How can we help?

Like many, I’m still processing the horrors of the recent attacks in the UK, firstly in Manchester and over the weekend, again in London. I hate to use the phrase ‘the new normal’ for these times because it signals some level of acceptance that peace isn’t possible, and that attacks like this are to be expected. Personally, I refuse to believe that we can’t have peace and that we can’t somehow – and no, I don’t have the answers – create and sustain communities that are integrated, mutually respectful and that abhor violence to those who are unlike them.

Watching the concert in Manchester last night, and having work commitments this morning in a Quaker meeting house, got me thinking about how organisations of all kinds need to create safe places where people can process what’s gone on and feel genuinely nurtured when something bad has happened. In Britain, we have the laudable unspoken national mantra of ‘Keep calm and Carry on’. That’s super useful because it’s pragmatic but it can also serve to mask emotion. The Manchester concert last night proved that helping people connect with others in grief, respect, defiance and a range of other emotions helped people move on. So, I would like to add a step between the keeping calm and the carrying on: connect with others.

We have been encouraging parents rightly to consider the effect of the 24 hour newsreel on our children and how to help them put things into perspective and talk about their emotional reactions to the horrors. But how much do we do this with our friends and our work colleagues? How many people have put on the stiff upper lip and gone back to work after an attack but inside have been anxious about public transport or gathering with many others on the commute home – or other potential future targets of attack?

The additional vigilance we feel is normal, human. But what if, when we get to work or our activity for the day, we simply bury that anxiety and ‘carry on’. We run the risk of pushing our fears down where they may fester and grow like a nasty boil in our body. Teams at work where there is a high level of trust and closeness will talk over the coffee machine or computer screen about what happened, and that will help. But what about those people who some weeks after an atrocity has taken place, continue to feel anxious. What organisational support is there for those people to manage how they’re feeling? If there’s not very much – or none at all – those individuals may become more and more anxious over time. And that is the recipe for the beginning of a more intense mental wellbeing issue. Not to over dramatize this, but for anyone who has had depression or emotional challenges of any kind, the trigger may not have been large. What might start out as a relatively ‘small’ emotional response to an event may grow to an extent that it needs more than a cuppa with a friend to help manage it.

So, organisations, what are we doing this Monday morning and other Monday mornings to help teams check-in with each other? Are we training managers with emotional skills so that they feel confident simply to hold the space for their team members so that those colleagues don’t have to put a cap on their emotions?

This is not an invitation to have people cry and emote from 9 to 5. It’s not a hippy dippy tree huggy gesture to make people force the less emotionally connected people to open up unnecessarily. It’s simply a way to help people process not just their thinking, but also their emotions. Like a pressure cooker that occasionally lets off a little steam, it’s a way for the team to self-regulate emotionally. Surely better that than let an individual reach an intolerable pressure and then explode into a larger mental issue. So, come on organisations, what are we doing to help people emotionally in these troubled times?

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