While the rest of the world continues to come to terms with a post lockdown world, here in Australia we’re in the thick of it (well, Sydney and Melbourne in the main). Here in Sydney, we had a pretty good run early on however we’re currently enduring an extended lockdown until end of September and most likely until end of November or even December.

In my conversations with HR Directors and Leaders in the last few weeks, it’s clear that mental health and wellbeing is a top priority, as they attempt to assist staff to manage the many psychological, emotional and social challenges that accompany lockdown eg isolation, loneliness, family frustrations (spending too much time together or not enough), back-to-back video calls, miscommunication (lack of water-cooler moments), anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, low energy and languishing (you can read my recent blog on the topic here.

(Wellbeing) Information Overload?

Many organisations have put together comprehensive approaches (or menus) for their staff with information on mental health and wellbeing and recommended activities for leaders and teams to self-manage to maintain their mental health and wellbeing and simultaneously be productive and achieve their KPIs. This includes, in many cases, an internal intranet site, where information is stored so staff can access at their leisure. Ha ha! Herein lies the problem. With research and reports suggesting people are working harder and longer than ever, (due to reduction in commuting time and lack of boundaries between work and home), I ask you, what time is there to access information and then apply it?

It’s made me think of Tim Ferris’ book The 4 Hour Work Week, which I read when it was first published a number of years back now. I recall thinking how progressive it was, although I thought it was aspirational and a long way off into the future before any of the ideas would translate into organisational policies or “ways of being” for people. However as many have noted, COVID-19 has fast-tracked a lot of futuristic ideas that were once “pipe-dreams” including the 4 day work week. In fact, here at The Positivity Institute, we’re currently trialling it with a no-work Friday and my small admin team agree it’s doable. As the business owner, whilst I realise the potential benefits, I still find myself logging onto may laptop, but generally it’s a quieter day for me and when not in lockdown I’m enjoying a monthly “G-Mumma” day with my grandson Oscar and a “Monthly Monk Day” where I spend time offline reviewing and reflecting on the business, rather than working in the business. All in all, a goal worth pursuing I would think.

What’s the answer?

Well firstly, I want to acknowledge just how wonderful it is that mental health and wellbeing information is being provided. We’re breaking the stigma that once existed in workplaces. However, there’s a lot of information out there and it’s important that information is evidence-backed. Ideally, someone with a scientific background should review and curate that information so that staff are being presented with the most rigorous research available.

Same goes for all those motivational speakers being brought in. Again, good intentions and while some have powerful stories to tell and personal experiences to share, these one-off sessions are not usually sufficient to create sustainable change for people. Sure, they’ll give staff a brief motivational kickstart but then it’s back to the grind with little translation of information to daily life.

Creating a reflective space

So rather than throwing more information at people, consider creating space for them to pause and breathe (allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in), and more importantly the permission to take this precious time out from their daily schedules. This time out can be used wisely to reflect on the wellbeing information they’ve been provided with, and to personalise it – make it meaningful. This approach also provides several immediate benefits.

Firstly, it sends the message that we all need to “oscillate” – that is find the balance between energy expenditure (stress) and energy renewal (recovery) and create positive rituals to support this. Loehr & Schwartz in their HBR article on “The Making of a Corporate Athlete” highlight the need for energy management and personal sustainability.

Secondly, this reflective space provides a space that’s all too often missing from people’s lives. When working from the office we had what my colleague, Dr Adam Fraser, referred to as “the third space” which Adam describes as that moment of transition between a first activity and the second that follows it, to mentally ‘show up’ right for whatever comes next.  With the loss of our commute, our days have been extended with the loss of this precious space to regroup and re-energise. In addition, back-to-back video calls don’t allow for the much-needed micro-breaks that we all once had back in the office – with a walk to the water cooler or coffee station or cafe. We might instead opt to put a load of washing on or vacuum but neither of these activities provide the mindful space we need to reflect and regroup.

In Coaching Psychology, we talk a lot about coaching providing a much-needed reflective space in an executive’s life – where ideas can be considered and bounced around and in most cases with an objective coach – although a little bit of diarised self-coaching can also be helpful. Coaching also allows the space for reflection on any feedback the executive may have received (either 360 or other) or to reflect on any learnings they’ve had (including courses they’ve attended) and to work with the coach to determine a plan of action to put that learning into action for personal and professional growth and sustainable change.

Whilst one-on-one professional coaching isn’t available or possible for everyone in the workplace, what we have seen is a sizeable shift in what’s being referred to as the democratisation of coaching, where through the use of technology, coaching is being scaled up and on offer to all staff, and with a growing focus on the provision of wellbeing coaching (https://www.michellemcquaid.com/podcast/do-workplaces-need-wellbeing-coaches-podcast-with-suzy-green/).  We also provide virtual wellbeing coaching in addition to our Executive & Leadership Coaching solutions. Although, even with the costs of this type of coaching being greatly reduced, it still may not be viable for all workplaces.

What is on the rise and may in fact be more doable, is team or group coaching. Aside from the cost saving, it provides the opportunity to hear from others, and their approaches to improving their performance and wellbeing. In addition, It has been shown to promote team building and improve leadership effectiveness (Hackman & Wageman, 2005; Goldsmith & Morgan, 2000). The provision and/or addition of team/group coaching post-training can also be a powerful lever in the transfer of training eg post a wellbeing workshop.

Other options to create and encourage reflection for staff might be:

1.    A Meditation Room – Given the increased interest and uptake in mindfulness and meditation more broadly in the workplace, creating a dedicated meditative space can also prime staff to relax as soon as they step foot into the room!

2.    Coming up for Air days – I recently read about this in an article on “Wellbeing as an essential benefit for the Best Workplaces in New York“. Staff at Sisense apparently rave about their wellness perk – aptly named “coming up for air days” – being a long weekend where every staffer gets the Friday after each quarter off. The intention is to allow staff to recharge by spending more time with loved ones and participating in fun activities.

3.    Encouraging Staycations – For many staff, it’s been quite a while since they took leave for a holiday – understandably given many of us can’t go very far! However, it’s still essential that we take time off from work for our mental and physical health and wellbeing. Here’s a great article on creating a staycation that I found while writing this blog. Lots of creative ideas to get you going – including camping in your backyard or lounge room; creating an in-home spa experience; a meditation retreat at home. Have a read here.

As I regularly say, life’s too short to languish, and unfortunately COVID-19 has created the perfect storm to create languishing lives. And while there’s plenty of mental health and wellbeing info out there, what we really need is time and space to reflect on it, our lives, on what really matters, and on all the incredible tools we now have from the psychological science on how to live better lives. So keep the info coming but create that space today for precious reflection, for yourself, your team and your workplace.

Contact us here to learn more about our workplace wellbeing digital program POTENTIAL+ which can be run with a team or group coaching approach and includes a facilitator guide.