How to maintain or improve wellbeing within your team

As we attempt to tackle COVID-19 with the most drastic steps ever taken in peacetime, it will be imperative to lead and manage people with their emotional and mental wellbeing as a top priority

In the last few days there has been a generous surge of intelligent and useful information on ways to work from home most effectively. Here are some ideas for leaders and team members to maintain and improve wellbeing: 

Promote comfort  

In his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey proposed that every individual needs to be appreciated, affirmed and understood. In addition, we need to be comforted and will all have our own methods to achieve it. Identifying sources of comfort before you need to fall back on them is a worthwhile exercise and encouraging your teams to explicitly state theirs (either privately or collectively) may result in the development of a useful toolkit for later use. Professional comfort may range from frequent connection with your manager or your sense of being trusted to perform in isolation, to having a (virtual) coffee break with a colleague to express what’s on your mind, or knowing that it’s OK to switch off at a certain time at the end of the working day. 

 Acknowledge collective vulnerability  

Many professionals who may have been ‘on the brink’ and struggling with the stress and pressure of 21st century life may soon be tipped over the edge. Many of those deeply impacted will not be raising their hands to seek help for a multitude of reasons. In this current climate it’s feasible to consider that one of those reasons may be the fear of losing their jobs altogether. A well-meaning manager may be able to identify certain individuals who need additional support but it’s extremely likely that people will mask or suppress mental and emotional health issues because the fear and what’s at stake is just too immense and overwhelming to do otherwise. To take steps to combat this as a leader or manager, being open about your own vulnerability is one option. Another is providing reassurance (if you can and it’s genuine) and a third is to communicate that you are significantly lowering your expectations for the whole team to relieve some of the pressure they may be experiencing. Some of these suggestions may or may not be suitable for you and your team and that’s fine; the point is that it’s worth evaluating the impact of collective vulnerability in your workplace or in your wider professional community in order to identify various actions to possibly mitigate the impact of it. 

Encourage forgiveness 

In the current environment there is an increased risk of well-intended communications being misconstrued. Individuals, families and communities are bound to directly and indirectly experience the effects of COVID-19 in different ways and at different times and it’s not always easy to understand or interpret the context of another person’s real-time experience as it unfolds. 

Almost every single person on this planet has very good intentions and doesn’t want to see others suffer, let alone be the cause of any. Therefore, it’s just as important to be empathetic about the messages you receive as you are about the ones you send. If someone posts or sends something that offends you this may be the time to be a little more forgiving (unless moral, ethical or legal boundaries are crossed) as most people do not want to cause harm or hurt. Many people are trying, with good intentions, to remain light and positive as a coping mechanism. Others will be perceived as ‘doom and gloom. In the end, we’re all people trying our very best to navigate unchartered, uncertain and scary territory. 

Expect mistakes 

Pets and children don’t seem to be able to discern when it’s appropriate to demand attention and when it’s not. What may seem like a minor distraction could result in the ‘send’ button being pressed too soon or work being hastily produced compared to the norm. Quite frankly, we may not be as capable of producing our best work due to these unforeseen circumstances inflicted upon us by COVID-19. 

Give praise publicly 

Leadership expert Kim Scott recommends public praise and private criticism as effective forms of feedback. When you’re considering how to boost team morale, praise that is specific, authentic and timely (SAT) can be a win-win for the recipient as well as making a positive contribution to team spirit. 

About the author

I spent close to two decades in technology in investment banking, subsequently running businesses in Asia and the UK providing executive coaching and training services.