Managing stress at Fideres Partners

To mark Stress Awareness Week we asked Kate Bicknell, Head of People and Culture at Fideres Partners, how they have approached managing stress during the pandemic.

We explore the initiatives they put in place, the advice they’ve given managers and what tips they’d give for employees.

Q: How quickly did it become apparent that you would need to provide extra support for stress management and wellbeing-related issues?  

There will be very few people that come out of this pandemic without having experienced a form of stress within their personal or work lives; it is different for everyone and the list of causes is long and wide. This even goes right back to the very start of lockdown when we were just dealing with the initial disruption of moving everyone to a ‘temporary’ working from home model.

The key issue now for many businesses is accepting that we will be in this for much longer than we want to be, and subsequently we must all fully adapt our practices and culture to support the post-covid workforce.

Q: What initiatives did you put in place to support employees experiencing stress?  

We were lucky at the start of the lockdown to have had one of our employees (Georgie King), temporarily working part time with us as an Office Manager whilst she was studying for an MSc in Psychiatric Research. She had already prepared a programme on stress which we then just adapted for the situation we found ourselves in.  She covered a number of different areas for the team such as understanding what stress is, what negative thinking is, different tools to use to manage both stress and negative thinking, along with some pointers on nutrition and sleep hygiene. 

We ran some training for our project and line managers on managing remotely, remote communication, and building trust (psychological safety).  We also briefly walked them through the change curve to help them notice where their direct reports or team members were in the cycle of adapting to the rapidly evolving world around them. More broadly we also changed the way we manage people by delegating more and allowing greater autonomy to our employees, giving them greater control over their work and time.

We have an employee feedback committee with whom we used to meet once a quarter, but at their request, we increased this to once a month during the lockdown (something we still do).

Overall, I would say that there hasn’t been a one size fits all approach and we have very much tried to adapt our response according to individual needs. Whether that has been flexing around an individual’s working hours, to opening the office back up as soon as possible for those employees who for whatever reason couldn’t work from home.

Q: What are you doing to support your employee’s general wellbeing? 

As we head into what will potentially be a challenging winter, the key focus area for us at Fideres is how we support our employees who may find it difficult to work from home.  This could be because they flat share and find themselves constantly talking over their flat mate’s meetings, or perhaps they work from their bedrooms or have young kids out of school.

To support all our employees, we will continue to offer and will work on improving the following: 

  • We’ll revisit our offerings on ergonomic/DSE assessments, posture support and working from home equipment.  
  • We’ll expand our mental health and wellbeing resources and will include topics such as boundary management between ‘work’ and ‘home’, as this will be a big focus area for avoiding burn-out.  
  • Our gym subsidy benefit now includes virtual exercise classes, along with meditation and mindfulness apps such as Headspace. 
  • We’ll continue with our employee feedback committee and running regular employee surveys to keep that two-way communication going (along with providing regular business updates as a way of communicating to manage uncertainty). 
  • We will also do some more work on making sure that our employees understand the different communication avenues and tools available to them, and that they also feel secure in raising concerns or ideas on how to improve things. 
  • Our internal meetings are now all mainly held via video call so that we can all see each other when we talk and get visual cues on how our reports and colleagues are doing. 
  • We’ll work more on our remote social events – virtual ‘pub’ quizzes etc.  
  • We’ll also put effort into celebrating both the big and small wins, saying thank you for work well done.   
  • We’ll offer extra days off to recognise the extra work that has been put in since the lockdown and compensate for the lack of separation between work/life environments. 
  • We’ve completely changed the location and layout of our office to encourage and inspire social interaction, collaboration, and creativity once government guidelines permit

Q: What advice would you give managers for how to identify and address stress at work? 

I think the key thing here is to remind managers that they don’t need to be, and shouldn’t try to be, gurus in stress and mental health. 

What will make you a good manager is to know your team and communicate with them regularly and consistently so that you can spot any changes in behaviour.  Make sure you have some face to face contact, even if it has to be by video conference, so that you can read facial expressions and body language, as well as being able to see the more obvious physical changes that may occur as a result of stress or mental health issues.  Make it a point every now and then to directly ask your team how they are doing and what you can do to support them.  

Then you just need to know who to ask for help – whether that is your HR team, your EAP scheme, using external resources such as the charity Mind, or maybe you have mental health first aiders or champions at work. You don’t have to be the expert and nor should you try to be.

In addition, one cause of stress is an individual’s response to uncertainty, so communicating lots and providing some predictability and consistency where you can, will help.  

Q: With all the organisational costs at the moment, why do you think it is worth companies investing in wellbeing initiatives?  

Simply put, your people are your business, if you don’t invest in their health and wellbeing and they burnout, then you won’t have a business. 

Also, wellbeing support doesn’t need to be expensive.  Some wellbeing benefits can be fantastic and can really support employees (such as EAP schemes), but ultimately what matters the most is what is going on underneath the surface, issues like:  

  • Do I feel secure at work?  
  • Do I have someone I can talk to at work?  
  • Can I talk to my manager?  
  • Do I feel I can raise issues and concerns?  
  • Do I get on with my colleagues, do I feel supported?
  • Do I trust my colleagues/reports/manager?  
  • Am I trusted to do my job well, do I have autonomy? 
  • Do I have everything I need to do my job?  
  • Are my lines of responsibility and accountability clear?    

These types of questions are fundamental, and you can make it even better by adding some really good wellbeing initiatives on top.  

Q: What tips do you have for employees who are working from home and are struggling to switch off at the end of their working day? 

This is a big question for a lot of people of at the moment, but there are some really simple things you can do to make a start:  

  • Create routines and rituals to separate the transition between starting work and finishing work.  This could be replacing your commute with a short walk, or going to get a coffee from your local coffee shop if you can, or even dressing up for work.  Do whatever works for you (and if you want to dig a little deeper, then read up on habit forming).  
  • Take regular breaks from your screen and turn it off in the evening (read up on sleep hygiene and blue light).  
  • Try to find (or invest more time in) simple hobbies and interests outside of work or family (even if they have to be home based at the moment). Hobbies can take your mind off work, but they can also help to improve your productivity and general engagement at work in many different ways. 
  • There will of course be occasions when that routine you create may be unrealistic.  For example, when you have a big deadline.  In these scenarios perhaps the next best thing is to try to find a way to coordinate your time with your team members and create some ‘team norms and rules’ to try to create some stability, routine and give yourself breaks in a different way.   
  • Above all, and most importantly, ask for help if you need it.  



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