1. What have been the biggest challenges for HR leaders during the pandemic?
HR leaders have had to adapt quickly to a new brief without really knowing the exact parameters or length of time involved. Remote work in itself has stripped away the familiar touchpoints of typical employee experience: the building, the reception desk, the dress code, the language used in hallways and meetings, and the free fruit and coffee. What remains is real culture, which cannot be bought or conveyed easily in a virtual context.
We are now at the point where HR leaders are grappling with new norms around what a return to the office might look like (hybrid or otherwise), with the added responsibility of additional wellbeing and mental health implications for employees.
2. How have employees been affected by Covid-19, mentally speaking?
Alongside pandemic fatigue caused by having multiple roles: both personal and work-related; employees are facing responsibility and productivity burnout. Those living by themselves, have undoubtedly faced peak loneliness from physical distance, isolation and boredom. Some employees will be suffering in silence. Wellbeing is subjective, which means employers have been challenged to rethink a one-size-fits-all approach, having to find new ways to offer non-judgemental time and space to those who are struggling with exhaustion and low motivation, rather than a free yoga class.
With possible easing of restrictions ahead, some will be concerned about re-integration following such an extended period of limited social contact. Others will be concerned about losing more flexible ways of working while they balance family or life commitments. The norms around social health have shifted and will shift again, as employees try to foster smart digital habits or coping mechanisms to switch off in an ever-connected world.
3. How can HR leaders empower teams to keep them motivated?
Support them virtually and in person - as the nature of work has become mostly online, transactional and task-based, a human-centric approach to internal communication becomes a necessity for employees, their work outcomes and the bottom line. Giving the gift of time, or flexibility has resonated for many in the context of the pandemic, here are some ideas of how to do this:
Create safe spaces for employees on and offline - psychological safety is paramount for teams to bring their full selves to work.
Revisit internal comms protocols to create smart email, Whatsapp or Slack response time norms and prioritise a shutdown time
Offer additional flexibility: experiment with a 4 - 4.5 day workweek, explore no meeting Fridays or on an alternate day of the week and perhaps a monthly all company well-being day-off
Double up on team upskilling and tailored wellbeing initiatives: reshaping team and organisational dynamics together, return to work support, work life balance coaching, mandatory psychological safety training (fostering safe spaces to learn and self-evaluate), cultivate emotional agility and resilience, promote active listening and leadership training for all.
There will need to be difficult conversations about trust and presenteeism in order to establish new norms of social health.
While empowerment is critical, so is fostering a culture of gratitude. A Harvard University and Wharton study showed that receiving a “thank you” from a boss or manager, bolstered productivity by more than 50%. Yet people are less likely to show gratitude at work than anywhere else - only 10% of people who express gratitude make it a daily habit at work and 60% of people never or rarely express gratitude at work.*
4. What are the benefits of empowering them?
The benefits are framed perfectly by the ‘founder of modern management’, Peter Drucker, who said: “The purpose of an organisation is to enable ordinary human beings to do extraordinary things.” So, let’s empower our employees to enter this new phase of working life with empathy and without trepidation. It’s vital for workplace meaning and belonging, productivity and the bottom line.