Lessons on how to socialise again

12 Apr 2021

The prospect of life after lockdown following months of isolation will bring a mix of emotions. On the one hand, we’re reuniting with our friends, colleagues and reestablishing a routine. On the other, we’re entering a world of new and unusual social and interpersonal challenges. Unmind Senior Client Success Manager Ashley Carter offers tips on minimising an anxious transition for managers, leaders and just about everyone. 

Returning from another evening stroll, I park myself in front of the telly. I, like many others, have found solace in watching often thoughtless, yet thought-provoking television over the last year. While watching TV, we’re analysing a whole myriad of moments, social interactions, connections and anxieties that play out in a controlled environment and beamed into our living room. I see people shaking hands, hugging, standing and sitting at dinner tables in groups larger than 6; coverage that throws back to the days of crowds, concerts, and sports fixtures. It brings a sense of surrealness and unfamiliarity.

At times over the last 12 months, our worlds have become a lot smaller while the issues have become a lot larger. We’ve all been part of a script or drama that few authors could have imagined; we’ve entered a new social paradigm. It’s startled us and shocked us, and has ultimately led to what can only be described as a mental health awakening.

With so few words and so much else to talk about now, I'll defer to my marketing colleagues' commentary on what people are already heralding ”the mental health pandemic." Though what I will say is 'awakening' and ‘pandemic’ are both BIG blockbuster terms and statements that are not a million miles away from what we could see on our tv screens. So rather than dissect the phenomena and the macro, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a practical challenge that we will all face...

A return to social situations.

Whether that means meeting more than one person in a socially distanced environment, returning to an office, walking into a room full of people or even starting a new physical place of work – it’s a fast approaching anxiety for many.

Yes, some will be looking forward to returning to the office and social situations. But we can’t ignore the spectrum of worries and anxieties that comes with reentering social scenarios. It might take the form of a single moment of worry or anxiety, or it could mean an extended period of unbalance. These challenges are often unspoken, yet they have the ability to impact individual relationships, company cultures, and limit business drivers such as productivity, collaboration and problem solving. In my mind, it’s everyone’s responsibility to create an environment that promotes a psychologically safe space and minimise an anxious return to the hustle and bustle. To help us do that, I caught up with a few other Unminders to pull together some tips for leaders, managers and just about everyone.

Let's start with leaders

Tailor your approach... gradually. We’re aware that many organisations deliver at pace and are often results driven, but leaders can build structures, processes and narratives that focus on gradual re-integration and that promote a gentle easing into a socially connected environment. All-or-nothing and one-size-fits-all approaches can be easy, but finding a way to tailor to different populations can make all the difference.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Find time to objectively measure sentiment. For example, in-the-moment polls or the Unmind Index can help you understand how your employees are doing across key areas of wellbeing. Breaking this down by different locations and departments can help you tailor your approach and allow for short interval improvements to strategy.

Nurture the narrative. Emotionally intelligent messaging will be essential in nurturing a psychologically safe return to the workplace and creating an environment where employees can discuss how they are feeling. Try using bitesize video messaging rather than written email comms – so much can be expressed by tone, body language and putting a face to a message.

Unmind's head of people and talent, Megan Kille, tell us about what Unmind are doing to ease the transition. 

"Everyone will be experiencing different emotions about this next transition. To support Unminders we wanted to add as much clarity and structure where there had previously been a lot of ambiguity. This included our own ‘Easing out of lockdown roadmap’ and our ‘How We Work Now’ guiding principles that detailed our new approach to flexible working and the changing role of our office space."

Now managers

Prepare & anticipate. Employees will already have started to think about their return, how as a manager can you show that this is on your radar and that you are preparing to support them? Whether it’s checking in as part of one-to-ones or discussing issues as a collective – what can you do now to get ahead of the anticipatory anxiety?

Set strong foundations. Use the return as an opportunity to baseline team wellbeing fundamentals. How can we all support each other? What are common mental health challenges? What can I do as a manager to support your wellbeing journey? If you have access to Unmind you could ask your team to complete the Unmind Foundations Training – an interactive, bitesize learning programme on mental health fundamentals. There are also lots of in the moment tools that can help.

Lead by example. While we’re all about a people-first approach to management and leadership, it’s important to practice self-care too. Not only will this ensure you’re on your best game for your team, it’ll also encourage employees to look after themselves. We call this role modelling. It means taking breaks, being open to talk about your own wellbeing, and easing in gently.

Beware future burnout. The return will no doubt be a period of intense stimulation and will bring with it a whole host of emotions. The increased face to face social interactions will take their toll, so keep an eye on your team. Find out more about our top tips and how to overcome burnout here.

Dr Kate Daley, Interim Psychology Lead at Unmind, outlines some of the challenges we may face.

“As we enter this next phase, we’re likely to experience a real mix of feelings. One of the most important things to do is to acknowledge these feelings and be compassionate to ourselves. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a certain way or feel a certain thing, adjustment takes time so be kind to yourself.”

What we can all do?

There are things we can all do to support each other – for me, it starts with empathy and compassion. This big bang release back into the world again will be a completely personal and individual experience. We will all feel different emotions, worries, excitements (if that’s even a word?) around returning to social situations and the workplace, so consider and appreciate each individual’s reactions, consider your own messaging and provide a listening ear.

If your organisation isn't an Unmind member and you'd like to learn more about our range of tools and resources spanning the whole spectrum of mental health and wellbeing, book a chat with a member of our team today

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