Supporting staff well-being in the COVID-19 pandemic

Drawing on UGM Consulting research into staff well-being, we look at how to apply the lessons in the current Corona virus pandemic.
By Gail Emerson, Content and Marketing Manager

The Corona virus’ impact on our well-being is unprecedented. Few, if any, situations affect both our personal and professional lives significantly and simultaneously. As well as the stress and anxiety it raises personally, most teams can expect to have staff on sick leave and events, travel or other projects are being cancelled or reimagined. Those with office-based jobs are having to adapt to wholesale remote working.

“When things feel unpredictable… well-being is reduced,” found UGM Consulting in a broad review of research into well-being and performance. They also found a strong correlation between employee well-being and productivity, performance and absenteeism. This shows staff well-being matters not only due to the human cost, but for your business outcomes.

Of course, the bad news is there is little to be done to alleviate the uncertainty of the coming months. The good news is that every other factor found to affect employees’ well-being remains largely within our control.

UGM Consulting found that it is direct line manager who make the biggest impact on their team’s well-being, and the associated impact on productivity. If we think back over our career histories and different ‘bosses’, most of us will know this to be true. So what can you do as a manager to support your team? And remember, if you are a NED, you have a critical role to play in supporting the senior leadership in this capacity.

UGM identified key behaviours in effective managers to help staff thrive at work. Here we add some thoughts on how these lessons can be applied in the current climate:

Keeping staff informed when things change

Changes will be frequent and short notice. It can be tempting to rush to implement a decision once it’s made, especially in a high-pressure environment. Taking a few minutes to think ‘who’s role will be directly affected by this change?’ and letting them know (even in brief) will save a lot of time and bad feeling afterwards.

Giving staff adequate support and resources.

Look at changes to your working patterns from a practical perspective. Do staff have the equipment to effectively work from home? Is training required for (increased) use of online tools? Who can cover different job roles in the case of sickness? Can you make hours more flexible to accommodate changes in childcare that parents may have to juggle?

On a personal level, you may wish to remind staff of any employee assistance schemes you have available or encourage staff to use simple stress-relieving techniques (see NHS stress management advice).

Reacting to success and failure with a learning orientation.

We will not get everything right in this fast-moving situation. Adopt an iterative approach, building in frequent reviews and adaptation points to apply lessons learnt. Be generous and constructive to employees who have tried but got it wrong. Hopefully they will extend the same sentiment to you when your plans don’t work as well as you expected!

Valuing staff’s knowledge and contribution.

This is a good time to invite ideas and innovation from the team. Be careful not to set up an expectation everything will all be actioned but being asked to contribute to solutions is motivating- and it could well generate some useful plans!

Engendering a sense of ownership in their work

In a remote working situation micro-managing employees’ output is more than simply ineffective, it becomes impossible. You may wish to track progress and task completion using one of the several online tools available, but make this an opportunity for staff to flourish and take ownership of their work. Give them clarity on the level of decision-making you trust them to take independently.

Giving your team encouragement and feedback.

Saying ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ goes an incredibly long way. Yet it’s often the first thing forgotten in times of stress and pressure. So do send that ‘pointless’ email of acknowledgement, or pick up the phone. It’s absolutely worth it.

Finally, do remember to consider your own well-being.  As they say, 'you can't pour from an empty cup'.

>> Read the UGM Consulting briefing: Tightening the link between well-being and performance
>> We are also planning regular webinars on leadership in challenging times. Check our Events Calendar for details.