Our recent article took a deep dive into the facts and figures surrounding the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and wellness of employees. While the data is interesting, what can be missing is the personal details of the people and relationships behind the figures.
Sharing stories can help to shed light on this. We spoke to Claire Atkins, Head of People Services at Sintons LLP to discuss how she was supporting their employees and how she had helped them adapt to the changing work environment since the start of the pandemic.
HR teams have always had an essential role in businesses, helping to set the culture, support employees and look after a company’s key asset – their people. But Claire said that her role has changed since the start of the pandemic.
“I see my role as not only as Head of People Services but also the broader role within the business from a management point of view,” she said. “The supportive side of the role has definitely increased. And the same for supervisors as well. We have been keeping in touch with people, dropping them an email or messaging on Teams or giving them a call. Our people are an important part of the business, so whether they’re in the office, working remotely, on furlough or on leave, it’s important that they don’t feel they’ve been forgotten.”
Taking steps to support everyone throughout the last year was something Claire recognised quickly.
“We’re sociable creatures. We’re in roles where people skills are important and you can’t just switch that off all of a sudden. In People Services, particularly when we first went into a lockdown, we played a key role in terms of making sure that we influenced more senior people in the business to make sure they were organising department meetings regularly and remote supervision was in place. We have great examples of where departments have organised fun things too, such as remote bingo or remote quizzes. We took the time to make sure that stays on their radar because they’re really busy people.
“And of course, we had to think about communication with teams as well and individuals. We started using Microsoft Teams about 18 months before the pandemic hit. Some people adapted really well to using it for internal communication rather than emails and other people didn't as easily. When we've had people on furlough leave, it's meant that they could keep in touch with the business through Teams because we removed access to their work emails so they weren’t tempted to go in and look at work.”
Claire has spent time talking to Sintons’ employees and supporting them, helping teams to recognise that everyone has been affected differently.
“Work/life balance in some respects is better for some, but I think it’s worse for some as well. It depends on people’s circumstances. The pandemic has affected people differently. We've all got different concerns. Different priorities. Different things going on. Whether it's people home schooling or caring for an elderly relative or an ill family member or being worried about being on furlough leave and what's going to happen with their job, everybody's had a different experience.
“Part of my role has been to help people to understand that, because I think people have been working in their own bubble and can forget at times that things are going on with other people as well. It’s been important for me and my colleague in People Services to remember that and be flexible to support people in the best way that we can. We've tried to keep in touch with people, just to make sure that they're all right.”
With the devastating impact of the pandemic, there were times when it was difficult to avoid the news coverage – all of which can have an impact on people’s mental health and ability to cope. But despite all of this, as Claire explained, there have been positives that have come from the situation too.
“In January, I sent something out to the firm to say, ‘We’ve heard so many negative stories about the pandemic – and of course there are so many negatives – but there are some positives that have come out of this as well’. I asked that people share their positive stories because I think that’s really important to our culture as a firm, as people aren’t seeing one another day-to-day and they’re not having those little conversations.
“People have shared their stories, whether it’s a colleague and her husband who have built a shed in the back garden which they never would have done if it hadn’t been for what they had gone through this year. We had someone whose remote work station was in a tent in the back garden. Over lockdown last year, one employee ran 14 miles to deliver Easter Eggs to each of her colleagues in her team. It’s things like this that mean so much. Sintons was 125 years old in February so sharing the stories has been a nice way to celebrate that.”
As well as colleagues spontaneously connecting, the company has also made sure that opportunities have been available for people to stay connected. “I think people have made more effort to stay in touch with one another,” Claire said. “We’ve had to adapt a lot. One of the biggest challenges is around maintaining the culture.
“We’ve got a fantastic culture at Sintons and we’ve been working hard to maintain that when people aren’t seeing one another day to day. Even not being able to have a Christmas party or have drinks after work has an impact. Now, you don’t get a chance to talk to people that you don’t see day to day and mix with new people. We held our Christmas party over Teams and sent out a Marks and Spencer voucher so people could celebrate with friends and family. In January, we organised “Kick Start 2021 with a New Year New You” where we provided different health and wellbeing tips each day. The month ended with a remote pilates session at lunchtime. In May, we also organised “Miles in May” where we had teams competing against each other to clock the most miles by either running, cycling or walking. This also highlighted that May was National Walking Month and encouraged everyone to have exercise to support their wellbeing. It provided a really good opportunity to have fun and people really embraced a competitive spirit!
“It’s that human side of things that we’ve been focusing on.”
Thank you to Claire for sharing what your company is doing. You can find out more about Sintons and the work they do by visiting their website.