Unprecedented. It’s the only word we can use to describe the changes brought on working life. And traditionally, we human beings don’t handle change well.
The loss of control, the loss of agency over where, when, and how we conduct ourselves during isolation will take a serious toll on many people’s emotional well-being.
Often times, it’s the leaders in our lives who have a big impact. Team leaders become sources of inspiration and forums to share concerns.
We decided to gather a few of Europe’s top leaders to ask what they are doing right now to help look after their employees during this time.
Covid-19 has brought changes that have effected so many of us so quickly and as more organisations move to remote working, human connection has never been more important. Remote working can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation which are risk factors for mental ill-health however the principals of support and care are the same, we just might have to apply them differently.
Whilst we aren’t in a position to provide professional advice ourselves, we have avenues we can signpost to if necessary such as our EAP platform or the government-funded corporate partnership with Able Futures.
We are also able to work closely with those who are qualified to provide support in these times.
We recently ran an employee well-being webinar with Judy James MBACP. Judy walked through all the best practices for maintaining your emotional well-being at times like these, for both you and your team.
Watch the webinar here.
Lena Pejgan Wiberg is an Engineering Manager at Blocket, an online marketplace platform.
BLOCKET started in 1996 in Fjälkinge by Henrik Nordström and was then primarily a regional gadget market for Skåne. After a few years, Blocket expanded to offer buy and sell ads across the country. Today, Blocket is a marketplace where you can find just about everything you need – everything from design furniture and strollers to cars and jobs.
Her role, as Engineering Manager, has her looking after a team of engineers as they develop Blocket’s digital presence.
As a manager, Lena strives to see the potential in every individual. Putting great emphasis on removing obstacles rather than a control function, Lena sees herself as a service provider, not a gatekeeper.
During COVID-19, Lena has maintained her strong ‘people-focused’ policies as her team has moved to fully remote working.
“We do daily (voluntary) check-ins in the morning and digital “Fika” Friday afternoons. I use Slack to relay information and we try to keep all team meetings intact but through digital media.”
As for the mental and emotional well-being of her colleague, Lena favors a transparent approach that puts as much emphasis on Lena communicating her struggles as it does her team.
“I try to be open about my own struggles and I think that creates an environment where it is ok not to be ok.”
Embracing tough moments, instead of swiftly moving past them, can be incredibly powerful when practiced correctly. Framing the situation correctly is validating; you acknowledge that your feelings are justified, and that even though your situation is not ideal, you accept there is nothing wrong with the fact that you're struggling. This is not about accepting and ignoring, this is accepting and moving through.
A study from Montana State University found that people who are authentic and honest with themselves can overcome feelings of shame — which would otherwise cause them to devalue themselves.
Dwelling on a feeling of failure is paralyzing. It will keep you from asking for help when you need it or making good choices.
Fostering that environment in the workplace, however, isn’t going to happen overnight. Instead, see this time as an opportunity to set off on the right foot.
“Understand that there is no one size fits all. Spend time to get to know people and meet them where, how and when they want to be met. Ask what they need from you – YOU are the servant. Dare to be vulnerable. Don’t hoard information, especially now.”
Claire Thompson is the CEO of Agility Health Tech and an Award-winning pharmaceutical scientist, strategist and innovator with 15 + years’ experience in developing pharmaceutical products in global companies, virtual biotechs and contract research organisations (CROs).
Now in amongst the COVID-19 outbreak, Claire and her team at Agility Health continue consulting globally to healthcare and technology companies, ranging from spin-out to multinational companies, on how to fast track their technologies to market and help them to convey the benefits of their science through impactful communications.
With her team now distributed and working from completely different locations and in completely different situations, she's had to get creative with how she keeps her colleagues engaged.
“Well over half of all of my colleagues have children at home and at times like these, people’s priorities are naturally shifted.”
The natural response for business leaders might be to double down on routine and provide structured days for staff who would normally be around for physical check-ins.
Claire, however, believes her more trusting approach is leading to increased engagement and increased productivity.
"We have a WhatsApp group to stay connected, as well as video calls with all staff and customers."
And this approach may well be fostering increased productivity, as according to a peoplemanagement.com survey, 39 percent of people who mostly work from home often work additional hours to complete their tasks compared with 24 percent of those in fixed workplaces. On average, those who work remotely work an extra two hours over their ‘in-office’ colleagues. This is largely attributed to not being reliant on office equipment and being set up easily at home to handle requests at any hour.
Many remote working critics will tell you that it’s the isolation and lack of presence in the team that damages engagement and productivity. And while it’s certainly true that someone working from home would be missing out on the workplace banter, the access to other people’s feedback and thoughts with just a swivel of a chair.
But in some situations, those things are the problem. The workplace itself may be a source of massive distraction for those who need to get stuck in to deep, complicated work. In a 2019 Flex survey, it was found that 75 percent of people choose to work remotely because there are fewer distractions.
Subscribing to this methodology, Claire trusts her colleagues to get the job done, but she still holds herself accountable to meeting regularly.
"80% of my workforce have children including her – Wellbeing over workload is my motto."
Reflecting on the first few days of lockdown, Erik remembers how quickly the members of the senior leadership moved.
“The second day of announcement, we sent everyone home. We asked them what they needed to make working from home efficient and we made them sure we ordered them anything they needed.
That was over a month ago. That felt like we were being really responsive and on top of things but that’s now just the new normal. What do we need to doing to build on that?”
Erik Bennerhult is CEO of Naktergal, a Swedish company reinventing lending, taking cutting edge consumer lending into the mortgage lending market.
Currently looking to scale up and take the product to other countries in Europe, Erik’s day to day activities during Covid-19 are changing every day. Top on his agenda, however, is the day-to-day well-being of his colleagues and staff at Naktergal.
The solution, for Erik, isn’t always going to be as easy as setting up formal programs. Instead, a more flexible approach is needed, one closer to the human side of this crisis.
“The key thing is just having people around who can listen. People are worried about the people close to them.”
A bigger problem, from Erik’s viewpoint, is the isolation of many of his team, especially the younger generation who may have gone straight from university into their role (or travelled from other countries) are experiencing right now.
Loneliness has always been something that greatly troubles Millennials: According to the 2016 VICELAND UK Census, loneliness is the number one fear of young people today—ranking ahead of losing a home or a job. Fully 42% of Millennial women are more afraid of loneliness than a cancer diagnosis, by far the highest share of any generation. This fear has been ingrained into the very lexicon of Millennials, immortalized in acronyms like “FOMO” and its many companion terms.
Their spaces, often small, cramped, and situated in cities that are now closed to leisure.
“Many of our employees are also just sitting alone in their apartments.”
For some, the contact they have with their work team may be the only contact they have with anyone for the entire week. For that reason, Erik and his team emphasize the positives as quickly and thoroughly as they can.
“We try to be very up to date with news. A central theme of our company is transparency. We push out positive news with transparency. Even just a big comfort. We hired a new person, so we pushed that out. The little things like that.”
“People know not everything is fine. We’re not politicians, we’re not trying to stand up in front of thousands and people to pretend everything is going to be okay. We’re just there to listen and take the rough with the smooth.”
Rasmus Savandar is Product Manager at ‘Neobank’ Dreams.
Leading a cross-functional team of designers and developers, responsible for the core-experience at a Stockholm based ‘neobank’ called Dreams. We build financial services for a digital generation.
For many, routines are coping mechanisms, and during times like these, the maintenance of these routines might be the difference between just coping and being healthy. Acknowledging this, Rasmus and his team at Dream, have worked hard to maintain business as usual routine for all their staff in a digital context.
“A lot of the strategies boil down to what we do on a day to day basis. For us, it might be everything from continuing to organise fun stuff after work, be it a music quiz or whatever we did pre-COVID- 19, and that we continue to do it in a digital environment. It’s different for sure, but I think we’ve put a lot of effort into replicating that feeling, like grabbing a coffee after work. I’m the first to admit that it’s different, but I think it’s a pretty nice compliment. We’ve tried to put a lot of effort on business as usual but in a digital context.”
Putting the work in and facilitating business as usuals and events like these only go so far. The human touch, especially when working from an isolated setting, is sorely missed. For Rasmus and his team, the onus is on management.
“All managers have put more effort into proactively reaching out to all team members and spending time around things other than just business. Grabbing a coffee and talking about whatever but in a digital context.”
Companies lucky enough to have HR teams big enough to manage not only the staffing element of their role, but also the happiness side, will benefit. At Dreams, a People’s Operations Team has been set up to help ease the burden on their colleagues and go that extra mile to ensure everyone’s well-being is being looked after.
“We have a People Operations team. You could call it our HR department but we’ve chosen to call it our People Operations team, which is responsible for our wellbeing. Ultimately, you could say they own the OKR of employee happiness. They’ve done an amazing job. For instance, when we shifted to working from home, they did home deliveries. If you had a favourite chair at the office that you needed they brought it, or if you had some computer equipment left behind they brought it to your home.”
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