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Back to work - Ensuring wellbeing and psychological safety in the workplace

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As COVID-19 cases continue to reduce and restrictions are eased, households are venturing out of lockdown into a new normal. As they do, focus will inevitably turn to the mental health toll of this crisis. 

Trauma suffered by those who have battled COVID-19, both as patients and clinicians. Bereavement of those who have lost loved ones. Anxiety of school children and people returning to work. The psychological scars are yet to reveal themselves fully, but are certainly there. The effects on the national psyche of the once-in-a-century event will be profound.

Organisations, still reeling financially, are now faced with a new challenge; how to ensure the wellbeing and psychological safety of people going through huge changes, uncertainty, disruption and threat. During the regular open Zoom sessions we’ve been running throughout lockdown, we’ve repeatedly heard feedback from attendees voicing their concerns and anxiety about the future and the challenges they are facing. 

It is clear to see why many experts are predicting that one consequence of the coronavirus crisis will be a long-term mental health emergency. Indeed, a survey published last month in The Lancet Psychiatry reported increased levels of anxiety, depression and stress across the UK.

There are no hard and fast solutions or miracle cures for the psychological effects of what people have experienced because these events are unprecedented. There are, however, tried and tested coping skills that organisations can introduce into workplaces and classrooms to help people build resilience and to minimise the damage. 

At Laughology, we have been attempting to help the organisations and people we engage with to recognise and adopt some of the key factors we know can have a positive impact on developing resilience and positive mental health.

  • Honesty - In order to help people understand traumatic events and move towards acceptance, they need to know and trust the facts, so honesty is a must. Give people the information and allow them to process it, whether it is good news or bad news. And if you don’t know, be honest and say you don’t know, rather than speculate. No one has all the answers all of the time.  
  • Communication - The situation we find ourselves in is constantly changing and people need to be kept up-to-date. Make sure you communicate with your people and keep them informed with updates and changes. Reassure them, so they know you are there if they need you.
  • FLIP-it - Laughology’s FLIP technique is a way of thinking and behaving that uses humour to improve lives and outcomes. Based around the psychology and neuroscience of humour, it offers a set of techniques for developing positive behaviours, resilience and emotional intelligence. Find out more here
  • Appropriate humour - Undoubtedly, this is a tricky subject that requires a great deal of thought. There is nothing remotely funny about COVID-19 or the physical and economic hardships it has caused. Yet, in times of crisis, people use humour as a form of release. While they don’t laugh at the event, they often find absurdity in the behaviours the event causes, such as the stock-piling of toilet paper. It is still okay to laugh and humour, in the right circumstances, can relieve pressure and bring people together. Research shows that people who see the funny side of life’s problems are likely to interpret and react to stress more positively. Laughing also releases feel-good hormones which are believed to make us less likely to dwell on stressful events and play them over in our minds.

Managers need to learn to have sensitive conversations to support the mental and physical wellbeing of their teams, who are both remote and in-situ. To motivate, they need to make people and teams feel psychologically safe. They need to lead with empathy and direction. These people skills will be crucial for organisations as they transition back to productivity. We have developed an online foundation course, delivered through virtual classrooms, to help guide managers through these changing times.

If we are honest, no one really knows what the world will look like in the next few months, or even years. It is likely that all our lives will change. Much of what happens will be beyond our control. The one thing we can control however, is how we adapt and how we react to those changes.  

  

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