Healing the Wounded Workplace

Written by:

Kyle Hermans

CEO & Co-Founder

Seven ways to reinvent a healthy, thriving team post-pandemic

For the last few months we’ve been guiding client sessions with major organizations in diverse industries around the world, in person for the first time in years. Many sessions have revolved around helping teams transition back into the office.

In this work, we’ve noticed a critical theme and challenge emerge in nearly every organization. And it must be addressed if the world’s workplaces have any chance of working productively and harmoniously again.

The wounded workforce

Teams are finally meeting face-to-face for the first time in years. And while we’ve definitely felt a positive mood of, “Yay, the pandemic is ‘over,’ let’s forge ahead,” more so we’ve noticed:

  • Increased hesitation and distrust
  • More intense emotional reactions ranging from radical optimism to radical pessimism
  • More difficulty committing to high-pressure goals
  • Significant need to talk about what just happened (the elephant in the room)

Possibly most concerning of all, we’ve seen people exhausted and under-resourced, causing them to feel numb.

Workers are being asked to meet increased demands to make up for lost time, often with a smaller team than before, while grieving and adjusting to commuting and the rigors in-office working again.

Our emerging insight is:
The workforce wants dedicated time to acknowledge, process and heal from the trauma of the last two years.

This may seem obvious in hindsight, but what we’re seeing is that very few leaders are activating on this…yet.

Let’s unpack this insight to see what’s behind it, and what can be done.

Top human stressors

What do we mean by, “Heal from trauma?”

To put the pandemic into perspective in terms of its effect on the mental health of our world, here’s a list of the top stressors that a human can experience:

  1. Death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. Job loss
  4. Major illness or injury
  5. Moving

Chances are, you and your colleagues haven’t only been through one of these major stressors but many have been through all five in the last two years. It’s no wonder motivation is low, when so much energy has understandably been on navigating and surviving these traumas.

Until humanity has the time and space to wade through the five stages of grief (anger, sadness, denial, bargaining and acceptance), work cannot go back to the way it was.

A traumatized workforce facing higher pressure than pre-pandemic times, without extra support to facilitate a resolution and a healthy re-entry, is a recipe for quick burnout, low creativity, low risk-taking, low motivation, and high turnover.

Healing the wounded workplace culture

With injuries of any kind, mental or physical, people need time to heal. If there’s no time to recuperate from an injury, especially one as serious as what we’ve all just endured, the injury will get worse until the point a person can’t function.

As leaders, we need to help bridge the gap between the trauma our global workforce experienced and the thriving workforce we long to be.

Here are some strategies and tactics we find are working well:

  1. Set up a re-onboarding program.
    We’ve noticed teams have lost clarity on what their work is for. Consider everyone as “new” to the company. Re-align everyone with your company’s post-pandemic purpose and mission. Make your team’s work matter, beyond profits.

  2. Host team-building activities to get reacquainted with your colleagues.
    We’ve noticed meetings being scheduled at record levels. Is it because people love meetings? No, it’s because people need connection and belonging. Invent ways to keep your team close, beyond work. People who feel connected with their community will perform better and heal faster.

  3. Check in with your team more often.
    We’ve hosted multiple 360 cultural surveys of large corporations. Most companies are currently scoring low on empathy, boundary setting and clarity, and high on determination and growth focus. When you check in with your team with greater frequency, ensure you’re not only asking about their productivity, but also how they’re doing personally. This will inform you how to nurture your workforce and drive better performance.

  4. Have empathy while people grieve.
    Presume the positive intent of your team. Offer the opportunity to share (if they’d like to). Grief affects focus, so before jumping to conclusions or reacting too quickly about issues such as tardiness, work quality, quantity and timeliness, pause and check in on what might be the cause before delivering consequences.

  5. Evaluate your current employee operating model.
    If audacious goals felt challenging to your team before, they’ll feel extra intimidating now, especially with a smaller workforce. Chances are, you’re going to need to rethink how your people work together (online, hybrid, communication tools) in order to deliver the results you desire under these conditions.

  6. Provide increased mental health and motivation resources
    to aid healing, like coaching, therapy or an Employee Assistance Program.

  7. Do your best to maintain a positive attitude.
    Be cognizant of the energy of your team. Make this a daily intention. In the science of team dynamics, any group of people will recalibrate to the lowest denominator. It’s human nature to nurture those around us. As humans, we drop our high energy to help someone in the room with low energy. Unfortunately, sometimes humans stay trapped in that lower energy space and don’t find their way back up. An intentional positive attitude can go a long way to helping others rise up and stay there.

To create trust, collaboration and teamwork again, acknowledge that each person is adjusting and healing at their own pace from what they individually went through during the pandemic.

Ask, “What is the courage needed here to aid worldwide healing?”

Work reintegration is a defining moment for leadership. How will you help your team thrive?

Some of Be Courageous’ superpowers are facilitating team offsites, re-onboarding and re-alignment to the work that matters (Goal setting, OKRs + KPIs). We create a psychologically safe environment for teams to align. Give us a call if you want a deeper dive into how your company’s doing in terms of culture and team dynamics so you can focus your development efforts towards the most impactful outcomes.

Special thanks to Be Courageous COO Jenna Z Hermans for her contribution on this piece.

Corporate Fragility

Antifragile

Most of us agree that we are really only at the tip of a massive amount of change. The 2020s will be the decade of challenge for the globe.

Corporate Fragility

Antifragile

Most of us agree that we are really only at the tip of a massive amount of change. The 2020s will be the decade of challenge for the globe.

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