Suits The C-Suite

With global instability and the uncertainty pervading our current situation due to the disruption and volatility caused by COVID-19, employees may be struggling with feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and heightened stress. It becomes more important than ever for leaders to provide clarity and guidance, and to be the calm in the storm.

As SGV celebrates well-being month this October, the firm acknowledges the additional challenges and responsibilities in managing mental health concerns in our teams. Though current conditions are far from ideal, we can control how we respond as well as how we connect.

Something that can also provide clarity and perspective despite the uncertainty is purpose, which we can turn to as a source of focus and motivation. In SGV, our purpose to nurture leaders and enable businesses for a better Philippines gives us the assurance and confidence that our work — developing people and sustaining economic growth — will positively and meaningfully redound to the country and community.

Purpose, however, is a collective journey for an organization and one that requires long-term planning and implementation. For organizations who already have a clearly defined purpose, ensuring that it continues to resonate with their people is crucial to sustaining their wellbeing. In terms of concrete, actionable steps in the near-term, the following key considerations can impact how we empathize with colleagues, teams and clients in a purposeful way and help foster a better working environment, remote or otherwise.

The pandemic drives to trigger global anxiety and fear, placing our minds in a constant threatened state while we deal with the unknown nature of the future. It becomes imperative to learn about the mental health continuum and normalize conversations about mental health within the team. Leaders have the responsibility of creating a safe space to discuss emotions and create a supportive workplace, but — and this is important — not to offer diagnosis or counselling. These should be given to mental health professionals to address.

Moreover, providing support does not mean trying to fix the situation — connect by simply listening to their anxiety and fears and expressing empathy for how team members are feeling. Identify triggers for feelings of anxiety, and discuss how these can be reduced or managed. Help identify the kind of support they would need, and connect them to appropriate resources or suggest talking to a doctor or counsellor to help. Recognizing the importance of this, we in SGV have engaged a professional mental health platform to provide ongoing support to all our people.

Leaders have the role of providing clarity and providing the most important task for the team to focus on, especially now that most teams are working remotely. This can be done by connecting regularly to communicate business priorities and keep on track through huddles that discuss incoming activities.

Keeping connected through conducting regular check-ins can also determine how teams are handling the stress. Leaders must take note of any changes in behavior from their team members and take action to support them. Taking the time to talk with those who may be struggling and understanding their unique situations can make a difference in helping someone feel less alone. Early intervention can also help address issues before they escalate.

In addition, acknowledge and celebrate small and big achievements, and recognize efforts frequently. Committing one activity on the calendar that is non-work related also helps facilitate social connection and balance work and recreation.

To provide sustainable support to someone in a team who may be feeling overwhelmed, leaders must first take positive actions to care for their own wellbeing. Aside from connecting regularly and providing a safe space for team members, leaders must familiarize themselves with available wellbeing programs and services aimed at addressing their teams’ physical, emotional and financial wellbeing.

Focusing on relationships through short but frequent check-ins can help employees feel appreciated. Personal gestures such as celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and similar milestones creates a reinforced culture of positivity during these turbulent times, helping us focus on the good no matter how big or small.

It is already challenging to balance the demands of multiple engagements, and doing so with the wellbeing needs of a team can be even more daunting. Stress related to work is something everyone experiences — leaders and teams alike — and can even be useful by improving alertness and performance in short bursts. However, prolonged work stress can lead to burnout, which affects all aspects of wellbeing: physical, mental, emotional, social and financial health. Prolonged burnout can lead to real implications to the business such as loss of productivity and turnover, even manifesting into serious health consequences.

There are some key principles that leaders can focus on to address the conditions that lead to burnout, and mitigate them to help their team members and themselves. As mentioned previously, it is important for leaders to look after their own wellbeing and promote good practices to their team members. This can be achieved through physical fitness, proper sleep and nutrition as well as finding time to disconnect and valuing contribution over just being busy. Ways to proactively disconnect include spending time on hobbies or creating a shutdown ritual, where employees can adapt their routine of leaving the office in their remote work spaces and even schedule a virtual commute.

At the same time, avoid contributing to team member burnout. Set realistic deadlines and try to keep away from requiring work to be performed excessively outside of reasonable work hours as much as possible. Balance the workload of each team member and ensure these are appropriate and shared when necessary. Be clear regarding expectations and provide sufficient task ownership to avoid micromanaging. Be prepared to lend a hand with the completion of work when deadlines loom and team members feel overwhelmed. While this, of course, is easier said than done given the increasing demands on our people, it is still something that leaders will need to proactively manage.

Managing the psychological as well as physical safety of work teams is more important than ever, with uncertainty still prevalent. Though the future is outside of our control, leaders can help their teams reframe their responses and build resilience by encouraging a growth mindset and providing a clear vision of the future beyond the pandemic. By taking to heart the power of purpose to address uncertainty and taking steps to manage our own responses and providing the necessary guidance and resources, we can tackle external challenges in a more positive way.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.


Julie Christine O. Mateo is the talent leader and purpose council co-chair of SGV & Co.