Nine out of ten employees are apprehensive and anxious about their return to workplace and are worried about their health and safety. This was recently revealed by a survey conducted by health-tech community product FYI and MindMap Advance Research.
As we enter the last phase of lockdown and enter the unlock phase 1, the most common question on every startup leader’s mind is what do we do once we return to work? How can we take care of our team’s needs, assuage their apprehensions, and build a sense of psychological safety.
Startup leaders have it especially tough given the uncertain economic conditions and the massive pressure to conserve cash. News about layoffs and restructuring in startups has also created a lot of apprehension about jobs, future, and stability in many startups.
While it is not easy to have all the answers, the most important thing at this point is to start with empathy.
Making sure that our teams feel they are being heard and understood, giving them space to get readjusted to the workplace, and recognising the emotional stress the last few weeks have brought to everyone will help set the stage for this long journey ahead.
The following guidelines can help leaders be prepared for the conversations coming up in the next few weeks.
Clear and honest communication with the team
While clear communication is always appreciated, never has been a better time than now to have clear and honest discussion with your teams. Given what people have been reading in the news and watching online, most people know these are unusual times, and they understand that the next two years will be tough for everyone.
Having honest and clear conversations will set the tone for finding solutions, both short and long-term ones. It is important for the team to understand where they really stand and then jointly plan the way forward. Putting yourself in their position shows both in your words and in your actions will go a long way.
Assure emotional well-being and support
The biggest casualty of the viral pandemic has been mental health. As the lockdown is ending, the mental health epidemic is just emerging. Over the next few months, we will see a tremendous increase in emotional stress as a long term impact of the lockdown. What teams need now is a reassurance that their emotional wellbeing is paramount, and as an organisation you are committed to it.
Leadership teams, along with your human resources colleagues, have the responsibility that they ensure every person in the organisation knows that if they need emotional support, the organisation will stand with them. There are professional wellbeing organisations that can provide this support, as well as free resources during COVID-19 that offer confidential and free support, like Let’s TALK and NIMHANS.
Re-assess workplace settings
Social distancing is now on everyone’s mind. How do we ensure that we maintain physical distancing while not losing the social connections? Having worked from home for many months, everyone is looking forward to being face to face and reclaiming their social connections. Making sure that the workplace is now conducive to the new environment is critical.
The natural tendency would be to build more barriers to prevent infection from spreading. While that is indeed required, let it not be at the cost of social wellbeing of your colleagues.
Doing a mental wellbeing assessment in the first week of post lockdown will give insights to leaders on what are the top three to five key issues that is on everyone’s mind. Programmes can then be delivered to allay those fears, address those concerns or build resilience to combat those issues.
Look out for early warning signs
Not everyone handles emotions the same way. Building organisational capacity to detect early warning signs and helping colleagues in coping with the evolving environment will be very extremely critical. Special attention to be paid to vulnerable people who might have an ailing family member at home or have a family member who is at the frontlines of the pandemic, treating or taking care of patients.
Having access to a psychology professional who is available on phone or WhatsApp, when it is needed, for every member of the team, which is explicitly communicated to the team, is one way to build this early warning and support system. Providing coaching and counseling support to team members as an ongoing support mechanism would also help them build the resilience for years to come.
While the pandemic is certainly not over, there is an increasing realisation around the world that we have to learn to live with this virus, and many more like this one. Business leaders around the world are accepting this new reality and developing the mindset to adapt to this new normal.
As we settle into this new normal, mental wellbeing of each one of our team members is going to be on the top of every leader’s agenda.
Equally important will be for leaders to focus on their own wellbeing and take time out to focus on self-care. Self-care might involve building a mindfulness or exercise routine, or working with a coach who can help with building a long-term plan for mindset change.
One of the top causes of anxiety among startup founders is the desire to put up a brave face when things are not looking good. So it is imperative that leaders prioritise self-care for themselves along with their teams as they navigate this new normal. (Edited by Megha Reddy)