People who are well are more engaged.
While the physical health and safety of employees rightly takes center stage, mental and emotional well-being cannot be an afterthought—especially for communicators. As we help our clients and colleagues deliver difficult messages to employees during difficult times, it’s helpful to consider how communication can impact—and be impacted by—the mental health and well-being of employees.
Here are six rules to follow:
1. Say less.
More information does not make employees more informed. Our human brains are fragile, and when we get hit with too much uncertainty and complex information, we tend to melt down. We cannot retain it.
And we are all getting bombarded by piles of anxiety-producing, cortisol-raising information every day, which we actively filter our way through.
So as much as possible, say less—especially if it’s written communication. Resist the temptation to reduce uncertainty with more information. Stick to the key messages that illustrate what you want employees to think, feel or do. Then, repeat them. Most of us need to be exposed to information more than once to absorb it.
2. Stay consistent.
It turns out we use a lot of mental and emotional energy worrying about what we’re not reading or not seeing. You can reduce this cognitive load for your employees by letting them know when and where they can expect communications from you.
I’m a big believer in the “email and” approach. As a comms tech geek, I love the different tools and platforms available to creatively connect with employees. But there must still be one primary channel (often email) that all important communications will flow through. This will do wonders to remove the cognitive burden of constantly checking (or worrying about missing) information distributed across platforms.
Don’t forget to make your email subject lines clear and, ideally, assign a level of priority to it.
3. Give employees control.
We humans are control freaks. Study after study shows that when we feel a sense of control over our environment and careers, we’re more engaged, more mentally and physically well, and more resilient.
We’re all struggling with the loss of this control as so many aspects of our lives right now are out of our hands in a way they never have been before. Therefore, leaders and communicators must resist the urge to satisfy their own need for control in their communication methods and style.
Is your “camera on” rule really necessary? Videoconferencing is a wonderful tool when we’re all at a distance, and in the right setting. But research also shows it’s incredibly mentally and emotionally draining, and in some cases downright distracting and counterproductive.
Rigid “camera on” policies can create a culture of virtual presenteeism that’s detrimental to effective communication—and the well-being and performance of your employees.
4. Be mindful of emotional contagion.
Study after study has shown our brains pick up and take on the emotions of others as our own in seconds, without even realizing it. When addressing the troops, the most important message leaders must send is subliminal. It’s taking time to set the tone, to show genuine interest and empathy for the challenges employees are facing, and to project appropriately positive and calm energy.
Bonus? Research shows human emotion is contagious even in video form. One more reason to lean into video to connect with employees.
5. Model well-being.
Your leaders set the tone. If leaders and communicators are not practicing well-being, even if you’re preaching it, it’s not going to stick. Don’t just model well-being; make sure you actually take care of yourself.
There is an inordinate amount of pressure on organizational leaders who are (surprise!) only humans themselves.
6. Build community around purpose.
This is why you spent all that time uncovering your corporate purpose. It matters.
Neuroimaging studies show that people are more engaged and connected when they understand and believe in a shared purpose and know that they care about one another. Your purpose should be your North Star. Now is the time to follow it.
Trisha Bruynell is a vice president for Peppercomm.