Helping individuals and organisations navigate the continued impact of Covid-19. Reflections from the 2021 Division of Occupational Psychology conference

At WPG we kicked off 2021 by attending the annual DOP (Division of Occupational Psychology) conference. Held by the British Psychological Societyit was ainteractiveengaging and informative virtual event.  And wita clear focus on networking and strengthening the Occ. Psych community.  Plus, our very own Professor Fiona Patterson gave a keynote address on her career journey so far.  This included her choicesuccesses, and key learnings.  

One of the repeating themes of the conference was how we can apply the learnings from 2020/21. The session entitled “No looking back: helping individuals and organisations navigate the impact of Covid-19, provided research and practicebased learnings.  Plus, it was rich in practical advice for organisations and employees. 

The Share Model 

Dr Gavin Breslin of Ulster University focused on wellbeing.  He introduced the SHARE model as a tool to help employers and employees manage wellbeing during times of uncertainty. At a high level, the model covers: 

  • Working Safely (considering individuals’ needs and risk factors) 
  • Helping yourself and others (proactively taking steps, finding solutions, recognising stress signs and actively listening to others) 
  • Adapting to changing scenarios and needs (during such uncertain times this may include evolving legal responsibilities placed on employers, reboarding or returning to the workplace, enabling employees to adopt new ways of working or upskilling), 
  • Relieving pressures whether through setting realistic expectations, providing more support or introducing ways to work smarter 
  • Evaluating – review regularly  

Working from home in a healthy and sustainable way 

This time last year, working from home was a privilege reserved for a minority. Butaround 60 percent of us have now done so for some, (if not all) of the time at points during the past year.  

The initial challenges of enabling employees to work from home were twofold.  The hardware needed to be in place – technology, desks and office chairs (which still remain low in stock and hard to source) But employees each also had personal circumstances and responsibilities to juggle (home schooling, caring for family) 

Having navigated these initial challenges, and with some home working looking like it’s here to stay, the symposium touched on future considerations for employers and employees. So, applying the SHARE approachin terms of Safe homeworkingbuilding and maintaining trust and communication are key.  Equallythe importance of recognising the hidden costs to employees of working from home.  For example, in terms of physical and psychological boundaries between work and personal life being blurred.  Perhaps through meetings running past traditional office finish times, difficulty getting away from the desk during the day, not having dedicated or suitable workplace or having to share facilities with other home workers/learners.  

Leading and managing virtual teams 

Dr Christine Grant explored equipping managers to support remote teams. 2020 undoubtedly posed new challenges for managers, with many tasked with leading teams that were dispersed – potentially both geographically and across time zones. For managers there were health and safety considerations, communication challenges, barriers to team building and to transmission of company culture and values.  Plus, a need to rethink how they measure productivity and performance with reduced visibility of their teams.  

Some practical solutions for managers include; 

  • Being open to delegating tasks and responsibilities and seeking input from team members. 
  • Taking a more flexible approach to measuring performance and focusing more on outputs. 
  • Leading by example and role modelling healthy behaviours such as going offline and setting boundaries. 
  • Focusing on effective communication and what works for individual teams.  Agreed norms such as response times, which communication channels to use for different types of information sharingtimes of the day for messaging etc.  we need to be mindful not to overcommunicate.  
  • Celebrate success and maintain social channels.  

Enhancing support and building a sense of community 

Dr Louise Thomson spoke about the negative effects of reduced social support and interaction. There are now literal barriers between us – face masks or computer screens as well as social distancing and government advice to limit social interactionsDr Thomson provided a number of alternate sources of social support including peer support like coffee mornings or lunch clubs, involvement in community projects or professional groups. Also, Managers perhaps also need to be mindful of employees’ different personal circumstances.  People living alone for example, may be feeling particularly isolated.  They might, therefore, benefit from a little more interaction (and perhaps water cooler chat!) than those with a busy household and other commitments to juggle.  

Equally, companies still using the Government’s furlough scheme must consider the implications for employees and the impact of reduced social interactions. Dr Thomson stressed the negative effect of loneliness on wellbeing and the possibility of emotional exhaustion.  Perhaps particularly for extroverts who rely on social support as resource to recharge their batteries. She also mentionethe possible effects on self-esteem  for those whose professional identity changed due to furlough or job loss (social identity theory – can stem from work). 

 We’re looking forward to sharing what we learnt from the conference with our clients in the coming week and to exploring the practical implications. Which will vary from organisation to organisation of course.  We’d be interested to hear how your organisation has responded to the challenges of the past year.  Do share anything that you feel has worked well.