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Jess Baker

Jess Baker Consulting


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Employee wellbeing: how to support workforce resilience during a crisis

HR must take a three-pronged approach: assess, reset, support.

Once again we find ourselves in another lockdown. For some, it’s been a real struggle to get used to working from home semi-permanently or even full-time. For others, it’s an absolute joy. Regardless of which camp you’re in, as a senior manager and team leader you need to be able to manage your own wellbeing, and that of all of your colleagues – and that’s a huge task.

Now is a time for innovation. What once may have felt leftfield to the organisation may be a surprising solution. 

Before I draw on some research, pose questions and write a few tips below, I’d like to remind you that you are much more resilient than you believe you are. In your HR capacity you may be often taken for granted as the problem-solver. You are overlooked as the emergency counsellor and mediator. Even though you are working in a high pressured environment, you are expected to be able to pull out data as if it were a rabbit from a hat, and wave an imaginary wand to make the impossible possible – and that was all before Covid-19 came along.

What is resilience?

According to Robertson Cooper, resilience at work is defined as “the capability to maintain high performance and positive wellbeing in the face of adverse conditions, and to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”.

Hands up anyone feeling fabulously resilient right now? Where do you sit on a scale of one (I’ve still got both hands in the leftover Christmas Quality Street) to ten (woohoo! I’m keeping my resolutions and I feel great!) I bet there aren’t many who would score themselves above eight out there at the moment, and that’s completely understandable at this time.

Why is resilience important?

The hard fact is that it’s important from the business’ perspective because staff who aren’t resilient aren’t productive. We all know that it’s more cost-effective to the business to protect and maintain employee wellbeing than lose them to sick leave.

So what can be done to address this? Below there are number of questions that, in my experience as an HR manager and business psychologist, could enable you and your organisation to better support your colleagues’ resilience at work.

Assess: if you want to improve something you need to be able to measure it first.

How do your team feel right now? Who asks them? How frequently? If they give you an answer, do you think they give an honest answer? If not, consider different approaches that would make them feel safe to answer without fear of being judged or recrimination.

Use a suitable mechanism for assessing stress in the workplace and try to do this regularly in a non-invasive way. The more data you have, the easier it would be to provide appropriate short-term solutions that help to reduce stress and boost resilience at work.

Referring back to your data – what does it tell you about sick leave trends or productivity levels? How can you use this to predict what might happen next?

What new issues are staff facing that could be causing them to experience more pressure or stress? Have you recently asked your workforce to tell you what they need?

Reset: now is a great time to reset old habits

Organisational culture change can take years. Usually, organisational life doesn’t change very much at all. Someone can work in the same building, on the same floor, at the same desk for several years. Meanwhile, internal messages come down the pipeline from the newest ExCo member calling for radical change, but the change isn’t that radical and by the time it filters down the pipeline, it’s been diluted.

This unforeseen change brought about by the pandemic, however, is radical. In the past year we have had to transform our ways of working and living. If you recall Kurt Lewin’s change management model, this is an unexpected ‘unfreeze’ stage that allows for change to happen as it’s required.

What have you learned from the past year? What would you want to make permanent? What would you like to stop if you could? What improvements, pivots and shifts in behaviour or habits would you like to see?

Now is a time for innovation. What once may have felt leftfield to the organisation (i.e. no one is allowed to work from home) may be a surprising solution (i.e. reduced overheads of large inner-city office space).

How can you engage your workforce to redesign their own way of working? One organisation I work with sets up innovation competitions once a year to engage its workforce in creating solutions to their everyday challenges at work. It might worth asking your workforce to identify imaginative feasible solutions to the problems they are facing, and offer a reward for the best idea(s).

Support. Support. Support.

Here are just a few ways you can begin to support employees through this time.

Making communication easier within the organisation

Opening horizontal communication channels would enable employees to connect with one another easily even when working from home. For example an online messaging system provides the workforce with a simple, fast and effective a way of communicating with others across the organisation.

Giving employees a confidential hotline

Having an external confidential resource that employees can use anonymously offers them the opportunity to express how they are feeling, and trust that what they say will not be passed back to the organisation. If you already have an employee assistance programme or something similar, you might want to remind every single member of staff how they can access it. Communicate this one piece of information in at least three different ways, because emails and notices can easily be overlooked or skim-read.

Offering other people’s expert advice

Provide staff with an online ‘fireside chat’ with an external wellbeing expert who can share their expertise on all aspects of physical and emotional wellbeing.

Add resources to your online development library. Consider asking your workforce what resources they currently find useful and upload links to those too.

Run an online wellbeing summit that covers themes relevant to your employee’s workplace stressors, such a stress management, mindfulness at work, emotional resilience and personal boundaries.

Sharing stories of resilience

Consider inviting senior leaders in the organisation to share their personal stories of overcoming resilience. Consider inviting other members of the organisation how they’ve overcome setbacks in their own career or life. By recording live interviews, colleagues who could not attend the live session would be able watch the replay at a later date.

Encouraging the workforce to support themselves better

Remind your workforce that they have a responsibility to protect their personal boundaries that will help to enhance their wellbeing (i.e. turn off your laptop and put it away at night so that it’s not in the corner of your eye while you watch TV with the family).

A bigger impact

There’s so much I want to say about resilience and the various approaches to building it. You probably have a lot of tools in place already to support your workforce. The key is to be clear on which ones work well and what can be improved, and then remind yourself that any steps you take to support your workforce resilience is going to have a bigger, and perhaps a deeper, impact on individuals than you’ll ever know.

Interested in this topic? Read How to ramp up your resilience and bounce back from change and challenge.

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Jess Baker


Read more from Jess Baker

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