It can be hard to get our bearings in these turvy-topsy times, where fatigue and burnout are playing havoc in the workforce. Many of us feel exhausted from an experience that has taken away our sense of control. We are figuring out our part in the new ‘big picture’ while we reframe it. But as we start our recovery, we have an opportunity to reflect on the last eighteen months and recalibrate our lives and work.
The restrictions imposed as part of the pandemic response created both losses and gains of autonomy for many, particularly for knowledge workers. We had no choice about where we worked. But the upside is that we had more discretion when it came to how and when we worked. Now that we have been required to work from home, loss aversion – being driven to keep what we have – will make it difficult to simply revert to the previous status quo.
While we might crave the certainty of the work environment that we previously took for granted and perhaps miss those everyday markers of our work life, right now, many of us would be willing to settle for clarity. As we continue to work through the impacts of this massive alteration to our work practices, leaders have an opportunity to reduce the stress of change by sending an unambiguous message about what matters now. Share what the focus should be in this moment and provide space for people to work on that in their own way.
So, what might that one clear message, that one thing to focus on, look like? Maybe it’s concentrating on one strategic goal that can help people frame their work and solidify their sense of belonging. Perhaps it’s a message that encourages people to ‘take a breath’ and gives employees opportunities and permission to recover in small ways every day. Maybe it’s to reconnect with our teams, our purpose, goals, health and wellbeing, and to provide time to consider different ways of being at and doing work.
GET IT OUT – Decide and share
What is one thing that matters right now, one thing to focus the energy and attention of your team or organisation? Listen out for concerns and identify opportunities that could support your people and your business recover and grow. What is one thing they could believe in that would help everyone get back on track? When you have it, then sell it to your people.
Make it obvious and share it often. People will need time and repetition to take it in, and they’ll need to encounter the message in ways that resonate with them. And, if you can, make it fun. We all need that right now!
Keep in mind that everyone will be watching. People need to hear a consistent message and see their leaders demonstrating ‘this thing that is so important’ every day. Nothing will derail your efforts more quickly than not walking the talk. Nothing will support success more than leaders wholeheartedly and light-heartedly embracing the idea they want to share.
LIVE IT OUT – Make it easy and make it theirs
Don’t overcomplicate this. Make it simple to do. So simple, it’s harder not to do it. Then, hand it over so that your people and teams can control much of the application locally. And still have support on hand. Give them a destination, a bit of a map, and then give them autonomy – let them fill out the route they want to take. Let your people surprise you with the many different and interesting paths that get them there.
STICK IT OUT – Don’t cave too early
Not everyone will be on board right away. Late adopters will watch what happens the way a medieval King would watch his food tasters: they’re waiting to see it’s okay. Some cynics will see this as the latest corporate thing that will get in the way of what they’re already doing. They will kick the tyres for you and be vocal about their concerns. But you’ll need to stick with the message and be there to answer questions. Given time, most people will get on board when they see that it is safe, working and worth the effort. Especially when they have a measure of control over how they engage.
Right now, we need to focus on what will be beneficial to our wellbeing and how it will support our achievements in purposeful work. We need one thing that will override the clutter of concerns from the last eighteen months, something to make our work life a little simpler and more meaningful. And we need to experience a sense of control and agency as we do so.
Having clarity of purpose and autonomy of practice needs heightened attention right now. It matters that we ask our people what they need and listen to their answers, that they hear leaders sharing and living the one clear message out loud, and that we give them some choice and control over how this will work for them. Seeing the positive effects of focus and clarity in the workplace will help us recover and keep our best and brightest in the fold as we re-energise our organisation and support our employees to get their mojo back.
Written by Gayle Smerdon PhD.
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