Employers can take steps to support their staff, even when they're working from home, and ensure they can be as productive as possible during this difficult and uncertain period. Crucially, they can do this in a way that's realistic and sensitive to any challenges employees might be experiencing.
The right kind of leadership
When trust in leadership teams is low, it's likely productivity will follow suit. With the coronavirus pandemic altering working conditions and increasing pressure and uncertainty, the right style of management has never been so important.
Compassion is an important element of good leadership; recognising and understanding people's health is critical to business health. Leaders should understand the challenges employees might be facing, which could include concerns about economic and job security, the impact on client work and basic connectivity with colleagues and managers.
With the lockdown still in place, they might also be worrying about personal matters, such as increased care responsibilities for children and pets or looking after relatives, which could be affecting their ability to concentrate. Understanding these concerns and being realistic about expectations as a leader is important to ensuring people feel supported and are able to carry out their jobs as best they can.
Companies should encourage employees to feel empowered to switch off for regular breaks and step away from their computer at the end of the day. They should emphasise they have the flexibility to adjust working times and expectations in line with new responsibilities, such as caring for loved ones.
With professionals working new and unusual hours from home, its essential managers maintain good levels of communication, both formal and informal, to ensure staff are coping and are able to focus.
Even when remote working is the norm, business leaders should be checking in with teams on a regular basis, using video conferencing and relevant instant messaging tools where possible to maintain a sense of normality, and working to identify any unsaid signs of stress and anxiety. At Headspace, one of the ways we manage this is through a combination of short stand-up sessions and"good morning" chats, allowing teams to feel informed and emotionally connected.
Leaders should encourage employees to share how they're feeling, whether they're worried about the future, struggling with their workload while at home or if they're concerned about a vulnerable family member and the current situation. Giving someone wholly undivided attention at the best of times can be difficult, but leaders should be patient and understanding. It's important to make themselves aware of support tools available through HR teams, ready to point staff in the direction of techniques proven to help in managing any negative feelings staff might be experiencing.
Meditation and mindfulness might seem like a strange tool to turn to when thinking about productivity, but in training the mind to be kinder, more patient and more understanding, there is a positive effect on working relationships and overall output. Now more than ever, leaders should treat working and personal relationships with kindness and compassion, looking after their employees and encouraging insurance professionals to take care of their minds and avoid burnout.
A mindful solution
Evidence shows mindfulness and meditation are indispensable tools for managing stress and anxiety levels, preventing serious productivity issues from developing. In the current climate, it's particularly important for those who might be struggling to adapt to working from home and who prefer to be around people when they work.
Research has shown that meditation can help people focus, switch between tasks less frequently and enjoy their work more. A scientific study has found that using mindfulness for 30 days reduced stress by a third (32%), while improving focus by 14%23. It's a vital tool in assisting those who might be finding the current situation difficult and are struggling to concentrate on their work.
The good news is meditation doesn't have to involve much employee time and is perfect for doing at home. It can be as simple as taking a couple of minutes to breathe, reset and regain perspective. With so much worry on people's mind, taking a short amount of time to practise self-care is vital in managing negative feelings and ensuring that workers are as productive as they can be in these difficult conditions.
Beyond the crisis
This isn't something employers should look to as a"quick fix" for productivity concerns in the current climate. The mind is complicated and experts are noting that our experiences today4 will stay with us past the end of lockdown – demonstrating there's potential for a long-term impact on employee morale and productivity levels, as well as health.
Mindfulness should form part of long-term initiatives to improve employee mental health in the workplace and beyond. By practising mindfulness and meditation, insurance professionals can become more aware of their stress levels, without being overwhelmed by them.
They will also learn to identify stress triggers and approach those situations more mindfully, which will lead ultimately to a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.
James McErlean is GM, Europe for Headspace for Work