Friday 29 January 2021 6:00 am

Office Politics: Keeping staff sane in a world gone mad

Ewen MacPherson is Chief People Officer at Havas UK

The past twelve months have made it impossible for most of us to work like we did before. 

What’s more, these lockdowns have made it apparent that working from home all of the time is tougher than many of us ever imagined. So how can employers truly support their teams to get through it and emerge, blinking maybe, but intact?

Make it possible to work

As employers, the first priority is empathy. From the start our focus has been on telling our people that ‘your best is good enough’. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer to what that ‘best’ is.

Employers should be thinking about how to support their people to work in whatever way is possible for them.

People with children have had it really tough, so for this lockdown we have created a ‘Parents’ Edition’ of our award-winning Havas Equalise wellbeing programme.

It provides parent-focused mental health support and an accompanying timetable of activities for children of all ages; from mindfulness sessions for teenagers, to live magicians, drawing classes, and even Disney dance-offs for little ones!

The feedback has been great; it’s been a godsend for families and keeps the kids away from their screens, while parents get some much-needed focus time for their work. 

Read more: The City View: Xavier Rees of Havas London on the value of creative ideas in the office

Make it possible not to work

It’s true that what works for one, doesn’t work for all, so keep it front of mind in all you do as an employer. Take the time to understand the individual needs of your people and enable true flexibility. Make provision for broad levels of support, like making sure people take adequate breaks and have time away from the monotony of video calls.

Through our Havas Equalise programme, we have extended the content that offers an escape away from the daily grind; yoga and meditation, exercise classes, even psychotherapy sessions aimed at handling stress and isolation. 

Leadership is about role modelling the right behaviours too, so leaders need to show their teams that they’re not present all the time, that they take proper breaks themselves to get away from the laptop. That, in turn, gives others permission to do the same.

Lifting spirits and nurturing our community

Ultimately, it’s about trying to keep spirits high and nurturing the community we’ve all grown to cherish. Those have both taken a massive hit during the pandemic, there’s no denying it.

Whilst 2020 was mostly about ‘doing your best’ and knuckling down to get through, 2021 has shown us no real respite. It’s vital for us to get this sense of community back and should be for any business.

To combat the downs, we’ve upped our efforts – for example, in January we ran Blue Monday themed comedy events with daily live stand-up shows across the week, we’ve put protocols in place to protect focus time and reduce video meetings, and one of our agencies even implemented the ‘Wednesday Whinge’ – a session for senior managers to have a grumble and decompress with other leaders and to get a break from having to put on a brave face for their teams.

We’re also working on lots of new ways to create connections for our community and to keep that spirit of togetherness alive even while we’re apart. 

Remember, one size does not fit all. Everyone needs different things at different times.

Understanding this variation in mental health and wellbeing is the key to showing true empathy at work and being the kind of employer that makes it possible – and not possible – to work; in turn making it possible to thrive and stay well in these most difficult of times.

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