Coronavirus: Psychological Insights for Managers
In studies reviewed by Dr Samantha Brooks (Kings College London) in The Lancelot, February 2020, it was found that quarantine can cause a number of negative psychological effects. These included post-traumatic stress, anger and confusion.
Being separate from a group of people you’re used to spending time with can cause feelings of isolation, not dissimilar to those of being in quarantine. Loss of usual routine and reduced face-to-face contact have been shown to cause boredom, frustration and a sense of isolation, which can be distressing. While we might understand the logic behind the sacrifice of isolating ourselves, the anticipation of lifestyle change can feel daunting.
Be prepared to experience the five stages of change acceptance (Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle), and for your team to do the same:
- Denial: This can’t be happening!
- Anger: This isn’t fair!
- Bargaining: Maybe we can still try to do something… get to work, meet across an open space?
- Grief: This is going to be awful being stuck at home!
- Acceptance: We can do this! We’re more fortunate than some others and we need to make the most of new opportunities.
This is a normal process to experience and it isn’t necessarily linear so don’t worry about moving backwards at some stages, particularly as the situation changes. The important message to take from this cycle is that it is normal and it is crucial to show empathy for each other, whatever we are feeling.
A critical role for managers is to ensure they are supportive of their staff and that means checking in very regularly, asking people about how they’re coping. It is likely that people with pre-existing poor mental health will need additional support and although managers need to know the boundaries of their role, it is important to reach out to these employees more often. Make a time to check-in every day or two at a time that suits everyone involved, taking into consideration individual demands, e.g. children.
For individual calls with your team, think about the following:
- Ask how they’re doing? How are they really feeling? What are they doing to look after their own wellbeing (see my film for advice)? Help them understand the grief cycle and how it relates to them; in other words, normalise their feelings.
- Ask how they are managing their time and ensuring they are switching off from work? It can be tempting for employees to keep their laptop on during the day, at the same time as juggling kids, the house and so on. It might be helpful for you to identify when people are working and how they are putting boundaries around that so they do take quality time away for themselves and to spend with family.
- Ask what they’re finding most challenging. It might be work or non-work related. Discuss it and try to focus on moving the situation forward. In other words, be solution focused and not stuck in the problem. What is within their control? How can you help?
- Communicate clearly about the plan for your team/ company. Where you can, allow your employees to help shape it, using their insights and creativity. You do NOT have to have all the answers! By getting your colleagues involved in the process, they’re more likely to support it and have greater confidence in their role and your company’s future.
- Communicate clearly what is expected of their role at this time. It will look and feel different to normal and people can feel worried that they’re not meeting expectations. This should also include clarity for people experiencing symptoms of the virus and not feeling well enough to work. Make it clear that if employees are poorly, they have the right to sick-leave and don’t need to work.
- Ask what they would like to have a go at/ try, that might be something different to usual. What are their strengths that they can use now?
- How will staff feedback to you at times other than your calls to them? How can they ask questions, share their achievements? How will you recognise what your team is doing to give praise and reassurance? Remember that what may feel OK to you may feel daunting to people unused to working remotely.
For team calls, at least weekly:
- Arrange video calls over social times such as lunch, when people can chat freely and just be in each other’s company. Explore different methods of communicating and try to make them as natural as possible. Make the most used channel of communication video-based so that people benefit from non-verbal body language, the most significant form of communicating with each other.
- During work, check in with the areas outlined above for individual conversations. Exploring these ideas as a group will lead to different outcomes as people learn from each other. It will also ensure your team has up-to-date information about what to expect from each other and how you are operating as a team, moving forwards.
TALK! I’m happy to help. If, like most, you’re grappling with how to keep yourself and your team well in these uncertain times, get in touch. I’m here to listen and share my expertise in psychological wellbeing. This is not a time to be ‘heroic’ and go it alone.