On Tuesday 17th March I was asked to no longer come into the office. We were all advised to work from home for the foreseeable future because of the government guidance surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
I had recently joined Loates after being in a home working role for 4.5 years. One of the reasons that I left was because I felt that the lack of social interaction was starting to affect my mental health. You see I’m a social being. That’s not to say that I don’t like my own company; I do. It’s just that I need to have regular catch ups with friends and family.
Like many, I am now back at home full time. I’m not alone however as I have my two awesome kidlets to keep me company. I feel lucky that so far, we have avoided any major fall outs or squabbles. Everything is pretty calm in our house with me working and the kids getting on with their schoolwork.
With so many of us now at home, managers have a responsibility to look after their team’s wellbeing more than ever. These are stressful times. We not only have to get used to the isolation of being at home but also have the anxiety about the reason for the isolation: the coronavirus.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Overwhelm seems to sum the situation up quite well. With so much to consider, job security, finances, vulnerable friends and family, health, schooling. It is no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
So, what exactly is stress? MIND gives a useful explanation:
Stress is primarily a physical response. It is the fight or flight mode that our body experiences when under attack. During this time our body releases a complex mix of hormones and chemicals to prepare us for physical action.
In a stressed state we are excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable. This reduces our ability to work effectively. We can find it hard to execute precise, controlled skills and are less able to make logical decisions. This can therefore have serious implications for our performance at work.
Stress can affect us in 4 ways:
- Cognitively – memory, judgements, concentration
- Emotionally – depression, irritability, moodiness
- Physically – chest pain, rapid heartbeat, aches and pains, digestion issues
- Behaviourally – increase intake of alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, isolating yourself, disrupted sleep pattern
If team members are feeling stressed at this time you can see that staying focused and motivated to work is a tall order. Those that have been furloughed may be facing other challenges with a lack of direction and purpose too.
MIND and The Stress Management Society offer some great advice to help us all keep on top of our stress levels:
- Prioritise your health
Make your health a priority. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so if you have others that rely on you then make sure you recognise the importance of keeping yourself healthy. Self-care should not be a luxury but a necessity.
- Eat well and stay hydrated
Food is fuel and by eating the right type of foods and keeping well hydrated you can help manage your stress. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can help your mood and energy levels.
- Stay active
Build physical activity into your daily life. Go for a walk, dance to music, clean the house, do online exercise classes, walk up and down the stairs.
- Connect with nature
Getting outside into the sunshine can improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger and make you feel more relaxed. Open the windows, go outside, sit by a window, tend to your garden if you have one.
- Have a routine
Plan how you will spend your time and try to follow your routine each day. Decide what activities, hobbies and tasks you want to achieve that day.
- Connect with people
Make plans to call or video chat with friends and family. Go online to find community groups with likeminded people. You could decide to watch the same film or read the same book so that you have something specific to talk about.
Find ways to relax. What is it that you enjoy that helps you chill out? Have a bath, listen to music, read a book, watch a film, knit or sew, paint or draw, mindfulness, yoga, exercise.
- Take care of your immediate environment
You may find it helpful to keep your home clean and tidy, although this is different for different people. Take time to consider whether your immediate surroundings are adding to your stress levels. Does the mess in the kitchen get you down, does the pile of clothes on the bedroom floor agitate you every time you see it?
- Be careful how much news and information you consume
Staying informed is great so that you know what measures to take to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading, but over-consumption of negative news can impact your mental health. If you are starting to feel anxious from watching the news or social media, then consider taking a break.
As managers you can encourage your team to follow this guidance but what else can you do?
- Work/life balance – ensure your team sticks to their hours, takes breaks and gets out of the house. Separate work and home life.
- Communicate – be open and honest and encourage your team to say when they are not OK. Check-in with them on personal stuff as well as work. Use instant messaging systems to enable the informal office banter to take place.
- Make reasonable adjustments – reduce hours, be flexible when hours are worked, redistribute workload. Be flexible.
- MIND suggests asking all team members to complete and share a Wellness Action Plan which you can find on their website. This asks a series of questions to establish what affects our wellbeing and what the signs are if we are struggling. By sharing this, other team members maybe able to offer help and support if they spot that someone needs help.
As mentioned earlier, you cannot pour from an empty cup so make sure you take care of yourself before taking care of your team. These are unprecedented times and we must not forget the importance of helping our colleagues and team members manage their stress and anxiety levels. We are all in this together!