I was privileged to present at the ICAEW Midlands’ Bitesize Business event.  A delegate explained how one of their reports was doing a great job in providing support for their team, but was struggling to manage the emotional load.  They asked my advice.

As this is becoming a common occurrence, I committed to prepare this resource for leaders, teams and individuals.

I’ve taken how I deal with this issue as a psychotherapist and adapted it for the workplace, although the principles apply to all walks of life.

Speaking as a psychotherapist  

I doubt it will surprise you that dealing with the potential emotional, psychological load is an occupational risk for a psychotherapist.  A significant proportion of my training focussed on how we work to ensure it doesn’t become a problem.

What can go wrong

If you feel as if you take on the emotional load of the people you listen to, it may be due to how you understand what you are being told.  There are two aspects to this.

First, we may be imagining how WE would feel in a situation rather than how the OTHER person feels, and that’s where it goes a bit wrong.  So rather than taking on THEIR emotional load, you’re increasing YOUR emotional load.

Second, if someone is talking about something that would be particularly difficult or painful for you, it will have an increased negative impact on you.

It’s a complex topic and is why accredited psychotherapy training is 4 years’ long, but hopefully this begins to give you a flavour of what can happen when we’re emotionally supporting others.

Six strategies

The following is an adaptation of how we work as psychotherapists.  We don’t have super-human capabilities; we follow the same principles!

By applying these strategies, you will be best-placed to provide the support your colleagues / team need.

Depending on your position of power in your organisation will dictate the extent to which you can implement some of them and may require some negotiation / influencing.  If you are a leader aiming to support your team in this area, you will be able to provide the required resources and facilitate your teams to follow the framework.

manage the emotional load. Set your limits, professional support, time out, off-load, share the load and team huddle
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Set healthy boundaries and stick to them.

Know how much emotional support you are both able and willing to provide for colleagues / team.

Boundaries can relate to:

  • Time set aside: how much of your working day are you able / prepared to commit?
  • Location: off site, a phone call, or something else?
  • Structure: as part of a formal meeting or is your door always open?
  • Depth of discussion: how much are you willing / able to hear?
  • Number of people supporting: how many individuals can you help?
  • Confidentiality: what are everyone’s expectations?

It’s a good idea to agree with your boss / let them know how you are supporting your team.

A word on confidentiality: I implore you to discuss and agree to what extent you can keep to yourself what someone might say to you, in advance of any conversations you might have.

If you can’t keep a secret, you might need to let the other person know that before you they start to share.

DON’T GOSSIP.  You have been entrusted with someone’s feelings.

Put break time in your diary to do something for you

Give time out the same level of priority as completing tasks.

Whether it’s just 10 minutes, a few hours or time off, do things that bring you joy.  There are no rights and wrongs on this one; it’s about working out what you like to do, that’s just for you.

We all need to re-group and re-energise.  This way we can be the best for those around us as well as ourselves.

Arrange professional, accredited counselling support

There are several ways this is delivered: telephone counselling and facilitated group sessions are two examples.

It can be committed support for employees that would benefit from long-term support or a telephone service that staff can access for one or two conversations.

See my employer page for some of the approaches I’m taking with companies at the moment (there are a few options and it might not be as expensive as you imagine).

Identify other colleagues who are also willing and able to provide support

The amount of support colleagues are able to provide will vary, and it’s ok if someone is unable to provide that (see the boundaries section!), but you could coordinate together and work out who can provide what support and how you’ll deliver that.

Find someone you can talk to about how you are feeling

It’s important that you DON’T keep to yourself the impact it is having on you. 

You don’t need to break the confidence someone has entrusted you with, but you can share how you are being impacted.  Choose someone you trust and share how you’re feeling.

If that’s tricky to do without breaking a confidence, see if you can agree with your boss to get external, professional support.  You are, after all, providing a wellbeing service for your employer so you deserve the help.

Arrange sessions for the team to share with each other

Peer support can be really affective, when done well.

Of course trust is vital, and it’s important to agree ground rules, which define the boundaries:

  • Structure: is it a free-for-all, or do individuals get set time to speak?
  • Facilitation: who will facilitate, and do you need external help?
  • Whether everyone must join in: how will you balance the right to not be involved with wondering if they are withdrawing because they are struggling?
  • Depth of discussion: how much are colleagues willing / able to hear?
  • Number of people supporting: how many individuals in each huddle?
  • Confidentiality: what are everyone’s expectations?
  • Time set aside: how long for and how often will the team get together?
  • Location: off site, a phone call, or something else?

I hope this will be helpful for you and your colleagues, as you provide each other with emotional support, to manage the emotional load, whether it’s during the pandemic or in the months and years that follow.

If you would like to discuss further, or are considering providing counselling support to your team, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  I always welcome even the most tentative of discussions:

michelle@counsellingwestbridgford.co.uk or 07968767232

 Find out how we can support your teams