ARTICLE: Thriving at work in the post-pandemic world
Even though we tend to think of trauma as a horrendous experience, like war, the events and impact of the last 2 years has a lot in common with what would widely be considered collective trauma. This applies to organizations across every industry as well.
Moving forward after any trauma depends on feeling heard and sharing common experiences—and these are workplace conditions essential for employees to feel engaged and do their best work. Moving forward also requires the opportunity to acknowledge and grieve what’s been lost. People need a psychologically safe environment to talk freely about the challenges they’re facing, such as fears about new coronavirus variants, grappling with uncertainty, and collaborating with coworkers whom they may have never met in person.
To better understand and facilitate healing without becoming mired in talking about trauma, leaders should focus on 4 actions that will help employees feel valued in the post-COVID workplace:
Listen. Lend an ear without trying to solve problems. Express genuine care about people's lives and well-being beyond work, allowing space and patience for emotions to be expressed. Leaders do not need to become therapists, only listen intently for at least 5 minutes without feeling the need to offer opinions or advice. For employees, being listened to by managers can have a powerful impact on their trust, well-being, productivity, and performance.
Foster autonomy. Decision-making power shows employees they are valued and belong, which boosts motivation, performance, and well-being. While employees want flexibility in where and how they work, they also want a hand in deciding how it’s applied. If a rigid return-to-office practice is generating negative reactions—causing valuable talent to leave or morale to plummet—give employees a voice in deciding how they return to work. A committee of employees, supported by members of the leadership team, can make decisions such as designating specific days for bringing people together/attracting staff back to the office, or providing better technology to help teams work together more effectively.
Respect people’s time. On top of an already emotionally taxing situation, people are spending double the time on video and voice calls, significantly impacting workloads. Cutting the length of meetings in half doesn't always help, as it can result in twice as many meetings. People are overloaded. Leaders should make clear why meetings are needed, cancel meetings that aren’t, and run meetings more efficiently. Meeting minutes can be published to reduce the invitee list. Set clear guidelines on internal email traffic so that everyone understands and agrees on who needed to be cc’d, and set guidelines on how to write more concise emails.
Allow people to own their development. Feeling that you are growing and moving forward in your career is a powerful pathway to healing. Leaders can help people move forward by giving timely feedback not by telling them what to do, but by asking questions. Questions should channel an employee’s thinking in a productive direction, prompting them to think through their own approach to a task or problem, owning the solution, and developing faster.
The pandemic has left most of us traumatized in one way or another, and the impact of that trauma is showing up in stress levels, resignations, anger, and lost productivity. While leaders at work should not be expected to become counselors, they can take some simple steps to help their team members feel valued and connected, move forward in their careers, and improve their morale, well-being, and productivity.