24th, July, 2020

“Mind the gap”

How are you?

Many of us ask that question out of courtesy every day, it’s part of the greeting process and part of our habitual speech. But how many of us fully listen to the answer and how many of us answer it with honesty and tell the other person how we truly feel right at that point? Not many I would suspect.

Of course, we all recognise the fact that many of us don’t want to bare our souls to people; there are many reasons why this may be the case and there can be fear in showing others our “inner self”.

To complicate matters further it’s not always possible to recognise even within ourselves how we are truly feeling; how we feel from one moment to the next can be driven by something called visceral factors. These are factors driven by emotionally charged situations rather than factual ones. This state of mind is known within psychology circles as the Empathy Gap.

The empathy gap is a cognitive bias that makes it difficult for people to recognise how differences in mental states affect the way that they and other people make decisions. How someone sees the world at that moment will influence decision making when it comes to challenges and problems. Similarly, it will make it difficult for people to see another person’s perspective depending on their mental state too. So, the reading of our situation or the situation of others may well be distorted by how we currently feel.

The empathy gap makes it difficult for people to imagine how they will feel and act when they are in a different emotional state to the one that they are experiencing at that moment. It also makes it difficult for them to imagine how other people feel and act when they’re in a different emotional state compared to ourselves. In other words, they find it hard to empathise.

Simply put, a cry for help from a distressed individual may not be recognised because the two people in the conversation may be in very different mental states. In the current COVID-19 situation, a manager who is able to work from home in peaceful and spacious surroundings speaking to an employee who is working from home with limited space and with the demands of home schooling may fail to appreciate the level of the employee’s stress.

The empathy gap can also mean that people are unprepared for situations where they are affected by various emotional considerations. For example, if they’re experiencing financial or relationship problems they may do things which satisfy their immediate instincts, urges, and cravings and act in a way that is “ out of character” rather than being able to focus on their long-term goals.

In a business setting leaders and managers are now faced with a new set of challenges as employees return to their working environment. The financial and emotional security of employees may have been significantly affected by the recent lockdown and potentially, therefore, looking at things in a highly charged emotional state, possibly not recognising the need for support and unwilling to discuss matters with others.

How can employers bridge the gap?

So, what can employers do next? It’s widely suggested that two important areas will need to be addressed. Firstly, the ability to manage people differently and as Maslow is quoted as saying “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” and secondly preparing leaders to build resilience in their teams by recognising where people need support in coping with mental health issues.

As businesses adjust to new ways of working following the impact of Covid-19, employers will need to increase their mental health support for employees if they want to have a resilient and productive workforce that can cope with change. Focusing on the following areas can help companies to achieve this:

  • Creating highly effective support mechanisms for employees to help businesses achieve a fast and smooth recovery.
  • Creating a workplace culture where employees feel able to share their challenges with mental health and devising strategies to support them.
  • Equipping managers with the skills and strategies to effectively influence and inspire their teams in general and to support mental resilience.
  • Managing employees remotely effectively to encourage motivation and productivity.

Maintaining a healthy mindset when leading your business.

Leaders must maintain an acute sense of perceptiveness in the coming weeks and months and they also should also appreciate that they need to take care of themselves too.

Lockdown may well have impacted on the mindset of employees and as a result, leaders will need to consider different approaches around management style and communication. They should also observe how their team members have adapted and coped with recent changes and identify what they can do to support them and be proactive in looking for signs of people being distressed or vulnerable.

We must remember that leaders and managers may well have been impacted by the effects of COVID -19 and they should also feel able to share their thoughts and concerns. So, companies need to provide adequate support for all their employees including their leadership teams. Once concerns have been raised companies must reflect and they must be prepared to take appropriate action.

Managing stress and pressure.

Leaders can play an important role in building strong resilient teams and cultures and the following questions are key to this and should be part of a leader’s armoury:

  • What am I doing to create a positive environment?
  • Am I listening to and understanding what my team need from me?
  • Who is vulnerable in my team and needs extra support?
  • Have I noticed a change in anyone’s behaviour?
  • Are individual circumstances being considered?
  • Have I implemented a supportive infrastructure with training and development?
  • Am I signposting to appropriate health professionals?
  • Am I investing in quality expertise?

Some important questions for themselves as leaders maybe:

  • What has kept me awake at night this week?
  • What is my mindset like?
  • How full is my stress container?
  • Am I looking after my physical health and wellbeing?
  • When was the last time, I did something to relax, reflect and recharge myself?
  • How many coping strategies do I have and am I using them?
  • What have I achieved this week?
  • Do I feel in control?
  • Am I focused on my goals?

Once again reflect & take action!

Some key points to remember: 

  • When re-engaging with furloughed employees and those that have been working from home all this time leaders should remember that everyone will have been dealing with a unique set of experiences during isolation. 
  • To enable employees to develop a positive mindset and be work-ready, leaders need to keep in mind the following:
  • It takes time to move a mindset from resistance to acceptance of the new working environment
  • It takes inclusion, feeling valued, being listened to & acknowledged to manage anxiety & build trust
  • It takes positivity and motivation from leaders to shift an employee’s focus from why they feel cannot do their role into a more positive mindset.

As we embark on the recovery process from the coronavirus, employers need to increase their mental health literacy of their managers and mental health support for their teams if they want to support a fast recovery, with a resilient, productive workforce who can cope with change.

To support companies with this initiative Lockwood & Rann is launching a series of Mental Health First Aid England accredited training courses, endorsed by Public Health Society London & recommended by the Health & Safety Executive and worldwide accredited. This includes Face to Face or online Mental Health First aid Courses, Champion First Aid courses, Half day Aware- introductory courses to mental health – A whole organisational Approach!

To find out how your company can benefit from impactful professional support please contact Mark Clough on 07885 447039 or mark.clough@lockwoodandrann.com