Is a rest enough? Many leaders are hoping that employees can get a vacation break over the summer and then get back into the swing of business as usual. As a result of burn out arising from the pandemic, I think the most common response to the question of “how are you?”, is “worn out”, “really tired”, “I need a break”, or something along those lines. And of course, leaders are saying the same thing.
If you keep up with the latest headlines you cannot fail to miss discussion about The Great Resignation – the notion that over 40% of employees are looking for another job. I would not be surprised if the number is higher! I am also not surprised by the number of people quitting their jobs without another one lined up. The pandemic has enforced layoffs, furloughs, working from home, kids home-schooling, family/friend separations, and travel restrictions. That is without mentioning the most serious repercussion – death and illness. Our world of norms has been rocked to the core.
Companies and leaders are negotiating the difficult challenges of what happens next. Some have reacted by insisting that employees return to the office on certain dates – “we are an office-based company, and we are going back to the way we used to be before the pandemic”. I cannot help but feel how tone-deaf this approach is. It ignores the psychological turmoil that people have been through and the fundamental changes that the pandemic has brought to people’s lives. Other companies are negotiating a blended approach – back to the office for some days and work from home for others (if people wish). Others are still hedging their bets and not deciding about a return to office working yet.
Parents, students, and teachers are all hoping that in-person schooling is the guaranteed norm for the next school year. People are trying to take vacation breaks over the summer, although international travel is pretty much ruled out because of quarantine requirements. Businesses are facing a talent shortage, brought on by attrition, the challenges of recruitment at the tail end of the pandemic, and the upturn in economic activity. Vaccination numbers are inconsistent depending on where you live, and rules of mask wearing vary from building to building. All of these are challenges that bring uncertainty into the minds of many.
So, will taking a break and having a rest resolve all of the issues and can everyone get back into the swing of things with a new mood of optimism after the summer? No.
Taking a week or two off may help to recharge the batteries for a short-term impact, but it does not address the deep weariness and disillusionment felt by so many. People’s paradigms of the world of work have taken a battering. Work has invaded people’s homes, their family time, their rest time. Not all leaders have led well. Virtual working has changed expectations of work satisfaction and engagement. There is a strong need for something different – one of the main drivers for the Great Resignation.
Leaders need to lead through this unique time in our history. Overload in empathy, listening, communicating, and most of all change. One of the best initiative’s leaders can take right now is considering how to bring positive change into the working lives of their employees. This is not just about where people work! It is about the need for people to get renewed vision, passion, and purpose in what they are doing. It is about people feeling a sense of connectedness right through the organization. Changing people’s jobs, rotating roles, new project opportunities, and switching the old norms into new norms – all of these will help to keep employees engaged. Opportunities to involve people, switch up social gatherings, free lunches, novel reward schemes – all of these can help. Just do something!
Employees appreciate gestures made to them in the form of compensation and more time off. But essentially, they want a do-over in the psychological contract they have with the world of work. Now is the time for innovation, initiative, and inspiration. Leaders – get together, work out a plan, revisit Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and create a new normal for all your employees. Create a work experience, not just a workplace. Develop work community not just work commitment. Change the paradigms of work and you will be rewarded as a leader in the new world of work.