This is the second in the series of posts focused on the continuing mental impact of the COVID-19 virus, which all businesses are now reacting to. One of the most challenging impacts has been how employees can best continue in their roles with the effect of social distancing and remote working. This blog and the next 4 in this series will focus on the mental health and wellbeing of staff and managers, as they navigate the impact of this temporary new way of working.
As a psychotherapist, leadership and mental skills coach with nearly three decades of experience, I have worked with hundreds of people and businesses facing into challenging and uncertain times. My early training was as an emergency service first responder and trainer, so I understand how a fast onset of unusual and unexpected changes can impact people emotionally and psychologically. In my first blog from this series I wrote about some things to be expected over the coming weeks. In this blog I will be looking at an essential skill for staff to focus on and one which managers and leaders can promote. This is the key skill of planning and goal setting, for personal health and wellbeing.
The mental skill of goal setting is often undervalued as it seems so straight forward and something that we already are good at. It is however a vital first step in driving wellness and ensuring our mental health stays healthy. It is also one of the first things that is challenged and undermined when we feel unwell, as our energy drops, and we begin to feel demotivated and disengaged.
In sports psychology, one of the key plans of action for an athlete is first and foremost to have a plan. Have a plan for when it gets tough, when athletes feel demotivated, when the situation feels overly pressurised and when focus begins to wander. A key element of preparation is to revert to focused goal setting – remembering their training, going back to basics, back to what they know and create a go-to plan that is ‘ready to go’ for when it gets tough.
Goal setting is a skill we call on all the time, going through our daily routines – making breakfast, sticking to a timetable, working to deadlines. It is a skill we know well, and we mostly do it unconsciously, however what many people are not aware of are what are known as ‘process goals’.
Process goals are particularly good to have for when times are tough, when people are distressed and when there is a lot of uncertainty. Process goals help bring what feels out of control, back into control – starting with ourselves and our control over how we think, how we feel and how we can influence the inherent energy of our body. We use process goals to feel more confident and clear headed. Examples of ways to do this, are grounding and centring which are often referred to as ‘anchoring’ techniques. These techniques anchor the person to something they know works for them; gaining some control over the situation and helping them feel better, quickly.
At the moment staff and colleagues are feeling various levels of uncertainty, which is a natural reaction and not one to be overly concerned about. Everyone is feeling it and as leaders it is something we should be empathising with. Here we can encourage staff to goal set in order to maintain, where possible, the same working routine, as they would if COVID-19 didn’t exist. This will help normalise what is going on and help foster engagement and daily structure. Encourage the same starting time, finishing time and usual breaks as well as suggesting some extra structured time each day to support others, such as children and partners working from home also. Acknowledging that this is a team effort and we all need to set some goals to help with daily household routines, childcare and exercise.
Regarding work processes, look at any impending deadlines and goal set by negotiating new timelines; realistically integrating the new COVID-19 factors. Encourage staff to goal set some wellbeing strategies, by inviting them to explore what has worked before and reminding them to keep practicing these regularly. Check in with them to see what weekly goals they are setting – work related and wellbeing related, to help ensure they do not take on too much and invite them to create some goals if they are lacking some ion certain areas.
Explain ‘process goal’ setting and how it can be achieved by with various breathing techniques, short meditations or having a go-to set of encouraging and reassuring words or phrases. This is a good strategy for staff to start working on straight away. Talk openly about how at times it will be tough and it will feel scary or frustrating over the coming months; start to plan now for these times with some process goals strategies. Give them some examples of process goals – such as thinking about something they do that helps them feel better in the moment, to calm and sooth themselves. Avoiding negative and worrisome future predicting and instead focusing on constructive here and now planning immediate next steps planning.
Remind them that these are the same mental skills that all top athletes and military personnel practise to perform well and to manage their own wellbeing under major pressure. Reassure them that these techniques work, they are easy to practise, and they achieve results. All of this starts with the simple ability to goal set and to keep on goal setting – each day, especially when it gets tough.