The upheavals which the Covid-19 pandemic brought to the workplace ushered in a new way of staying connected.
Overnight we were in a world of video conferencing in place of face-to-face team meetings, sales pitches and training courses.
April is Stress Awareness Month, and new research released by The Stress Management Society reveals that 66% of people in Wales have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020.
The three key causes for concern cited by the study, carried out by the Stress Management Society and Huawei App Gallery, are feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control. As a result, the Society decided to weave these three key factors into this year’s theme for Stress Awareness Month – Regain Connection, Certainty and Control.
Let’s look at the first of those - regaining connection. Even as restrictions start to relax, working remotely is likely to be with us for some time. Some teams may never return to the office full-time. What does this mean for connection? Well, I’d argue there’s a responsibility here for employers to empower colleagues to understand why connection is so very important - and to support them to know how connection can be truly effective in a largely remote world.
We are hardwired to reach out to others, particularly when we are struggling. When we are under stress we produce adrenaline and cortisol, but we also produce low levels of oxytocin - the ‘love drug’. This hormone creates the rush you get when you hug a loved one, for instance. It is the hormone the brain produces to enable us to bond with others. So it might come as a surprise to learn that we produce it when we are stressed.
Researchers found that, if we are going through a challenging time, we instinctively know that we need the support of others. So by releasing oxytocin the brain is encouraging us to seek out that support. Think of challenges you’ve been through - you are likely to have reached out to family, friends, professionals or a support group to help you through.
Supporting remote teams means more than making sure there are plenty of video calls in the diary. Colleagues need to be empowered to recognise the importance of reaching out when they need support.
Encourage colleagues to ensure they have a strong support network. Ask them to consider the people they spend most time with, as everyone in our lives can either nourish or deplete us. Importantly, these people won’t necessarily be the people we love the most. As we are considering the people we spend most time with, it could include colleagues, for instance.
It’s important to note here that all of us can be depleting at times. The very reason we have friendships and relationships is so we can rely on others during difficult periods. Think about a friend whose presence usually nourishes you. If that friend is going through a relationship or health problem, for instance, you might need to support them for a while, and you may find that for a time they become a ‘depleter’.
This situation notwithstanding, we need to ensure we have a better ratio of nourishers to depleters in our everyday lives. If the reverse is true, this is something that can be worked on to build a more effective support network and to help us increase our resilience.
And in terms of seeking out support when we most need it, it’s important we continue to see, speak to or message others - in that order. We get the most benefit from seeing others, which admittedly is a tall order at the moment. Yet even a chat with a neighbour over the garden fence can help. If this isn’t possible, then call a friend or colleague. Sending a message should be the last resort, as it doesn’t give you the same emotional connection as seeing or speaking to someone.
We really need others in order to thrive - we are community animals. While the pandemic has taught us all how to stay connected remotely, we need to take on board the importance of why we need to connect, and make sure we’re doing it really effectively.
Lianne Weaver is the founder of Beam Development and Training, whose purpose is to help employers and employees take responsibility for their wellbeing. Beam offers CPD-accredited courses on topics including resilience, emotional intelligence, imposter syndrome, and confidence. Currently courses are delivered to corporate and SME clients virtually, as well as via an on-demand Wellbeing Library.
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