This relentless cycle of lockdown and uncertainty has affected everyone in different ways. A general trend we are seeing across our community of learners and employers is fatigue caused by ongoing periods of high stress, and long work days, coupled with balancing home schooling for some. Three of our Professional Development Experts, Sarah Rodda, Liz Tipping and Uzo Ijewere share the advice they are giving to learners.
Liz explains: “Most people are relatively knowledgeable about stress and stress management, but what is often surprising is the impact over time. I share ‘The Stress Zones’ chart with my learners, from ‘The emotional athlete’. It charts the relationship between pressure and performance. An element of stress is good – it spurs us on to get things done, but high levels over long periods of time can start affecting performance and wider well-being.”
Uzo concurs: “In the first lockdown people had an adrenaline rush as things completely changed, and as a result many leaders and managers were working at a fast pace. Now the children are off school again, people have suffered losses and there is a sense of hopelessness about when this will end. For managers to sustain themselves and their team it is important they do a number of things, including being supportive and understanding leaders.”
Take responsibility for our own well-being
Very often people feel that they need to be given permission to prioritise their own well-being within the workplace. The right thing to do is take responsibility for your own well-being and that of your teams. This might mean that you make a conscious effort to encourage your team to take breaks, find gaps, get outside in the daylight hours, finish earlier to help their children and pick things up in the evening. At Corndel we have implemented a ‘walking lunch’ on a Wednesday, when it is highly encouraged to take an hour at lunchtime to walk outside and meet up with colleagues virtually to have a general chat about how they are doing. This is an active endorsement of the principle that Corndel wants people to have a genuine break – an hour at lunch doing something that isn’t work.
Importance of recharge time
Recharge time is time to yourself to do whatever you want to do. Be that walking, taking a bath, listening to music, doing a yoga class. If you have a crazy day and you don’t have time to fully recharge think about how to can combine this time into your work calendar – can you join a meeting on your phone whilst out for a walk? “Daylight is an important aspect too” says Sarah. “Especially in the winter months with shorter days. If you can sit by a window with some natural daylight this helps. If you can’t do that, make sure you go outside, even for 10 minutes, during daylight hours. Also consider moving your work environment around occasionally. I realise this isn’t always possible, put just sitting at the opposite end of a table, with a different view, or moving to a different room, can break the monotony of long working hours and stimulate new ideas.”
“Exercise is so important” says Uzo, “and I’m not its biggest fan, but it really does help you to destress in a very short period of time. YouTube has a wide range of 10 minute workouts. Everyone can find 10 minutes in a day, so they are ideal.”
End your work day
“Physically put your equipment away at the end of the day” recommends Sarah. “This is especially important if you are working in joint-use spaces like a kitchen or living area. I recommend to my learners that they not only shut down and physically close the laptop, but they also put something on top of it, so it doesn’t look like it’s just there – waiting for you to check things on it. If you are fortunate enough to have a dedicated work room, like a home office, you still have to shut down the computer and physically close it, because the temptation to ‘just go back and check something’ or ‘quickly respond to something and find yourself still there an hour later’, is too strong.”
Share and use home schooling resources
There are a plethora of good resources freely available for home schooling, or just a 30 minute distraction whilst you are taking an important call. “We have a resource library of high quality resources that we’ve vetted as learning specialists, and we share relevant content with our learners” says Liz.
Remove your work emails from your phone
“It is very difficult to not respond to a phone that is pinging with messages outside of working hours,” observes Uzo. “I work at Corndel part time and even as a coach I got into the bad habit of responding to emails out of hours because I develop really strong relationships with my learners, and I don’t want to let them down. My Delivery Director recommended I remove emails from my phone to allow me the space to properly step away. This was the best advice and I pass this on to all my learners – not just for them to action, but also for them to encourage as managers of teams. Helping their teams to focus in the allocated working hours will lead to them being more organised, focused and effective.
Give yourself permission to be flexible and take advantage of flexibility on offer
“It’s very important to remove guilt from the equation during this period and embrace flexibility” Sarah emphasises. “We are encouraging learners to take advantage of early morning or later evening coaching sessions if they can’t fit them in during the day, due to the balance of home schooling and work commitments. We’ve also cut down some of the sessions, to shorter bite-size meetings. Everyone needs to accept and embrace child participation in some meetings – whether that’s your child sitting next to you whilst you attend a meeting, or an interruption to break up a fight about Minecraft or compliment a piece of artwork. These things are genuine human situations that we are all dealing with. We have no control over these things and therefore as managers and leaders we need to accept that they happen, let our teams know it’s ok, and ourselves too.”
Both Liz and Sarah coach a high number of working parents with young children. “We emphasise the importance of time management and protected time, when you are not going to be interrupted with meetings or childcare. This is time in the day for you to complete tasks. In order to ringfence protected time you might need to reduce the length or amount of meetings. During lockdown the number of meetings has increased exponentially, because conversations that would have just happened between desks are now being scheduled. It is important to make sure each meeting is necessary and productive. Is there an agenda? What is the objective? How long should it last? These things ensure attendees stick to the time limit and the time is spent resourcefully.”
“Do you need to be doing that task? That’s the first question I ask of my learners” says Sarah. Now more than ever leaders and managers need to learn the art of delegation.
Make sure your team conversations are not just task-led
Soft-skills and communication have never been so important. “Ask yourself, are you having conversations with your team, or are you just seeing targets for people to complete? There needs to be a balance. As a manager you have to be aware of the personal issues your team may be facing during this period, show interest and ask them how you and the organisation can help.”
“As coaches our job is to hold a mirror up to people and show them when they are missing their own signals. When people are overwhelmed with tasks, requests and targets, they often don’t acknowledge their own stress signals and put remedial actions in place. The result is that they break. It then becomes a lot harder and longer to fix the issues, which benefits neither them nor their organisation. A large part of our role at this moment in time, is to prevent people getting to this point” explains Uzo.
Sarah uses a tool called the Resilience Capability Index, created by Roffey Park Institute: “I encourage my learners to complete the questions and we discuss the results and how to put strategies in place to overcome the areas in which they are weaker. The index compares individual resilience across five different perspectives against others doing similar jobs. It gives you ideas to build up your overall resilience, and I work this into the development plans for my learners.”
Whilst it easy to feel a sense of hopelessness, it is important to focus on the positives: Spring is coming and the worst is hopefully behind us. It is extremely important to focus on your own well-being as a leader or manager. “It’s the oxygen mask on the plane analogy” explains Liz, “Look after yourself first, because then you will be able to give more to those around you.”