Supporting Employees and their Relationships through Covid-19 lockdown

These are unprecedented times of rapid change and uncertainty, as everyone prepares to “batten down the hatches” at home.  By now, most organisations already have a good start on the technology and practicalities to support this, any others that plan to survive won’t be far behind.

For the vast majority of employees however, this mass move to work-from-home combined with the closure of schools and hospitality venues, means that they will be experiencing a new intensity of life with partners / children / family at home, while also needing to manage long distance relationships with colleagues and clients alike.  Now, more than ever, relationships at home will impact wellbeing and productivity at work.

In January we published the results of a YouGov survey showing that high pressure jobs with long hours, intense deadlines and time apart were taking a toll on personal relationships. With this move to work from home, the situation is acute. Divorce lawyers like Baroness Shackleton are sounding the alarm that the Coronavirus pandemic may to lead to a rise in the number of marriage breakdowns.  There is no more personal / professional divide.  Employers need to be proactive in supporting their people through the impact this “new normal” of work from home will have on their personal relationships.

There are three key actions employers can take to support their people through the inevitable pressure points of being home-based, so they cope well through the next few weeks and months:

1. Improve Relational Intelligence – especially with regard to home relationships

The reality of invading space, upsetting routines and changing previously established rhythms of work and life at home can be a bumpy ride in the beginning.  Employees will need to manage expectations with their partner and/or children around their physical presence vs their availability, renegotiate roles and responsibilities for life at home, share space and share Wi-Fi – which is traumatic enough if there are teens present!  

There will be increased moments of tension and conflict.  Just being more physically present means there will be more interactions and more opportunities to grate against differences in personalities and work styles.  Everyone in the household will be going through their version of responding to this change and uncertainty, and sometimes the words will come out wrong.  

Now more than ever, employees need to be equipped with the skills and habits that allow them to strengthen the key relationships that will support their wellbeing and productivity during this season and beyond.  Learning how to understand and respect differences, make allowance for and adjustments to different personality styles, manage expectations and resolve conflict, build mutual trust and respect, have courageous conversations about core issues when necessary and build emotional connection through communicating value and appreciation effectively – these are just some of the fundamentals of relationship capability that they must master – with urgency – for this remote working strategy to succeed. There are many things on offer to help.  A great place to start is with The 4 Habits of ALL Successful Relationships as outlined in our recent TEDx talk (now fast approaching 1 million views).

2. Examine leadership cultures and expectations around personal / professional divides

Leaders are the culture carriers in organisations and the behaviours they model become “the way we do things around here”.  Often this creates an expectation which pressures people to edit and shove out the people/things they care, for fear of looking less than 100% professional. 

The famous Robert Kelly interview with BBC news comes to mind.  He was in his home office on live TV when one, then both of his children merrily wandered in.  He tried to ignore them – unsuccessfully. His wife rushed in to get them, clambering on her knees and trying hard not to be seen – except the whole world saw!  This made me reflect on how I would have responded, but for the privilege of seeing it modelled differently.  In mid-flow during a seminar I attended some time ago, with over 200 pairs of eyes watching, a little 7yr old girl wandered up to the speaker from the back.  Without losing his stride, the speaker bent down, scooped her up and carried on. Thank you for modelling “presence” as a father and a professional Brian Mayne.

Why do we struggle to live just one life, not two?  

We need to help employees understand it is ok to be human – essential even! It might take a culture change amongst the leadership, but we need to help people live their real lives without the stress of “performing”.   And that’s not just for Covid-19 protocol.  As work and home blend more than ever, it’s time to dispel the myth of a personal / professional divide.  The reality is that this hasn’t really existed since mobile technology invaded the home decades ago.  Now that employees are home-based, we need to open up the conversation about life, and intentionally give them time / space /permission to talk freely about whatever is going on, including it as a scheduled item on the agenda in calls / video calls. 

They can no longer leave their personal lives at “the office door” – assuming they ever could.  Bringing that conversation into the room allows them – and you – to be more human and takes the pressure off of them having to pretend to be “all professional” with partners, kids, pets, household chores screaming for their attention as well (sometimes literally!).  This is a real opportunity to discover and support the “whole person”, perhaps for the first time.

3. Re-design schedules that respect and support work, home and life 

For many people, one of the challenges of working from home is the silent pressure to stick to work hours and be “always on”.  Depending on the culture of the organisation and the management style to-date, employees might feel guilty about the need to attend to other home matters, run errands (though less likely these days!) or work flexibly around home “pressure points” like mealtimes.  Huge amounts of time and energy are wasted trying to camouflage or justify the use of time outside the office, or to be seen as logged on the computer when they are way past doing anything productive. 

A far more effective approach is to help employees develop and agree a rhythm of work, reporting, meetings and deadlines that allows them to manage the “when” and “how”, while delivering the “what” on time.  Instead of being focused on the clock, empower employees to develop a schedule that respects their need to be present for home relationships, allows them to choose their times of peak concentration and gives them the freedom to include things that re-energises them and feeds their soul – even during conventional working hours.  

There is so much creative energy and innovation bound up in feelings of guilt and stress, with people trying to reconcile expectations of work around the life balance that would truly motivate them.  For too long, at least half of the things that inspire, ignite, energise and drive us in life have been edited out of our work conversations. We have an opportunity now to breathe life and health back into the workforce by helping them create a more real, more integrated, more purposeful work/life balance which becomes “rocket fuel” in the way they turn up to work, to relationships, to life.  

Not many people take the time to think about what is truly important to them and might not know how to start designing the life balance they desire.  We wrote a blog on Scheduling First Things First to help people begin that journey.

In every challenge there is an opportunity and in the midst of the Covid-19 tragedy, there is a gift for organisations and society.  Underlying many of the strategic people concerns around engagement, belonging, workplace conflict, performance, mental health and wellbeing, is a consistent theme of stressed out people with broken relationships.  Empowering employees to embrace this moment of being home, to redesign a work / life balance that energises rather than drains them and to strengthen the relationships that support them, will deliver a healthier, more productive, more robust workforce on the other side.  That is a return on investment worth working for.

Want to find out more?

Join us for one of our FREE webinars during Apr 2020 designed to help Heads of HR/People/Wellbeing/Culture and other decision makers within organisations to develop strategies for Strengthening Home Relationships to Survive Covid-19 lockdown

Contact us to find out more about our Remote Support Package For Employees. We can help you empower and equip your people through Covid-19, keep teams connected through this time of uncertainty and develop a healthier, more resilient workforce for the future. 

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Relationship breakdown and the workplace - YouGov Research Report

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