A guest blog by Ngozi Weller of Aurora Wellness UK
Ngozi Weller is a mental health and wellbeing consultant and corporate trainer who equips HR and people managers with the tools to improve employee wellbeing. With over 15 years of management experience behind her, she loves helping people to fulfil their potential. When she's not doling out advice, she can be found sitting mute on the sofa watching tv with her husband or refereeing fights between her two kids.
These are indeed strange times in which we live. Life as we know it is on pause and has been replaced with scenes out of a poorly directed dystopian misadventure - empty restaurants, empty supermarket shelves, empty streets. Instead, we all live our lives inside, safe from the insidious grip of COVID-19. It's been almost a month now since the UK went into lock-down and the majority of us are beginning to adjust to this 'new normal'. However, if you work in employment law, HR or senior management, it's likely that the dust has far from settled. The rapid rate of legal and policy change and its impact on the workforce means that many are still scrambling to make sense of it all for themselves and their staff.
Last week I facilitated an online mental health and wellbeing workshop for CIPD Cumbria. We did a health check on attendees before the session to see where people are currently struggling, and the results were conclusive. Although many were worried about the impact of the disease itself and there were obvious concerns around future uncertainty, the vast majority of respondents, a whopping 43%, said that their biggest concerns were related to work and job security. For this audience of mostly HR and people managers, the deadly coronavirus itself is less of a worry than how they will manage the day job under current circumstances.
Perhaps this is unsurprising given that many went into these people-centric roles because of an innate desire to serve. In my experience, those in HR are type A people-pleasers - hardworking, self-sacrificing and with an overwhelming urge to fix things. However admirable these qualities may be, they do not come without issue. Because of this inherent drive to problem-solve, it is likely that many entered Superhero Mode once the isolation call to action was raised. HR departments that were already busy dealing with day to day office life were suddenly plunged into the centre of the COVID-19 work storm, navigating redundancy and flexible working policies alongside translating fresh government policies on furlough. At times like this, when we are in full-on crisis management, it's tempting to expect too much of yourself and to spend all hours trying to keep up the frenetic pace of work.
In these difficult times, we're all carrying around a mental load that is more burdensome than we're used to. It was much easier to be able to compartmentalise in the old world. To a large extent, work could stay at work and home at home. It's a lot harder to do that now, with most of us working from shared living spaces. Juggling work, kids, pets, partners and chores 24-7, it's no wonder that we're finding it harder to relax!
So how do you protect your mental health and wellbeing whilst striving to get the job done? Here's a simple exercise that you can do to help. Set a timer for 5 minutes and on a clean sheet of paper write down everything that is occupying your mind. All the fears, worries, tasks, and random thoughts that are taking up space in your brain. Don't worry about editing or censoring at this point, if you're spending time thinking about it, then it goes on the list. Next, circle the items over which you have direct control. You'll be surprised how many of the things on your list are things over which you have absolutely no control. If you can't control it, then it has no business taking up precious space in your mind! Cast those concerns aside and give yourself permission to only focus on those things which you can control. It's a useful exercise to take your teams through too. No doubt they are carrying around a lot of anxiety and we all need to be reminded to lower our expectations of what we can reasonably achieve from time to time. It reminds me of the infamous Alcoholics Anonymous creed, a prayer that my mother taught me when I was young.
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
If we spend our energies on changing only those things that we can, then we stand a fairer chance of coming through this crisis with our mental health intact. If you're really struggling, there are some wonderful resources available to help you navigate these difficult times.
Public Health England have released comprehensive guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19). Read more here
And the NHS have updated their excellent One You service to include advice on looking after your mental wellbeing whilst working from home. Read more here
One thing is for sure, nobody can manage their way through this crisis alone. Thankfully, nobody has to.