Thriving at work in the post-pandemic world

Let’s call the last two years what they have been: a collective trauma. We haven’t always labeled it as such because we tend to think of trauma as a horrific experience, like a war or a physical attack, that happens to a discrete set of people. However, in organizations across all sectors, the impact of the past two years has much in common with what would widely be considered traumatic events.

In our work as workplace consultants and in academic research on the subject, we find that people exhibit reduced ability to manage their emotions (their own and those of others), increased displays of anger, lower levels of higher levels of anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating and memory problems. We believe that one of the main drivers of the “great resignation” is the trauma we have been through. So how can leaders and managers help people reduce anxiety and regain balance and energy?

Moving forward after trauma largely depends on both feeling heard and sharing common experiences. We know that these two working conditions are essential for employees to feel engaged and give their best. According to a May 2021 study by Glint, a company that builds employee engagement platforms, the top two drivers of a work culture in which employees are happy, satisfied, and engaged are (1) opportunity to learn and grow and (2) a sense of belonging. The researchers reached these conclusions after analyzing millions of responses from 629 companies on Glint’s platforms and studying more than 275,000 job postings from 375 organizations on LinkedIn.

Moving forward also requires the ability to recognize and mourn what has been lost. To do this, people need a psychologically safe environment. At work, this means allowing colleagues to speak freely about the challenges they face, such as fears about new coronavirus variants, dealing with uncertainty and collaborating with colleagues they may not have. never met in person. Telling employees to “resist” is not helpful.

To better understand and facilitate healing without getting bogged down in trauma talk, leaders should focus on four actions that will help employees feel valued in the post-COVID workplace.

Just listen. First and foremost, listen without trying to solve problems. It sounds easy, but leaders rarely practice this highly effective approach. When you rush to come up with solutions, even if you have good intentions, people don’t feel heard and are powerless to come up with solutions on their own. The best way to show you appreciate people is to express genuine concern for their lives and well-being beyond what they produce at work. It takes patience and leaves room for emotions to come out.

The best way to show you appreciate employees is to express genuine concern for their lives and well-being beyond what they produce at work.

We are not advocating that leaders become therapists, but rather that they add an important skill to their behavioral repertoire: to listen intently for at least five minutes without feeling the need to offer opinions or advice.

As an example of how this works in practice, one of us (Darren) cites his experience volunteering at a crisis hotline at university. All volunteers were trained to listen carefully and to feed back to the caller what they had heard, including the details of the caller’s story and the emotions expressed. Volunteers were explicitly warned not to ask questions or give advice. So, for example, the volunteer would simply say, “You felt angry when your friend changed his mind.

Feedback from callers revealed that this technique made a big difference. If a group of inexperienced college students doing volunteer work can learn a skill that improves the well-being of complete strangers, imagine what a group of smart, motivated leaders can accomplish by applying the same skills to their employees? Research by Avraham N. Kluger of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Guy Itzchakov of the University of Haifa, published in the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior in October 2021, shows that being listened to by managers can have a powerful impact on employee confidence, well-being and performance.

Promote autonomy. Many leaders underestimate how giving people decision-making power can show them that they are valued and part of their group, thereby boosting motivation, performance and well-being. . A recent harvard business review The article shows that while employees want flexibility in where and how they work, they only want that flexibility if they have a role in deciding how it is applied.

Leaders can increase their autonomy by establishing principles, not simply by enacting policies. For example, one of our clients observed that his company’s rigid return-to-work practices were not working. Insisting that employees be in the office a certain number of days has generated backlash. Valuable talent was leaving and morale was plummeting. The company has decided to give employees the opportunity to decide how they will return to work. A committee of employees, supported by members of the management team, made recommendations for effective practices, such as deciding on specific days to bring people together to attract staff to the office and provide managers with better technology to help their teams work more together. effectively. While it’s too early to calculate the impact, just getting the effort started has generated excitement within the organization.

Respect people’s time. During the pandemic, on top of an already emotionally draining situation, the number of minutes people spend on video and voice calls is estimated to have doubled in many cases, with a significant impact on workload. In an effort to give people time to do their jobs, many organizations cut meeting times in half, resulting in only twice as many meetings. People are just overloaded. Leaders can respect people’s time by clearly explaining why a meeting is needed, canceling those that aren’t, and running meetings more efficiently.

People often want to attend a meeting because they want to know what will be decided. Consider posting meeting minutes and reducing the guest list. This saves time and maintains the flow of information. A team we worked with also established clear guidelines for internal email traffic so everyone understood and agreed on who should be CC’d. This team also produced guidelines on how to write more concise emails. Since 40% of the team’s email traffic was internal, these changes dramatically reduced the time everyone spent on email.

Allow people to take ownership of their development. People feel valued when they think their manager is trying to help them grow their careers. To do this, leaders must provide timely feedback that helps people move forward.

The best approach is to ask a question that channels an employee’s thinking in a productive direction. Simply telling people how to complete a task, even with the best of intentions, is neither motivating nor helpful for growth. Asking a question that gets employees thinking about their own approach to a task or problem encourages those employees to think for themselves, take ownership of the solution, and grow faster. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “Being a good manager isn’t about having good answers, it’s about asking good questions. Feeling that you are growing and advancing in your career is a powerful path to healing.

The pandemic has left most of us traumatized in one way or another, and the impact of that trauma is manifesting in stress levels, resignations, anger, and lost productivity. While workplace leaders shouldn’t be expected to become advisors, they can take a few simple steps to help their team members feel valued and connected, grow in their careers, and improve their morale, well-being and productivity.

Author Profiles:

  • Darren Overfield is a consultant, executive coach and educator who advises organizations on the human side of the business equation. He is President of Overfield Leadership Group, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development for organizations around the world.
  • Dr. Wanda T. Wallace, Managing Partner of Leadership Forum, coaches, facilitates and speaks about improving leadership through better conversations. She hosts the weekly radio show and podcast “Out of the Comfort Zone” and is the author of You Can’t Know Everything: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise.

Maria D. Ervin