How to best support employees in self-isolation

Written by Anna Bishop
May 6, 2020

Anna is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

The coronavirus has turned our worlds upside down and we’re all finding our own way to navigate through the uncertainty and unpredictability. It’s likely to be an extremely challenging time for any employees and also you, as you try to help them while also dealing with your own pressures and stresses. 

Many employees in self-isolation will be understandably worried about how they will fare from a virus that has already claimed so many lives and some may sadly have suffered losses. With seven out of ten businesses having furloughed staff they may also be facing money worries. And if they’re still attempting to work remotely,  they may face more challenges on top of their isolation, such as juggling childcare with work and remaining productive. 

The British Red Cross believes that little acts of kindness are important, now more than ever. By building a supportive culture where you try to treat others as you would like to be treated, you can help them through this unprecedented challenge. Hopefully, kindness will be something we all remember and focus on more following this current crisis.

 

Understand how it may impact people differently

Every worker in self-isolation will have their own worries and pressures and how they cope with them can vary greatly. Never assume that people will be feeling as we would feel in the same situation or able to cope in the same way. Some may need time off or need additional support, others will continue as before - and some may even thrive.

It’s important to check in with your employees and listen with empathy to how they’re feeling and what challenges they’re experiencing during isolation. It could be any number of issues, such as:

 

  • they’re physically unable to work
  • they’re in a high risk group
  • they can’t stop worrying about their health
  • they feel isolated
  • they’re struggling to balance working with looking after children
  • they’re worried about their job security 
  • their partner has been furloughed 
  • they feel less productive
  • a family member or friend is seriously ill

 

To be able to support someone effectively it’ s important to listen to their story from their perspective. They may not always find it easy to share or explain how they are feeling so you may need to support them through conversations. It is often useful to think about what else they are telling you through non-verbal communication - sometimes you gain more insights through the way they are speaking, or by noting what they are not saying.

 

Provide helpful resources and options

With so much information available online, it can be difficult to know where to start when  looking for help with physical and mental wellbeing. Each day also brings new coronavirus updates which may impact your business continuity strategy and this can breed further uncertainty and worry in your employees. 

It can help people panic less if you keep them informed of what is happening and how it may impact them. Try sending them the latest updates from official channels and keeping them informed of your developing business strategy. Even if it’s not positive, being kept in the dark is often much more worrying.  

Are there ways you can ease the pressure and isolation at this time? For example, can you offer flexible working to help with childcare? Could you offer backdated time off in lieu to someone really struggling that put in lots of extra hours before? Can managers schedule virtual connections and activities as part of the working day?  

Other ways you can help ease stresses  and make them feel supported and part of the team include:

  • Having a clear support pathway in place, such as sharing details for IT department contacts and who to go to if their line manager/HR is off work.
  • Making sure that people have the equipment to do their job properly, such as laptops/computers and cloud-based document management tools so that they can access and collaborate on documents if needed. 
  • Providing a list of resources that can help with physical and mental well-being e.g. easy exercises you can do on your work breaks, mindfulness apps, local mental health support groups or any private healthcare counselling options available through private health and wellbeing plans. 
  • Tips on how to stay connected with colleagues and how managers can check-in with their team to ensure they feel supported. 

 

Enable them to become more resilient

Personal and team resilience (bounce back) is an important part of managing a situation and ourselves. Stress is an inevitable part of life but how we deal with it can make a lot of difference. You can help your employees build resilience by encouraging them to look at the six Rs of resilience:

 

  • Responsibility Taking responsibility for their own mental health, wellbeing and resilience, by:
  • Reflection Reflecting on how they are, what is happening and how they are feeling about things
  • Relaxation Relaxing in a way that suits them, such as jogging, reading a book and mindfulness practice.
  • Relationships Encouraging them to build supportive relationships with friends, family or a partner. 
  • Refuelling Eating a healthy diet and being conscious of alcohol intake.
  • Recreation Taking regular exercise, and having fun.

 

Experience and evidence shows that communities and individuals recover more quickly and are better able to help themselves if they can regain some control. 

It’s often best to provide information and options (e.g. taking time off, flexible hours and a list of resources that may help) but encourage them to come up with solutions that they feel would work for them. 

 

Lead from the top: openly acknowledge stresses and worries

There are no rights or wrong, shoulds or shouldn'ts in how people feel - how they feel is how they feel. 

That doesn’t mean that people always feel like that. For example, those with mild symptoms may experience more fear than those with more severe ones. Others will feel guilty for feeling depressed when their situation isn’t as bad as someone else’s. Or they may feel inferior to others whose social media posts show them mastering a new skill or being more productive working from home. 

If leaders share their own struggles, it can help establish a supportive and open relationship with their employees. It can help them acknowledge their own feelings and that it’s okay to feel that way. They may even share their own stories - the bad and the good of coping in self-isolation- which in turn can build a community of support where people know they can confide in and lean on others at work for support. 

 

We understand that every organisation has different resources available to them and that some of these tips may not be possible. The very fact that you’re reading this shows that you’re taking a positive step to help your employees during self-isolation. 

Our advice is built around the CALMER framework: Consider, Acknowledge, Listen, Manage, Enable and Resource. You can find out more about how we apply this framework at British Red Cross with our short video below.

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Topics: Mental health & wellbeing

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