There’s a post being widely shared across social media platforms at the moment, which reads something like this:
"You’re not imagining it, nobody seems to want to talk right now.
Messages are brief and replies late.
Talk of catchups are perpetually put on hold.
Group chats are no longer pinging all night long.
It’s not you. It’s everyone. We are spent.
We are tired of saying “I miss you” and “I can’t wait for this to end”
so we mostly say nothing, put our heads down and get through each day…"
The post continues, but you get the gist. You probably agree with it. And even with the light of freedom suddenly visible at the end of this very long tunnel (all conditional and far from guaranteed, of course), we still have a way to go, and the sentiment of this post still rings very true. And, whilst this is written from a very personal perspective, I think the sentiment applies to our work life with similar relevance.
We have all endured a year (and counting!) of lockdowns, restrictions, uncertainty, fear and heartbreak. We are, on the whole, jaded, frustrated, concerned and, well, knackered! Resilience is down and mental health issues are up.
As we hopefully now enter the final stretch of this rather painful marathon, we need to be mindful of our people’s exhausted energy and emotional reserves, of their pandemic fatigue.
With that in mind, here are a few musings on how to help our people cross the finish line.
Resilience isn’t just something that we’re born with, a part of our DNA or personality. Yes, some of us are born tougher or more naturally optimistic than others, but a huge amount of personal resilience is down to how informed, included and supported we feel. (Think about how much your own resilience has varied over the years, depending on what was going on in your life and how supported you felt by those around you, including your employer, at the time!)
As leaders, our communications are key and they should, at all times, be carefully considered, meaningful, reassuring and sincere. We should be optimistic without being unrealistic, avoid (and even trying to quash) incessant negativity or eternal doom and gloom, but remain balanced, humble and relatable. You are not a robot, and nobody wants to work for one anyway. Read here about the importance of a positive mental attitude and robust empathy.
It’s also worth remembering that the tone and content of your comms are possibly even more important for your remote workers, who can lack the camaraderie and togetherness that comes with sharing a building. The connection, the collaboration and the emotional attachment with these folk must be carefully looked after.
One sure-fire way to beat the resilience out of people is to make promises you can’t keep. False hope does to resilience what charred kale does to a cake – it ruins it and leaves only bitterness behind.
The temptation may now be to set dates for that en masse return to the office, or even some sort of celebratory event bringing people back together, but that would be a very risky strategy. Our advice: be transparent about the ongoing uncertainties but communicate your vision for how things will be when restrictions are lifted. By all means, share your hopes and plans, just don’t date-stamp them!
Share your vision for your Workplace v2.0
I wrote recently about how we shouldn’t be looking to go back to the old ways and that to not capitalise on the forced-changes and learnings from the pandemic would be criminal. Much of the change will probably be around a degree of flexible working, but there could be a wealth of changes to come. Re-energise your weary workers by sharing your vision for your post-Covid workplace, your plans for improvements and the things that will benefit them as well as the business.
Even better, why not ask your people for their views on your plans, for their ideas and suggestions, about what worked well for them and what didn’t. Involving your people in this planning will create a greater sense of belonging, engagement and loyalty.
Listen to and understand the responses
This ties in with the empathy piece. We know that not everybody can or will embrace change. Change scares a lot of people. And we have all just been through the most turbulent period of unending change and uncertainty. Even those that normally tackle change head-on or embrace it may now be a little change-weary.
We need to be listening to how our people feel about these changes as well as their current situations. Hurling informative e-mail after instructional e-mail isn’t listening. Hold smaller (remote?) meetings to gather feedback, use real-time polling and/or anonymous interactive Q&As to really read the mood of your people, listen for certain cues or recurring themes and note them down… However you do it, listen carefully and show that you’re listening.
Show your appreciation
Finally, show your appreciation for everything that your people have done - and continue to do - for your business in the face of adversity. Where possible, demonstrate how your people’s work benefits the business. They wouldn’t be there if they did nothing for the company, but they may not see that, especially with an enforced (physical and emotional) distance from their usual place of work. Employees who understand the value and importance of what they do feel a sense of belonging and a reinforced sense of purpose. What better way to feel resilient than to feel important? Also, staff who feel that their work is of value are more likely to persist and continuously improve.
A simple employment recognition platform can work wonders for morale, engagement and resilience. Giving your people the chance to express their gratitude towards each other has the double-whammy effect of boosting morale for both sender and recipient.
Like everyone else on the planet, I really hope that the end of this unholy hell is finally in sight. I think cautious optimism is now, finally, an appropriate emotion. However, we aren't over the finish line yet and if we want our people with us as we do cross it, a little battered, maybe, but still standing and ready to fight on, then we need to look after them and protect what's left of their strength and resilience on this final stretch.