Back to normal.
It’s a heartening phrase if you missed eating in restaurants or hugging your grandchildren. But the message is gloomier if you’ve spent too many years coping with a draining culture at work--and are now returning to it.
We’ve long known that workplaces are in a state of simmering crisis regarding employee fatigue and overwork, but concerns have amplified with Bloomberg showing us that the workday has lengthened by two-and-a-half hours, and over half of workers surveyed by Indeed saying they’re officially burnt out.
With the US reopening rapidly, there are consequential conversations afoot about the return to the office. The talk heard in every conference room and virtual platform is one of Where. Where will teams sit each day? Where will offices be located, closed, or kept? Will managers need special training to counter their bias against workers who chose one Where vs. another? These are pivotal thoughts to explore.
Read More: How Leaders Can Create A Collaborative Company Culture
This Where question, however, is the second most important topic about the next normal. It’s not the first.
The conversation that is being ignored, and the single most essential discussion to have, is about the How. Because this reboot of work offers us a spectacular opportunity for a behavioral makeover. We may not have a blank page on which to write, but it’s close. Right now, there’s a fleeting chance to investigate and shatter decades of unquestioned How before the new status quo solidifies.
The Where topics are the bricks of our new professional home. But How is the mortar.
How will we undo the extended workday that sprang from COVID? How can we stop our bizarre and costly tolerance of overwork and the pile-on of low-value tasks? How can we transform work so that it’s no longer the most difficult part of our lives?
This May Interest You: Looking To Improve Competitiveness In An Organisation?
Speaking to an HR healthcare leader recently, he rapidly turned to lamenting the truth of his current How. Due to workload and a high-pressure culture, attrition and stress were up and engagement was down. On a human level, he shared stories of crying moms, shaky marriages, and at least one team member with serious depression. Their How now is worse than ever, but it’s not on the agenda.
We all need to stop the presses, sit down and take a minute to think. We must ponder and mull and envision the future of the How we want to see brought to life within the new Where. And if you are a leader of even a few, you must engage your team to help craft that destination.
When my father Allen Funt, the well-known TV producer and beloved creator of Candid Camera, interviewed children for the show, he had a big challenge. How could he quickly create rapport and break through the intimidation felt by a little child toward a big unknown adult? He did so by lighting a match and then feigning difficulty in blowing it out. He’d sit balanced on the edge of a preschool-size chair, huffing and puffing with theatrical overacting, finally turning to the youngster and saying, “Can you help me?” And the child would. Moments later, he and his new pal would be chatting about topics like guardian angels, money, or the wonders of spaghetti.
Like my father, leaders need to set aside the power distance that interferes with honesty. However, leaders should not feign the need of assistance, but rather they should directly embrace it, admitting their real need for input and feedback. Leaders must put aside the hubris that can creep in and directly ask teams what part of the current How gets in the way of their best work and what actions can be taken to change it.
Read More: How To Set Goals For Your Career
Improving the current How is possible with simple changes like these:
Make the Wedge a habit.
One simple tool can provide the breathing space--the oxygen--needed to ignite your energy and improve your decision-making. The Wedge is a small portion of open time inserted between two activities—such as a request and a response, a meeting and a meeting, or a crisis and a plan. The Wedge pries apart actions or events, buying you a minute to think, plan, or compose yourself. It’s a nimble power move any of us can use on our own and, when applied as a team, it dramatically lowers the “hallucinated urgency” that can drive us mad with its frantic demands.