This week’s guest blogger is Occupational Health Advisor and co-founder of Wellbeing & Health in Business (WHIB), Anna Harrington – @Annalh24

After chatting with Anna last week on the Mental Health and Wellbeing Panel, I was keen to get Anna on to share more wisdom with our educating community.

She offers us some practical tips on how to manage ourselves, our staff and our schools during times of high stress.

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At times of high work stress expectations (currently the trigger being Covid-19) of self and others increase. Not just volumes of work, but complexity, the need to rapidly learn new processes, different work location, work patterns, need to be creative, need for flexibility of emotion and thought, and to remain emotionally balanced. 

The boundaries between work, home and school have been blurred. Parents (some of whom could be teachers so dual roles) expected to work, childcare, homeschool. Teachers expected to devise lessons suitable to be delivered in a totally different form, support parents, themselves and each other. 

Additionally, often employees work beyond usual start and finish times, are less likely to take formal breaks, very unlikely to take informal spontaneous momentary “breaks” away. 

It is being said that people are experiencing grief, in addition to high stress and an uncertain future.

Typical responses and reactions

To be able to recognise responses, accept and associate with a reason (without dwelling, just a nod of acknowledgement) is to begin to work with and diffuse those emotions that are adverse. Adverse as they are unpleasant or disruptive to  what the person or organisation needs to do or be.

Out of work routines and sleep can become disrupted, or less effective (same volume but quality lowered), an increase of behaviours that are detrimental to health  (smoking, drinking comfort eating) and individuals find it more difficult to do behaviours or actions that provoke good wellbeing such as meeting with friends (which has to largely be virtual with Covid-19 restrictions), regular routine exercise, alcohol content within guidelines and balanced varied diet.

The work effects on individuals that may be seen are:

  • Difficulty in remaining emotionally contained. Emotions may break free, overflow, be powerful, unexpected, not usual self, overwhelming, destructive.
  • Concentration can be troublesome; more easily distracted
  • Recall of information slower; cannot remember how to do something, what did my line manager say as examples and forgetfulness occurring; where are my keys, when was that meeting type of forgetfulness
  • Hesitancy about decision and loss of being “sure of oneself” affecting confidence in work abilities and being able to cope well
  • Slower to process complex of volumes of data
  • Increase of errors
  • Emotional and thinking fatigue
  • Trust in each other will be tested
  • Relationships could be impacted by emotions

Managing an organisation during uncertainty. 

This can be an opportunity for growth, the individual and school (flexible, resilient rather than grades focused). Growth from understanding self or the organisation-better, learn how to adopt an individual and group/team mindset that copes well with uncertainty and change.

Actions are aimed to stimulate sustained cohesive team working during and after the high stress period. 

  • Future look, imagine when looking back on this episode what would make you and the organisation feel proud, bring heart warmth, a smile, feed confidence, bonding and self-satisfaction?
  • Have a very clear overarching whole organisation purpose that employees find compelling. If you already have this, review it with your employees. 
  • Review organisation departments’ purposes; reflective of the overarching whole organisation purpose and be flavoured with the departments’ specifics.
  • What are the expectations of work content, work pattern, timescales? With staff negotiate and bring clarity to these. 
  • Hear where there are clashes between individual’s needs and the organisation demands. Try and resolve. 
  • Foster a normality of praise for behaviours that support the organisation/department purpose. This does not have to exclusively be by the line manager; it can be for all to give praise, praising each other. Secure specific time to celebrate success.
  • Non-helpful behaviours to be explored swiftly with kind curiosity and real desire to assist the individual to change. 
  • Resolve conflicts fairly and quickly
  • Constant change, fast paced work is emotionally demanding. Allow individuals to break out of this type of work and do something slower, even boring for a short while. 
  • Often there are “hot zones” of a hive of activity and zones that are steadier and more supportive. Employees in the steady and supportive areas tend to get less attention and feedback. Check everyone feels fully involved and valued.

Managing self during uncertainty. 

  • Recognise in self the emotion impact, acknowledge and accept it. Apply no judgement.
  • Have appropriate expectations of self. Check these with someone else for being realistic.
  • Chunk down activities or work that is giving you feelings of not being able to do or cope with. Start with the easier stuff but do not leave the more challenging stuff till last, slot it in between the easier work. 
  • Forgive yourself if things are not done, get forgotten or are delayed,  
  • Work for shorter periods of time such as 20-30 minutes and then break away 5 minutes, podcast relaxation techniques here, go for a walk, listen to music as methods for diffusing adverse emotion or concentration difficulties. 
  • Talk about how you are feeling with a trusted person/people.
  • Overtly look for opportunity to laugh, share, enjoy, to stimulate emotions that are pleasant such as joy, hope, happy
  • Set aside time to write down or verbalise and record your worries. 
  • Do regular exercise – to get out of breath, for instance 30 minutes x5 per week. If not able to do this amount try starting small – 5minutes and build up. Remember 5 minutes is better than no minutes.

WHIB offer telephone and face-to-face Occupational Health Assessments – click  here to visit their website.

On receipt of this guest post, a donation has been made to Anna’s chosen charity: Horatio’s Garden – NHS Spinal Injury Centres

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