The Health Foundation found that more than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) reported feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. The most common issues affecting wellbeing are worrying about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling isolated (49%).
Balancing organisational aims while finding ways of staying resilient and resourceful seems an essential capability for HR professionals in the 21st century. This has been amplified more recently when businesses look to HR leaders for concrete answers in an uncertain environment and your sense of control can feel tenuous.
That’s why we invited the Founder of Lattitdue Consultancy, Alex Hayward and HR consultant, Paul Dickinson, to join us on our popular HR Expert webinar series. The pair focused on three common themes that caused people unnecessary stress and discussed their own challenges of maintaining a healthy level of resilience at work.
With a combined 35 years of experience supporting senior leaders and working at the highest level of human resources, it was no surprise they were able to showcase how HR leaders can manage the knock-on effects of the pandemic within their organisation and workforce.
What exactly is resilience?
Resilience is primarily centred around a person’s reaction when faced with adversity in life; this could involve a misfortune, natural disaster, health concern or a problem arising in their personal or professional life.
However, when faced with adversity, it’s all about how a person deals with the situation. Do they sit there bewildered and procrastinate, or will they find an inner ability to overcome the current state of affairs and move forward?
For an HR professional, a person with good resilience can bounce back more quickly and with less stress than a colleague whose resilience is less developed.
The impact of COVID-19-related stress
According to recent research, the global pandemic has created new causes of job-related stress that have displaced the traditional main reason for workplace anxiety. Since surveying 700 UK workers, Dr. Eric Shiu from the University of Birmingham has identified job stress enhancers caused by the COVID-19 outbreak which can be related to all formats of working.
The three key enhancers of job stress include the concern about income since the start of the pandemic, the fear of catching the virus due to work-related activities and most importantly, the concern about job loss.
Burnout and clinical depression are not diseases of the weak. Stress is a system of the strong, so it’s about how HR leaders take the pressure off and manage their stress levels rather than piling on more and more pressure.
To do this, an adequate learning process will be to recognise or identify the specific type of stress category you are currently being affected by and how these elements are manifesting as symptoms in your life.
- Excited anxiety
- Distracted attention
- Irritable anxiety
How has COVID-19 affected HR’s resilience levels
HR has often been in the backseat to the more commercially driven aspects of corporate operations and their pecking order. But while sharp-witted chief executives have long recognised HR’s strategic importance to their business, COVID-19 has highlighted the astounding role HR leaders have in successfully managing a crisis that is centred around people.
Over the recent months, Lattitude Partner and HR consultant, Paul Dickinson conducted his own research within the HR community, identifying their challenges and why professionals are grappling to deal with their own expectations in these very unprecedented times.
From analysing the responses, Paul was able to outline three recurring themes that continuously cropped up, these involve HR professionals feeling like they should know the answer, failing to control the outcome and having no choice but to stay on top of their workload. To get a further understanding and real-time data, we asked our webinar attendees to outline which theme resonated with them most.
Feeling like I should know the answer
As an HR leader, your work life will always be throwing questions at you, and during the ‘new normal’, you’ll undoubtedly have to deal with questions that created a sense of bemusement. By default, the initial response is to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’ll get back to you’, but in situations where it’s not really clear to us what the answer could be, it can create an enormous amount of pressure.
As the expert in the room, it’s normal to feel the pressure to provide your team with accurate answers, but instead of putting yourself on the spot every single time, use these tips to tackle any difficult or unexpected questions.
- Stay informed: Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball that is going to predict what exactly is going to happen in the short or long-term future, so it’s important to keep up with the latest trends, research and announcements. This way, you’ll be able to update your team and organisation with any new guidelines and advice to prevent the automatic ‘I don’t know’ response.
- Be honest: Nobody’s perfect, and it’s impossible to prepare for every question and at some point, you’ll be asked a legitimate question that you won’t be able to answer despite the research you’ve conducted. Although they may not be satisfied with your response, instead of ‘I don’t know’ try ‘I’m going to explore that because I think this could be useful for the whole organisation. I think there are multiple areas we could examine further.’
- Quick response: As an HR leader, one of the most powerful things you can do in the face of unanswerable questions is to use broader questions you do know the answer to, to draw out people’s deeper concerns. In doing so, you may end up putting an employee’s mind at ease for the time being while you have time to go and research the bigger picture.
Failing to control the outcome
Failure. It’s a dreaded feeling we hate to experience. But the worst part is, when it happens, we hold onto it. This is no different for any of the HR community, standards are high and in times like the present, they must put people first. However, sometimes it’s about setting the right expectations against the current reality to prevent falling into a mental trap that brings pain when this feeling is achieved.
As businesses are coming under increased pressure to find the funds to continue operating, there comes a point when failure is out of HR’s control, but the people serving the department will often have to deal with the consequences, much like redundancies. So, with that feeling so hard to let go, how can HR forgive themselves and continue to move forward?
- Don’t make it personal
- Don’t dwell on the situation
- Release the feeling of being judged by others
- Always look at the situation from a new point of view
I need to stay on top of my workload
With this cultural shift happening before our eyes, the size of HR’s workloads is going nowhere, and with the current state of the economy, department budgets are strict. This means HR leaders worldwide will be struggling to get their vision achieved without reaching the point of burnout.
Sometimes, the willingness, compassion and drive of HR leaders can often be their greatest downfall. In a time where burnout can easily be achieved, HR needs to stop and realise how many times they’ve reached the point of exhaustion before they realise this is a recurring pattern. Revert back the previous point, evaluate your current initiatives and begin to set the right expectations against the current reality.
How to increase resilience levels
Currently, a quarter of all employees across the world view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. As established, there is now high-level of demanding work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout are widespread. More than ever, it’s now vital to build resilience skills to combat workplace stress and push through the pandemic.
Exercise your mindfulness: Beginning to train yourself in mindfulness is something that can take place in many forms and even be incorporated into everyday life. We all know breathing is important, but how many times a day do we sit back, relax and breathe deeply with a longer exhale than inhale? And with the UK currently in national lockdown, time is on our side. If possible, begin taking scenic walks, appreciating the nature around you while letting thoughts drift out your mind. Instead of playing a game on your phone, download new applications like Headspace and Calm to begin a new guided meditation journey.
Learn to recover from stress: Exposing your body to a form of physical stress, in a controlled environment, is a great way to enhance your resilience levels. These physical methods can come in the form of hunger stress through intermittent fasting or thermal stress through cold showering, teaching the body that it can experience stress and recover. This is a distinct way to regulate emotions coupled with a physical response to change. However, it’s important to note, physical stress must only be undertaken when you’re feeling well, piling stress on top of pre-existing stress will not be a natural way for the body to learn positive habits.
Recycle gratitude: Unbeknownst to many, gratitude can be strongly linked to resilience. If you remind yourself of all the situations where you have shown resilience, you’re telling your brain that you are capable of being resilient in the future. While 2020 was full of challenges, you should also show acknowledgement for what you’ve achieved during struggling times, make a list of your key accomplishments throughout the year and where you’ve demonstrated resilience. The simple fact that you have survived this year will all the unprecedented changes demonstrate an endorsement amount of resilience. Take what you’ve learnt and bring it forward into 2021 as a positive.
Get more sleep: It’s no surprise than sleep has been found to boost resilience levels and while stress and anxiety can deteriorate your sleeping pattern, we have more power to control the quality of sleep we are getting. Factors such as being disciplined, falling asleep earlier, reducing the amount of blue light leading up to shut eye, cutting down on morbid or negative news, exercising more and eating healthier can all enhance your sleeping routine.
Nurture relationships: Building and maintaining positive relationships are an active way to strengthen resilience. However, during this isolated time, our ability to focus on others has often been disrupted, leading us to be more self-focused. This natural tendency can be pushed aside by interacting with friends, family and colleagues online who have a positive effort on your mood, mindset and ambition.