How To Ask Your Boss For Help During COVID-19 In 7 Steps

A workplace wellbeing expert shares her tips for getting the support you need.

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There are few people who haven't had their working lives transformed by coronavirus. Whether you're still WFH nearly a year later, found you'd transformed into a frontline worker from one day to the next, now wear a mask to work, or have lost your job completely due to the fallout from the pandemic, adapting to new and uncertain circumstances can bring significant challenges. That's without even mentioning the mental health impact that COVID-19 alone has had. If you're struggling at work for whatever reason, it can feel daunting to ask for support. These seven steps should make asking your boss for help during coronavirus a lot less stressful.

“The pandemic has had a massive impact on our wellbeing. In 2020, we surveyed over 16,000 during the initial lockdown and found that more than half of adults (60%) and over two thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health had got worse during lockdown,” says Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, “Whether you’re a key worker, on furlough, facing redundancy, working from a different location, juggling work and parenting, or managing a team remotely – a number of things are affecting our wellbeing right now. But employers have a responsibility to promote and protect the wellbeing of their staff, so if you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s best to speak to someone you trust at work.”

It’s likely that you’ve had more than one conversation over the last few months about job security and the impact that COVID-19 has had on your financial situation. It’s easy to feel like it isn’t the best time to tell your boss that you’re struggling. However Acas Senior Adviser, Susan Raftery and Dr Barbara Mariposa, mental health lead at Work Well Being explains the importance of recognising burnout in yourself first.

Recognising Burnout

Burnout is a massive buzzword. It’s likely you’ll have heard it thrown around very casually as people made the shift to working from home. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that burnout was recognised by the World Health Organisation as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

It’s all well and good knowing what burnout is, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can be difficult to accept. Dr Barbara Mariposa from Work Well Being explains that one of the key attributes of burnout is a subjective sense of inadequacy. “You turn it in on yourself and make you the problem. You may ask why you can’t cope when everyone else seems to be,” she says, “you have to remember that this is a work-related problem.”

You may have some understanding of what burnout is but Dr. Mariposa says, “the first step is to recognise that that’s where you are yourself because when you’re trapped in burnout you’re so worried about appearing inadequate that you’re unlikely to be able to say I can’t cope.”

Try To Pinpoint The Problem

You might be struggling with the hours you’re working, planning childcare, or accessing resources you need. By pinpointing the key things that are making you feel exhausted you may be able to verbalise them.

“Some managers aren’t as good with mental health issues than others, they may be scared, inexperienced or unsure how to properly deal with them. So, an idea could be to explain the impact it’s having on the team, your work and wider business issues,” says Susan Raftery, “For example, why you may not be communicating with the team as well as usual, or why your targets are slipping, giving them the broader impact on the wider business could help them understand.”

Similarly, Dr. Mariposa explains that managers have a responsibility in watching out for the signs of burnout in their employees. “If signs of burnout are emotional exhaustion then managers will see someone who has lost their mojo, being more critical or negative,” she says, “They may question tasks. Managers should be suspicious as to what’s caused the change.”

Speak To Someone You Trust First

One of the scariest things about feeling overwhelmed can be verbalising it. It’s not easy but speaking through your feelings to someone you trust first could help. “If you feel emotional you might get that out the way first rather than take it into the meeting with your boss,” says Raftery, “It’s important that you speak to someone who isn’t going to be judgemental.”

Use A Script Or Bullet Points

Raftery says, “having something written down can help you get through and remember all the things you want to say.” A script may leave you feeling a little bit stiff but by writing down everything you’re feeling in bullet point form or as a list it’ll help you articulate all of your feelings. You’ll be able to reference back to it during the conversation and will ensure you don’t miss anything.

Let Yourself Off The Hook

When you feel like you’re not doing good enough at work but you couldn’t put any more effort in it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. “If you’re already feeling completely overloaded it feels like an impossible mountain to climb to explain to someone that you're burnt out,” says Dr. Mariposa, “There has to be an awareness within your organisation, especially at the moment.”

You may not recognise it but working from home during COVID-19 has put an immense pressure on workers. If you don’t feel like you can speak to your boss about the fact that you’re struggling then don’t pressure yourself to do so. It’s their responsibility to ensure that you’re okay.

Be Clear That You Want To Have A Proper Conversation

Nothing strikes more fear than the term “we need to talk.” It’s universally daunting. Prior to working from home, you may have chosen to catch your boss at the coffee machine and pulled them to one side for work. However, this impromptu technique doesn’t work remotely.

Instead of just calling them out of the blue Raftery suggests you send them an email to outline that you’d like a quick call regarding how you’re feeling at work. “Email can be great for this, as you can send an agenda of what you’d like to talk about, so that you can get your ideas set out and so they can come to the meeting prepared,” she says.

Look To Outside Help Or Resources

You may also want to look for support outside of work. You can combine the support at work with help and advice from mental health charities and your doctor.

The mental health charity Mind has a whole section on its website regarding work and COVID-19. They have tips if you’re working from home and advice on how to support workers best.

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