With many of us already back at work, or preparing to go back into our workplace, we’ll enter a new phase of wellbeing and self-care. Alongside all the very practical measures to protect us from Covid-19, we’ll be facing new challenges and stresses. Once-everyday things – commuting or sharing crockery at work – may now make us feel uncomfortable. While many of us are itching to go back into work for ‘normality’, we may be surprised at how we feel once we’re back in.
In a recent CMI webinar, Simon Blake, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, gave us some tips on how we can look after our wellbeing in life after lockdown. Here, he takes us through the positive aspects of lockdown in terms of working relations and self-awareness, followed by a few action points for the future.
Over to you, Simon…
Trust our resilience
The coronavirus pandemic has taught us a lot, including that even with the best laid plans, the world is unpredictable. And even though there has been enormous hardship, pain, and trauma through this time, we have generally adapted incredibly well. Almost overnight our way of life changed and in the context of work we have learned that we really can be more flexible than we thought and that digital tools open up possibilities and have made our working practices more inclusive.
Our whole selves
At MHFA England, the week before lockdown began, we launched a campaign called My Whole Self. When we were planning the campaign, we imagined the focus would be about people taking their whole selves to their place of work. Three months on it is clear that taking our whole selves is much more about mindset than location, since lockdown so much more of our self has been on view and we need to honour that insight as we start returning to the office.
Prioritising mental health
There is no doubt in my mind that we have had a crash course in emotional literacy over the last few months. The focus on staff wellbeing and mental health has really been at the forefront of so many businesses over the past few months. As we move forward, it's really important that we don't look back to a place where staff wellbeing isn’t as high on the agenda, and we have to make sure we are using our emotional literacy: our emotions and our intelligence combined at least as much, if not more than we have done during this period.
Understanding different experiences
As we move forward, we need to understand and think about the different factors that are going to influence people’s wellbeing. We need to understand and care about the range of experiences our team members have had: some people have been furloughed; some people have been working; some have been working and homeschooling; or working while undertaking caring responsibilities.
People will have been affected in so many different ways. Our teams will have experienced bereavement, grief or anxiety about health, they will have been affected by George Floyd’s killing and the global campaign for racial justice, by health concerns for friends, partners or family.
Furloughed workers who have been away for weeks or months will likely come back and find whole different ways of working and different priorities. That can be really discombobulating and we need to support people through this. At MHFA England we are starting to plan for the return to the office with enormous care and attention, and are paying attention to the five points set out below:
Involving people in the planning: first step is to launch a survey asking our people about both practical and emotional issues. There are going to be some general principles and then some factors that will affect individuals. We know some people can’t wait to get back to work, whilst others want to work from home on a permanent basis. We know that some people are worried about public transport, others are worried about childcare, whereas for others it will be what happens when you're in the office or whether they can maintain flexibility and work from home. We will convene a project group to drive forward the planning and return.
Re-inducting everyone: when we do come together in person we will spend time acknowledging everything that has happened, both personally and professionally. We are going to need to discuss different people’s experiences of working from home, from being furloughed, from being in lockdown and trying to manage through a global pandemic. We will spend the time understanding each other’s realities to re-induct and rebuild, so we can all work together to support wellbeing and move forward together.
Celebrating success and looking forward: At the right moment, we will take stock of what happened, celebrate everybody's contribution to the business and draw some lines in the sand as we move forward. For those who have been working, their contribution will feel different than those who have been furloughed. Both are important and valid.
Everyone has contributed to organisational success in different ways and will want to celebrate everybody's contribution to the business. This will be a really important part of reintegrating as we move through into that next stage. And for us – like most businesses - the next stage will see MHFA England continuing to change.
Facing the future with empathy and courage: throughout the coronavirus pandemic we have always been open about what we do know and what we don’t. There are so many things we can control, and many more that we cannot. Yes, coronavirus is massive and directly impacting so many of our organisations. However, it is not the only issue we – or our staff – are trying to navigate. For example we must all be taking action on becoming truly anti-racist, tackling the gender pay gap, ensuring LGBT+ inclusion etc.
As leaders, we need to communicate with words and actions that we understand the wider picture. Our people need to see that we are human and that we will lead with courage, understanding and empathy.
A visible focus on mental health and wellbeing: I would urge you to include staff mental health and wellbeing as an explicit plank of your strategy, and to make that really clear to your teams. Staff need to see that on the front page of the strategy and be clear how they can contribute to it. We will engage a group of clearly identified Mental Health First Aiders across the organisation, to provide an extra layer of mental health support to staff as they transition back to the new normal. Every organisation is different, but those core principles of partnership, of empathy, flexibility and honesty within management and leadership are going to be absolutely critical – as they always are.
Let us not underestimate the challenge ahead and let us not underestimate our people either.
Why not check out Simon's conversation with CMI's CEO, Ann Francke?
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