A new working normal

by Debbie Schultz - Blue Sky Minds
Monday , 13 April 2020 - 3-4 minute read
A man sitting on some stairs

How to support your workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Work has fundamentally changed for almost every single New Zealander and will remain that way for at least the next few weeks – most likely beyond. Sadly, many people no longer have work, and even for those who do, the where and how we work now looks radically different. So as a business, how can you best support your people over the coming weeks?

First things first, remember that many of your people are managing a ‘full catastrophe’ of events all at once: from dealing with job losses, pay cuts and the sudden loss of a physical work community to learning how to run meetings online or changes in the type of work they are actually doing.

Then there’s the personal stuff: figuring out the mechanics of how to work whilst entertaining children, navigating around flatmates and whanau, and potentially taking care of extended family that may have joined their bubble for the next few weeks.

And that’s not to mention the chaos that’s happening inside our heads. There may be uncertainty about how this will end, anxiety about money, worry for the health of loved ones, the length and depth of the recession, and concern for the more vulnerable people worldwide. These are just some of the thoughts that swirl around, while in the meantime we’re also trying our best to concentrate, focus and be productive with work.

The implications are huge. So if you’re in a Health and Safety or Wellbeing role at your organisation, how can you best help your people? Even if you’ve already been bombarded with advice, here are our top tips - you never know, you might find something in here that you haven’t yet considered:

Expect less from people

Most of us have on average 60,000-80,000 thoughts a day1 and to be honest it’s probably more than that right now. It may feel like our minds are literally flooded with them. So, keep in mind that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” (Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon).

All this internal ‘noise’ decreases our focus and productivity by flooding our working memory;2 the internal system that holds and processes information. It’s how the mind temporarily manipulates and stores data during tasks - think of it as the brain's own sticky notes or task list - essentially memory that is being worked on in the moment3.

How can you help reduce noise for people? For starters, remind your leaders to lower expectations and reduce multiple priorities. To help reduce anxiety, you can also encourage people to reduce their day to small chunks of focused time.

Create space for true feelings to surface

This is much easier said than done. However, it’s important to create space for your people to work through how they’re feeling.

Mindful non-judgemental listening - without giving advice or problem solving - is extremely important right now. People need space to work through what’s going on in their heads.

So consider ‘checking-in’ before online meetings officially kick off, using open ended questions that encourage sharing and discussion. Listen non-judgmentally, don’t interrupt, and don’t feel you have to give advice. Give people your full attention.

When meeting online, whenever possible use video. Most of human communication is non-verbal,4 and being able to see your colleagues’ faces and them being able to see yours will help to build stronger connections.

Upskill with mindfulness training

There’s a lot more to mindfulness than colouring-in books. If you still sit in the camp of mindfulness being a bit flaky, then perhaps now is the perfect time to reconsider, because people need help more than ever before.

Mindfulness is an innate human capacity that enables people to intentionally focus on what they experience in the moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity and care5.

Research into the health benefits of mindfulness training started back in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Hospital, where Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn and his team put together the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programmes (MBSR). Over the years, following thousands of peer-reviewed studies, MBSR has been scientifically proven to be effective in reducing stress, depression, chronic pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, sleep problems and anxiety6.

In 2016, a white paper produced by a UK Government working party and organisations including Ernst & Young, General Electric, and HSBC stated that, while scientific business research is still in its infancy, there are strong correlations between mindfulness training and improvements in wellbeing, relationships and performance7. Studies also indicate that for those with recurrent depression, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may be as good as antidepressants8.

You may also be interested to know that The New Zealand Defence Force has introduced Mindfulness-based Attention training (MBAT) for their personnel9, and a large kiwi company was recently shortlisted for two HR awards for their employee mindfulness strategy10.

Invest in online training

If you have some budget available, you might also consider investing in online training for your people. Many providers, including Southern Cross’ partner BlueSkyMinds, are offering online programmes at this time.

Or if you don’t have the budget for online training, put a call out for mindfulness champions from within your business - there are bound to be colleagues who already have some form of mindfulness meditation practice in place. Suggest they set up a daily online meditation practice group. All they have to do is book in a 20-minute window and play a guided recording online for people to dial in and listen to.

Do good for others

In the face of extreme uncertainty, isolation and world suffering, we cannot help but feel emotional pain. Without compassion, these feelings can leave us highly anxious, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

Compassion is a desire to reduce suffering in ourselves and others, and has been shown to have positive effects on mental health and dealing with our emotions by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This encourages a feeling of safeness and security, and allows for metacognition: the ability to understand our own mental state11.

People who completed short courses on compassion meditation training have been shown to demonstrate more altruistic behaviour and altered brain activity in response to pictures of suffering12.

What does all this mean exactly? Well, in short, doing good makes us feel good, in whatever form that may take. Acting compassionately towards others could mean listening in a caring way to how others are feeling or offering practical help to those in direct need.

Don’t forget yourself

Also recognise that when we feel pain, we too are suffering, and just like everyone else, we deserve compassion. When we feel difficult emotions such as worry, fear and uncertainty, we must also acknowledge our own pain and offer some support to ourselves.

Finally, consider how you are role modelling these areas to others. Are you able to offer yourself a bit of a space? Can you find someone to listen non-judgmentally to how you are feeling? And perhaps if mindfulness meditation was on your New Year's resolution list, now is the perfect time to make it happen!

Debbie founded BlueSkyMinds to facilitate science-based mindfulness programmes that have a sustained, measurable impact on individuals and organisations. BlueSkyMinds has a nationwide team of highly experienced facilitators that have a business background and have completed a minimum 12-month teacher training qualification. That allows them to deliver a globally recognised, evidence-based curriculum in a way that aligns to the business environment. www.blueskyminds.org


  1. Good News Network (2017) Meditation and Mindfulness Tips to Combat Everyday Worries and Life’s Big Questions. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/meditation-mindfulness-tips-combat-everyday-worries-lifes-big-questions/
  2. Working Memory. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_memory
  3. Hossain, P. (2018) Working Memory and its Importance. https://uxplanet.org/working-memory-and-its-importance-279d0329eec6
  4. Thompson, J. (2011) Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game? https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication-numbers-game
  5. The Mindfulness Initiative. What is Mindfulness? https://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org/what-ismindfulness
  6. Science Direct. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mindfulness-based-stress-reduction
  7. The Mindfulness Initiative (2016). Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace. https://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org/building-the-case-for-mindfulness-in-the-workplace
  8. University of Oxford Mindfulness Research Group. https://www.psych.ox.ac.uk/research/mindfulness/
  9. Air Force News (2018) Making Mindfulness a Way of Life. http://airforce.mil.nz/downloads/pdf/airforce-news/afn207.pdf
  10. HRNZ (2019) NZ HR Awards Finalists Named. https://hrnz.org.nz/news/single
  11. Gilbert, P. (2014) The Origins and Nature of Compassion Focused Therapy. https://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/GilbertCFT.pdf
  12. Kirby, J. (2016) Compassion Interventions: The programmes, the evidence, and implications for research and practice. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308599064

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