To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve been posting thoughts from people across the IP sector about what this year’s theme of “kindness” means to them. Here are some reflections from IP Inclusive Lead Executive Officer Andrea Brewster, who turns her attention to the value of kindness beyond the Covid-19 crisis.
People have adjusted remarkably well to their new working arrangements. The great British wartime spirit kicked in; we stayed calm in the crisis; we coped. It’s tempting to think that the hard bit’s over.
Here’s a warning – for all of us, but perhaps especially for employers, managers and supervisors. Returning to the “new normal” will be just as big an adjustment. But this time, people will be tired. They will have endured a sustained period of stress, worry, fear, isolation. Some will be grieving. Some will have been ill. They will not be as resilient when they return as they were when they left their desks in March. What they’ll need more than anything else is a rest.
And people’s priorities may have changed too. Some may not be keen to return to the long days, crowded streets and daily commute – not to mention the associated health risks. Some may have at best mixed feelings about relinquishing the extra time they’ve had for their families or their hobbies. Some may miss the relative simplicity of their confinement, when expectations were lower, when the daily exercise break was a major treat.
Others will want, as soon as they’re allowed, to spend time with loved ones they’ve been unable to visit for so long. And knowing what they do now, about how quickly tragedy can strike, they will want to prioritise those human relationships over their work commitments.
Then there will be those who return to work with reduced confidence in their job prospects, fresh fears about exams, additional worries about household incomes or accommodation. Most will have lost the chance to go on holiday and recharge as they might have hoped.
We must not forget that the people who return to the workplace post-lockdown are just as much, if not more, in need of kindness than those who made their first tentative Zoom calls from their kitchens and spare rooms last March. The adjustment continues, often substantial adjustment. And everybody’s story will be different: different fears, different expectations, different practical challenges, different lives to reshape.
So the kindness must continue too. As we have these last few months, we must carry on talking to one another and making room for individual needs – without judgement, without comparison. This is true inclusivity, and the people in charge of building and developing professional teams must put it at the heart of their return-to-work plans. If they don’t, I suspect we will see huge levels of post-traumatic mental health problems, fractured productivity, restless and demotivated teams, staff turnover, burnout, and delayed grief for people and lives that might have been.
Post-lockdown, we must allow one another time to adjust again. Each person at their own pace. We must give everyone the time and space to recover from the crisis that all, in their own ways, have gone through. We mustn’t be afraid to allow them the flexibility they need, because if there is one thing we’ve learned from the lockdown, it is that everyone can, and will, give of their best, whether working from their spare room or from the swishest city centre office suite. We’ve learned that people are, as we had almost forgotten, our most precious asset, and that they are at their most awesome when being kind to one another.
Kindness is not just for the Covid-19 crisis. Kindness, I hope, is back for good.
Page published on 20th May 2020
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Delighted to draw on the positives from the Covid situation as well as some honest reflections as to how some might feel. Understanding this and dealing with this should not be underestimated if you want a happy and therefore productive workforce. As members of the IP community we are seen as "knowledge workers" and I cannot foresee the UK government/SAGE pushing us to go back to traditional office based work for a long while yet for fear of the R number increasing above one and overloading the NHS. For most, people have grown to overcome the technical challenges and appreciate the benefits of saving time spent commuting, the lack of interruptions and the flexibility it gives with arranging life including enjoying this delightful summer. Whilst for some, they may want the pace and quiet of office life and separation with home life, being able to return to the office will mean abiding by the 2m rule, minimising interactions and washing hands regularly between passing paper documents, cleaning hard surfaces regularly. Typically this will mean running at 1/3 to 1/2 capacity depending on office density. Many will not want to take the unnecessary risk or for some, the additional risk involved with commuting. It therefore seems that for most of us, we will be WFH for the foreseeable future and this means the new normal is how we are working today. Some of my colleagues in other firms have been told to plan not to expect to return to the office until 2021. So to prepare for the new normal, its essential to have a good community and support. This is especially important with a profession that in most aspects promotes work in isolation. Its worth making one person in your firm/in-house IP department responsible for this. Please I encourage everyone to reach out to your teams, your colleagues and co-workers. As practical tips, have a regular weekly team check-in by video conference so you can see everyone. Most of you will have been doing this already and may well be tiring so its time to change things up and intersperse these general team weekly meetings with one-to-one Zoom check-ins (15mins may do), start with the vulnerable (people who are single, high risk, tend to naturally withdraw/isolate) and working down the list. This become the new "corridor conversation", the "drop by for a chat", the new "water cooler chat", the "popping out for coffee", "grabbing lunch" or a drink after work. If your in-house IP department or IP firm isn't already, please ask them to organise quiz nights and social events to get people together (preferably during working hours). If you look after your people, your people will look after you, your business and your clients.