By Liesel Dentlinger, Group HR director at Omnia Holdings
Increased social connectedness through a mindful company culture can offset the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic.
Is your business resilient?
A silent casualty of the pandemic has been company culture. As businesses scrambled to adapt, be resilient and survive, the majority of HR leaders and managers placed focus on what they could do to help employees embrace unimaginable work disruptions, and navigate a way forward to maintain some small degree of normality.
After almost 18 months of remote working, where the line between work and home has been blurred, people are craving in-person connections, honest engagement and a sense of belonging. What began as isolation from family and friends has overflowed into the workplace, creating an HR impasse that has left people feeling disconnected.
As organisations emerge with renewed Work From Home (WFH) strategies and a workforce that is adapting to the “new work normal” (and remaining resilient), two pertinent questions need to be asked:
- How can organisations create an evolved company culture? and
- What impact does this have on employee wellness?
(Re)building a new kind of connectedness
According to a recent Workhuman survey, 60% of employees say they’ve seen a shift in company culture since the start of the pandemic. Many are also feeling low morale (30%), experiencing less flexibility (28%) and less inclusivity (27%) in their workplace. While culture can be difficult to define, one thing hasn’t changed: the impact it has on employee wellness.
Historically, workplace culture didn’t change very much or very fast. Rather, it adjusted slowly over a long period of time in response to an accumulation of multiple small prompts. But, due to the pandemic, organisations have abandoned their fundamental working premise of “how things get done around here”, sometimes in a matter of days. This, along with stress, anxiety and fear of job loss, has impacted the mindsets of employees.
Yes, we have seen that remote working is possible and can actually be very conducive to productivity in some instances, but the face-to-face connection remains important. Social distancing may have been 2020’s mantra, but it is not the case when it comes to social support. Quite simply, humans are social creatures who crave connection with others, and removing that connection may be quite difficult for some.
Open the lines of communication
Communication is an important consideration when it comes to establishing a new company culture that places the employee at the forefront. For many people, connecting with colleagues can provide a much-needed buffer to their feelings of social isolation and disconnectedness. And, open lines of communication between management can help employees feel recognised and valued. Employees who feel safe will have the confidence to speak up. HR must nurture relationships with staff so that they feel comfortable coming forward without fear of retaliation or favour.
With so much happening in the world around them, it may be hard for employees to focus on their performance. It is key to ensure that employees have sufficient infrastructure, flexibility and support from managers and colleagues to do their job to the best of their ability under the current circumstances. It is also crucial to keep employees motivated. When working in isolation there are often fewer rewards and less recognition. Employees need to be recognised to ensure that they feel truly valued as members of the team. Another way to do this is to subscribe to a social networking website, such as Hi5, that measures and promotes appreciation, goals, culture and happiness within a company.
No matter how disruptive the forces and how stressful the scenario, individuals are at the centre of every organisation. In the toughest times, the human spirit dictates that leaders will emerge, often from the most unexpected places. Individual employees need to be encouraged to take ownership and accountability for their own wellbeing so that they emerge from the COVID crisis more resilient than before.
With the vast majority of employees feeling overwhelmed and anxious, leaders must be available to talk to employees about their fears, answer questions and reassure them about work and personal issues. When people are working remotely, it is also important to routinely check in, not only about work but also to see how people are doing. Leaders must ask direct questions, such as: “Are you okay? Do you need help? What support do you need at the moment?”
HR will be at the helm of rebuilding – even recreating – company cultures that are under stress from working remotely, in a socially distanced manner or some sort of hybrid work structure. With reflection, deliberation and keeping the employee as the focal point of culture-building strategies, leaders can gain deep insights from recent experiences. These learnings can build the foundation of a productive, resilient, engaged and mentally fit workforce.
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