With the pandemic forcing businesses and individuals around the world to rethink the way they interact, Australian workers are now at greater risk of developing mental health issues or burnout as they return to the office to work, says Stuart Taylor.
MPA spoke with the founder and CEO of Springfox about the ways broker business owners can support the mental wellness of employees while staying resilient in a changing world.
The role of a boss in challenging times
Data collected by Springfox before the COVID-19 pandemic shows that 83% of Australian respondents feel overloaded and agitated at work while 79% feel they lack the endurance and flexibility needed to navigate change.
On a global scale, 40% of respondents are operating at low levels of resilience and are at risk of occupational burn out.
According to Taylor, the three primary emotions experienced by these participants are worry, fatigue and self-criticism – a trilogy he believes will be doubled down by the pandemic.
“We’re seeing that coming out on the current research that we’re doing that shows that worry is still a huge one, fatigue is still a huge one – and then add to that – a level of loneliness that has stood out.”
“When you look at the social isolation that most Australian workers have had for the last two to three months, I think that readjustment is going to be quite interesting.”
“Their ability to engage in a more face to face situation does represent a significant shift to where they have currently been.”
He adds that these emotions are some of the key ones for bosses to look out for in their staff – particularly if they represent a change in the way their employees operate.
“It’s often the differences that are the telling signs.”
“When you are observing somebody that is experiencing those emotions it really does become an important role for that boss to spend time with that staff member.”
He says exploring the back story behind a staff member’s change in emotion and becoming aware of the challenges they are facing enables both the manager and the member of staff to work towards a solution.
“Potentially there are practical solutions that can be put in place that might relieve some of that challenge and allow that staff member to thrive again.”
How brokers can support their staff
Taylor says there are three things a broker business owner can do to ensure staff stay mentally well and resilient both during the pandemic and beyond.
The first is frequent communication – although as the data shows, this can be a difficult balance to strike
“What’s coming out in our COVID survey is that managers and leaders have gone almost over the top in terms of communication, knowing this is an issue when their staff are socially isolated and physically isolated.”
“As a result, everybody is spending the whole day in back to back Zoom meetings.”
“In essence what it’s driven is a much higher workload – in fact workload and stress during COVID has reportedly gone up 55%.”
He says maintaining a high trust culture is also critical, as is practicing compassionate leadership.
This involves telling staff where the company is going, what the future looks like and how they fit into all of this, as well as asking how the company can support them as they re-engage in those goals.
“All of that provides a lot of safety and a lot of calm whereas the lack of compassionate leadership does the opposite, it actually creates a fear-based culture.”
Six ways brokers can maintain resilience
According to Taylor, it is up to both manager and staff to actively pursue resilience in the face of challenging times.
He says there are six strategies Springfox has identified as being important for maintaining mental wellness and resilience.
The first is staying connected.
“One element of resilience is around connection – when I am connected, I’m able to keep things in perspective.”
A second strategy is focusing on what brings joy. This could involve taking time off to pursue hobbies or spending time with family members.
“Without that sense of joy, I’m more likely to detect negative emotions and see fear, and so, a big part of building resilience is building positive emotion.”
The third strategy is about prioritising sleep by setting up a healthy routine and cutting back on caffeine.
“If your sleep is not that high quality seven to eight hours unbroken sleep, then you’re already behind the eight ball in terms of energy, emotions and wellness.”
Exercising regularly is the fourth strategy – one that can positively affect resilience levels across the board.
“When we look at our resilience diagnostic instrument, which the research I’ve been quoting is based on, of the 60 resilience factors, exercise is the single biggest one that positively impacts every other factor.”
Number five on the list is practising meditation. This enables the individual to calm down and stay in the moment, helping to prevent against stress.
“The brain, if it isn’t supported by meditation, will jump into the future and catastrophise around all sorts of things. Meditation will help bring that down.”
The final, and arguably most important, strategy, says Taylor, is to aim for realistic optimism.
“We can choose the way we think.”
“Realistic optimism says today is a challenge but tomorrow’s going to be a better day.”
He says by choosing to internalise adversity in a realistic yet positive way, we can create a better sense of hope that can empower us to move forward and solve problems.