This post shares some key takeaways and additional resources based on the Breakfast with Boots podcast episode recorded in 2020 with Meg Fenney. Click below to listen/ watch the conversation and subscribe to our Youtube channel for new episodes coming later in 2021.

Looking for ways you can support yourself during this time? Check out our recap from the interview with Ali Bell on lockdown exercise.

Watch: Supporting your employees through COVID-19 | Breakfast with Boots & Meg Fenney

I sat down with Meg Fenney – who has a wealth of experience in HR – over Zoom in August 2020. I was really looking forward to hearing how she felt businesses could support their employees during this time of huge change and uncertainty.

Though we are facing some light at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of warmer weather and widespread vaccine rollout, the uncertainty is likely to hover over businesses for a long time to come and COVID-19 employee support will continue to be a top concern for HR professionals, managers and business owners alike.

I’ve pulled out a few key points from all the incredible advice, tips and insight Meg shared during our chat as they will continue to be relevant even as we emerge from this extremely difficult period.

COVID-19 employee support starts with acknowledging when things aren’t “fine”

Honesty around challenges, combined with transparency around responsive action, can help to reassure your workforce.

Right now, worldwide, business owners are needing to make difficult decisions in order to maintain their financial viability. Whether furloughing staff or having to make long-standing, loyal employees redundant, it has become increasingly important to focus on doing this the ‘right’ way.

Equal focus on supporting both the health of the business and the wellbeing of the staff is critical.

Many of those who reach out to Siendo are these concerned leaders, looking for answers on how they can support their workforce on a human level. Meg suggests, and I wholeheartedly agree, that it starts with smart communication.

“The biggest thing is the simplest thing; they need to talk”

Meg Fenney

Meg encourages businesses to be open about the reality of the challenges that they are facing – but without causing fear.

If you’ve done risk assessments, then great – tell your staff members what changes you’ve made to the physical working environment to ensure their safety. Help your teams to understand. More often than not, companies have done the hard work, but no one knows about it.

Meg has found that, as with any sort of change, communication around what the company has changed and what they have improved must be repeated regularly for people to actually feel safe. (This is reinforced by change management theory framework: The ADKAR model. Click to read more from Prosci, who developed it.)

“There’s no way that you can mentally get [your employees] into a safe mental health space if you’re not protecting their [physical] safety space”

Meg Fenney

The impact of uncertainty on our mental health

Research shows that job insecurity can be just as damaging as, if not more damaging than, unemployment when it comes to our mental health.

One study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that “when people moved from unemployment to a good job there were beneficial effects on their health, but moving from unemployment to poor jobs was actually detrimental on some health measures.”

“We find that jobs with poor psychosocial attributes are no better and may have even more adverse effects on mental health, than unemployment.”

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In a market that is so rife with uncertainty at the moment, I often hear people say “well, at least you have a job”.  And, while a job is incredibly important for multiple reasons, we know that all jobs are not made equal. A job can either promote or erode wellbeing, and when we spend so much time at work, it becomes essential to ensure that we’re in a job that satisfies our physical and mental wellbeing criteria.

In order to help manage uncertainty, Meg works with her managers to encourage credible, honest conversations with staff members around the current state of play. Part of what she does involves encouraging companies to also celebrate the wins to help build job security.

“If you’ve got a sales win that’s coming in that means something big to the company,  goodness me, celebrate that! Get it out there. Tell your people what it means, help them understand where the true position of the organization is.”

Meg Fenney

It makes good sense that better communication, especially during times of uncertainty, is not just vital for staff wellbeing. When done correctly, it also helps drive the strategic vision of the business:

“Help people understand – bring them in – and it’s better actually because it really helps them understand the profitability – what levers the business is trying to pull to get into profit – as well. [This] means that your people can really stand behind you and help you drive that too. So, it’s good for mental health but it’s also good for your business. Those two together work nicely.”

Meg Fenney

During any period of uncertainty, including COVID-19, employee support from leadership can be supplemented by self-supporting practices by the individual

While it is critical for employers to put proactive measures in place to support the wellbeing of their staff, I am also a firm believer in taking charge of our own wellbeing in every way that we can.

Here are two ways you can do this…

Respect your own health and safety values

Meg helps us to understand that, as simple as it sounds, sticking to our own health and safety values within the workplace is essential to nurture our confidence and reassure our internal drivers for safety. And, let’s be honest, those drivers are on overdrive at the moment.

To do this, Meg recommends getting more comfortable about raising it with people who aren’t sticking to the safety rules and regulations. We all know people who want to give you a hug, want to shake your hand etc., but actually, that just makes us, and the workplace, feel a little bit unsafe.

To help you keep these safety boundaries in place, it is vital to have “armoury in your language, in your little tool bag where you can say simple things like: ah that would have been a really good high five moment. Never mind.”

This allows you to acknowledge the moment, verbalise the high-five reward and then reiterate that you can’t do that right now; helping to support your own safety needs while also creating the right company culture.

Focus on your own ability to deliver a great job

Another great tip from Meg focuses on taking ownership of your ability to deliver a great job. If you feel you are capable and working to the best of your ability, this will naturally enhance your sense of security in the workplace.

To do that, Meg explains that you need to understand your lane; what it is that you’re there to do.

Ask yourself: What is the purpose of my job and how does that deliver great things for this business? What is the purpose of the business and how do the two meet together? Having this clarity is an essential part of knowing you are adding value. Once you’re clear on your lane, Meg says, then make sure you’re meeting your responsibilities brilliantly.

That said, Meg does acknowledge that – at times – we will need to step outside of our core responsibilities, especially during times like these. However, before doing this, we first need to make sure we are fulfilling all of the requirements in our own role.

“First, we’ve got to do what we need to do, and then we can do a bit more. And when we know that we’re contributing like that, help your leader understand how you’re adding value. Because, you now know what the purpose of the company is, you know where your role is adding value to the company, and you know how you’re on it, so you can now instil confidence in your manager around that too, which helps them sleep at night. Which then helps you know that you’re in a great space at work; that you’re delivering excellence.”

Meg Fenney

This confidence in your ability, in your value, then feeds back into your own subconscious mind; helping you to feel safer, happier and more content. You know that you’ve done a good job and you’re doing all that’s within your power, and that supports a strong sense of wellbeing.

The key takeaways

The key takeaways for me are:

  1. Communicate clearly to your staff, your colleagues, and yourself. Less is not more when it comes to communication; silence only creates more fear – we need to be clear and we need to be credible.
  2. Take charge of your own role within the business and the way you can add value. The more competent and value-adding you feel and can demonstrate, the more secure you will feel in the company, and this will do wonders for your sense of wellbeing.

“You cannot always control the events that unfold around you, but you can control your own actions and how you choose to respond – which means you can influence the outcome.”

Rebecca Cheetham

About Meg

Meg Fenney, founder and CEO of HRDownload, has over 17 years’ experience in HR.

She is a fun-loving mum and wife and gains her work energy from helping leaders do what they didn’t realise they were capable of doing. 

Throughout her career, she has worked for numerous blue-chip companies, including Shell, Air Products, MAG, Elior, HM Prison Service and The Christie Hospital Trust, NHS. Meg’s experience across this broad range of sectors gives her a unique perspective and invaluable commercial awareness.

In 2019, Meg founded HRDownload with a real passion for making high-end people solutions at affordable prices. This fits in with her belief that everyone should enjoy their work. 

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