Managing Partner of multi-award winning Thrive Law talks to us about how leaders must be alive to the mental health challenges faced by their teams during this third lockdown
The severe and unexpected nature of the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic has caused far-reaching consequences throughout the world, especially among those groups of people who have been identified as especially vulnerable in respect of their mental health challenges.
One separate and equally important element is that the pandemic and its associated lockdown has seen a significant and measurable rise in suicide and domestic abuse.
Allied to the darker nights and inevitable negative thoughts associated with the third lockdown, we have seen domestic incidents spiralling out of control, particularly those involving physical violence and intimidation of women. This certainly opens our eyes to the fact that we don’t know what someone might be going through, as an employee or a manager, and what the impact is of being in a lockdown and working from home.
It seems a lot of people have adopted the mentality that we “we are all in the same boat”. However, an employer should not take the approach that all employees are feeling the same way because their experiences during lockdown will be individual to each person, and will be dependent on a whole range of factors, including personal challenges people face with their mental health.
We are all in the same storm but different boats.
The threats posed by loneliness
As we are now in the middle of our third lockdown, research finds a strong relationship between loneliness and a risk to both mental and physical health. As the cycle begins it gets harder to break: increased loneliness leads to an increased chances of health problems, and increased health problems lead to an increased feeling of loneliness.
Negative mental health issues such as depression, social anxiety, distress and reduced positive emotions are recognised results of isolation. Employees are now mainly working from home, and some not at all because they have been furloughed, so an individual could potentially be alone all day and unable to have any social contact due to the lockdown restrictions.
Feelings resulting from isolation can affect employees’ productivity within a workforce. It should therefore be an integral part of a companies’ culture to mitigate the isolation of their employees.
Communication is vital
Loneliness affects everyone in different ways and a “one-size-fits-all” strategy will often not be the most effective way to tackle this issue. Encouraging open communication about well-being issues, planning group activities and encouraging informal teamwork to build stronger social relationships can help combat feelings of loneliness.
Finally, the most important thing you can do is consider those who might be lonely and ensure they have support networks and the knowledge that they can talk to their colleagues or managers for support.
This is especially important for junior lawyers because they have often moved away from home and live alone or with housemates who might themselves have moved back home. They tend to have less access to support, but are the ones who need it the most.
They are also the ones who are less likely to ask for help because they won’t want to seem as though they are incapable of doing their jobs for fear of redundancy, or “bothering” their managers.
The challenges of working from home
Not everyone will have the same experience working from home. Some might thrive in this environment, having more time with their family, time to relax or be more active.
Some employees might find they are more productive whilst others prefer to keep work and home life separate. Some are home-schooling, too, which creates an impossible situation for so many people.
Some struggle to find the line where work stops and their personal life starts because everything is under the same roof. This discomfort caused by working from home was shared by a Circuit Judge who would often work in the Family Courts.
He spoke about how “uncomfortable” it felt to be separating children from their parents and dividing families through Skype without being able to gain a deep understanding of the families in the same way that you can when you see and speak to them in person. This discomfort was further exacerbated by the fact that he took those calls in his living room, and so he had no separation from the serious and life-changing decisions he must make at work and the transition back into being “Dad”.
At Thrive we work closely as a team, we have a team WhatsApp group for support on cases and another more social group where we keep connected through weekly and monthly challenges. We hold weekly virtual quizzes on employment law topics, so the team are still expanding their knowledge (but in a fun way) whilst also having some time to connect and still feel part of a team.
As the Managing Partner of Thrive, my team are at the heart of everything I do. I endeavour to ensure I manage their workload to prevent stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. I am flexible with my team in that they can take walks or do exercise to break up their day, and we have an open-door policy that encourages conversations about mental well-being so no-one feels they are going through this alone.
This is so important because, as feelings of social isolation and anxiety and depression increase, we must lead by example and support our teams to thrive through and out of the other side of lockdown and beyond.
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