Coming back to what though?
I’m suggesting there are 3 questions we should be asking ourselves as leaders as we think about what we are coming back to.
- How do we heal the collective and individual trauma of what we have all experienced?
- How do we create a culture where ‘the whole’ can thrive?
- How do we tackle the underlying issues that are getting in the way?
In this blog, I offer some of my thoughts and invite you to take some time to ponder on and discuss yours.
If you’d prefer to watch the video instead, you can do so below.
We have just been through an experience that, for us in the western world, has brought so much into our awareness about how things might be, both positive and negative.
Within this collective experience, there have been the individual ones too. For the purposes of this blog I’m speaking to the ‘middle class zoomerati’* experiences where working from home has brought about positive changes. Breakfast with the kids, no commute, fitting in a run at lunch time, disposable income increased because of everything that has stopped. People furloughed who, for the first few months at least, enjoyed the slowing down, catching up on sleep and all those jobs that they’d not had the time to do before.
But within these positive experiences, there have also been another set of experiences, largely of loss and fear. Loss of freedoms, anxiety about the security of jobs and businesses, death and illness of family and friends, pre-existing problems exacerbated. Celebrations cancelled, children and grandchildren not seen, new mothers ‘coping’ alone. Even within our fortunate position, the last year has been traumatic, for varying reasons.
In November 2020, the mental health charity Mind reported that more people have experienced a mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic than ever previously recorded. And in the CIPD’s 2021 Health & Wellbeing at Work survey a ‘significant proportion of employees reported that aspects of their physical and mental wellbeing had suffered during the pandemic.’
Images and information below taken from the Mind charity website.
So, from an organisational perspective, there’s a lot we’re coming back to, let’s not underestimate that.
As leaders, we need to consider: How do we heal the collective and individual trauma we’ve experienced? I’ve spent the last 12 months exploring grief and loss. From reading The Wild Edge of Sorrow, a beautiful book by Francis Weller, opening up what he calls the sacred work of grief (and it’s not just death in the sense we tend to think). To undertaking a 12-week course ‘Sitting with death and choosing life’. What I’ve learned from my exploration is that healing our grief, trauma, pain (however we each describe our experiences) isn’t (just) about provision of ‘wellbeing benefits’ such as personal resilience courses, or flexible working options. Those are ‘head’ options.
The key lies is in sharing our stories, from the depths of our pain, no matter how ‘ugly’ that is. It’s in being witnessed and heard, without judgement or fixing. And it’s in providing the witnessing, hearing and no fixing for others, no matter how uncomfortable that feels. Self-compassion and acceptance, allowing ourselves the time and space to grieve, are also integral to an individual and collective healing.
To be able to do this with conscious presence (full awareness and attention) we need to slow down. This has been something I think we’ve logically known for a while but have more likely had the felt experience and benefit of it over the last year. Consciously slow down now and see how different it feels to the normal hurried nature, even if you’re just sitting reading this.
I’d say slowing down is part of the answer to all the questions I’m posing here. In the slowing down, we shift from our egoic mind to our open heart. From this place, we can deeply connect – to ourselves, to each other, to our stories. We find our truth and our courage.
And to slow down, we need to stop doing things the way we’ve been doing them. So before we get back into the full-on rushing around, let’s pause, let’s take the time to think about how we want things to be in the future. What is the culture, the workplace, the way of living and working that we want to create from here on in? How do we create a culture where the ‘whole’ can thrive? Rather than ‘this or that’ or what employees want versus what ‘the business’ wants, let’s look at what’s best for the whole – society, humanity, our planet. Rather than immediately writing things off because they are too difficult, let’s sit with the difficulty and listen to the ideas that make us think hard.
Image to the right is taken from Adam Grant website
On the one hand it’s heartening to see from the same CIPD survey I referred to earlier, that there has been an increase in the percentage of senior leaders who have employee wellbeing on their agenda (75% up from 61% the year before), but on the other hand, the survey also shows that stress continues to be one of the main causes of absence, short and long term and that workload, management style, and now Covid, are the biggest causes of stress.
Image below taken from the CIPD Health & Wellbeing at Work Survey 2021
And, whilst it’s also heartening to see the wellbeing initiatives that more organisations are now adopting, I can’t help but feel that we’re treating the symptoms not the root problem/s. If workload and management style are still the main causes of stress in the workplace, what are we doing about that, rather than throwing stress relieving solutions at people? Perhaps the biggest question of all for us to consider as we ‘come back’ is How do we tackle the underlying issues that are getting in the way of us thriving at work?
I think we can all agree, and the CIPD survey would go some way to concurring with that thought, that employee wellbeing is becoming increasingly more important to senior leaders. I’d like to assume that this is based on a genuine desire for people to thrive. Surely, we don’t need to prove the business case for thriving. We instinctively know it’s right, don’t we? And yet, we don’t seem to be able to follow through with that desire in a meaningful and sustainable way.
Busyness is rife. Over-demanding workloads, over-bearing and untrusting bosses, decreasing resources and increasing expectations. But we continue to expect employees to ‘manage’ this as if it were their problem. We provide them with free yoga sessions, meditation classes, personal resilience courses, but we don’t get rid of the conditions that are creating the busyness.
Put that alongside the prevalent levels (84% and 70%) of presenteeism (working when unwell) and leavism (using annual leave to catch up on work) in organisations, we seem to have a deep-rooted cultural problem that is preventing us from truly thriving. We’d rather see employees stressed and unwell, than face the difficult choices. And if my saying that annoys you, I’d just ask you to look at what’s happening around us – suicide rates, addictions, over-consumerism, the damage to the planet – these are all symptoms of humans who are not thriving. At what point do we decide we need to do something, no matter how hard it might be? I’d suggest that we’ve reached that point and I’d invite you to consider how you might ‘do’ these things:
- Focus on healing the trauma of the last year, collectively and individually
- Commit to creating a culture where the ‘whole’ can thrive
- Practice conscious presence
- Tackle the underlying issue of ‘busyness’
And if you’re ready to go there, let’s have a conversation.
*middleclass zoomerati – this isn’t a phrase I came up with but I’m afraid I don’t know who did. If you know, please get in touch so that I can give credit to them.
And if you’d like to buy The Wild Edge of Sorrow book, you can find it here