The lockdown period has been a learning curve for both businesses and professionals. We have had to learn how to use new technologies and how to remain productive when outside of the office, all whilst consciously supporting one another’s mental health and wellbeing.
Everybody’s experience of lockdown has been unique to them, with many facing daily challenges that have had the potential to negatively impact their health. Whether that is due to pressure brought on by an increased workload, changing responsibilities, a new way of working or a requirement to juggle childcare or caring responsibilities with work, the result has been a greater focus, particularly from a leadership perspective, on mental health and wellbeing to ensure those who need support, receive it.
As lockdown restrictions continue to be eased across the world and we undergo a slow transition back into the workplace, an organisation’s workforce will likely be divided between those who work in the office and those who will continue to work from home. As we evolve and adapt to a new hybrid way of working, it will become increasingly important that we as leaders take steps to transform our approach to how we lead our teams and ensure that their mental health and wellbeing remains at the forefront.
Look out for the signs
Managing a hybrid workforce requires a different leadership style. It is a challenge for the many leaders who have not previously had to manage a workforce divided between the office and home. We recently shared our advice on how leaders will need to adapt to lead a hybrid team and now we turn to how you can ensure your employees continue to receive the support they need during these uncertain times.
Identifying the signs that someone is struggling with their mental health is understandably more difficult when half of your team is working remotely at any given time. So, it becomes more important for you to familiarise yourself with the signs that someone may need your help and support. The common signs include a change in mood or behaviour, how they interact with others, whether they have become withdrawn from their work, a lack of motivation or focus, or feeling tired or anxious.
So, how can you ensure that you are doing everything possible for your team and prioritising their mental health and wellbeing during this period?
1. Support your employees and be understanding
For some people, moving to remote working was a challenging adjustment and they may continue to struggle in the hybrid working model. So, an extra level of understanding and compassion towards each team member’s personal situation is needed, even as things begin to return to some sort of normality.
Ask yourself whether your employees have everything they need to be happy and productive. Do they have the right level of support – if they don’t, ask what additional support they require. For instance, do their hours need to change to allow them to manage home commitments, are there aspects of their role that need to adapt to help them carry out their job or is training required to help them cope.
Open a two-way dialogue and create a space for them to raise their concerns and to be vulnerable. This will help you to gain a valuable understanding of their unique situation. It’s also important for you to be a compassionate and authentic leader, taking a genuine interest in your employees as people and consciously putting yourself in their shoes. Your team will then feel comfortable in approaching you for support. Don’t be afraid to show that you are only human too and that you too struggle at times.
Also, consider the language you use with your employees. You must convey your understanding of how they feel and the challenges they are facing on a daily basis. Think about how you are referring to employees based in separate locations to avoid a feeling of segregation or making people feel inferior by talking about ‘Team A’ or ‘Team B’. Adjust your language so you are empathising with their situation, as opposed to sympathising.
2. Show your people that you trust them
Regardless of whether you are managing people who are in the same physical workplace as you or not, it’s important to take a step back and trust your employees to deliver what is expected of them. Trust is essential during challenging times, which is a topic explored recently by my colleague Rowan O’Grady, President of Hays Canada – you can read his blog here.
By being realistic and focusing on outcomes, the location in which a person works may be irrelevant. Trusting them and providing them with flexibility means they can work around their own personal situation, whatever it might be. This will help your employees to feel supported, as they are able to work around other commitments.
Trust is also an important part of the employer/employee relationship, and a lack of trust has the potential to damage employee morale. Over time, this could harm their mental health as they doubt their own ability and become disconnected from their work. Showing you trust your employees will empower them and allow them to express their emotions without fear of retaliation.
While it might be difficult when you’re not seeing your team, in person, day in and day out, avoid micromanaging them and let them know you trust them to get on with their work. Providing them with the reassurance they need will strengthen your relationship to the point that they feel comfortable raising any concerns with you.
3. Facilitate open and honest communications
Over the past few months, organisations have taken proactive steps to ensure their staff do not feel isolated. One way this has been achieved has been through increasing the regularity of communications. So, going forward as we transition to the next era of work, continue to take such proactive steps.
Share good news stories from across the business, make sure your people are up-to-date with the latest company developments, communicate best practice and check in from time to time to see how each individual is coping. This is important, because in a rapidly-changing environment, things can alter very quickly and staying in regular contact will help to lessen any anxiety people may feel if they are otherwise left in the dark.
When contacting your team on a regular basis, be sure to not constantly ask for updates on their work. Instead, make communication two-way by also keeping people informed about the good things happening across the team and company. Importantly, let them know that they’re valued, as this will cultivate a sense of belonging among a divided team. Steps such as these will help to nurture a feeling of togetherness, whereby your people don’t feel as disconnected from their colleagues, ultimately helping with their wellbeing.
4. Encourage connectivity and bring your hybrid team together
Ensuring everyone feels included becomes even more important when teams are divided and everyone isn’t physically present in the room. Inclusion was at the top of the list for many HR leaders pre-crisis and following the initial stages of the pandemic it has become increasingly important. So, create a feeling of togetherness among your team and send out the message that their thoughts and feelings are appreciated even if they are working remotely.
There will undoubtedly be challenges – you cannot simply arrange a team call and hope everybody attends and shares their perspectives or ideas. My colleague Yvonne Smyth, Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion, has this to say on the matter: “Remember that while hybrid working patterns will mean everyone will continue to use technology as part of their everyday communication with colleagues, not everyone will or can engage and embrace it in the same way. Monitor when and how people are participating. Those who are not taking part are just as important and they may have a reason as to why they’re not getting involved. Don’t make assumptions, instead explore and listen to the reasons why with the required sensitivity. Then make reasonable adjustments, such as mixing up the ways you choose to engage. Don’t let those who are out of sight be out of mind.”
With this in mind, it’s therefore important to try and connect people as best you can. You can, for example, hold team events to bring those working from home together with those in the office. As well as more formal work events and regular team check-ins, arrange informal opportunities for staff to connect with one another. Many organisations and teams have been achieving this through fun interactive weekly quizzes – having that social time together is essential and it will help to avoid a divide between those in the office and those at home.
You can also use such interactions as an opportunity to cement your company values and build on your shared identity, celebrating your achievements as a team and reminding people of why you do what you do.
5. Encourage a positive work-life balance
For those who continue to work from home, even if it’s only one or two days per week, their living and working spaces will have become one and the same. This makes it even more difficult to maintain a good work-life balance. As a leader, you must ensure your team are giving themselves the time to switch off at the end of each working day and relax. So, look out for signs that this isn’t the case, such as emails being sent out of hours.
In such cases, make sure there is a clear distinction between working hours and non-working hours, depending on circumstances. Encourage your team to pack up their laptop at the end of the day and spend time with their family or friends, whether that’s in person or via a video call. Also, make sure your team is taking their full holiday allowance, especially at a time when travel is limited and there is less incentive to go away.
Don’t forget about employees who have returned to a co-located workspace either. If you are also operating in a hybrid model, you probably won’t see them as often as you usually would. These tips should apply to your office-based employees as much as your remote workers.
6. Increase your focus on wellbeing programmes
One of the biggest positive changes we have seen during this period has been the ramping up of wellbeing programs. Social distancing has been a new experience, which forced employers to really look at how they could help their employees overcome a sense of isolation. The additional wellbeing programs that have been put in place are likely to remain even once people return to co-located workspaces.
Even as restrictions continue to ease, the mental health and wellbeing of employees should remain the primary concern as organisations move into the new hybrid working model. Aside from the considerations around the health and safety of those returning to the office, from continuing to enforce social distancing to supplying the correct PPE (personal protective equipment), wellbeing must remain front and centre too so that people remain mentally, as well as physically, healthy. Businesses can do so by arranging one-to-one meetings with staff or by holding mental health awareness events to help create an environment where employees are able to talk about their wellbeing or request support should they need it. Also make sure your workforce has access to employee assistance programmes, which will provide them with the necessary support to help them address personal or professional problems that may be impacting their mental health or wellbeing.
7. Strike the right balance in the hybrid model
It’s vitally important to find the right balance between remote and onsite working. Forced working from home was a short-term response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unrealistic to expect that 100 per cent of your workforce can continue to work from home 100 per cent of the time. But it’s also unrealistic to think that your entire workforce should return to working exclusively from the office once the need to stay at home subsides.
As we wrote in this blog, it is advisable to think about what ideal daily percentage of your workforce you could support working remotely without impacting client engagement, mental health or team culture. Whether it’s 20 per cent, 30 per cent, 50 per cent or more, you should expect this to become the norm as people look to continue working remotely.
In addition, not all of your workforce will want to work from home and not all of them will want to work from the office either. So, it’s about accommodating both sides, understanding what works for some and not for others. Make sure you listen to everyone’s concerns, be understanding to their situation and support them in every possible way – this will ensure you are continuing to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing through the transition. It’s best to start having these conversations with your team as soon as possible.
8. Be a role model
To really understand what good looks like, you need to be displaying the behaviour you expect from your team. So, take care of your own mental health and wellbeing and set the right example.
For instance, you must set your own clear hours and be sure not to send emails out of hours. Let it be known that you have a clear definition of when it’s time to work and when it’s time to relax and exhibit a good work-life balance. This will not only set a good example to your employees, but it will ensure that you are looking after your own mental health and wellbeing. No one is immune to the stress of everyday life and that includes you.
It’s also important to consider that the hybrid working model is new to most of us – therefore, you can’t be expected to have all the answers right away. Be honest with your team, don’t come across as all knowing, show them your weaknesses and let them know this is something you will have to figure out together.
We hope this advice serves you well. If you are still struggling to understand the challenges your team is facing in a new hybrid model, why not ask them what they need to feel supported to be the best they possibly can be?
The pandemic has been an extremely challenging period for everyone and for different reasons. But we must take the good that has come from it and build upon it. The mental health and wellbeing of people is immensely important, so make sure it remains a priority as your organisation transitions back into the next era of work.
Nick Deligiannis began working at Hays in 1993 and since then has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business, including the role of Director responsible for the operation of Hays in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. In 2004 Nick was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors, and was made Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand in 2012. Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.