Employee Wellness

Empowering Employee Self-Care in Challenging Times

Three strategies to help employees build resilience amid stressful events

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The Calm Team

6 min read

Workplace challenges aren’t the only source of employee stress that organizations need to address. Constant exposure to negative world news, disturbing information, and distressing images is a major driver of employee stress and anxiety and can take a toll on the health of employees and the organization. 

A strong majority of American adults are anxious about inflation (76%), gun violence (69%), and climate change (61%), for example. Two-thirds of Americans (67%) reported feeling anxious to very anxious about international conflicts even before the escalation of the Middle East crisis in October 2023.

The negative impact of prolonged stress

Prolonged and persistent stress elevates the level of cortisol in the body, creating a risk for increased anxiety, restlessness, and depression, and it contributes to a wide range of physical illnesses. Chronic stress also can lead to an increase in absenteeism, presenteeism, and problems with concentration.

In fact, half of American employees say that thinking about current global events has a negative impact on their work performance. Yet, according to more than half (52%), their employers aren’t doing enough to support their mental health amid stressful current events.    

If you’re searching for ways to better support your workforce and help employees build resilience, here are three ideas shared during a recent Calm webinar, How to Empower Employee Self-Care Amid Challenging Current Events:   

1. Create a culture of psychological safety

This common refrain in HR circles is easier said than done. Consider these three steps to establish a culture of psychological safety in your workplace:

Design team alliances

Designed team alliances are team mission statements or “manifestos” that open up opportunities for leaders, managers, and employees to have a voice and a stake in organizational culture. Designed team alliances answer these questions: 

  • How do we want to be as a team/organization when things get hard? 
  • What is most important to us, and what will help us thrive in difficult times? 
  • How can I commit to showing up as a leader/employee as we all navigate adverse circumstances?
  • How will we know we’ve succeeded in building the culture we want?

Because they’ve collaborated to create an alliance, a team has an “agreement” to turn to when the world feels heavy. This helps everyone feel safe, supported, and seen. The team can review its alliance annually, answering questions such as these:

  • How well are we abiding by our alliance?
  • Where can we improve it?
  • Should we invite new team members to contribute?

Invest in culture conversations

Trying times give leaders the opportunity to model the safe culture they’re trying to create. They can acknowledge and hold space for discussion about how current events or extra stressors from the outside world are having an impact on employees and the work they’re expected to perform. By opening up workplace culture to share the emotional load and look for ways forward together, you can help employees feel validated for having the feelings they do amid challenging events. 

As a start, refrain from making any assumptions about the type of support employees are looking for. Ask them. Gathering input from employees will tell them their voice matters and they’re being heard.

Practice the PIE check-in

Another tactic you can try is honoring the human experience by checking in on people as people first. Start team meetings by normalizing conversations that allow your employees to be heard through self-disclosure. Leaders can model their commitment by going first. Ask:

  • How are you doing physically? This can refer to the physical body as well as physical surroundings.
  • How are you doing intellectually? Let’s check in with our “headspace”—our thoughts and beliefs.
  • How are you doing emotionally? Let’s check in with our “heart space”—our feelings, moods, and intuition.

Sometimes the answer is “I’m exhausted,” “I feel drained,” or “I feel sad.” Having space to authentically share helps people feel safe enough to share, which helps you as an HR leader (or manager) get a finger on your team’s pulse.

2. Establish a base of awareness

Recognize how current events are affecting your own mental health

As an HR leader, understand that current events affect you as well and that an important part of your role as a leader is modeling. What are you doing to support your own well-being in turbulent times? Sometimes, the most stress-relieving thing you can do is share how you’re doing and open up space for humanity and connection. 

Build internal and external self-awareness

Ask yourself: “As I cope with the circumstances around me, how well do I see myself, my strengths, and my values? Why does what’s happening around me trigger me? What are my common reactions to those triggers and how might they affect me or my work/team?” The answers will help you build internal self-awareness.

To build external self-awareness, ask yourself “How do others view us, our strengths, and our values? How might my feelings about world circumstances affect how I’m perceived by others? How might I support those around me?”

Close the empathy gap

“The empathy gap describes this inherent tendency we have as human beings to underestimate the effect that differing mental states can have on our performance, our judgment, and our decision making,” explained Andrea Mingo Robinson, Sr. Health & Wellness Program Designer at Calm.

“Maybe you’re sensing that one of your coworkers is a little bit more pointed than you’re used to them being, but you haven’t had an open conversation about things they may be affected by that are going on in the outside world,” she continued. “Being able to close that empathy gap is being able to really perspective-share—visualize a different perspective . . . and ask yourself how having a different perspective might be affected by the circumstances around us.”

You can help close the empathy gap through small team discussions, peer-to-peer mentoring, consideration of ideas from your leaders, survey opportunities, town halls, or formal training, Andrea recommends. Calm DEIB workshops, for example, seek to open safe spaces to have conversations about different perspectives.

And last, seek to elevate emotional intelligence and empathy in your organization—not just in response to a crisis but as core company values or pillars.  “Bringing them to the forefront of how leaders lead, how we onboard, how we give feedback, with a lens of helping each other grow—emotional intelligence is really powerful,” added Sarah Tobin, senior manager of talent development at Calm.

3. Implement coping practices to support employees

Finally, you’ll want to establish practices that help employees cope positively. Here are a few ideas:

Boundaries

Encourage employees to limit the amount of time they spend scrolling social media, consuming the news, or engaging in discussions about controversial issues. Encourage them to spend that time doing something that brings them joy, like reading a book, cooking, practicing mindfulness, or just breathing deeply.

Help your employees create a personal coping mantra. At the beginning of a meeting, you (or managers) can address the elephant in the room by asking “How is <the event> affecting you? What thoughts are automatically coming to mind?” 

Coping circles

These are safe spaces for employees to hold time and space for each other. Coping or empathy circles open up the discussion for employees to share their experiences and stories and ask for support from their colleagues. Use preventive mental health tools like Calm to practice mindfulness together during coping circles or at the beginning of meetings.

Coping mantra practice

Help your employees create a personal coping mantra. At the beginning of a meeting, you (or managers) can address the elephant in the room by asking “How is <the event> affecting you? What thoughts are automatically coming to mind?” 

Then ask them to develop a coping strategy: a thought or thoughts that defuse their fear or anger. “For me, it would be reminding myself that I have a community around me that I trust, so if that bad thing did happen, we’re in this together,” said Andrea. “There’s a wonderful Albert Camus quote that I absolutely live by: ‘When the world pushes against me, I know there’s something stronger and more fierce pushing back.’”

Employees can use this exercise not just for current events but for any kind of challenge in their lives.

For more ideas about supporting your employees amid trying times, watch the full webinar or contact a Calm specialist today.

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