A friend who was managing her career in senior management reasonably well, shared over the weekend that she resigned from her job as the work pressure was getting out of hand while she juggled between work and personal chores. All this while working from home (WFH) for the past 4 months! Now that’s surprising, isn’t it? Wasn’t WFH supposed to be the epitome of a relaxed work environment with increased personal flexibility. Apparently, not anymore.
The ‘forced’ WFH that dawned upon organizations starting April this year actually started with an initial premise of encouraging mental well-being and the hope of leading a balanced life in the covid19 era has fallen flat on its face! And it is now fuelling the very fire that it was assumed to douse - increased work stress and reduced personal time.
While HR and admin teams did a splendid job in ensuring seamless connectivity and other work arrangements to ensure business as usual, organizations forgot that we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic that requires increased emotional intelligence to navigate through. This is not an opportunity to squeeze the last ounce of energy from people but to be their pillar of support to navigate through these tough times TOGETHER. Who exactly sets the tone to define AND drive the intent with which expectations from work are communicated to the entire organization? You guessed it right, the leadership.
Any intervention, especially in HR that is introduced solely because it’s good-to-have or a forced necessity will eventually fail.
The reason is simple - most organizations chase the WHAT but not the WHY (taking a cue from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle), and as soon the WHY goes off radar (if it existed in the first place that is) the entire narrative and subsequently the purpose is lost.
My conversations with corporate professionals across industries has one glaring theme in common - the line between office time and personal time have never been blurrier and what’s happening currently is worse than how it was pre-covid. The expectation from most organizations (managers essentially) is to be in an always-on mode. Since you have nowhere else to go (literally and figuratively), it's assume that you're always available to discuss work. Employees are silently bearing the brunt primarily for the fear of being branded as a non-performer, possibly being hand-picked for a furlough or worst case a lay-off.
So how are some progressive employers solving for this? I spoke to a few CHROs to understand how they’re dealing with this challenge within their workplaces. Here are some initiatives directionally that these leaders are thinking of:
Creating awareness within their leadership to specifically drive sensitivities around WFH burnout and ensuring the expectation is cascaded to their people managers
Define company-wide ‘core working hours’ for all to ensure a significant overlap between teams to engage and connect
Taking up personal well-being and mental health as a leadership driven organizational priority and not a mere passing fad that HR would like to own
Agenda-less check-in calls by managers and HR to their teams to talk about anything but work
Clear communication on no meetings beyond a certain time of the day or a certain days in a week or both
All of the above needs to be not only communicated but over-communicated to drive home the intent. Infact, given the current scenario, there’s nothing called over-communication, more information, the better. Since people do not meet in-person and touch-points have significantly reduced, organizational agenda and updates need to be driven home via townhalls, emails, daily standups at a regular frequency. Make it abundantly clear across the organization of the revised norms & behaviours, new workplace rules and revised expectations from people managers.
The only vaccine to this ongoing WFH epidemic is love, empathy & respect carefully administered by organizational leaders and ably supported by their HR / People teams.
This is the time to be that compassionate hero and not the villain that pulls the rug from under the feet.