One of the truisms of the last few months is that while we have all been in this together, it has been a unique experience for each of us. In our work with clients we have been encouraging conversations with those in their teams around each individual's experience. It has been a very humanising process.
Now we are entering what might well be the most challenging and complex phase of the Covid era, managing the range of experiences, expectations, needs and anxieties of our people as we begin, or perhaps begin to contemplate, at least a partial return to our traditional workplaces.
Obviously, so much has changed. We have been through the greatest collective challenge to our sense of order and (individual and collective) safety that many of us will have experienced. This will have taken its toll, and with the enormous capability of humans to cope during a crisis, it may be that in terms of our mental health the full effects are very much yet to emerge. Some people will have grown stronger from the experience, some will have been shattered by it, and then there is the rest of us somewhere in between. And this will of course have been impacted by our individual experiences, but we do not need to have been bereaved, or fallen ill ourselves, for the last months to have taken a huge toll on our wellbeing.
How we feel about our work and our employer may well have been impacted deeply. I have spoken to any number of people for whom this experience has caused them to entirely rethink their sense of purpose, of what they value and of where and how they want to focus their energy and skills. At the same time, for many others, me included, it has been a period of doubling down on their existing "why", while reinventing their "what" and their "how".
How we feel about our employer will have been and continues to be strongly influenced by how we have seen it behave and respond to the Covid crisis as well, of course, as the Black Lives Matter movement and much else besides.
What we understand by our workplace, how we work, how we do that alongside the rest of what we are, and our sense of belonging to an organisation may all have been challenged to their core.
All of which brings me to my point. Now would be a good time to find out how your people are and what they are thinking, about themselves, about the immediate now, about the immediate and longer term future, and about you, their employer. Carry on with the one to one conversations - of all the things we have gained from this period, that ability to connect on a human level must be treasured most of all - but maybe think about doing some survey work. It may be that engagement and other surveys were victims of the need to respond to the immediacy of the Covid crisis. Now might be a good time to dust them off, and also to think about what else you might be wanting to find out about aside from the normal questions. Of course if you ask some questions you need to be able to deal with and respond to the answers - if you are going to ignore what people tell you then it is probably better not to ask in the first place.
One employer we are working with has a fairly recent (but pre Covid) general engagement survey, some (also pre Covid) data on how its wellbeing initiative is being received and some rich data from across the organisation on how people have felt it responded to the crisis, how they each have adapted and how they feel about any return to the office. There are some long term themes to work on it is clear, and while there is a sense the organisation has had a "good crisis", the people that drove that were not the traditional leaders of the organisation but the HR, IT and other business professionals who rolled up their sleeves and made things happen, and finally there is (unsurprisingly) a wide range of feelings about how, when and how often people want to return to the office. This is priceless information to help form the priorities and foci for the coming months. It may well also be forcing a few of their leaders to reassess their and others' contribution and leadership.
Now is a good time to ask "How are you?", "No really, how are you?" and to make sure you listen to the answer.