdown varies greatly. A fact which creates a challenge for business leaders who might have over-relied on one-size fits all initiatives in the past. 

While employees living on their own might need more points of connection and communication from their companies, working parents attempting to home-school and work might in fact need the polar opposite. Research from the TUC has revealed that nine out of ten working mothers say their mental health has been negatively impacted and that they are experiencing increasing levels of stress and anxiety. 

Yet while no two experiences of the pandemic are the same, there is no question that placing your head in the sand when it comes to adapting to the mental and physical drain of the crisis on employees and leaders alike is not a sustainable strategy. With this in mind we asked a selection of industry leaders how we can better support employees through the challenges of a third lockdown: 

Look after your own wellbeing to increase your capacity to support your team.

Priya Datta

Priya Datta

Priya Datta, NABS.jpg

Senior Support Advisor

NABS

Empathy is key, although this can be challenging for managers who may be experiencing empathy fatigue through yet another lockdown. Through this sustained period of difficulty, it can be hard to support your employees’ changing needs as well as your own. Look after your own wellbeing to increase your capacity to support your team. Even a five-minute walk outside can help.

At NABS, we’ve seen how introducing new ways to connect with your team, and with people from different teams, can be a breath of fresh air and create a sense of belonging. Try scheduled ‘cuppa and chat’ breaks, without work on the agenda, or video calls with randomised breakout groups that foster connection with colleagues across the business.

Consider the additional support needed by team members facing complex challenges, such as parents or marginalised groups. It’s not about having all the answers. Co-creating workarounds to team members’ changing needs can build a healthy dialogue that supports both the employee and the business.

Address invisible expectations. There may be subtle messages across your organisation about when, how long or how much people should be working. This puts people under undue pressure and counters flexible working practices, so call out these unspoken expectations and reiterate your stance around healthy ways of working.

Flexibility and support are what employees need from us right now.

Ali Sargeant

Ali Sargeant

Ali, MRM.png

Head of HR

MRM UK

The biggest risk of the lockdown to any organisation is the growing number of people whose mental health is declining. Whether it be the challenge of juggling home schooling and childcare with work, or feelings of social isolation. Flexibility and support are what employees need from us right now.

We are allowing our staff to adopt a completely flexible approach to work to support home commitments. Communication with teams and line managers is key to this. We have also put a lot of resources in place to support our people which have been vital, including details of our Mental Health First Aiders and a partnership with the Headspace app which is available free to all employees.

In person contact gives people a sense of connection and belonging and replacing these virtually with regular social events and exercise challenges that bring people together is an important part of our approach too.

It’s so important to continue to have empathy and provide support as we move into this new lockdown.

Christi Tronetti

Christi Tronetti

Christi Tronetti.jpg

Marketing Director

M&C Saatchi

It’s so important to continue to have empathy and provide support as we move into this new lockdown. Many of our people have been hugely affected by the new rules, and we’ve got a number of initiatives in place to help address this.

We’ve introduced a great resource called Open Blend, an online tool which monitors employees’ wellbeing and drives continued positive performance. It creates a tailored profile for each individual which is designed to capture what is most important to them and gauge their overall happiness and work satisfaction in the moment. All managers are given training to equip them to have effective coaching conversations, with the aim of empowering employees to unlock workable solutions that help them blend their working and home lives in a positive way that suits them.

We’ve also invested in several other wellbeing initiatives including access to meditation and psychotherapist sessions, as well as an employee-led mental wellbeing group, mental health first aid support staff, enforced Zoom timeout moments and Freedom Fridays, an extra Friday once a month.

The key for companies in 2021: maintain that momentum by doing more of a few things already started.

Naz Sadri

Naz Sadri

Naz_Sadri_MerchatCantos.jpg

Employee Engagement Strategist

MerchantCantos

Every business and every employee will be facing unique and varied challenges right now. But businesses can support their employees by bringing some much-needed energy and new ideas through how they communicate to colleagues about everything from strategy, to WFH, to vaccines to mental health.

In the first round of lockdown, companies generally adapted pretty quickly to new ways of working with many putting an increased emphasis on employee engagement. The key for companies in 2021: maintain that momentum by doing more of a few things already started.

To start with, businesses can be more proactive in their engagement and ensure that initiatives, for example, around wellbeing or diversity are more than tick-box initiatives. Similarly, communications with employees should be personal and relevant and move away from anything homogenous. Employees deserve better. Of course, flexibility remains a crucial element, as we have all discovered, and this will remain the case as we continue to navigate the year ahead.

We are living in a time where everything feels unstable and unpredictable, but at the same time very mundane and routine. How do we balance that? With authenticity, creativity, and innovation. And all this starts with how we communicate.

The overall message we keep communicating to our team is to keep looking out for each other.

Joel Seymour-Hyde

Joel Seymour-Hyde

Joel Seymour-Hyde, UK, Managing Director.jpg

UK, Managing Director

Octagon

We were acutely aware this Lockdown in particular would likely test morale of our staff more than any other period of the last 10 months, so have put a series of new initiatives in place.

Firstly, whilst Blue Monday may have been invented by a PR agency (kudos), we always do a little something to acknowledge it, and went a bit further this year and delivered a box of brownies to all staff. I’m not suggesting brownies are the cure here, but little moments of joy we can all share in help. It certainly seemed to be appreciated based on the @octagonUK Instagram feed.

There are a few additional initiatives we’ve proposed to support staff too:

Reclaiming Lunch Break (and daylight!) 12-1pm has been blocked out in all our calendars until the clocks change, and we are encouraging staff to use that time to get outside. We’ve emphasised the importance of fresh air and daylight during the working day for mental and physical wellbeing, especially whilst the mornings and evenings are dark.

Avoiding Screen Fatigue. It’s easy to spend far too much of the day in back-to-back video meetings. We’ve provided tools & training to manage this and encourage non-video-based communication.

Headspace. This is a brilliant resource to support mental health. Membership for all our staff is free and we are encouraging everybody to make use of the resources it has.

Over and above all this, the overall message we keep communicating to our team is to keep looking out for each other. It doesn’t matter what background or home set up someone has, everyone will be impacted in different ways and at different times, and knowing the support is there is the most important thing of all.

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Mental Health