How to help colleagues in hard times
The strain of this year has affected everyone. Whilst there are clear signs that some are suffering more than others – those who have lost loved ones, lost jobs, or lost income – it’s wise never to judge by appearances.
As we’ve been discussing in these blogs, inspired by World Mental Health Day back in October, times of great uncertainty can affect people in different ways, and it doesn’t always take an obvious loss to spark a personal struggle.
One heartwarming theme to our pandemic year, has been how communities far and wide have pulled together to support each other. From the Clap for Carers, to delivering running errands for the vulnerable, to the huge boost in donations for food banks – people have a natural affinity for looking after others.
But on a corporate level, it can be hard to know how best to help those who work with us. The problems Covid brings aren’t easy to solve, so how do we go about making things better for others?
Lead by example
One thing I’ve heard in many of my coaching workshops throughout this year is that managers are finding it much harder to support staff whilst working remotely. When you are physically in an office together it’s much easier to spot when a colleague doesn’t seem to be thriving but now we’re all communicating electronically it’s almost impossible to have that level of perception.
That’s partly because even with the immediacy of video meetings, your brain is trying so hard to take in all the visual and audio cues from each and every participant that reading body language takes a back seat. In fact, I read an interesting article about why video meetings genuinely are more taxing – and exhausting – than in person meetings. And when you add to this the fact that we’ve only got facial clues to rely upon in order to pick up on someone’s wellbeing (after all, we can’t see if their body looks tense, their shoulders are slumped or if they seem to lack energy), staying perceptive to employee welfare is harder than ever.
One way I advise my clients to break through the barrier of technology is for managers to lead by example. If you’re looking after a team of people, be honest: acknowledge if you’re having a bad day, or are struggling with the challenges of home or work. Being vulnerable is a great way to break down formalities and allows your staff to share their own experiences. As we’ve mentioned before, accepting what is happening is half the battle.
Research professor and author Brene Brown talks eloquently about how important vulnerability is in connecting people. From her social psychology research she says she finds that being authentic enables others to open up to us and be more likely to admit problems. And whilst you might not be able to fix them, just offering the opportunity to share is hugely beneficial. You can hear more of Brene’s thoughts on this here.
3 ways to incorporate authenticity into the working day
1. Ask questions
Yes, it’s as simple as just taking the time to ask your colleagues how they are. Make sure you use questions which elicit a wordy response, not just a yes/no answer. Encourage everyone to participate – perhaps set a minute each to respond. As a leader, you can use this to clock who may be struggling and rather than dwelling on it publicly, go back privately after the meeting to check up on them and perhaps invite them for a further chat.
2. Start a daily survey
This can become a quick and easy habitual survey which encourages staff to open up about how they’re feeling without demanding they talk in detail. Begin each day with asking your team to respond with a 1-5 rating based on where their head is at that day – 1 being low/struggling and 5 feeling fired up and ready for anything! Make your scale fun and irreverent if you think this will further help break down barriers, but as with the last solution, notice those who may be a concern and follow up discreetly after.
3. Begin weekly meetings with highlights and challenges
This is a great discipline to get into at any time so it’s a useful one for not only keeping tabs on emotional wellbeing but also for ensuring feedback and growth for the team as a whole. Asking each colleague for their highlight and challenge of the past week gives you an invaluable insight into how the team is working, and allows you to be proactive in fixing issues before they become problems. For your staff, however, the importance lies in simply allowing people a chance to be heard so encourage the team to listen rather than diving in with solutions or comments.
Remember, you can’t fix it all
Perhaps the biggest lesson is that it’s about providing the time and space to listen and share a problem, not solve it. If you can do something to help out then that’s wonderful – by all means take some workload off, or help out with a problem – but you can’t always fix things.
Listening without judgement provides people with precious space to be heard and to reflect. Humans have a very strong urge to help but don’t take on the pressure to resolve things. We are all infallible, imperfect human beings, not problems to be fixed.
See whether you can just listen to a friend or colleague this week. Give him or her your time, attention and empathy, but don’t overpromise. Hear them out then just thank the person for sharing and tell them you’re here for them. It shows we care and it demonstrates common humanity. It’s perfectly ok to say you don’t have all the answers.
Let me know how you find this process. Did you feel you had made a difference? Do you think it made a positive impact on the other person? Did it matter that you didn’t fix the problem? Sometimes finding the answer isn’t the solution after all.