On a recent coaching course, one of my participants raised an interesting question – Is it really the responsibility of a leader to know their staff on a social level?
Social interactions give us so much more information about our team, but they can also be exhausting.
The pandemic has flipped what we previously knew about socialisation in the workplace upside down.
According to recent research conducted by YouGov, 65% of Britons reported that COVID has negatively impacted their mental health; a clear indicator that we need our support networks around us more than ever.
But now, with more people working from home, and the majority of ‘real life’ meet-ups totally off the cards, the concept of socialisation is almost unrecognisable.
So how do we create an interactive and supportive culture, protect ourselves from burnout, and adhere to governmental guidelines all at the same time?
Let’s go through it step by step…
Step 1: Understanding socialisation and why it’s important
Being friends with some of your colleagues is totally different to participating in and / or facilitating socialisation.
Friends are people with whom we have a bond or mutual affection. Socialisation is the activity of mixing with people in social settings.
No one is saying that you cannot be friends with some of your colleagues, but more importantly, you do not need to be friends with all of them.
Some leaders enjoy socialising more than others, but no matter your preference, socialising is an important aspect to most people’s lives.
Humans are social animals and socialising allows a safe space for many different behaviours to occur which serve many functions for us including venting, reminiscing, sharing ideas, problem solving, and rationalising concerns.
In a social setting, these actions happen spontaneously and fluidly. Generally, people in relaxed settings are more comfortable leading to a more truthful representation of their thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
Facilitating this engagement with and amongst your team will allow you as a leader to notice (and address) things that are much harder to pick up in a business setting.
This, in turn, allows the socially-conscious leader the opportunity to strike up open dialogues which leads to a happier, more cohesive team who fundamentally understand each other. And when that happens, the magic starts!
Step 2: Defining your Boundaries
So how do you, as a leader, manage this without taking on too much?
Leading by example is critically important here. We’re all going through changing times and it is neither your job to micro-manage and enforce socialisation, nor do you have to be responsible for all of your team’s happiness.
The key factor here is about encouraging an environment where individuals in your team realise that you are there to support them. You are not there to fix everything, or even to take responsibility for everything, but you will do what you can, where you can. And, you will take the time and effort to see how you can do that.
But why is it so important I hear you cry?!
One thing we’re learning from the impact of this new stay-at-home culture is that people’s mental health is being impacted in so many ways. This is the delicate dance everyone has between their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours and we already know how this can impact our ideas about ourselves as well as rubbing off on those around us.
Ultimately, your team cannot take care of their workload if they cannot take care of themselves.
And here’s the cherry on the cake – you can’t either!
In these particularly stressful COVID times we all find ourselves faced with dizzying new heights of familiar challenges plus some new ones that we never thought we’d have to deal with in a professional setting. (Who would have thought we’d ever be leading a team meeting and a year 4 science lesson simultaneously?)
It takes its toll and you as a leader need to address this. But how much is too much and where do you draw the line?
The word you’re grasping for is Boundaries. Saying ‘No’ whilst maintaining a supportive environment sounds like an oxymoron and setting boundaries is great in theory, but can be quite daunting in reality.
It’s easier when we can accept that boundaries aren’t just nice to have, boundaries are absolutely crucial to your own sanity and creating that professional, supportive environment that will get you known as a great leader and allow your team to effectively manage their situations.
Step 3: Bringing it back to the team!
Remember that whilst, yes, you are a leader, you are also part of a team and here are ways that you can encourage your team to socialise and support each other. After all, they don’t call it a support network for nothing.
Try adding 5 minutes before and after your group meetings just for chit chat. Shut down the waiting room on your Zoom calls and allow others to join and socialise with each other before you arrive – maybe even be a few minutes late on purpose!
Use platforms like Slack.com to create social forums so your team can connect with each other and share stories, comments, thoughts, and suggestions unrelated to work.
Encourage a culture of sharing and maybe start a new habit in your company – #FondMemoryFridays #SelfieSaturdays or #KidsInterrupting.
Use coaching techniques to encourage your team members to think about how and where stress points occur and how they can be managed.
Think about matching colleagues on group work that have similar responsibilities at home so they can relate, sympathise and empathise. Parents are so much more understanding of the challenges of juggling kids and working at home and could support each other through.
Bring it back to a cohesive work place by inviting everyone to submit (anonymous) feedback on their COVID experiences and then hold a brainstorming session to share this and see how you and your team can share the responsibility to support each other. Facilitate this session, don’t own every action point!
Set boundaries and lead by example
Mark a clear line in the sand of what your role and limits are as a leader. By protecting yourself you’ll set clear guidelines and a firm message to your team.
Like I said earlier, this is where the magic happens!
Get support with the foundations of how to set boundaries, maximise socialisation and truly be a better manager for your team with our new format 12-month Management Development Training programme.