How to look after your team's wellbeing during the winter months
With self-assessment looming and coronavirus anxiety still high, practice owner Lucy Cohen identifies the warning signs to look out for if you or your team are feeling overwhelmed.
The clocks have gone back, a large proportion of us are still working from home and we’re facing the prospect of a pandemic festive period. Things can seem fairly bleak at the moment. Throw into the mix the added stress of a self-assessment deadline, as well as navigating the various government initiatives and support for small businesses (aka our clients), and it’s hardly surprising that so many accountants and their teams report feeling despondent and overwhelmed.
Additional workload and stress at this time of year are somewhat of an inevitability in the lives of accountants. So what are the signs to look out for to make sure that everyone is coping OK? And if they aren’t, what can we do to help?
Know the baseline
Stress can affect people differently. Some become short tempered and snappy with others when they’re under pressure, while others can become quiet and withdrawn. The important thing is to know what someone’s baseline ‘normal’ looks like (including your own!).
It’s also worth remembering that people are able to deal with levels of stress differently, and that what someone can deal with in the workplace may be directly affected by what might also be going on in their personal life. House moves, relationship breakdowns or children’s demands can all add additional stressors, so when you throw a busy work period on top of it, a usually-serene team member might become overly stressed and potentially unwell.
At this point in time, we’re not only dealing with the day to day stresses of work - we’re dealing with working from a different environment in a different way. We may have health concerns about ourselves and our families, or personal relationships being put under pressure due to the pandemic. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed is a perfectly natural response to the situation. Above everything else, we need to remind ourselves to be kind to each other, and indeed ourselves.
If you’re dealing with new members of the team and you don’t know them all that well yet, you can ask them directly how they deal with stress and when they’d like your support. An honest conversation at the start of the relationship can really set the tone for handling wellbeing in the workplace.
Watch for changes
If you’ve got a good handle on people’s baseline you should be able to notice if they’re deviating from it on a more regular basis. Of course, everyone has their ups and downs – they’re part and parcel of daily living. But, if an otherwise bubbly and talkative team member becomes persistently quiet and withdrawn, something may be wrong. That’s when you should take the opportunity to have a chat with them and see if they need support.
Communication is key
In the same way that stress looks different on everyone, how they want to deal with it can also vary. Create a culture where everyone feels safe and empowered to tell others how they want to be treated when they’re feeling over burdened. For me, I always want to have a little rant to someone while I have a walk in the fresh air. My business partner prefers to write lists of what she needs to do and work through them quietly. We’re all different.
If you can create a space where people feel free to say how they want to be treated, you’ll create a much happier workforce.
Normalise speaking up
Let everyone know that saying “I feel a bit stressed today”, or “I feel sad today” is absolutely OK. They may not want any practical solutions to it. They may not even want you to say much in return. But being in an environment where you are able to hear the boss or a colleague say those things, can really normalise discussions around wellbeing and allow people to feel comfortable talking about it. And sometimes just saying what you feel out loud can make you feel better.
It’s important to keep in touch with team members on a regular basis - try adding a check-in, a space before talking about work to chat about other things like home, life, kids and health. This can create more connection, but more importantly an opportunity to express those stresses and frustrations.
Nobody likes forced fun or surface-level initiatives to boost morale. What people do like are things that truly make a difference to their lives and wellbeing. Very often these things are small, personal and inexpensive to implement.
As the winter months are dark and cold, encourage staff to leave their desks for 30 minutes during the day to go and get some fresh air outside. I know, I know, that’s really obvious and potentially the last thing people want to do when they feel like they need to be tied to their desk to get through their work for the day.
But if you can get them to treat it as a ‘sharpening the axe’ exercise, they may well get on board. Maybe there could even be a step leaderboard or nature spotting game to accompany it? An autumn photo challenge amongst the team? Or a ‘pets in piles of leaves’ caption competition to liven it up. Who doesn’t love seeing a puppy playing with a leaf on their lunch break?
A lack of daylight can really affect some people. I use a Lumi daylight lamp to fall asleep and wake up to. Could you find the budget to help contribute to things like that for your team?
Perhaps we’re all done with Zoom quizzes for now - but every Friday my team offers up a 30 minute post-work ‘drink’. Everyone is invited to have their favourite tipple with the rest of the team after work on a Friday via Zoom. It’s not compulsory (no forced fun remember!), but it is usually well attended and has provided new team members, who often haven’t even met their colleagues in the flesh, a chance to bond with the rest of the crew. Although as the boss, I still haven’t been invited!
If you want a more structured way of providing wellbeing support, consider an online counselling service or employee assistance programme that you can provide for staff; online fitness class subscriptions and workplace perk initiatives can really provide help too.
The final piece of the puzzle is to make sure that everyone’s expectations are clearly managed. Let clients know the timescales they can expect from you for everything from phone calls, to emails, to tax returns. Then your team will have a clear set of rules to work to, but most importantly a clear set of guidelines to fall back on, if clients want to jump the queue or become demanding during peak times.
Likewise, let your team know what you expect of them and when to speak up if they feel they can’t manage the work they have. Again, this is about creating a space where people don’t fear saying “I could do with some help today”. We don’t want anyone to end up feeling overwhelmed.
Look after each other
2020 has been a difficult year for so many reasons. As we hit the depths of winter, let’s make the promise to ourselves that we’re going to look out for each other and be kind when things get stressful. A kindness a day to your team will help see everyone through the shorter days.
|For more useful tips on mental wellbeing support in the workplace and how to build resilience, watch the webinar with Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead at AXA Health.|