How best to support colleagues through lockdown challenges

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Time to Talk Day 2021 - Credit: Submitted

Lockdown 3 is turning out to be quite a different beast, with its own challenges, not least the impact on our mental health and wellbeing.

With more of us struggling to cope with conflicting pressures of work and home life, as well as more cases, closer to home, the disease feels like a much more real threat.

Add to that the shorter days and other challenges of winter, and it’s clear that right now, we need to call on our soft skills to support colleagues and keep our businesses afloat.

At South Devon College, we’ve had to adapt quickly to new ways of working and introduce new support mechanisms to make sure that colleagues at the college are managing to stay well and continue to support our students.

Here are our learnings:

Forget 9 to 5

At the college we are working with colleagues to support working patterns that fit in with home lives.

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This may mean being offline for some of the day, but making up time in the evenings when it’s quieter to catch up with the inbox.

This flexible approach to working can be more productive when balancing the demands of a locked down family.

We often ask colleagues who are working flexibly to update shared diaries where possible, so that members of the team know when they can expect a response or a task to be completed.

We are also encouraging staff to add a note to their email signature:  Please note emailing now suits me, but if you receive this email outside of your normal working hours or days there is no requirement for you to read, consider, or reply, as we respect a healthy work life balance.

Get outside

It’s also important to offer the same flexibility to those without families.

With cold, dark evenings, putting some time aside to get outside during the day is vital to staying sane – we all need our vitamin D and we’re all aware of the proven links between getting outside, particularly to green open spaces, and better mental health.

If it is too cold or wet outside college, staff have access to a range of wellbeing workout videos created by our own staff which are a fun way to look after our mental health as well as our physical health, which staff can participate in the comfort of their own home.

We are also sharing these videos via our Facebook page, for others to get involved.

Check in

Microsoft Teams is now part of everyday life for the whole team at the college, and some days feel like one long virtual meeting. But don’t forget that’s not the same for all colleagues.

Loneliness and isolation can be combatted by regularly ‘checking in’ with each member of the team, even just for five minutes, perhaps on a daily basis.

One thing to consider is formalising this approach through introducing a ‘buddy’ system, as we have here at the college, where staff volunteer to be there for any colleagues in need of support.

The ideal candidates could be trained in mental health first aid, or simply be a good listener.

Provide support

Recognising the toll life is taking on us all at the moment, we’ve shared opportunities for training in resilience and managing stress. Beyond that, we’ve compiled a library of resources on the college intranet – both useful advice, and external contacts including a counselling service for those that need it.

On February 4, national Time to Talk Day will provide an ideal opportunity to highlight the mental health support on offer within your business.

The college is organising a series of events recognising that it’s never been more important to talk about mental health.

With no firm date in sight for the end of lockdown, flexibility, empathy, and soft skills are key to keeping your team and business on track.

Let’s take care of one another and get through this together.

Kelly Sooben, Vice Principal, People and Resources at South Devon College

Kelly Sooben, Vice Principal, People and Resources at South Devon College - Credit: South Devon College