Last week Comma invited Jean Burke to talk about the need to build resilience during these unsettling, COVID and post-COVID times. 

The target audience? Those interims currently not working but wanting to feel in a good place for their next role. 

Jean is a former communications consultant, who is now a qualified psychotherapist and provides coaching, wellbeing and psychological support services for leaders and frontline teams within the NHS. Jean helped us to understand what resilience really means in practice, how we can help others by helping ourselves and how we can make sure we are ready to ‘hit the ground running’ when the call for interims gains momentum once again. 

What is resilience?

Jean started by explaining what it’s not. 

It’s not about toughness, bouncing-back or pushing through, being the hero or ‘taking one for the team.  Nor is it what we do to recover from stressful situations.

Resilience is about how we manage when we are in those stressful situations. It’s about our ongoing capacity for change and adaptability, about remaining resourceful no matter what is going on.

Everyone needs to focus on their resilience and well-being for them as individuals and for the greater good of their team.  It’s about taking personal responsibility.

If someone in the team is not focused on their resilience and well-being, eg working crazy hours – the likelihood is that their responsiveness, tolerance and effectiveness will be diminished.  That change in behaviour impacts the whole team. So, we owe it to ourselves and our teams to be self-aware and not turn the work environment into a nightmare for those around us.  Leaders especially need to be role models.

As in any other major transformational change, people will be in different spaces and at different stages on the change curve – some have been furloughed, some haven’t, some are key workers and on the front line – some aren’t.   Their experiences will be different, and we need to take account of that.

Many who have been furloughed are champing at the bit to get back to work.  They can’t wait to get back to normality: they want to contribute and are eager to show what they can do and how committed they are.  At the other end of the spectrum are those who haven’t been furloughed and are feeling shattered and emotional and can’t wait to take time off to recuperate. 

Whether furloughed or not many have had additional stresses of being tasked with home schooling, have young children and no childcare or have had to support vulnerable relatives.  Some have been ill themselves.

Jean asked us to think about how we as communicators can bring these disparate audiences together.  Storytelling has been just one great way she has seen to share these experiences, helping each side to understand what they bring to the party. 

Ways to think about your own resilience 

To help us with our own resilience Jean advised thinking about our next potential internal communications interim role and asking ourselves ‘what brings meaning and satisfaction to me?’  Interim roles inevitably require candidates to hit the ground running with little or no time to embed themselves into an organisation so being able to tap into what is important to you when you hit a difficult phase can be good for your wellbeing.

By identifying activities around your life that are important to you – community, exercise, family – and the strategies you can call upon to help manage yourself will make it less likely you will become overwhelmed. For example, no meetings before 10, going out to lunch with a friend, going for a run in the evening. Look at the barriers that might stop you from keeping to this plan and adjust it.  Share the plan with someone else and ask them to hold you accountable for your behaviours.

How you can help leaders with their own resilience 

As interims we are there to help leaders.  They are dealing with culture change, they feel guilty about those they have had to furlough, guilty about those who have had to work in difficult circumstances, and they are anxious about protecting personal safety and job security.  COVID has shaken our core ways of working.  Communicators are in a unique place to help leadership lead with understanding and compassion and, where necessary, become a critical friend. 

Challenges that are already showing in the post COVID workplace

In 2018 60% people felt their wellbeing was comprised in 2020 this has already increased to 75%.  A sure sign that we need to do something so we can be better prepared for when the next wave comes.

We asked our event participants to share what their coping strategies have been.

As well as walking and cycling and doing some freelance work, I’ve been following the 4Cs of Create: Contribute: Consume: Connect. I’ve been trying to be Creative and do something every day – perhaps a blog: I try and find a place where I can Contribute something, a Linked In post or help someone to rewrite a CV: I try and Consume one podcast or article or attend an event which will help me to grow, and I try and Connect with someone I’ve not spoken to before or haven’t spoken to for a long time.

I’ve looked on the time as a mini sabbatical to recharge.

I’ve tried volunteering outside of communications.

I’ve taken the time to learn new things online.

I’ve done loads more exercise.

I’ve kept abreast of what communicators are doing currently and learning about what they are experiencing so I feel ready for when I go back to work. 

I’ve taken the time to enjoy what I like doing.

I’ve used my calendar differently – to set some structure to my day – time to ‘look for work’, ‘learning time’ and ‘exercise’ time.

I feel the time has been a gift.  I have learned to be disciplined to keep myself sane and to keep everyone else sane – friends and family.  I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and take back control – for example exercising every day and eating well.

Do you have your own resilience plan?  If not, what can you start, stop, continue so you are ready for any COVID second wave?