Covid-19 has taken an invisible toll on energy levels over the past nine months and, despite the emergence of a couple of promising vaccines, it doesn’t seem that things are likely to calm down at all over the coming winter months. Reduced energy levels and minimised motivation has been a worrying consequence of the pandemic for leaders trying to motivate their staff back to something like ‘normal’, however, as we brave another winter lockdown with the potential of further restrictions in the new year, things could get much worse before they get better.
What we must avoid now is slipping back into old pre-pandemic habits and taking the energy and productivity levels of our people for granted.
There’s no doubt that news of the vaccine brought some much-needed optimism to the workforce, but it hasn’t changed the official advice and many of us will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. So, business and HR leaders really need to grab hold of that glimmer of hope with both hands and introduce solutions to boost employee wellbeing and productivity in the run up to Christmas and beyond. With five clear steps, it’s possible for businesses to not only increase performance, but also positively impact long term workforce satisfaction and retention.
Focus on the human before discussing the task
Understanding unique employee circumstances will help to support them to be productive in the best way. Presenteeism is now more of a threat as it’s easier than ever to hide behind an email or a to-do list when everything is done virtually. We often hear how it’s important to distinguish a clear line between work and life, but in some ways it’s not quite as simple as that. We’re the same people, whether we’re sitting at our desks doing our jobs or switching off outside of work hours, and it’s important for managers to remember that.
We’re all dealing with various personal stresses in our lives that can’t simply be turned off between 9am and 5pm; in fact, when working from home, the two spheres of work and life are going to edge ever closer together. For this reason, we need to get to know each other as human beings as well as having a relationship as fellow employees, because this will better inform the relationships we have as colleagues. There is no ‘cure-all’ solution at times like these.
The workforce is made up of individuals, so what works for you might not work for someone else. For example, the extroverts among us may benefit from catching up with friends, an active person may mentally benefit from exercise, a planner may benefit from planning a holiday in the future and an introvert may benefit from a bit of space and time away from those whom they live with. Knowing what makes someone tick, what their passions are and what their life outside the home office looks like will not only help us value each other more, but will also enable leaders to get the best out of their workforce both in lockdown and beyond.
When working from home, it’s easy to maintain an unhealthy work/life balance, especially when negotiating the ever-changing Covid-19 landscape. With many of us working and sleeping in the same space, it’s important to make time to step away and switch off. It’s down to managers to encourage this where possible, no matter how busy things get.
Managers must show that they value the health of their employees and their life outside of the office by encouraging breaks where staff partake in activities they enjoy. Get to know what makes your team tick outside of their 9 – 5 existence. Identifying mental fatigue and energy drain is only part of the problem – to maintain wellbeing, we need to inspire self-care and encourage a healthy work/life balance. Encouraging shortened days or weeks and highlighting the need for breaks can really benefit the team. This provides time to recharge mentally and physically.
Pick up the phone
Take the opportunity to speak one-to-one on the phone whenever possible. Physical distancing does not mean being socially distant and hearing a fellow human voice in an otherwise quiet home office can make all the difference in connecting with the human behind the screen. Technology has certainly made it easier to communicate with a remote workforce, but has it made it anymore enjoyable? Instant messaging can be easily misinterpreted and lack rapport and emotion, and video calls can be exhausting for many – especially so many months into the pandemic.
With nights drawing in and temperatures plummeting, struggles like seasonal affective disorder are likely to affect more of us than usual. The novelty of working from home has well and truly worn off, but that doesn’t mean human connection has too. With managers struggling to keep track of their workforce and its wellbeing, reaching out directly makes it much easier to pick up on the all-important warning signs of lockdown lethargy.
Virtual working can lead some to feel disconnected and struggle to see the bigger picture. Showing appreciation for a job well done can really boost motivation and remind employees of the bigger picture that isn’t as visible when stuck at a solitary desk at home. Sharing positive feedback both with individuals and the workforce as a whole can serve to remind us of the ultimate goal that each of us is helping work towards. Knowing you’re not alone but working alongside many others in the same situation can help boost morale and encourage more efficient teamwork. This is a lesson that applies both amidst lockdown lethargy and into the post-pandemic future too.
The incredible non-stop pace of change brought on by this unfolding crisis has left little time for self-care or recharging batteries amongst the workforce; it’s the job of a good people manager to create time for this. Whether outside or inside of working hours, we all need to try to create an open dialogue around energy levels, wellbeing and sleep. Sharing truthful anecdotes of our own struggles can truly help as, once again, this puts the ‘human’ back into human resources.
During lockdown one, many of us were starting to have these authentic conversations regularly, which went a long way to supporting wellbeing. What we must avoid now is slipping back into old pre-pandemic habits and taking the energy and productivity levels of our people for granted. Many people are running on empty, but implementing just two or three of the tips above regularly could be all that is needed to keep topping up the tank.
Interested in this topic? Read HR in a recession: how to improve staff morale during difficult times.