A wellbeing mindset for leaders
At this moment, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is fundamentally changing the way we work and the way we live our lives. But amidst the effort to manage the impacts of COVID-19, we are also grappling with the mental health impacts of social isolation, heightened anxiety and financial uncertainty. Business leaders have the additional challenge of managing teams remotely and steering organisations through a period like no other in recent history.
"As leaders we have to be able to lead with confidence and perspective while balancing the underlying anxieties and emotions of our people. This is doubly hard when we may be experiencing our own fears and uncertainties as we face a health and economic event unprecedented in our times,” says Sean West, Head of Wealth Management at Macquarie Banking and Financial Services Group,
“In time, COVID-19 will pass, and while not everything will go back to normal, a new normal will emerge. Those organisations with purpose, innovation and a focus on clients will prosper.”
There’s a growing appreciation for the need for business leaders to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the mental health issues that are likely to emerge, and develop the skills to help their teams and families cope.
“It’s important to acknowledge this stage is like a grieving period, with feelings of shock and denial,” says Mindstar founder Aaron Williams, who works to improve and maintain emotional wellbeing in workplaces. “We all know people who are losing something – their job, their connection to the things and people they hold dear. It feels out of our control.”
Dr Jill Newby, Associate Professor at UNSW, based at the Black Dog Institute, says it’s natural for people to feel overwhelmed – and almost half the exponential increase in traffic to Black Dog’s website is for COVID-related support.
During previous pandemics, it has been estimated 25% to 33% of the community experienced high levels of worry and anxiety1 – and people with pre-existing anxiety and other mental health disorders are most at risk. With one in five Australians aged 16 to 85 suffering from a mental health disorder2 – and one in three in the financial services sector3 – there’s a good chance you know someone who is feeling vulnerable during this time.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to support one another – colleagues, clients, families, friends and neighbours. Prioritising self-care is just as important.
Here are four ways to do this while adapting to a very different way of living and working.
1. Accept the rhythm of work will change
Williams says the leaders he is coaching find today’s lack of control distressing because they’re used to pushing themselves.
In this environment, Dr Newby notes it’s important to take the pressure off both yourself and your teams – especially for those who face the additional stress of home schooling or worrying about elderly parents. “It might not be realistic to expect the same level of work – you need to adjust expectations and be flexible.” Some people may need to alter their hours to balance their family needs, or work in shorter stints throughout the day.
West and his wife are both now working from home and home-schooling two teenagers. He says this requires a lot more energy in his role as a leader (and as a parent), as he needs to be as visible as possible and maximise the connection he has with his team, family and broader community.
“The leadership unit – whether in business or in families – needs to be stronger and more authentic than ever today,” he observes. “But you can’t keep giving more without changing something. For me, that means ensuring that I find some time to get out on my own to exercise every day. It gives me the mental space to reflect on things.”