Sustaining togetherness in uncertain times

It’s Men’s Health Week and it won’t come as a surprise that this year’s theme is to ‘Take Action on COVID-19’ – encompassing physical and mental health.

We know uncertainty affects the mind. A third of men report their relationships with colleagues have weakened during lockdown and nearly half (46%) say that no one has checked to see how they are coping during this period according to Movember.

HR professionals have a clear role to play here. Now more than ever, they need to cultivate the right kind of leadership among managers – showing transparency, compassion and pointing both male and female employees towards techniques proven to alleviate stress and anxiety and, in doing so, build a sense of togetherness.

Keeping people together

Now that lockdown restrictions are being eased, it’s easy to think we’ll soon return to old ways.

But with the virus still in circulation, and with the prospect of facing an entirely new normal, other issues affecting mental health come into play.

Many will be concerned about returning to the office and using public transport. Others may worry about continuing to work remotely, with social distancing set to persist for some time.

To ensure staff are being supported in the right way as they continue working under difficult circumstances, it’s vital to understand the challenges they face and adapt leadership styles accordingly.

HR leaders should encourage managers to check in with their teams on video and use relevant instant messaging tools where possible to maintain a sense of normality.

In addition, they should use digital platforms to encourage the type of friendly social interactions workers are used to in real life. It’s important to check how people are ‘really, really’ which requires taking the question ‘how are you?’ literally and listening without judgement.

Showing flexibility is crucial, too – whether that’s allowing employees to change their working hours if they need to visit an elderly relative, or, when people do return to work, adapting so that those who need to continue working remotely still feel connected and part of the company culture.

All this can go a long way in reducing the sense of alienation and loneliness many have been experiencing during these uncertain times.

Mindfulness and togetherness

Encouraging togetherness is also about building morale, encouraging healthy relationships between colleagues and ensuring no one is left to deal with stress and anxiety alone.

This is where mindfulness and meditation come in. Admittedly, they might not be the first HR tool people turn to in a time of crisis, but evidence shows they are indispensable for managing stress levels while supporting employee morale and productivity.

Research has shown that meditation can help people focus, switch between tasks less frequently and enjoy their work more. A scientific study by UCL showed that using mindfulness for 30 days reduced stress by a third (32%), while improving focus by 14%.

Alongside these benefits, mindfulness can help individuals experience a greater sense of flow from one moment to another and learn to be more comfortable with change.

By encouraging employees to think more mindfully, HR professionals and business leaders can help them learn to be more comfortable with the unknown and take each day as it comes.

The ultimate effect of using mindfulness and meditation will be a happier, more engaged workforce, who are more compassionate towards each other and work better together as a team.

A mindful future

With social distancing and remote working likely to persist over the long-term, HR professionals should not see mindfulness and meditation as a temporary fix for stress and anxiety and building a sense of togetherness. In fact, these are tools which should be implemented within long-term strategies for supporting mental health in the workplace.

By embracing mindfulness and meditation, employees can become more aware of their stress levels, without becoming overwhelmed by them. They will also learn to identify stress triggers and approach those situations more mindfully – leading ultimately to a healthier, happier and higher performing workforce.

James McErlean general manager for Europe at Headspace for Work