10 Healthy Actions for Your Team in Lockdown

 In Resilience

Back in March 2020, we were all taken out of our comfort zones and found ourselves dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Focusing on the short-term first: getting things done, overworking, adjusting their behaviours to get through what was seen as a temporary situation. 

During this entire time, Mandy Rutter, Resilience Psychologist and member of the Making Change Happen collective, has offered practical advice to leaders and teams. Using her research in education and trauma, Mandy talked to teams about the healthy habits needed for wellbeing and resilience during the pandemic.

Between March and December 2020, Mandy conducted over 240 webinars to groups of 30-100 attendees. The insights collected during these events tells an interesting story of how staff wellbeing has developed over the past 10 months. 

“There isn’t a book that you could pick up on March 18, 2020, and say ‘here is how you manage yourself during a pandemic’,” explains Mandy.  “There are lots of small bits of research. So my colleagues and I collated this, along with bio-psycho-social education.” 

Bio-psycho-social education is where you provide education for your mind, body and the social relationships around you. All of which came under stress during the lockdowns. 

In those webinars, Mandy talked about the ten healthy habits needed to keep teams in good shape. And through the sessions, Mandy was able to get a front-seat view of the habits people are doing and which are being neglected. Which gives us some valuable insight into the areas where staff are likely to need the most support. 

Mandy’s 10 Healthy Habits for teams

1. Keeping good boundaries – when the office is moved into a home, it becomes harder to create the work-life balance we need. As we’ve seen before, the boss models the behaviour for the team. 

2. Take regular breaks – without set such times, workplace interruptions and tea rounds, taking breaks can easily be lost. And these are important to our wellbeing. 

3. Celebrate achievements and successes – pulling on our small achievements can help maintain motivation. 

4. Don’t take difficult situations personally – it’s far easier to feel attacked by an email if you can’t see the body language of the person sending it. It’s far better to pick up the phone and respond rather than stewing on something that’s upset you. 

5. Prioritise sleep – Most people need between 7-9 hours

6. Eat and drink well – getting a healthy diet and plenty of water during the day is important to keep our bodies and minds healthy. 

7. Keep active – if we’re working from home, it’s easy to move less. With no commute and a break down of regular routines, it’s important to keep active and get outdoors as much as possible. 

8. Be kind and say thanks – recognising that someone has done a good job with a thank you can be a pick up in their day.  Asking them how they feel and listening to them can be support for both parties. 

9. Keep connected – It’s easy to lose the spontaneous conversations when working remotely. We are social beings and need to feel connected to our groups. A quick check-in with someone once a day can go a long way. 

10. Ask for help – Being able to reach out when you are struggling is important. People would much prefer that than knowing someone suffered in silence. 

What we understand to be happening

“It is amazing for me that there was a universality of what people were and were not doing from these ten healthy actions,” says Mandy. “Regardless of what group of employee you are, the pattern of action is the same.

“We found that universally, the one thing people were doing well was to be kind and give reassurance.
And across the board, the thing people weren’t doing was asking for help or celebrating their own achievements.”

Lower occurrences of celebrating our own achievements occur because we’re not practised at doing this for ourselves. We have been taken out of the social situations where we receive praise from others. This needs to be replaced with acknowledging our own successes.

“People don’t want to publicly celebrate success because they don’t want to be bragging. And we’re programmed to focus on the things that will cause us the most pain and worry by our amygdala, the primitive part of the brain, that alerts us to threats, so we act on them. “

The pandemic is a threat that has removed the social groups where we normally find the positive reinforcements we need. 

Instead, we need to start talking with each other about the positive things we’ve achieved, as well as sharing our struggles.  To be better practised at this, we have to see the small achievements we make. 

For some, getting dressed for work is a positive act that should be acknowledged. For others, it might be getting through a day of homeschool or doing a Joe Wicks workout. Or it might be that you’ve ticked a difficult task off your to-do list. Acknowledging our achievements is a skill that we need to practise.

“Often our successes can go unnoticed,” explains Mandy, “if you’d have said last March to set up a Zoom link and record a conversation, I would have been lost. Zoom was a word that appeared in comic books at the back of a car. Now I can’t work without it. We need to look at how far we have come.” 

Reflecting on success

The start of the year is traditionally a time where we reflect on the year gone and plan. Yet, while we are in a sprint-way of thinking, we only focus on what we need to get done now. 

When our protective primitive brain runs thinking, we do not self-reflect, have strategic planning or perspective. This makes it difficult for team members to review what they have learned. But being encouraged to do this will allow them to see their accomplishments. 

Confidence and self-esteem

The consequence of sustaining the sprint-way of thinking as we’ve seen over this pandemic is a reduction in confidence and self-esteem. Confidence is built from the skills you learn, such as working new technology like zoom. Self-esteem is built from how you feel about yourself as a person. Celebrate your successes, and you’ll develop your self-esteem. 

“I’m concerned that when we lose confidence, we also lose the confidence in our abilities and to challenge the status quo. We need the confidence to take necessary and acceptable risks, which is important,” says Mandy.

 “When we stop asking for help, we become more anxious and isolated. You can see this now with people feeling anxiety around the return to work.  Suddenly getting on public transport or returning to an office is a risk that some may not feel confident in taking.” 

“We’re creating people who are then fearful of doing the necessary everyday tasks, and everyday risks that we take that we used to take for granted.” 

Embedding behaviours

At Making Change Happen, we talk a lot about embedding the right behaviours within the team to get the best out of them.  This data, through lockdown, presents an example of what happens when difficult behaviours are embedded within the team.

In this case, the behaviours of not asking for help or celebrating our own successes. As Mandy illustrates, it has an impact on our confidence and self-esteem. 

The range of healthy habits taking place during the first lockdown was low, with only around 2% of people asking for help and celebrating successes. Even at the top end, around 30% of people were keeping good boundaries and staying active. 

The trend in the summer saw an increase in boundaries and keeping active, and this was around 40-50% in the second lockdown. But for those bottom two actions, it was still in the single figures. 

As we’ve entered the third lockdown, Mandy has seen people taking fewer breaks and good boundaries not being kept. 

“And it is a universal concern,” says Mandy, “I can see it in my own actions, even though I talk about them all the time. I haven’t been out for walks as much as I did because the weather has been bad. 

“What we see now is more fear, a lack of trust but also an increase in hope as a result of the vaccine. People may be uncertain about the future, but they do feel hope.”

“One of the things I do now is I have this slide with lots of words on, and I ask people to choose three words to say how they’re feeling. What I notice is people have a range of multi-dimensional words. People have opposite feelings; they can be hopeful about the vaccine but fearful at the same time.” 

Mental Health and lockdown

Another factor that Mandy identifies for teams is the mental health of the team. While staff are in work, there is accountability to take action. If a staff member is suffering, there is the pull of work to help them get better.  

“Small goals will help people like taking medication, so they get back to the office. And to do that they have to get on the train, which means confronting a fear. When you’re working remotely, you don’t have those same accountabilities, and it can prolong recovery.” 

Mandy’s advice is to move out of the sprint-thinking and into marathon-thinking. 

“When you run a short race, you can ignore the pain because you can see the finish line. When you train for a marathon, you have to take it in small incremental steps. Your competition isn’t with the sprinters; it is with yourself. 

“The way you think changes. You tell yourself that if you can get through this mile, then there is only another one to go. That you’ve come this far, it’s only another short distance.”

The same applies to thinking in the workplace. You talk in a positive voice to yourself that you need to get to Monday and it’s little steps. You’re not looking at the finish line. Instead, you reflect on how far you’ve come and have to pay attention to the pain. 

Equally, you don’t run a marathon on your own. You have a team to train with and support you. You train on a bio-psycho-social level. Getting your body and mind in shape and with other people. 

Mandy’s tips for building your team’s confidence and self-esteem

Focus on those two healthy behaviours that we know, universally, are not being put into action: asking for help and giving yourself praise. 

Both of these are behaviours we need to learn. And your team will model these behaviours from you. Reflect on whether you demonstrate these behaviours and encourage those positive conversations within the team. 

Illustration by Catherine Allen

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