Returning to work after the pandemic and more crucially, to a work environment that’s fully functional and stable is a long-term process. It includes a series of small steps that create a positive synergy between health, wellbeing, and performance for you and your team.
There’s no doubt that you’ll need to draw upon all the resources you have in your manager’s toolkit for this process. Some people will feel energised and ‘raring to go’, but as you may have discovered in your own reflection exercise, for some the pandemic has brought about significant personal change. This is borne out in the evidence of higher levels of stress, fatigue, missed deadlines, and burnout observed in the working population, not just in the UK but globally.
When coaching clients, I use a person-centric approach that helps them to reset, reframe and refocus, in order to get from where they are now to where they want and need to be. In this article, we discuss how you can take this approach for you and your team. It’s a process that takes effort but can deliver high rewards, and it’s also a circular process; a process of contracting and re-contracting through active listening and structured conversation, to help you and your team refocus, reset, and reframe.
Information Gathering about returning to work
Before you leap in with what’s expected of everyone, take time to assess your team. That means having 1-2-1 and group conversations. Here are some questions for you to consider for yourself and for your team members:
- What are your/their concerns about returning to work?
- What are some of the challenges you are facing right now? What are the challenges your team members say they are facing?
- What are their expectations in terms of their role?
Evaluating the information
There’s no point gathering information if you don’t do anything with it. It may initially look overwhelming as people share their concerns, challenges, and expectations but as a first step, review the information and ask yourself 3 questions:
- What is within your skill-set, experience, and role remit that you can help with and manage?
- What do you need help with?
- Who can provide that help?
Action and Accountability
Once those initial steps of gathering information and evaluation are done you can start to put in place an action plan, with accountability embedded within it for you and your team. There are likely to be several key themes that emerge from these initial steps, that will inform how you create and implement an action plan. For example:
- Role and Career Transition: There may be some on your team who need or want to consider a temporary or permanent role change or career transition. This could be due to several key reasons such as a change in business, a change in their health, or a desire on their part, post-lockdown, for a change and something different.
- Financial: Some of your team members may feel the financial impacts of the pandemic more than others. Some of your team members might be on furlough, others may be affected by the rising costs in their home life and a decreasing income from a partner or a family member losing their job. Be sensitive to this.
- Physical Wellbeing: The likelihood is that your team will have some physical effects of multiple lockdowns. This could be from having experienced Covid-19 and its effects or could be due to fatigue and burnout. You may have people who have had other health events during the pandemic and have the added stress of those, for example, a cancer diagnosis or managing a long-term health condition. Unfortunately, impacts on physical wellbeing can also be a mix of things and it’s particularly important for your employees and you to know what’s going on so that you can offer them appropriate support.
- Mental Health and Wellbeing: Most of us will feel the impacts of the pandemic on our mental health. Some of it will stem from anxiety and fear of returning to the work environment or a possible role change. For others, the impacts may be due to fatigue and burnout that can negatively influence how we respond to and manage even everyday situations and events.
A Coaching Approach for Successful Return
How you approach your team, and their concerns will define how successful you and your team’s return to work is. Here are some suggested actions:
- One task at a time: multi-tasking isn’t effective. You aren’t superhuman so accept that you’ll build your own and your team’s resilience and achieve success by prioritising and taking one task at a time.
- You can’t do this on your own: here’s where we revisit ‘who can help you?’. Utilising the skills of your Mental Health First Aiders if you have them, is a great first step. What are the strengths of the team that you can utilise to help with motivation, performance, and wellbeing? Who is your support team?
- There will be good days and not so good days: There are likely to be moments of joy tempered by negative thoughts and anxieties for quite a while. Resilience and emotional intelligence play an important part in how you navigate the ups and downs. What can you, or someone you trust, do to help ease everyone through those bad days? Being aware of your own emotions before acting on things and being empathetic and supportive is vital for you as a manager, and for your team. One of the techniques I use a lot in coaching is re-framing negative thoughts. I use a variety of approaches, but one which I find effective is to ‘name that thought’ and then unpack it for what it is; a thought, and not reality. Who can help you to do this exercise with your team?
Finding your way as you go through the process of returning to work takes time and effort. Ultimately you should give yourself and your team permission to bring their whole selves to work, and help them to build resilience for greater health, wellbeing, creativity, and performance.
Rowena Wood, the author of this article, is a trained transformational coach, specialising in later life career transition and women’s health. Find more details here.