An article published in Forbes in 2021 concluded that about 78% of America’s workforce believed the coronavirus pandemic has severely affected their mental health, 40% of respondents were making more flawed decisions and 90% report that newfound work-related stress affects their home lives. All of these point to severe breakdowns in mental health — a problem that the World Health Organisation (WHO) believes will be more serious in the future, even more than lifestyle-related diseases.
With WorkFromHome & hybrid arrangements at its peak, business leaders have a new challenge of ensuring business results are met, while designing and maintaining a sustainable Future of Work, Workplace & Workforce design that addresses employee wellbeing.
This challenge is further fueled by rapid digital transformation where Boards & Leaders are under constant pressure to respond to short-term customer needs and maximising profits.
What perspective should Leaders have about the Future of Work, and how do Leaders prepare their organisations for this new reality?
To begin, Leaders need to adopt a different management philosophy — one that moves away from focusing solely on Profit, towards one that addresses three cornerstones: Purpose, People & Profit.
Humanising organisations is an approach that rids the business of archaic systems and designs that emphasise processes & profits over people, and one that supports employees with navigating a difficult (and continuously changing) landscape that will continue well into the future.
This begins with building a culture of empathy and trust that Leaders need to design for and emulate, that provides room for employees to be independent and empowered while feeling a renewed sense of connection and identity to the organisation.
To contextualise this, a recent study by Human Inc identified that a significant number of employees are mostly feeling: confused, overwhelmed by the unpredictable nature of hybrid working, a distance from their teams/the company, and growing insecurity about their jobs.
While a lot has changed, what hasn’t is what people need & want – recognition, appreciation, and a place where they can feel safe to perform and bring their full selves to work. A culture of empathy and trust enables a hybrid workforce to operate smoothly, reducing doubts & insecurities which typically lead to increasing levels of stress and burnout.
In his popular TED talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe”, author and management theorist Simen Sinek cited an example where a manufacturing firm opted for a flexible 4-week off furlough program rather than a layoff exercise, after experiencing a 30% loss of orders during pandemic. The results were astounding: Not only did the company recover $20million in losses, teammates even started trading their days off with each other in order to deliver the best business results while catering for personal emergencies.
Sinek explains, ”When people feel safe and protected by the leadership in their organisation, the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate.”
In the case of this manufacturing firm, leaders demonstrated empathy and trust – two key values in building a culture that enables employees by providing a guideline for behaviours and actions that are encouraged, and exemplified by the Leaders’ actions. The evidence of a strong culture is when employees embrace the values themselves and in turn, show care for others.
Employees are any organisation’s biggest and most important asset, and humanising the workplace by injecting purpose, empathy and trust by Leadership example provides an environment that hybrid workforces need to thrive. As organisations adopt more hybrid arrangements and employees are increasingly remote/out of office, Leaders need to spend more time listening to and prioritising new needs that arise with this new virtual experience.