Zoe Amar: How to support our teams on the road to recovery from Covid-19

As pandemic restrictions are lifted there is an opportunity for leaders to recalibrate and reinvent ways of working

Zoe Amar

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England.

There was a ‘back to normal’ narrative to the media reports about this. And yes, many of us are establishing a ‘new normal’, with many of the charity leaders I know getting into the swing of juggling working from the office and home.

Having worked in London a few days myself recently, it struck me that rebuilding our lives in this phase of the pandemic may be more complex than we all realise.

On the surface we may be back on the 8:15 to King’s Cross clutching a takeaway coffee from our usual cafe, just as we did before.

But underneath this exterior of normality, everyone will need time to recover from the trauma of the last two years.

How can we support our teams as they process what has happened? And what’s the best way to do it while we may still be managing people remotely, at least some of the time?

Crucially, we need to take an inclusive approach to colleagues’ different situations.

Your team may encompass everyone from those who are desperate to get back to the office to others who are understandably nervous about having contact with others again.

Claire Neal, the head of workplace mental health at Mental Health UK, advises leaders to be in listening mode.

“With so many people experiencing levels of burnout or extreme fatigue, a big focus for leaders needs to be around supporting their team’s energy levels and ensuring that managers are having regular conversations with their direct reports to understand how they’re doing,” she says.

Tackling this in a sensitive manner while managing the pressure to deliver requires a careful hand from leaders. I know charities that are currently going full tilt at digital transformation programmes, yet we need to weigh up this appetite for change against giving staff time to adjust.

Offering teams the tools to support wellbeing may help.

The charity MQ Mental Health Research not only encourages its staff to use an employee assistance programme but also issues a monthly wellness payment, which the charity encourages staff to spend on activities that improve their wellbeing, such as gym memberships, classes, tailored therapies or other wellness activities.

There is no requirement to report back on this, and the initiative has had a significant impact on its culture.

Bryony Doughty, the charity’s head of marketing, says it recently conducted an anonymous staff survey.

“We were very encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response we had both to the work-life balance people were achieving but also the supportive nature of the charity as a whole,” she says.

The road to recovery is also an opportunity for leaders to recalibrate and reinvent how they and their teams work together.

Emmy O'Shaughnessy, the director of innovation and growth at Oxfordshire Youth, is taking a compassionate approach to leading her team, which means simplifying what they do.

She says: “I set an objective for the fundraising and marcomms team at the beginning of the year, which was to do less, and to have more fun and experience more joy.

"Our fundraising targets are now collective and not individual. I don't want anyone experiencing pressure on their own performance this year.”

There is a lot to think about as we take care of our teams during this period of transition.

Among all that, leaders also need to look after their own wellbeing and have boundaries.

Rob Williamson, chief executive of Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, says he has learned that leaders must “protect your own time out from work matters".

He says: "Close the laptop and turn off work emails on your phone when you’re on holiday.”

We cannot truly support others without being kind to ourselves.

The speed of the recovery may be quickening, and I’m as impatient to crack on with it as you are.

Yet we will get there faster if we treat ourselves and our colleagues with patience and tenderness.

Zoe Amar is founder of Zoe Amar Digital

Topics:
Management

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