One of our keynote speakers Dr Liz, has previously spoken to us on how the human brain can see disconnection as inherently dangerous and how this impacts on mental health and has now spoken to us about the need for connections. The human need for connections is naturally challenged with remote working so it’s logical that we need to do more to bolster this. Some people absolutely thrive on independent working and don’t seem to need much connection with others. We could just put this down to personal preference or personality but if we take a closer look, this thriving is usually associated with several of these protective factors:
- Their social networks stay in touch consistently and regularly. They know where, when and how communications usually take place.
- They feel they have the resources and competence to live or work alone and perceive themselves positively as independent and self-sufficient.
- They have a rationale and motivation for being separate.
- Despite a physical separation, they feel included in the wider social group and share that group’s purpose.
- They have (and use!) effective strategies for self-care.
- Their need for some level of control is met. This need is spread across all areas of life so, for example, we can tolerate uncertainty in one area provided this is balanced across other areas.
If we remove or weaken the protective factors, then the mental health of that individual will dip. But we can also strengthen the factors and build that all-important sense of connection.
Team support meetings: a 4-step process
Over the last couple of years, we developed a model for informal wellbeing support check-ins with individuals or teams – whether these are face to face or remotely.
You may be able to recognise some of the earlier principles and how the steps are underpinned by the psychological understanding from the earlier article.
Step 1: PAUSE
The remit of the short meeting is made clear: stepping away from work demands with a specific focus on wellbeing. This explicitly signals – you are important. You are not just a number but valued by the social group. Team leaders use the check-in consistently and regularly as part of a weekly routine.
Step 2: CHECKING PRACTICAL NEEDS
This is an opportunity to ensure the basic resources needed to work alone are in place and that the individual feels they can be relatively self-sufficient with some level of control. This step identifies any needs but, importantly, schedules separate time to address these. It is another signal that someone cares and that the individual can voice their concerns. One thing to be clear about though – supporting mental health is impossible if there is a real and current risk that needs addressing!
Step 3: PRIORITISING SELF-CARE
Step 3 positions mental health as a priority and encourages the individual, and the team leader, to be vigilant to any rising levels of emotional distress. Self-care strategies are identified and planned. For a team, it’s an opportunity to share group resources and ideas, building cohesion and reducing isolation.
Step 4: PLANNING NEXT STEPS
Structure and small steps counterbalance chaos and overwhelm. Step 4 discusses actions to create or maintain helpful structure and routines, reminds people of further resources and clarifies next steps.
When used consistently the team support meeting builds a culture of peer support and healthy behaviours.
We should be aware of the early signs of distress
Our resilience and our need for connection varies through life. It’s a fine balance and life happens to all of us. What may feel easy one day can be an uphill struggle the next.
The earlier we notice the signs of distress, the easier it is to take action to restore balance.
When our sense of connection is low, our primitive brain perceives that as danger. This then provokes the fight, flight or freeze response. Our alarm system becomes hyper-sensitive to perceived threat and we may feel generally anxious or panicky. Often it’s the people who are visibly emotional who get the attention but it’s important to know some of the other ways it can manifest.
Anger is a common response to threat and this may be obvious with angry outbursts or more subtle such as involvement in conflicts / complaints.
When someone feels out of control in one area, they may overcompensate with controlling behaviour, perfectionism and over-working.
Conversely, they may have reduced motivation or confidence – seeming distracted or withdrawn, prone to mistakes or a deterioration in standards or appearance. Attendance and timekeeping may be an issue.
Absenteeism for physical health reasons may mask poor mental health. There may even be an increase in risk-taking behaviour or signs of alcohol / drug abuse.
It’s not unusual for a team leader to perceive someone as a “problem employee” rather than potentially an employee with a problem. Happy on the inside usually equates to happy on the outside!
It’s important though that team leaders have the confidence and competence to use the process for the right kind of structured conversations. They will bring their own anxieties, prejudices and misunderstandings into any form of interaction related to mental health.
For example, some of the ways, we create disconnection after a crisis event are through the things we say such as “it could have been worse,” “best not to think about it” or “we’ve all been there”.
Often, we’re saying these things to try and make the person feel better – or even to make ourselves feel better. Whilst it’s important to support lone workers, we don’t want team leaders to feel isolated and out of their depth!
I hope you’ve found food for thought in these 2 articles on connection. If you’d like more information on the subject of crisis mental health and trauma, please get in touch with KRTS International or head over to our registration page to secure yourself a delegate space as Dr Liz will be speaking about managing the impact of incidents in the workplace on lone workers.