It’s been 2 years since the way we work (and the way we think about work) changed forever. Business has changed for good, it’s a fact. We’re all experiencing lots of deadlines at an ever-increasing pace, while no longer working alongside or communicating with our teams in the ways we did previously. Organisations and their people are experiencing the fallout of this right now. People are falling out of love with work, and it’s manifesting itself through widespread burnout and anxiety to mass disengagement and resignation.
In fact, a survey we ran with YouGov in partnership with Solent Mind, revealed that 37% of employees felt that our mental wellbeing is worse than it was pre-pandemic, with 73% stating that work was the problem.
As is often the case when things change, people are responding to this new-look working environment with fear. Burnout is on the rise, and retention is low.
We need to work better and to make work better. But how?
The key is to overcome fear by adapting norms within the workplace, in a way that gives both managers and employees the right tools to allow them to be more creative and less stressed – operating in a psychologically safe environment. Consciously adopting certain mindsets and behaviours opens doors and provides support, so that everyone in a business can both feel and work at their best.
However, It can be tough to figure out how to respond to fear, and the knee-jerk reaction is often to pull back rather than to tackle an issue. Fear of a looming recession, for example, has previously seen businesses cut back on everything from their marketing budgets to staff wellbeing programmes. This is a false economy and puts businesses in a far worse position in the long term.
Instead of retracting back into our shells when faced with challenges, we should be battling fear head on by searching for solutions to turn that fear into joy and growth.
Engage with change and train your employees to cope with it. Taking this approach led to one of our clients seeing billable hours in their organisation increase by 20%, equating to 1.6 million in revenue. That’s just one example, there are countless others across sectors and industries.
Adaptation and constant learning about how to handle fear and stress not only create a positive environment and happy employees, but the long-term benefits of this far outweigh any short-term financial gains seen from the alternative, namely sweeping problems under the rug.
A phenomenon that has been exacerbated and sped up by the pandemic is the messy middle problem — namely, that middle management has changed, yet many businesses haven’t taken the time to properly train these new power players. People have been promoted from product managers to people leaders in the hope of retaining them, but they have been thrown into the unknown.
Organisations are coming across issues they haven’t encountered before, such as employees sharing that they are suffering from feeling anxious or have wide-ranging concerns. Middle management, through no fault of their own, don’t necessarily have the behavioural skills to deal with these issues, and in the same vein lack support from their own leaders. This has to change.
Leaders must be conscious and enlightened, ready to examine how we impact each other in a professional environment. Ask yourself what it means to be a leader at your company. What qualities do you need to deliver, and what is it exactly that you stand for? Don’t shy away from tackling the big questions to solve the big problems.
Of course, the very questions we have to ask ourselves, and the steps we need to take in order to solve them, have changed. Out of the pandemic, perhaps the most conspicuous shift has been the spread of flexible and hybrid working. This has its obvious perks – alongside allowing individuals to frame their work as works best for them, 71% of employers have reported that home working had either increased or made no impact on productivity.
It’s a move towards trust, openness, and boundary setting. However, best practice for hybrid working has often focused on practicalities such as geography and time, rather than on the more important side; communication and relationships. A balance has to be struck.
With increased anxiety among employees already rising in most businesses, presenteeism coming back into force is providing further pressure for some, whereas others have found the impact of isolation to hinder progress and damage mental health. This is why it’s so vital to have trained management, who can understand the individual needs of employees, and figure out how they can work better and more comfortably.
Like all changes, it’s important to approach this with curiosity, and as the experiment it is – it’s a process, and an opportunity to learn and grow as an employer and as an organisation.
It is essential, now more than ever, that leaders have a growth mindset without being inflexible to change. Innovate and transform, while knowing it’s okay to fail and try again. Any business coming out of the pandemic and trying to carry on as they were is missing out on a big opportunity to go on a collaborative journey in the workplace.
Businesses that address employees’ diverse mental health and wellbeing needs on an individual basis to get the very best out of them are more likely to succeed. Commercial success will come and go, and the exhilaration of hitting targets fades, but if you create an environment of joy in your community, every single day is better. And, of course, this is what gets people performing at their best.
Thriving businesses have behaviours that create creative, productive, happy teams that are empowered to hit targets without burning out. It’s best not to look at issues in isolation – it’s vital to look at businesses, problems, and solutions as a whole. It’s important to be authentic and invest in real mental health and wellbeing training provision.
What’s best for your employees is best for your business, and making work better is a happy consequence of happy people.
About the author: Cate Murden is the Founder & CEO of PUSH.