3 Things Great Leaders Understand About the Transition to the New Workplace “Normal”
A friend recently said to me that if she had learned one thing from the pandemic, it was to appreciate the mundane aspects of her job. She went on to explain that pre-pandemic she sometimes found herself frustrated and bored when work was rolling along uneventfully. For the past three months her work circumstances have been about as unpredictable as they could be: she’s been laid off, re-hired, worked from home, had her designated job tasks change significantly, has seen long-time co-workers leave her organization and is now back in her office environment with what feels like a thousand new safety protocols to suddenly adopt. She longs for the predictability she once took for granted in her role. “It’s hard to imagine the way things used to be,” she told me. “I realize now that what I once thought of as a boring work day was actually a peaceful, satisfying day. I can’t wait to have another one of those!”
As workplaces across Canada work through the various stages of re-opening and embrace the “new normal” we’re hearing so much about, employers should be mindful of the psychological impact on themselves and their team members. Here are a few points to consider during what’s likely to be a long transition as the pandemic continues to evolve:
1. Take it slow and steady
Remember, we’ve all endured a tremendous amount of change over the past few months and there are likely many more to come. Don’t expect everyone to adapt overnight. Some will struggle, some will thrive, but all will be affected in some way. As a leader, acknowledge this to your team and emphasize that you’re there to support them in a gentle and gradual transition. Recognize that there’s an element of Trial and Error to the process as well, and that continuous evaluation of what the transition looks like is necessary. Be patient and know that different people will adapt to the “new normal” in different ways, on different timelines and with different levels of ease.
2. Recognize the “Worried Well”
Levels of anxiety about contracting coronavirus varies drastically from person to person. For some, it’s a thought that scarcely crosses their mind unless someone brings it up. Others may find their thoughts so consumed with the thousand-and-one “what if?” scenarios that it’s difficult to focus on much else. What if I get the virus? Will I survive? What if my spouse/children/loved one gets the virus? What if someone at work has the virus and is spreading it without realizing it? Did that person who just came out of the restroom wash their hands for a full 20 seconds? Co-worker X just coughed, are they a full six feet away from me? The “Worried Well” are individuals whose daily functioning and/or psychological wellbeing are significantly impacted by these fears. In workplaces, fear and stress can be at least as contagious as the virus itself, so stay tuned in with your team members and don’t put off addressing situations where someone needs some extra support.
3. Stay connected
Now more than ever, it is vital that employees feel connected and well supported in their working roles. It’s very possible that some of your team members have felt isolated and “unplugged” for periods of time since the pandemic began. Give your team the tools to restore their social health in areas where it’s lacking. Not everyone who could use a little extra support will ask for help, so don’t be shy about initiating those conversations and reminding folks that you’re available and ready to help if needed. Communicate clearly and often. Support your people in reconnecting with one another. Doing so will boost morale and cooperation, which means good things for productivity. The goal is to give everyone a sense of the workplace feeling “back to normal” even with the new COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
With time, perseverance and strong leadership your team will not only adapt, but thrive. Thanks for reading and have a great week, everybody!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.