How are you? Really, how are you? How do you really feel? None of this “I’m fine” stuff, how do you honestly feel?
by Jill Spurr
It’s very easy to lose sight of why you are doing something, whether it’s a job, hobby, relationship, or something else, because you’ve got into the habit of doing what you are doing. The pandemic has really shone a light on exhausted people just hanging on – just get through today; it’s nearly the weekend; I can rest at Christmas; it will be easier after we have done this project… Just one more milestone.
Often, you don’t realise how detrimental the familiar has become to your confidence, your well-being, and even your personality while you are in the middle of it. Influence, particularly negative influence, is insidious; you don’t realise the extent of its impact until it is no longer there. Until you metaphorically finally breathe fresh air and recognise how much you have changed.
We all go through tough periods. Maybe not quite as protracted as the pandemic has been, but there will always be points in life that don’t go quite to plan. In those periods, it’s worth checking that your why is still there – it will help you get through, because ultimately you have a powerful reason to keep on keeping on.
When work gets tough – and for many, 2020 has posed the biggest challenges of our careers (and those challenges are far from over yet) – your why is what keeps you logging on each day. Keeps you suiting up in PPE and stepping forward into the fray. Helps you recover, holds your resilience – makes it all worthwhile.
For many of us our why is not the mortgage; it’s not minimal commute, the salary or the benefits. For so many of us, particularly under 2020’s lens of truth that has exposed our woeful standards of well-being and uncovered the extent of mental ill-health in the workplace, the reason we are where we are is because of shared ethics, shared goals and shared vision. The partner who wants the same things, the sport that challenges you to improve, the job that resonates with who you are and what you believe in.
That, in a nutshell, is engagement.
But if hope is a thing with feathers, then engagement is a coil – elastic, springing, retracting and pulling you back, but with a definite point of no return. The problem is, we are not always conscious that our engagement coil is stretched to its limit and starting to creak.
This is the mistake many workplaces make when employees are increasingly under pressure. Perhaps you’ve shared the memes… Workplace wants to promote mental health… employees say reduce workloads and increase salaries… Workplace offers yoga…
It shouldn’t need saying, but when a proportion of your workforce is at the creaking limit of engagement, it’s much, much too late for presents and freebies. It’s too late for anything but reinforcing employees’ why through a visible leadership team living the values.
You cannot buy your way out of a morale issue.
In fact, trying to do so may just be counterproductive. People aren’t daft. Sending a care package in the post only works if people already feel connected. If they don’t, it’s just a bar of chocolate that shows how far the decision-makers are adrift of frontline reality.
So how does an organisation ensure that engagement survives the challenges of the pandemic and beyond? Check your purpose is prominent, your values are visible. I don’t mean as logos and internal comms promotions, but in the genuine words and deeds of the leadership team. Remind colleagues that the pressure is worthwhile because behind it lies a mutual purpose that resonates with them. Remind them that we are all in this together, even if our personal experiences vary. Say thank you. Listen.
Constantly. It’s hard work. That coil needs to be nurtured.
But if there is one thing that amplifies our why, it’s people who inspire us. From Captain Tom to Marcus Rashford; from the hardworking medical teams of the NHS to the key workers keeping us supplied with basic necessities, 2020 has been a year of extraordinary ordinary heroes.
It’s our actions that people look up to, our authenticity and passion. That generates influence that is positive and empowering; that can effect change.
Who is your why? Are they still there? Can you see them?
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Pic via the Australian War Memorial Collection