It’s likely that over the last few months most of us will have felt anxious or worried about the effects of the pandemic. In some cases, these feelings can be made worse by having no choice but to work remotely. We may suddenly have found ourselves without our regular support network around us or feeling pressure to do extensive amounts of additional work in order to prove that we are being productive. It's important for managers to recognise these risks and find innovative ways of creating safe spaces in which to deal with them.

Managers need to be curious about their team members’ wellbeing and build an environment in which those who want to talk can feel comfortable in doing so. They should get to know their team and seek to understand where there might be pressure points. Some might have children, are caring for a vulnerable relative or concerned about a pre-existing health condition. These are valid concerns and any team member who is struggling must feel justified in doing so and benefit from extra support or flexibility from their manager.

A big part of creating a safe and open environment is for managers to show that they themselves, are practicing self-care. This sends an incredibly powerful message; that we all need to look after ourselves during these challenging times. Ultimately, we need managers that will act as role models. Team members won’t open up about their wellbeing if managers aren’t showing that it’s a safe environment to do so.

Starting the conversation

People can be resistant to acknowledging when they’re suffering.  For those who remain hesitant to open up, there are some behavioural signs that we can watch out for, which might suggest that a team member is struggling.

Look out for team members who seem withdrawn or are avoiding engaging with the team. Similarly, watch for those who become quickly frustrated or easily overwhelmed. There are also physical signs that we can watch out for such as headaches, backaches or difficulty sleeping. People are often much more willing to speak about physical symptoms than feelings of stress or anxiety, but they often come hand-in-hand.

In terms of addressing these signs, we need managers to have the courage to start a conversation. Try an exploratory approach, that invites the team member to open up. Questions like “How have you been feeling?” and “Are you OK, I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself?” are more effective than simply telling a team member that you’d like them to tell you what’s wrong. The most important thing though, is to build that safe environment. People will often try to gauge whether it’s safe to speak about how they feel, so we need to ensure we are normalising discussions about wellbeing.

Bringing the team together

Giving team members a sense of control can be useful. A virtual event of some kind can often be a powerful way of bringing people together and collectively strengthening their wellbeing. If that’s an approach that you’re interested in taking, ask the team what would be helpful to them instead of just organising an event that they don’t feel engaged in. Give your team a voice. Encourage them to collaborate.

Likewise, it’s easy to dwell on what’s going wrong. Try asking the team to focus instead on what’s going well. How do they want the future to look? What have we learned from this period? What are they proud of? Focus on what the team has achieved during this time. It’s not about dismissing the challenges that we’re dealing with; it’s about managing them effectively and spending time focusing on any positives, to help keep people feeling balanced and motivated.

Written by: Kirsty Lilley

Kirsty has delivered mindfulness and self-compassion courses to a wide variety of workplaces during her career and is also a trained psychotherapist and coach. She has worked at a strategic level within organisations developing wellbeing policies and been responsible for developing training courses on improving mental health and wellbeing, as well as courses designed to help line managers support people with mental health difficulties effectively and continually works towards the reduction of stigma within workplace settings. Kirsty is committed to an integrated and compassionate approach when helping others to fulfil their potential.

As changes to restrictions continue and new challenges emerge, we want to help you maintain a sense of balance and control in your life. You can find more of this advice on our dedicated coronavirus support page.