Best Practice

The importance of really acting human to support employee wellbeing during the coronavirus crisis.

Over the last few years, the mental health and wellbeing of our employees have become something of a zeitgeist issue. Right now, it’s more important – and some may say more tricky – than ever to tackle.

We are living through a period of intense change, at a global, local, and familial level. Most of us are experiencing a maelstrom of emotions.

But the world has to keep on turning. We need to keep on keeping on, both for our own sanity and for our organizations.

So how do we support people right now through our internal comms?

That’s what Lindsay Kohler Lead Behavioral Scientist at scarlettabbott and I discussed with Dave O’Connell of Poppulo in a webinar, Employee wellbeing during a crisis – what behavioral science can teach us.

Things are crazy right now

Clearly right now, and at any time of change, employees feel an acute sense of uncertainty. Uncertainty is very different to risk.

Risk is calculated. We have an idea of how it might go. Uncertainty has no guidelines, no boundaries, no expectations.

Employee communications and coronavirus – How to stay the course through a long crisisDownload now

And while we’re terrible judges of risk, we’re even worse when it comes to coping with uncertainty. In the midst of mind-scrambling uncertainty, our brains tell us that a sure-fire way of coping with it is to seek control. An unhealthy coping mechanism, I should add!

So right now, your people are probably consuming ALL THE NEWS, all the analysis, all the chat on social media, all the discussion with colleagues and friends. This is in an effort to exert some sort of control over the situation by staying informed.

But – and this is where we get to the unhealthy bit – what this form of control does to us is put us in a state of high alert. Every time we read a news article, type a response to a Facebook post, or hear a news alert about COVID19, our brains release another hit of cortisol into our bodies.

Warning signs that things are going south

Cortisol is the stress hormone. And right now, our bodies are being flooded with cortisol. This can affect our cognitive function, our behavior, our thought patterns, and even affect us physiologically.

Warning signs of deteriorating mental health can include:

Behavioural:

  • Increased irritability
  • Introversion / isolation
  • Reduced decision-making ability
  • Slower responses

Emotional/thought-based:

  • Interrupted sleep, leading to tiredness
  • Constant negative thought patterns
  • Catastrophizing – an inability to rationalize thoughts

Physical – or somatic – symptoms:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Digestion problems
  • Random aches and pains
  • Increased heart rate / erratic breathing

Right now, we can probably ALL relate to some of the things on that list. While all of our circumstances are different, some of our experiences – particularly with our mental health – might be shared.

So what can we do about it?

So Lindsay and I have a few key things that you can focus on as an internal comms practitioner:

Create a single source of truth:

  • Establish one channel as your way of communicating with your people
  • Stick to an easily understood rhythm – if you’re going to share an update every Monday, don’t deviate unless you absolutely have to (ie. an immediate change that will affect people right away)
  • Make your leaders visible – we know that face to face communication is always powerful, replicate that as much as you can virtually

Equip your managers with what they need to support people:

  • Create manager guidelines or toolkits
  • Encourage open, empathetic conversations – if they’ve noticed some of those signs in someone, encourage them to be proactive
  • Include model conversations to help get those conversations started
  • Clearly signpost the support available – EAP, healthcare, HR, OH etc.

Give people a way to share their worries:

  • This will help people to release frustration
  • It will also give you insight into the mood of your people
  • Make sure you feed back to the organization what you’ve heard and what you can do about it (even if you can’t – be honest)

Another tool to support people

Whether you have a strategy or plan to support people’s mental health, this simple tool could be a really powerful addition. A Mental Health Action Plan gives you a simple framework for an empathetic and action-focused conversation about how you can support someone.

It is essentially focused on four questions:

  • What are your triggers? What causes those dips in mental health?
  • How do those triggers show up? What are the signs and symptoms of deteriorating mental health for you?
  • What can the organization do to support you?
  • What will you do to support yourself?

To support you in using this tool, please use my free guide here.

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