When work (or life) feels overwhelming, what can we do to look after each other, and ourselves? We ask advice from Lindsey Caplan, Organizational Psychologist and expert from our World Mental Health Day event ‘Controlling the Controllables: How to cope in a crisis’.
1. How can we support each other as workmates and colleagues in uncertain times?
The joy (and sometimes frustration) of working with others is that we can’t do our work alone. We need each other. And this can be even more true in uncertain times.
One of the best ways to support each other is to ask if there’s anything we can do to help, without ego or expectation of reciprocity. Just knowing there are others out there who care about us, want to listen, and offer help can be of great comfort even if others don’t take us up on our offer.
The book “Option B” by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg is a great guide on how to help others.
2. What key signs can managers look out for if someone in their team is struggling?
“It’s essential to check in with empathy and care.”
I would caution against a one-size-fits-all approach because each employee is different. With that said, the more psychologically safe our working environment is, the more employees will feel comfortable sharing challenges they are having whether at work or even at home.
Decreased motivation, missed deadlines, absenteeism, change in work output or quality, temper, or mood, are all things to pay attention to as managers. However, we can’t assume we know the cause.
It’s essential to check in with empathy and care – for example, trying this type of approach: “My job as a manager is to support you to do your best work and help you succeed. I noticed you missed your deadline on this recent project. I wanted to check in because this is a break from your normal pattern – is there something you want to discuss or that I can help you with so that we meet our deadlines?”.
3. What are some ways we can communicate with more empathy and care?
I had a mentor who taught me the importance of what she called, “making your thinking visible”. It’s a fancy way of saying, tell people why you’re saying and doing the things you are saying and doing.
The reason this is important is that what we think is obvious and explicit may not be to others. Making our thinking visible helps other people see what we’re thinking.
Some practical ways to do this are to provide agendas in meeting invites or lead with our intent (the why) before we have a difficult conversation.
4. How can managers set expectations early to build a strong working relationship?
We tend to dive right into the work. Instead, start with the relationship.
I still remember one of my first 1-on-1s with my favorite boss. He said, “I believe that I work for you. And my job is to make you successful. What do I need to know about you to make that possible?”
He set the tone early to clarify the norms of how we can work together and what to expect. I replicated this with all of my direct reports and also teach managers to do the same.
5. As well as supportive management, what everyday things can we do to help ourselves feel more in control, secure and confident at work?
Two powerful emotional regulation strategies I learned from Roi Ben-Yehuda at his training company Next Arrow are naming and reframing. When we name our emotions out loud ('I feel angry', 'I feel sad') we actually reduce their weight and impact on us.
Another is to reframe. The story we tell ourselves about a particular task, person, or event affects our experience of it. An example of reframing comes from my favorite Peloton exercise instructor who says “working out is a get-to, not a have-to”.
This re-frame helps remind us of the opportunity and the privilege of doing something that, while challenging, doesn't always need to be seen as a struggle or chore. We can work to reframe challenging tasks, topics, and moments.
“The story we tell ourselves about a particular task, person, or event affects our experience of it.”
6. What’s the one thing you’ll take away from our World Mental Health Day event, ‘Controlling the Controllables’?
What puts us back in a feeling of control is a plan and something to do, even if it’s just the first step. This is why coaching conversations focus on the way forward, and the practical and actionable steps people can take.
Next time you find yourself in an anxious and uncertain place, try to focus on: “What’s the next step?”.
7. Finally, are there any podcasts, books, or talks that you’d recommend to help navigate life and work in times of uncertainty?
🎙 The Ten Percent Happier Podcast with Dan Harris.
Lindsey Caplan is a screenwriter turned Organizational Psychologist who helps HR, marketing, and business leaders script employee experiences that help boost morale, engagement, and retention for the long term via her consultancy, The Gathering Effect.