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Nichola d'Urso

Solace Virtual Learning Week: impact of Covid on the workforce

During Solace’s recent Virtual Learning Week I attended an online session on the impact of Covid on the workforce, presented by Susan Parsonage, Chief Executive of Wokingham Borough Council (a client of ours) and Professor Cary Cooper of Manchester Business School.

Covid has resulted in a national and local crisis with a profound impact on the ways we work now and how we will in the future. There has been an acute impact on the wellbeing of employees in the redeployment of roles, new ways of working and digitalised transformation. Wellbeing is more important than ever.

Many people can now work more flexibly, but to ensure staff are well-supported, you need good managers – those that have emotional intelligence and not just technical skills. People are increasingly concerned over health and job security and feel a lack of control – all of which are significant contributors to stress, especially in the wider context of a second lockdown, the economic crisis and the uncertain impact of Brexit.

With many people suffering increased stress and anxiety as we approach winter, managers must watch out for signs that their colleagues are not coping. The sheer volume of online meetings often results in less time for informal check ins, but the need for these is greater than ever.

As Professor Cary Cooper highlighted in the session, we should be looking out for changes in behaviour: colleagues becoming more withdrawn, quieter or less co-operative. You might notice changes in tone of voice, difference in appearance, slower email responses and changes in body language.

They shared some tips on how to make human connection when work interactions are almost all ‘digital’:

  • Managers need to be a visible leader and a good listener. Manager training programmes should be in place to ensure they have social skills as well as technical expertise.
  • Be vigilant and develop relationships; listen to what people have to say, and enable them to find solutions
  • Ensure new starters are well-supported. Consider how they learn about the organisation. Do they need mentors? Assign someone who knows the organisation well – develop a buddy system (outside of their line manager) to provide help and support to them.
  • Build, develop and embed trust – praise team members and express gratitude for their efforts, but don’t micro-manage – give them autonomy and control over their job.
  • Address presenteeism – focus on outcomes as opposed to hours logged in- are objectives being met? There is a need to be clear about how to measure outcomes and provide support to enable staff to achieve them.

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