• Kira Day

Putting wellbeing first at work, even in lockdown

Repeated lockdowns mean that many businesses are struggling, but it is the people who run them - from sole traders to large teams - who bear the brunt of this crisis. The cracks in the mental health system are only growing larger, and employers increasingly have a role to play in supporting their employees' wellbeing.

How can businesses better care for their people, and how can leaders create healthier workplaces? We spoke with Khiarn Raymond, a provisional psychologist at B Corp Osana Care to share lessons for navigating mental health and wellbeing at work during the pandemic.

Wellbeing & work

B Lab: One part of this pandemic is not only seeing a glimpse into your coworkers' personal lives - through their living room or bedroom as a Zoom backdrop - but also seeing how people can react so differently to stress or a crisis. What worries me is that people are struggling to be open about how they're truly feeling on a day to day basis. How can leaders create better workplaces for their teams to feel comfortable sharing when they are going through a hard time?

Khiarn: As a leader, it is so important to ensure that employees feel comfortable sharing with you if they are going through a hard time. Employees need to feel that you have time for these discussions and that these discussions can take place in a non-judgemental space.

Often, the most effective way to do so is to create a regular time to "check-in" with employees and each other.

Even a 5 minute acknowledgement of where someone is at mentally in their week, and what they need in terms of support or self care, can be a great routine to help people communicate, acknowledge their own struggles, and encourage openness about how it may impact their day or their week.

Some find that this works best as a 1:1 conversation, whereas others find this to be a good way to kick off a team meeting. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that the time is scheduled and stuck to.

B Lab: To cope with stress - during lockdowns in particular - some people throw themselves into their work, while others withdraw or find themselves unmotivated. What are some things people can do to restore a healthy relationship with work?

Khiarn: We can start by defining what a healthy relationship with work is. It's often characterised by setting clear, realistic boundaries to balance time between work and life in a way that works for the individual. In the past, many people used physical distance between work and home to help set these boundaries.

During lockdown, many people are having to juggle additional life responsibilities such as childcare, homeschooling, family health issues or their own health concerns, family financial stressors, and difficulty enjoying 'free-time' to name a few. As a result, setting boundaries on work hours and access to work emails or calls is all the more important - but all the more stressful and tricky! Our routines have changed and so must the way that we put these boundaries in place.

If you are working from home, we recommend blocking out your diary with reasonable time to be spent on each life area (e.g. family, health, finance) and ensure there is some positive and restorative "me" time. That might look like having a bath, going for a walk, undertaking a hobby, or watching a favourite tv show. Even if this is only 15 or 30 minutes, being intentional with your personal schedule in the same way that you schedule work meetings is important.

B Lab: Do you think leaders should encourage their teams to take a mental health day in the same way they would take a sick day?

Khiarn: Yes, we need mental health days more than ever! In the same way that a sick day can help the person recover quicker in a home environment, by reducing stress on the body and allowing time to rest, a mental health day helps the person the same way.

A mental health day has been shown to prevent burnout, improve workplace relationships and improve motivation and productivity at work.

COVID-19 is an unpredicted stressor that is affecting mental health at a community wide level, de-stigmatising mental health days is a must.

Navigating a lockdown

B Lab: Some of us have been in lockdown for weeks or months. Do you have any advice for people experiencing lockdown fatigue, which is sometimes expressed as growing frustration or hopelessness with the situation?

Khiarn: By now most people will have received countless emails or seen countless social media posts referring to ‘the new normal’ or ‘creating a new normal’. For those experiencing lockdown fatigue this may be becoming increasingly frustrating.

A few small strategies that can help with managing lockdown fatigue are:

  • Creating a new routine of activities such as a morning walk to replace the daily commute, regular virtual coffee dates, and phone call catch ups with loved ones. If you like variety in your life, you could try a different routine for different days of the week.

  • Finding new creative online ways of bringing what we miss into our lives again or taking up a new hobby. You can find many online options, like gym classes, yoga, knitting, crafts, skill building - all of which can be done virtually with others.

Another difficult but helpful strategy is practicing acceptance of today, just one day at a time. This can be