Whatever our workplace was like before the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now a big opportunity ahead. How to move successfully forward post-lockdown needs to be at the top of every leader’s ‘to do’ list.
Here are our 4 key pointers to help guide organisations at this very important time:
1. Set appropriate expectations
2. ‘Insource’ employee wellbeing
3. Model healthy habits and routines
4. Embrace empathy as a key skill for the workplace
Set appropriate expectations
During this period of transition there may be times when we feel impatient to move forward with the next phase of “opening up” and times when we feel anxious about it. Some may be feeling excited about a new beginning, whilst also sensing a loss of security with what has become familiar.
This transition is unlikely to be over in a few weeks or months. We will each process our individual experiences in our own ways and in our own time. Organisational leaders might therefore help to model an environment where expectations of ourselves and others remain appropriate for the current moment.
‘Insource’ employee wellbeing
Employee wellbeing has never been more under the spotlight and there is plenty of evidence that it matters both for individuals and for the organisation they work within. However, there needs to be a shift away from an annual date in the calendar or an off-the-shelf ‘programme’. Wellbeing ought to be treated as a fundamental part of organisational culture and ‘the way we do things around here’, and organisations that “insource” rather than “outsource” their approach to employee wellbeing are more likely to thrive.
Imposed values statements, processes and policies are less likely to be effective, and seeking feedback through staff surveys alone is unlikely to allow individuals to express how they are really feeling. Unless we regularly check in and review carefully with employees, we will not be able to judge how well we are doing in living our values as a workplace, and this is something best done from within the organisation.
Dialogue is key. Management-modelled openness, communication and really good, active listening all have a huge role to play, and despite the wonders of Teams and Zoom, sharing the same physical space with colleagues feels important for deeper communication.
Here are just a few of many important considerations:
Do all employees feel their voice is welcomed?
Are individual skills valued and utilised?
Is it acceptable to learn from mistakes made, to take risks?
Model healthy habits and routines
The boundary between work and home almost disappeared for many who worked from home during the past year. Constant juggling, and perhaps struggling to manage ourselves, has meant that we are likely to have developed new work habits, not all of them healthy. Working outside of normal working hours and not stopping for breaks, with resulting difficulty in ability to focus, fluctuating motivation and losing confidence in our own efficiency or effectiveness may sound familiar.
It will be up to leaders and managers to model looking after themselves. As well as ensuring that COVID-19 precautions are in place and followed, small but important habits like stopping for breaks and listening actively and empathically to their employees will help leaders and managers to demonstrate that their people are at the top of their priority pile. This is likely to work best when taken slowly, whilst listening and reflecting together.
Embrace empathy as a key skill for the workplace
All employees might benefit from an opportunity to develop skills and strategies for approaching colleagues empathically and for feeling confident in noticing a struggling colleague, and then feeling able to have a conversation with them which might feel supportive. This normal, everyday empathy, care and support is often the most powerful.
Recognising that what we pay attention to is what we get more of, can support a culture where positive feedback can become a natural habit for everyone. Managers might model this culture with regular discussions, reflections and reviews.
Here at Family Links, the Centre for Emotional Health, we believe that this return to the workplace, whenever it finally begins, is probably the biggest opportunity in living memory for organisations. Those who seize the moment to move forward and to work together to create emotionally healthy workplaces will benefit from increased staff retention, improved staff satisfaction, easier recruitment and so on.
Who wouldn’t like a workplace where everyone can:
feel able to express themselves
learn how to support themselves and each other
thrive in their relationships with each other
value differences of all kinds
have fun together
feel that they belong
contribute meaningfully to a shared purpose?
If you’d like to explore how we might support your workplace, please contact us on 01865 401800 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Taylor, Head of Programmes