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How finance leaders can support their teams through continued Covid restrictions

How finance leaders can support their teams through continued Covid restrictions 1

By James McErlean, GM, Europe, Headspace Enterprise

Even with the end of the second national lockdown and vaccines on the horizon, severe restrictions on our lives aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. The new tiered system will continue to stop millions of people from meeting friends and family, enjoying themselves in pubs and restaurants, and taking part in activities they love. And this is all having an impact on our mental health.

The Centre For Mental Health estimates up to 10 million people will need either new or additional psychological support as a direct result of the pandemic. Feelings of stress and anxiety are seeping into the workplace, including financial service businesses. More than eight in ten employees (81%) report having a poor or low state of mind, according to AXA.

Finance leaders have a more important role to play in dealing with this than they might realise. Employees spend most of their day working, so businesses have a lot of influence over their mental health.

Fortunately, there are simple steps they can take to support workers through the difficult months ahead. While these won’t solve everything, they can help build resilience and support workers in reducing stress and anxiety.

Energy through compassion

We’re now eight months into mass homeworking. While this remote working revolution has brought benefits, such as greater flexibility over working hours and an initial productivity burst, many are tired by endless Zoom calls and mountains of emails, which are often happening outside working hours.

Finance leaders can help staff boost energy levels and motivation by simply showing compassion. This is about checking in with teams regularly, using video conferencing and instant messaging tools where possible to maintain a sense of normality, and trying to identify unsaid signs of stress and anxiety.

At Headspace, we keep our team connected through a combination of short stand ups and ‘good morning’ chats, allowing teams to feel informed and energised. This is a great way to keep morale up, provide consistent social interactions for workers and reassure them about any concerns they may have.

Finance firms don’t need to have the answers to every problem, but just listening and showing kindness and compassion can be enough to boost motivation and morale. Ultimately, it’s about letting employees know that no matter their circumstances, their anxieties will be recognised, appreciated, and understood.

Go for evidence-backed techniques

With remote working having created so much fluidity between personal and working lives, and the general uncertainty linked to the pandemic, it’s never been so important that financial service firms adopt holistic wellbeing strategies.

Yet our research has found that more than half of the UK workforce (54%) do not feel that mental health benefits are a priority in their organisation. This is despite half of workers believing that mental health benefits are essential post-COVID-19 (Source).

James McErlean

James McErlean

It’s clear many businesses need to do more to support and protect their employees during this difficult period. But it’s also important these strategies are meaningful, and evidence led. This is because our study found that three quarters (76%) of UK workers believe the mental health benefits offered by their companies should be backed by science (Source).

Leadership teams need to think more carefully about building mental health programmes that genuinely make a difference. This is about implementing wellbeing strategies that are backed by clinical studies, such as mindfulness and meditation – scientifically proven to alleviate stress and boost focus and productivity.

Encourage rest and routine

Finance has always had a reputation for being a high-stakes, pressurised industry. Without proper rest and consistent routines, there’s a risk people could be overwhelmed by the added pressures of Covid-19 and remote working.

This is why finance leaders should actively encourage employees to switch off for breaks and step away from their computer at the end of the day when their work has been finished.

Managers should also prompt their teams to schedule regular mindfulness or self-care sessions throughout the week. This could be a company-wide initiative, encouraging employees to meditate, read or craft together, or it could come down to giving individuals the chance to get into the right habits during the working day. For example, we recently partnered with Microsoft Teams to encourage workers to embed wellbeing into their daily routines, giving them the ability to schedule restorative, mindful breaks.

Ultimately, helping staff achieve a greater work-life balance is about encouraging flexibility and giving employees more autonomy. Employees then benefit from more control over their routines and becoming more consistent in their daily lives.

Workforce wellbeing is company wellbeing

There are fundamental links between employee and company health, and clear commercial benefits to having a happier, healthier workforce.

When employees are calm and focused, they are much less likely to procrastinate, make mistakes or take time off sick. Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to improve focus (Source) and reduce stress and job burnout (Source).

By implementing the right workplace wellbeing initiatives, finance leaders will benefit from a healthier and happier workforce and ultimately drive stronger business performance not just in the short-term, but beyond the pandemic.

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