Five weeks into lockdown, we have seen many changes that could impact on family life. Family tension has risen, but how does that impact your staff, and what should organisations do to help staff?
Tension in households at present can only be described as strained. People are worried about livelihoods and bills, they are feeling the anxiety of this national crisis, and are exhausted from the stresses and pressure of everything else going on. They are in many cases reaching a breaking point.
In normal times managing work and family can be difficult, even for a seasoned homeworker. For those thrown into the deep end, and with schools shut, it’s a much more complex puzzle.
Tension can rise quickly amid self-isolation and the circling worries of everyday life stresses can really help this to accelerate.
The Home Environment
With most people on lockdown in homes or apartments, all of a sudden space becomes difficult.
Finding and keeping routine in enforced change is difficult. Add to that, children now home from school and the frustration and time required to keep a calm working and living environment.
Alas, parenting skills in conflict management are not always readily available in the cramped conditions of a family home. Consider also the fact that you’re now unable to use open spaces as you used to, many households will find themselves struggling to defuse some of the tensions that will naturally build up in the current climate.
A Little Space to Call My Own
If you need space to work in it is important that you convey what you need and how you need it to the other people living in your home.
To keep businesses operating, many are now taking video and conference calls. It is important that people know when your meetings are so that you can avoid the frustrations of being interrupted mid-call. It also helps to plan yours and your family’s days. If you know you finish at call at 12, why not take lunch and have a walk with your family during that time.
You should be mindful of your internet bandwidth. Video calls can take up significant bandwidth, and if everyone is streaming, this could be stressful. It can also be frustrating during other times as well. Uploading large files, or accessing information from a virtual network can place additional stress on bandwidth. Again, speak to your family or occupants so you can free up space during peak business times.
Get Good at Listening
A good technique to iron out family tension is to sit down with everybody and for each person to write down there worries and concerns.
As a family, you can work through these problems. Remember, that each individual person is different and what may be a concern to them may not be a concern for you, so it’s important that you are sensitive to everybody’s needs.
Encourage your family to talk, try not to interrupt them and nod in support. If you feel that the subject is too difficult to approach at the time, remember the problem and approach it at a time when the person is least expecting it. Manage it in your time not their time.
Try and Set Some Ground Rules
This may sound silly but setting ground rules is important. List the rules and place them somewhere where people can refer to them.
The types of rules you might consider are:
- Keeping rooms tidy
- Cleaning up after yourself
- Being sensitive to other’s needs
- Scheduling and sticking to bathroom times
Now, this all sounds very much like common sense but in reality, when people are together for longer periods of time, little things become big things.
Factors to Consider for a Work-Life Balance when WFH
In normal times, work-family conflict is viewed as a stressor for individuals. Defined as an “irreconcilable pressure from the work and family spheres”, this can work both ways, either as work-to-family or family-to-work conflict. These basically assume three forms, time-pressures, strain-pressures and behaviour-based pressures.
These boil down to how much are employees being asked to take on psychologically and emotionally, how much time can be given to either family life or work life, and how much satisfaction is derived from both.
Research indicates that the relationship of work to family conflict, and family to work conflict is associated with “depression, poor physical health and heavy alcohol use.” Interestingly, there is no gender divide on the impact of these stresses.
There are further health and wellbeing impacts observed from work to family and family to work conflict, including:
- Poorer mental and physical health
- Less life satisfaction
- Higher levels of stress
- Less physical exercise
- Higher likelihood to engage in problem drinking
- Increased anxiety and depression levels
- Poor appetite
My colleague Peter Kinselley has already explored some of these issues in an article on lockdown fatigue, and sleep, exercise, nutrition and wellbeing were explored heavily in our Remote Worker Q&A at the start of this crisis.
However, in this crisis, some of these pressures overflow and working from home exasperates these. In some businesses, the crisis has manifested itself as something slower. When business is slow there are feelings of lack of focus, worth and value attributed to oneself and what you do with your time. There has also been creeping worry about job security, and therefore worry about bills and the future.
For those with more to do, managing workload against family life can be incredibly complicated, leading to stress and worry. It becomes a constant balancing act to weigh up the strains of work with dedicating enough time to family and the ones you love.
But are we as managers and employers able to step up to help support employees, or are we overwhelmed too, with our focus split into many evolving narratives?
Are Managers Ready to Support Mental Health Issues?
It appears not. A CIPD/Simplyhealth survey from 31st March 2020 reported that only 31% of managers felt sufficiently confident to initiate discussions around mental health.
This is no surprise as the 31% figure has been roughly the same for the last four years. It’s a difficult subject to broach and is still a relatively taboo subject in the UK, despite efforts of celebrities and public information campaigns to address it.
More managers should be better trained to initiate discussion and to speak to colleagues about mental health issues. Employers should look at how they address these complex issues. In the future, enabling managers to initiate discussion and articulate mental health concerns will be a valuable resource for supporting business and employee growth.
What Can Management Do to Support Employees with Family Tension?
It should be remembered that Duty of Care remains for employee health and safety no matter where the staff are based. From this perspective, it is important that employers are checking in regularly with colleagues and picking up cues that they might be facing difficulty. Personal interaction through video conferencing technology can be really worthwhile here to ensure that there is a friendly face at the end of the line who is there to help.
For organisations, there are a number of things that they can do to support employees. Management ideally should be trained and equipped to have supportive discussions with employees. They also need to be reminded of the importance of regular intra-team communication. Communication on practical things that staff can do, such as healthy routines for diet, sleep and exercise is important, so too the promotion of any existing or new programmes that address mental health, wellbeing or physical health.
What you should be doing:
- Training and equipping managers with the skills to talk about mental health and wellbeing issues
- Encouraging effective communication from managers to their teams
- Providing advice and guidance to staff on mental and physical health and wellbeing
- Promote any existing or new programmes, as well as benefits, such as employee assistance programmes or helplines
We have produced a range of free email templates you can use to communicate best practice advice on areas of employee health and wellbeing, including sleep, diet, exercise and wellbeing. Download them here.
Organisation Tools to Support Colleagues
Many organisations will already have some tools to support colleagues through difficult times such as these. It may be more important now than ever to ensure that these are communicated effectively at this time. Lockdown fatigue is well underway and many people, though they have reached a period of normalisation around the current way of working, will be feeling isolated, lonely, stressed and anxious as the crisis rolls on.
Consider providing or communicating the following:
- Employee Assistance Programmes
- Coaching and mentoring
- Remote access to GPs
- Education via e-learning
This advice is relevant now, but it’s also relevant for the future. Being a supportive and proactive employer means greater staff retention and will be much better positioned for the future.