Compassion from HR leaders is the way forward in times of uncertainty

As workforces around the world cope with the coronavirus epidemic, HR leaders need to bring compassion to their leadership.

In this guest feature, James McErlean, GM, Headspace for Work, Europe, discusses why HR leaders need to bring compassion to the table when managing their workforces.

Uncertainty affects the mind. Nearly seven in ten feel their anxiety increased following the extension of lockdown, while half have felt nervous and stressed due to not knowing when it will be over.

With the easing of lockdown on the horizon, some employees may be concerned about returning to the office and using public transport. Others may be worried about the prospect of continuing to work remotely, with social distancing set to continue for some time.

Now more than ever, HR leaders need to cultivate the right kind of leadership among managers – showing transparency, compassion and pointing employees towards techniques proven to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Keeping people informed and together

It’s totally understandable that in this uncertain climate, employees are going to be wanting to know more about their future, such as when they are going back to the office and reassurances about company performance. While this isn’t information leaders can always share immediately, it’s advisable to keep everyone updated on company plans and objectives as best they can.

It’s a good idea to schedule weekly check-ins, where company updates are shared in an open and transparent way over video conferencing tools, such as Zoom. HR Leaders should continue to ensure that individuals understand what’s expected from them, so that everyone is clear on what they need to do. Recognising outstanding contributions is also really important, giving praise when it is deserved and ensuring success stories are shared across organisations wherever possible to motivate and inspire others.

Alongside scheduling regular check-ins, HR leaders should look to encourage their organisations to set up COVID taskforces that meet virtually every day and share communications with the entire company, covering various ways people can support each other and their local community. Our own experience at Headspace shows this is vital in keeping colleagues connected and ensuring they feel supported.

By sharing information with employees, HR leaders won’t just empower and engage their employees during this difficult period, but they’ll provide much-needed stability during this period of unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty.

Showing compassion

Getting the best out of a workforce is really difficult if leaders don’t empathise with employees and strive to understand the pressures they might be facing. HR leaders have a leading role to play in cultivating a more compassionate attitude among managers, helping them to show understanding and empathy.

Firstly, HR leaders should encourage managers to check in with their teams on video and use relevant instant messaging tools where possible to maintain a sense of normality. They also need to work to identify any unsaid signs of stress and anxiety. When checking in with team members, they should try to observe subtle cues that go beyond what they say. These can often be revealed in an employee’s energy levels or tone of voice.

It’s also vital to acknowledge that a wide range of emotions will be felt across the team. Taking the time to understand the diversity of experiences and backgrounds at play and to really listen, without judgement, and allow staff to express how they feel mentally and physically.

Showing flexibility is crucial, too – whether that’s allowing employees to change their working hours if they need to visit an elderly relative, or, when people do return to work, adapting so those most reliant on public transport have the option to continue to work remotely.

Business leaders also need to think about being kinder to themselves. This might involve setting some time to read, going for a walk at lunchtime, or setting aside ten minutes to meditate. Practising meditation cultivates a softer, kinder mentality and enables leaders to direct feelings of goodwill towards others.

HR leaders should encourage managers not just to look after their colleagues, but themselves, too.

The benefits of mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation might not be the first HR tool people turn to in a time of crisis, but evidence shows that they are indispensable for managing stress levels and while supporting morale and productivity. Pointing people in the direction of these practices will nurture a more compassionate leadership style.

Studies have shown that meditation can help people focus, switch between tasks less frequently and enjoy their work more. A scientific study has shown that using mindfulness for 30 days reduced stress by a third (32%) while improving focus by 14%.

Alongside these benefits, meditation can help individuals experience a greater sense of flow from one moment to another and learn to be more comfortable with change. By encouraging employees to think more mindfully, HR leaders and business leaders can help them learn to be more comfortable with the unknown and learn to take each day as it comes.

A mindful future

With social distancing and remote working likely to persist over the long-term, HR leaders should not see mindfulness and meditation as a temporary fix. In fact, these are tools that should be implemented within long-term strategies for supporting mental health in the workplace.

By embracing mindfulness and meditation, employees can become more aware of their stress levels, without becoming overwhelmed by them. They will also learn to identify stress triggers and approach those situations more mindfully – leading ultimately to a healthier, happier and higher-performing workforce.

Headspace has made some of its resources for businesses accessible for free.

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