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The world and business in particular has been rocked not just by the pandemic but by issues of race, gender, diversity and equality.  It is almost as if we are being asked to do and even see everything differently – not just operate differently but also to think differently challenging all sorts of “norms”.

For some this will be an evolution, for others a shock. This creates obvious opportunities for creativity and change.  It also requires sensitivity, emotional intelligence and a widescale capacity to have different and more complex conversations.  As such, a clear and thought through approach is crucial.  If business and its people take up the gauntlet proactively, the opportunities are immense and the capacity for individual and organisational growth enormous.  The following steps can pave the way for such growth:

  • Step 1: Acknowledge the scale and breadth of the task ahead
  • Step 2: Factor in time and resource for The Emotional Recovery
  • Step 3: Acknowledge Regrets and Resentments
  • Step 4: Deepen the conversation
  • Step 5: Celebrate the opportunities courageously

STEP 1: ACKNOWLEDGE THE SCALE AND BREADTH OF THE TASK AHEAD
As hope increases for an end to the pandemic, much needs to be done to mitigate its impact on business and the workforce.  This work is multifaceted: practical, operational and interpersonal and clearly the only way it can be done is through an engaged workforce.  It will take energy, flexibility and commitment.  The challenge is that many of those qualities were also required in the crisis management that Covid demanded.  The adrenaline rush to keep going at the beginning of the crisis can no longer be relied on and people also are carrying the effects of the last year.

Businesses have a fine line to walk.  They need to ensure that they support their staff and recognise their needs.  They will need to acknowledge these needs will never be fully met by the employer, nor should they necessarily.  So, businesses need to build and create an environment where personal growth is possible, emotional support is available but that, above all, employees are empowered and motivated to help themselves.

Step 2: FACTOR IN TIME AND RESOURCE FOR THE EMOTIONAL RECOVERY
The impact of the pandemic for individuals personally and for businesses have been wide and deep.  We talk about physical recovery and financial recovery, but we also need to remember that for many, there will need to be an emotional and psychological recovery.

On a personal level, most people have suffered deep heartache of one sort of another: illness, grief often caused by multiple losses, loneliness, unbearable separation, financial devastation and the list goes on.

We have all been directly, viscerally impacted and many of us are different because of it.  If we have kept our jobs, we have soldiered in carrying our heartache in our back-pockets, sometimes sharing our personal traumas, oftentimes not.

Awareness and experience of mental ill health has also increased partly because if its prevalence amongst the population.  The Mental Health Foundation reported that during the festive season 2020

  • “Over half (54%) of the adult UK population have felt anxious or worried in the previous two weeks because of the pandemic.”
  • “Almost a quarter of people reported feeling lonely”
  • “Just over one in five (22%) of the UK adult population reported feeling hopeless and over half (54%) reported feeling frustrated in the last two weeks”

For many, the emotional and psychological impact will not be permanent.  Some might need additional support.  In any event, many will need to time to recover.  This is not to say that businesses will necessarily need to or be able to provide comprehensive support.  Rather, they will need to be creative about resources available.  Specifically, they will need to increase capacity to have more complex conversations in which take into account that immediate solutions are not always available.  In many cases, solutions will need to be co-created between businesses and their people.  It will not necessarily be the duty of employers to fix the situation or be a patriarchal caretaker.  Rather, to empower the employee to find their way through the complexities of their personal situation in the context of the work environment.  In so doing building resilience, personal responsibility, and emotional intelligence within the workforce.

STEP 3: ACKNOWLEDGE REGRETS AND RESENTMENTS
There is no doubt that mistakes will have been made.  These may have been practical errors but also insensitivities.  Without the need to engage directly and clarify misunderstandings, it is very possible that these resentments may have been buried in the hope that they will go away.  The likelihood is, however that they will resurface or be triggered on re-engagement.

These can be hard to deal with because they can be over the “small things” and people think that they will be received as petty or irrelevant.  The truth is that these are the things that can erode trust and make communication more stilted.

Addressing these issues does not need to be a lengthy process.  Rather, they can be addressed through asking questions like “would you have liked anything to have been done differently and if so what” or “what are the little things, the smaller issues, that have bothered you during this time?”.  The key is then to listen without the need, necessarily, to fix. What this does is to acknowledge that these issues will exist and allow the opportunity to air work through them instead of to inflate them in individuals’ minds.

STEP 4: DEEPEN THE CONVERSATION
In a time of the social media echo chamber, debates and opinions become polarised.  For some, the subtleties and complexities of conversations are missed.  Equally some people feel that mental health can be over emphasised and want to get on with the day job without getting into “deep and meaningful conversations”.  With an increased reliance on online communication and use of social media during lockdown, how we engage with each other has changed.

This means that we need to be more skilled in the manner in which we have conversations and, crucially, accept and manage the complexities of those conversations.  That includes, asserting our views, hearing others and, crucially, working through how to address when the two don’t match. The more effective the workforce is in doing that, the more efficient they will be in both carrying out the day job and navigating the complexities of human behaviour and mental health.  In a global environment in which polarisation can seem the easier option, the role of organisations to have the capacity to address conflict and challenge is even more important.  If the challenge is taken up, the impact not only on the organisation but also on society can be great.

STEP 5: CELEBRATE THE OPPORTUNITIES WITH COURAGE
We can experience a type of survivors’ guilt when we think of the benefits that Covid has brought us.  It can be hard to acknowledge that where there has been so much hardship, there have been advantages.  It can make us feel heartless and insensitive and so we can bury the benefits.  However, where we are encouraged to look at the good that has come out of the situation, it not only alleviates some of the pain of what has happened.  It also generates appreciation of what we have achieved and what we may be capable of doing in the future.  It also enables us to focus on the rebuild, the creativity that can come from crisis and building on that creativity for good.

There is an opportunity to seize the moment, to learn and build on the lessons of the past year and to continue the courageous response to change we have seen in the past year and continue it.  If we do, the complexities of modern day living and experience can evolve into a movement for collaborative growth and change.

Louisa Weinstein – Author of The 7 Principles of Conflict Resolution & Mediator & Trainer at The Conflict Resolution Centre

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