By Gosia Bowling, Emotional Wellbeing Prevention and Enhancement Lead, Nuffield Health
The current coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world of work into uncertainty, with an estimated 9 million UK employees furloughed and the rest facing disruption to their routines as they try to adapt to remote working.
Workplace changes are stressful. Furloughed employees may worry about their ability to provide for themselves and their family and those working from home can struggle to transition from vibrant, social offices to remote working in isolation.
In times of change, employers have a responsibility to help employees navigate uncertainty and build emotional resilience.
What is emotional resilience?
Emotional resilience is the ability to anticipate, adapt to and bounce back from periods of stress. It’s an important skill for employees, helping them cope with the pressure of meetings, looming deadlines and complex workplace relationships.
While some stress is positive – helping employees stay calm, complete tasks under pressure and respond quickly to increased physical or mental demands – remaining in a heightened state of stress for too long starts to impact physical and mental wellbeing.
Everyone has their own ‘stress signature, but stressed employees often experience fatigue, headaches and sleep disturbance, plus increased susceptibility to health issues like obesity, heart attacks and stroke. Long term stress eventually leads to exhaustion and burnout.
Communication is key
Furloughed employees may be struggling with feelings about their value to the company and that their job may be at risk after the pandemic. Check-in regularly to show they’re valued and you’re thinking of them even while out of the office.
This could be as simple as a daily email to all staff, supplemented with weekly personal check-ins over a messaging platform or phone call.
For those working remotely, the shift from a sociable and noisy office, surrounded by colleagues, to the isolation of working from home can be unsettling.
Encourage communication among employees. For example, setting up team chats on an informal messaging platform and letting employees know it’s okay to send the occasional personal message to friends within the team.
Employers should aim to support and facilitate a workplace culture where conversations about mental health are both welcomed and expected.
Anxiety often stems from the unknown, with employees continuously asking themselves ‘what if?’. It’s important they’re not left in the dark. Share important updates that impact employees but be careful not to overwhelm them with distressing news updates too often.
It’s important employees know they can talk about their struggles, even while out of the office. Consider supporting employees with telephone CBT services, giving them access to a specialist who can help them explore unhelpful thinking patterns and teach relaxation techniques.
Furloughed employees may also benefit from online mental health training plans. They can work through modules each day to help establish a routine while not working and access modules to help with specific struggles.
Emotional literacy training is an effective tool for boosting employee resilience by ensuring staff have a common language to discuss mental health. It gives them the knowledge, self-awareness, and empathy to be better listeners and encourages conversations to support themselves and others.
Similarly, webinars and online workshops are available to prepare managers for the demands of remote working, helping them to quickly recognise signs of distress and provide support, even while away from the office.
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