Back after interval: for leaders, managers and organisations

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Promoting positive mental health for your teams returning to creative work and workplaces.

Introduction

This resource consists of practical, evidence-based tips for looking after yours and your team’s mental health and wellbeing when returning to live performance after time away.

While this resource was developed in the context of public health responses and venue re-openings throughout COVID-19, the principles shared can be used after any time away from live performance.

Live performance is at the heart of what we do. Sometimes we experience long periods away, and jumping straight back into it can feel daunting. This resource has been designed to help you and your company thrive when returning to live performance.

Planning

Effectively preparing our teams, companies, and organisations as we return to work and to work-sites is critical to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of preventative, proactive steps to take to ensure our people are given every opportunity to do their best work as we rebuild and recover the performing arts industry.

Reopening during COVID-19 demands interpreting complex rules, restrictions, guidelines and the daily ‘new normal’. Promoting positive mental health and wellbeing shouldn’t feel like an optional extra, or a pain to add on, but something that is good for everyone if prioritised, planned for and implemented.

Self-care is non-negotiable

COVID-19 is a rollercoaster, and many leaders are experiencing depleted energy and the risk of burnout.

Think about ways you can lead by modelling good self-care and promoting structures in your workplaces that support individual self-care on an ongoing basis.

Consider the after-effects of this time much as you would a physical injury or illness – time, kindness and extra care will need to be taken to support ourselves, and our teams.

It is the old adage of, ‘fitting your own oxygen mask first’, or that it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. If you are not well, and prioritising your own self-care, you will not be able to take care of others.

If your teams are struggling, their work will suffer. Self-care, and enabling others to prioritise their self-care can really only have positive outcomes!

Moving 'forward to better'

Move forward to better, not back to normal. In our eagerness to get back to work, we may inadvertently return to practices that weren’t serving us pre- COVID-19, and which will likely be even more difficult to navigate now.

Taking the time now to think about our ways of working and setting ourselves up for the future will pay dividends in both the short and the long term.

This might involve implementing more secure forms of work to give people greater financial certainty, addressing schedules that were causing burnout, or shining a light on problematic systems and structures that had previously gone unexamined.

This short guide was developed for the team at Arts Centre Melbourne, but may be useful in other contexts as a starting point for positive change.

Allowing time and space

Allow time. 

We are so accustomed to working to a deadline in the performing arts that it’s easy to forget that we’re often the ones who have set the deadline in the first place! While there are certainly deadlines out of our control, which ones might be in our control? Can we allow more time?

Restrictions may ease, and recommendations may change, but these are circumstances not catalysts for change. No one will win a prize for re-opening first, or getting all team members back onsite, or the most audience in a space. Allow time for adjustment, reflection and processing to re-open stronger and smarter than before.

Allow space. 

Space is key, both literally and figuratively! COVID-19 requires us to think in terms of square metre rules and physical distancing, but it also offers an opportunity to consider the idea of space.

What opportunities exist for phased returns; for hybrid working models; for digital tools and integration; for planning work-spaces to support our teams to connect and to do their best work?

COVID-19 has upended notions of flexible work. Let’s ensure we plan our spaces to be enablers of creativity, connection, compassion and innovation.

This is our opportunity to think differently about work-life balance. Examine working from home and flexible work arrangements through a lens of trust, compassion, and what people need to do their best work and thrive in their work and home lives.

Communicating effectively

During a rapidly evolving global health crisis, uncertainty is unavoidable, but we can mitigate some of the negative mental health and wellbeing impacts of this uncertainty through good communication.

Sharing information regularly and transparently contributes to psychosocial safety and helps avoid gossip, misinformation and guesswork. 

As we work through COVIDSafe events, you may feel a pressure to give people a sense of certainty, by planning for or outlining every possible outcome. Crisis planning requires us to pay attention, follow guidance and keep up with new information as it arises.

However, sometimes there are factors that are simply outside of your control. Be honest and open about decision making and considerations, and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Let’s work it out together”

Offering clarity

If you are in a position of leadership, you may also have to mediate between people who have different ideas of risk and the importance of COVIDSafe procedures. In these situations, it is important to be clear and authoritative regarding COVIDSafe guidelines and procedures that are non-negotiable and explain these using clear and relevant examples.

You may also like to reflect on your own attitudes toward the COVIDSafe procedures and how this may impact the way you communicate them to others. If you are struggling to understand or keep across requirements to operate safely, slow down and seek assistance. It is better to be sure that you are bringing your team and audiences back safely than to risk the consequences of getting it wrong.

Celebrating

Even in our changed circumstances, there is much to be celebrated about the reopening of theatres and venues, having work on our stages again and the inimitable magic of live performance.

Do not miss opportunities to celebrate and validate your teams, artists and audiences. Offer regular, small moments of celebration which give people time to savour the joy of being together, creating and making again. Have fun with ‘welcome back’ packs, COVIDSafe gatherings, or simply a short surprise speech from a member of the company to acknowledge the moment.

Take the time to re-experience the joy of a live audience, embrace their joy in seeing live theatre again, and take a moment when you can to thank them for coming back and to encourage them to come back again!

Seeking support

You are not alone. Support is available for you, your team, and your company. Encourage your team members to seek support (a GP is a great place to start), and role model help seeking yourself.

All of these services are completely confidential and free of charge.

Offering support

The broader conversations in the community about mental health through COVID-19 have ensured that wellbeing is well and truly in the spotlight.

Take this opportunity to have an explicit conversation about mental health and wellbeing with your team. There are so many freely available resources and services now, and accessing psychological care (via Helplines, online resources, organisational EAP’s etc.) is more possible than ever.

Make the time, pull together the resources, and start – or continue – the conversation.

Additional resources

The Arts Wellbeing Collective team has developed several resources that you can draw on, or you can contact the team to discuss your unique context.

Don’t feel like you must implement everything all at once – never underestimate the power of small, cumulative actions.

As always, let’s look after ourselves, and look after each other.

Further reading

Related Resources

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