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Isolation challenges our most basic need to belong to something - are you doing enough?

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Every management publication tells us that successful organisations need leaders who are able, and willing, to tackle difficult situations as and when they arrive. Well, they have arrived; and the environment is far more challenging than anything the vast majority of the working population will have experienced to date.

The learning from McEwen teaches us that Resilience is a state, not a trait. That we all have differing levels of resilience at different times, shaped by the environment around us and the tools we deploy in response – and these tools can be learnt, practised and improved to enable an individual to rebound more quickly and positively to any setback. Like the current adversity we face right now.

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Leaders from companies who have sent all staff home are already starting to question why they had to go into the office in the first place. Employees working at home with their families in tow will still need to perform, and if they do so successfully it will flip our current working convention on its head!

What we do know at this stage is that leaders and employees alike are starting to panic and feel the fear of this unknown. And whilst protecting physical health is at the forefront of everyone’s agenda, the mental stability of all employees should still be up there too; isolation is the expectation, and those people who use work as a tonic are most at risk of a dip in resilience.

In this series of blogs we will explore the seven elements of sustaining resilience, from the R@WS7 model, and how they can be maintained within your teams during the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus in order to manage personal well-being and workplace effectiveness.

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Area 1 of 7 that will help you sustain your resilience – Are you now able to 'Live as Authentically' as you can?

Choose to Grow - Organisational Flow

When we are living authentically, we have a strong sense of “knowing and holding onto our personal values and have the ability to deploy our strengths daily. We also display a good level of emotional awareness and regulation within ourselves and towards others.” In a workplace context the sounding board for your personal values will be the culture and environment that is all around you and, rightly or not, we have all become used to that environment being physical and tangible. In addition, our values are never tested to a greater extent than when pressure is applied to us, this is when leaders and people managers are most likely to deviate from their core values in order to achieve a particular outcome.

This presents a twofold challenge when facing these unprecedented events. Firstly, without the physical workplace environment it can be hard to find alignment between yourself and your colleagues, your staff, and the overall goals of your organisation. Secondly, extreme circumstances will test the value set of your organisation and in turn the extent to which your own values are compromised. Are staff being protected? Do terms and conditions seem fair in these circumstances? Are commitments to customers being honoured as far as able? Perceived failure of your organisation to deliver on values can lead to disengagement, dissatisfaction and lower overall resilience.

What you can do...

  • Sense check your response as a leader to this current situation against your own personal values and the documented values of your organisation – are they aligned? If there is a gap is it within your control to close it?

  • Communicate using values language – If your team are working remotely and have become disparate, task or logistics-based comms will not bind them together in the same way as values. Using your technology, remind them of the common goals you all work toward, and lead by example in putting them at the forefront. Remember your personality profiles (Insights, Core Strengths, Disc etc) if you have this knowledge, this toolkit will be an asset when keeping teams aligned in the up and coming months. Try to remain authentic even though there is a screen between you!

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We all have different personal strengths, and ensuring we are utilising them from our homes as we would in the organisation is a key part of maintaining your resilience. Strengths are not just things you are “good at” – they are activities that we take great satisfaction and fulfilment from carrying out. A work role that doesn’t give you the opportunity to showcase these strengths is likely to lead to lower resilience, particularly if the demands of life mean you have similarly little scope to deploy strengths outside of the workplace.

A radical shift in working practices, role profile or even being removed altogether from the workplace for a period can either increase, or limit, opportunities to deploy personal strengths. The key is to look for the opportunity and not assume that your strengths are not transferable to other scenarios. Your team will still be looking for inspiration during this time, so think about how you can deliver that for them.

What you can do...

  • Assess the strengths of yourself and your team and analyse these within the context of how Coronavirus has changed your working landscape – do roles need to change, albeit temporarily, to maximise effectiveness?

  • Ditch the rule book of linear thinking – Don’t trudge through the policy and procedure, or the ten-point on-line guide to remote working. Ask your teams how they can best maximise their output at this time and flex as far as you can towards it.

Managing emotions can be the single most difficult element in maintaining a resilient state of mind. Being reactive and quick to respond “heart on sleeve” not only affects your own resilience but the resilience of those around you. If you are a leader it can affect the confidence of your teams. Right now, the climate is one of concern and worry, and with wall-to-wall media coverage only fuelling anxieties, it is a time when managing emotions is harder than ever. If you are working remotely, or away from work entirely, this can heighten those anxieties and disproportionate reactions with no body language to utilise and the removal of normal workplace routines and social rituals that can often act as a process for working through emotional reactions.

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What you can do...

  • Recognise and anticipate triggers – for both yourself as a leader and for your teams it is important to recognise and respect the “hot buttons” that can trigger emotional reactivity. This is not the time for a one size fits all approach; anxiety will be high. Try to factor this into your remote communications – for example some staff will prefer a lot of information, whilst others will remain more focused by only knowing what they need to. Remember to still flex that leadership style.

  • The debrief – The technology shouldn’t be an excuse in this day and age, and you should be able to bring your team together remotely. The challenge, just as back in the office, is creating a space where honest discussion can thrive. Encourage people to air their concerns at this time. Perhaps it is worries over loved ones, childcare, the future of their employment. Nothing should be taboo and the quality of planned dialogue more important than ever when the informal support networks of the office seem to have disappeared.

Area 2 of 7 that will help you sustain your resilience – Create the daily feeling like you have 'Found Your Calling.'

Whilst everything is up in the air employees and leaders alike may struggle with this one, as nothing is being done as it was before. By feeling like we have found our calling at work we can create a sense of natural energy, passion and determination to deliver our best. Leaders will need to ensure that the landscape is still right for their workers throughout this time by “Creating a job-person match in purpose and values, ensuring that they and everyone around them is feeling connected and has a sense of belonging to workplace”.

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The concept of “purpose” is never starker than in times of emergency, where the futility of profit or market share is set against the endeavours of humans from around the world battling a disease and saving lives. This can leave your teams (and even you yourself) questioning why? What is the point in the midst of something so large, in continuing our mission? Personal interactions, whether it is with colleagues or customers, constitute the “why” in so many peoples work that working in isolation represents a test of resilience and leadership.

What you can do...

  • Keep the purpose fire burning – remind staff of the role they play and its importance to the business and the client groups you serve.

  • Allow your people to find purpose elsewhere – be flexible to staff fulfilling their need for purpose through another route, particularly during such a unique and unprecedented set of events. Perhaps this is caring for a relative or volunteering at a food bank.

Can you belong to something virtual? In the modern world one would have to say yes. Millions of us regularly spend time on social media or video gaming platforms that are artificially created, virtual communities. However, it remains one of the most common organisational challenges – to generate a feeling of belonging amongst teams and people that work remotely. If this challenge is already one you are grappling with (“the sales guys only come in a couple of times a month, they aren’t really part of us”) then how much harder is it going to get if months of working in lock-down lie ahead?

Choose to Grow - Organisational Flow

What you can do...

  • Ensure all avenues of communication are available – so often organisations fear the lack of control home working seems to represent and wish to impose rules and parameters. Make sure your team can be in touch through all channels, about all subjects no matter how trivial. You will never quite replace the gossip by the coffee machine, but you can at least try.

  • Lead by example in humanising situations – remote communications can often become clipped and to the point, robotic in their delivery and receipt. Show teams that humanising contact is not just acceptable but encouraged. Ask about kids, about the absence of toilet roll and pasta. Connectivity comes from being in the same boat and acknowledging it and no one is immune from the impact of something so catastrophic in scope.

The silver lining lies in the opportunity that adversity can generate. A lot of articles will talk about the push that this crisis has given organisations in embracing workplace technology, however there is nothing new about video conferencing or remote access servers. The new opportunity is transferring culture from the office to staff at their kitchen table. And whilst it certainly feels like we are being thrown in at the deep end it sometimes requires a challenge of this magnitude to focus on your own resilience and those of your people around you. If we focus on the 7 components of resilience first in everything we do moving forward, then we can sustain organisations, so they are future proofed.

For more detailed guides on leading for resilience in these turbulent times subscribe to our website at We will also be exploring all 7 components in future blogs. If you wish to take advantage of our series of seven online resilience sessions, free of charge, starting 20th April 2020 please email to register your interest.

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