Put your own oxygen mask on first: supporting your team during lockdown

It’s safe to say many of us are feeling increased levels of stress right now. 

Between extended lockdowns, home schooling, worrying about the wellbeing of friends, family and colleagues – and trying to do our jobs on top of that – people are feeling fatigued. Here are some tips on how you can look after your own wellbeing, and that of your team, during this challenging time.

Responding to stress

Stress is not, in and of itself, a ‘bad’ thing. Humans are amazingly resilient, and we’re built to thrive in stressful situations. However, due to ongoing change many people may be feeling stress at levels that don’t feel healthy or productive. The good news is that we can control how we respond to, approach and manage stress and whether it has a useful or other impact on us. 

Putting our own oxygen mask on first

As a leader, we want to be there for the people around us – at home and work. In doing so, it’s important to recognise that we need to take care of ourselves first. We can’t pour from an empty vessel. A useful first step in prioritising our own wellbeing is to check in with how we’re feeling. Self-reflection exercises are perfect for prompting this internal conversation, for example:

  • Build a reflective practice through journaling. Go for consistency over volume and turn off your inner editor.
  • Mentally scan your body from head to toe. This provides the opportunity to notice any aches, tensions or discomfort – and maybe even breathe your way out of some of them. Try this body scan from Headspace.
  • Get it all out. Ask yourself the following questions – in order – staying with each question until you can’t think of anything else: What am I angry about? What am I scared of? What am I sad about? What am I happy about?
  • Remember: it’s ok if you realise you’re not ok. Seek support if you need it by talking to a trusted friend or manager, accessing an Employee Assistance Program or discussing your concerns with a health professional.

Creating space for wellness

When our homes are our workplaces, it’s easy for our personal lives to feel consumed by our job. Building wellness rhythms that include rest periods, breaks, play and celebration can help to counteract this.  

Many people find this challenging as the Australian working culture rarely promotes rest over productivity.

This quote from organisational psychologist Adam Grant provides a useful reframing:

"Resting is not a waste of time. It’s an investment in wellbeing. Relaxing is not a sign of laziness. It’s a source of energy. Breaks are not a distraction. They’re a chance to refocus attention. Play is not a frivolous activity. It’s a path to connection and creativity."

Adam Grant

So, why not ensure you and your team have created a space for wellness. Perhaps as a team you discuss and agree on some home/work boundaries around break times or meeting times. 

Supporting the wellbeing of team members

If you manage people, supporting your team members is not only important for individual wellbeing and group morale, but also staff retention. 

Gallup recently asked employees what they look for most in an employer. They found employees of all generations rank “the organisation cares about employees’ wellbeing” in their top three criteria. For millennials and Generation Z, it ranked number one.

So, what are some ways you can show employees that you care? 

Have real conversations with your people – make space to hear what’s difficult, and what’s working. Really listen to their responses and be prepared for them to say they’re not ok. 

Everyone experiences stress differently, so don’t expect that one solution will work for all your people. Be adaptive to individual circumstances and preferences. 

When we’re working remotely, we miss out on many of the ‘micro moments’ that build relationships, like stopping for a quick chat in the office kitchen. Think of ways you can create space for purely human and social interactions at work.  

Look for what you can remove from people’s calendars or to do lists. 

If you can – call a surprise early halt to the working day or week. 

Show your gratitude. 

If your organisation would like further support to create a work culture that promotes employee wellbeing through the challenges of COVID-19, please get in touch at team@threechairsconsulting.com.au.