Finding a balance: employee wellbeing, team morale and business performance
Naomi Thompson, Head of Organisational Development at Benenden Health, discusses how to keep your team motivated, look after mental wellbeing and ensure business performance during periods of sustained remote working.
COVID-19 has signalled new ways of working for many teams, and in the majority of cases requiring them to have to adapt quickly to remote working. To ensure a successful, happy and productive team during this time, a variety of new initiatives and tools can be introduced to help maintain a sense of connection. Being mindful of each team member’s different needs is also vital to ensure that the workforce’s overall motivation and productivity remains high. How your team is managed over this period will be remembered long after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
So, how can business owners and managers balance employee wellbeing and team morale with productivity and business performance, whilst also remembering to look after themselves?
This blog will explore:
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the way we live and work, introducing challenges to daily life many of us could never envisage. Whilst adapting to new ways of working, we face caring commitments, financial concerns, employment instability and pressures on mental wellbeing. This is a daunting period for employers and employees alike, but it also presents an opportunity for us all to find new ways of moving forward together. We must be flexible, support one another, adapt to uncertainty and embrace this change.
Before we delve into remote working tools, approaches and mindsets that we have found to be successful at Benenden Health, it is crucial to open up a two-way dialogue when working remotely. If you find yourself feeling isolated when you were once part of a team in an office environment, worries and pressures can start to mount regarding the future, your finances, the security of your job — and everything in between.
The difference between suffering in silence and working to alleviate these pressures lies in a team that keeps on talking at all levels. Managers will keep their team’s engagement, productivity and output where it should be by talking with them, rather than simply broadcasting to them. At Benenden Health, we achieve this balance via twice-weekly, two-way business updates and team huddles, coupled with prompt engagement with any team members who are facing challenges whilst working remotely.
For businesses and employees that have never required remote working arrangements, finding the right solutions for effective communication, collaboration and cohesion will inevitably be a process of trial and error. Using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype or an equivalent video conferencing technology will enable you all to stay connected. Group chat platforms such as Slack or Yammer promote frequent, more relaxed communications between team members rather than traditional email.
Working remotely means just that, so encourage your team to set up email and group chats through a smart device. Everyone should be encouraged to stay in touch with regular phone calls. Break up staring at the computer monitor for excessive periods of time and late at night: your eyes and mental wellbeing will both thank you. Bear in mind that remote conferencing facilities may pose additional challenges for those who are visually or hearing impaired. A discussion with each member of your team about what works well for them will enable you to make any adaptations, if necessary.
It is vital to recognise the importance of a positive work-life balance for both yourself and your team. When working remotely, it is all too easy for these lines to become blurred, with employees often unable to switch off mentally and physically.
In the current climate, employees may feel more pressure to work harder than ever before. To prioritise working remotely at the expense of your quality of life is very harmful for both employees and businesses. Overworked employees may become withdrawn, tired and are at a greater risk of experiencing burnout. By encouraging your team to “switch off” at the end of the day, you can alleviate stress by removing any perceived expectation from everyone’s shoulders. Maintaining a constant, open dialogue about current workloads will allow for a greater distinction between home and work life. In doing so, you will provide your team with the space to look after their physical and mental wellbeing.
Many employees feel uncomfortable requesting flexibility and support around family issues, if they feel their line managers lack the understanding, experience and training to care for their situation. During this uncertain period, employees are likely to be facing new challenges at home as well as at work. For example, those with caring commitments may find it difficult to adhere to strict working hours and conditions whilst carrying out childcare duties or looking after a dependent relative in their household. It can be a huge benefit to employers and employees to have some flexibility to work their hours around other commitments where possible. Without inconveniencing business operations too much, it can make the lives of employees a lot easier and reduce the likelihood of additional stresses taking hold. Ultimately, your team will appreciate your efforts to respond to their needs and reflect this back with loyalty and productivity.
Given the uncertainty of the current situation, managers should ideally spend some time contingency planning in the case of sudden absence of key employees, so that the leadership team can be more supportive and prepared. This may mean having nominated back-up staff for each role, trained stand-ins or a job share option. Openly discussing the re-distribution of workload amongst your team will also help. Employees are normally receptive to helping each other out.
A shared, supportive remote working environment helps to create a sense of team spirit, which serves as a reminder that everyone is in this together. This is a concept that can get lost over time, when people are focused solely on their individual workloads. The conversations we have with colleagues and business partners are a central part of our working lives. Without office chatter comes a greater reliance on electronic communication, which can increase levels of isolation experienced by employees working remotely. Connectivity with colleagues, even remotely, makes our “place” within the workforce feel embedded, which can be hugely comforting during times of uncertainty. Holding daily catchups and regular video calls can be priceless in boosting morale and alleviating isolation. Managers should demonstrate consistency and commitment to their team by scheduling these in advance and, where possible, sticking to them.
You might consider holding regular, scheduled video conferencing sessions and ask your team to come with ideas to make working remotely more successful for you all. Giving everyone the opportunity to share ideas in this way will help employees feel that their contributions are valued. At the same time, knowledge sharing between team members can facilitate solutions, innovation and creativity.
Whilst office initiatives are all well and good for improving mental wellbeing in your now remote workforce, the best solutions are often the simplest.
Offering a safe and confidential space for employees to speak to someone is fundamental in helping tackle work-related stress, as well as factors at home that could be affecting a team member’s mental wellbeing.
When working remotely with employees and colleagues, it can be more challenging to notice subtle signs of stress. Suddenly, we have been thrown into a remote world where it can be hard to see and understand the stresses and strains placed on team members.
Creating a culture of openness can encourage employees to come forward with any concerns. Commit to regular check-ins with individuals so you can acknowledge and address stresses and triggers before they become overwhelming. A problem shared is a problem halved, so if your team members feel able to help you identify the things that are causing them stress, you can work with them to alleviate matters.
Make sure your team are aware of any employee wellbeing services that your organisation has available to them and how they can access them. Some employees may benefit from professional advice, and employers can provide support by pointing workers in the direction of counsellors or mental health practitioners. For example, all Benenden Healthcare for Business customers have access to our 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, where employees can speak to an experienced counsellor at any time, to support with problems such as anxiety, depression, bereavement or relationship troubles.
If your workplace has trained Mental Health First Aiders, make employees aware and encourage them to make use of what support is available to them.
Sometimes, it will be necessary to break the status quo and work with employees on an individual basis to support their needs as best as possible. Above all, remember it is just as important to look after your own mental wellbeing.
One of the foundations for good mental health is good physical health. Keeping active can reduce the likelihood of depression and anxiety, which might be exacerbated by current circumstances.
Physiotherapist Shinu Varghese advocates moving around whenever possible: “whatever position you adopt, don’t stay like it for more than 20 to 30 minutes. Constantly changing position uses all your muscles and all the systems in your body.”
Simply encouraging employees to make the most of the opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise each day can be of great benefit for their mental health. Small changes can make a difference over time: instead of sitting for phone calls, why not stand up and walk around as you take them? Don’t keep water on your desk, walk to the kitchen to get a drink whenever you feel thirsty. Get active on your lunch break by going for a walk, run or doing a 20-minute workout.
Your team is likely to be working in less ergonomically-designed environments whilst at home. Help them stay active and avoid aches and pains by sharing these five exercises that can be done at home. Working with our wellbeing partner Vita Health, we have also developed two useful guides to help to support the physical wellbeing of your employees, including keeping mobile with a range of daily exercises and display screen equipment (DSE) guidelines for working safely at home.
For those who may find exercising alone difficult, consider launching lunchtime sporting groups for employees. Virtual walking groups, video yoga, pilates and online circuit training are just some examples of activities that benefit our physical and mental wellbeing, whilst providing an outlet for colleagues to spend more time with one another during social isolation.
The CV-19 Hub
Benenden Health has produced a Coronavirus hub, with more tips and information about how to stay healthy as a business and individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak. It also outlines any changes or enhancements to our services in response to the global pandemic.
Visit the CV-19 Hub for more information.
Find out how Benenden Healthcare for Business could support your employees
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