mental health during lockdown

R U OK Day is 9th September. This made us think about how we can best manage our mental health, especially for those of us who are experiencing long lockdowns. We checked in with Psychologist and iHR Australia Facilitator, Steven Booker, for some advice.

1. How can managers support their remote team?

Working remotely during lockdown is probably one of the biggest change management experiences that most Australian companies and employees have ever faced. The uncertainty caused by COVID has increased the psychological needs and concerns of many employees.

A team’s success, wellbeing and performance now depend even more on leaders making time to check in with each member of their team regularly, and understanding and supporting individual employee’s needs.

Don’t assume everyone is affected the same way by working from home. Individual employees may love it, be neutral about it, mildly dislike it, or find it very stressful.

Take the time to ask each employee how they are affected and listen to their response. Model honesty and authenticity by being open with your team about how COVID / remote working is affecting you / the team / the company, and encourage them to be open with you about how they are affected and what support they need.

Encourage the team to reflect on their own wellbeing and actively discuss these topics during team meetings and 1-on-1’s. For example, consider asking team members questions such as:

  • How can you spend more time moving, getting outside or away from your computer?
  • How are you coping with stress and what can you do to build your resilience?
  • How can you stay motivated and productive, without burning out?
  • How much socialising and team interaction do you actually need, and are you getting it virtually? If not, how can you increase it?
  • How can I support you; what do you need from me as the leader to be successful in the remote working environment?

2. How often should you check in when colleagues are working remotely?

There is no right answer to this question because it depends on the preferences of each team member, and your preferences as the leader. A good idea would be to ask each team member how often they would like a check-in and individualise this to meet the needs of each team member.

Some prefer working early morning while others prefer working late. Accepting personal circumstances and working methods help people feel cared for, which is essential during a time of crisis.

Check-in regularly and spontaneously, both formally and informally. In the absence of any preferences being expressed by employees for how often they like a check-in, it is probably a good idea to aim for one check-in per employee per week.

3. Are there any signs to pick up on for someone working at home who is struggling that you should be looking out for?

Signs of stress, burnout or mental ill-health can be hard to pick up in the remote working environment. Remember that everyone is different, and so what you are really looking for is significant changes in an individual’s normal pattern of work, communication, performance or engagement. For example, a usually sociable and extroverted salesperson appears shy and withdrawn. Or a usually quiet and reserved technical employee is unusually loud or flamboyant.

Remember that your role is not to diagnose or treat mental ill-health. Leave that to the experts. Also, changes in a person’s normal communication and performance does not mean they necessarily have a major problem or are experiencing mental ill-health. They may just be having a bad day or showing a common reaction to lockdowns.

However, if you are noticing changes in an individual employee’s motivation, communication, decision-making, memory, attention to detail, teamwork or performance, this should encourage you to ask them in a 1-on-1 check-in R U OK?

Having the R U OK? conversation feels less daunting if we realise that our role is not to: diagnose, treat, problem-solve, assess fitness for work or take on an employee’s problems. Instead, as a leader, your role is to: Look – be aware of signs of mental ill-health at work. Listen – initiate the R U OK conversation and focus on listening to and supporting the employee. Link – know the sources of assistance in and outside of your organisation and encourage the employee to use them.

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