The past year has radically shifted our relationship with work.
For some, the drastic changes caused by Covid have provoked drastic career changes to match.
For others, flexible working and home offices have become a non-negotiable, while others still are being forced to confront an uncomfortable return to the physical workplace.
Then there’s the accumulated burnout of a year of high-stress working.
All this means a lot of workers are unhappy with their current work situation – and are considering quitting.
That, say experts, is why it’s so vital that employers improve their work culture.
Research by Slack has found that a third of UK workers are now looking for a more mindful work culture, while a quarter say they are drawn to companies that actively fight burnout.
This shift in priorities when choosing a job makes sense when you consider that 56% of workers have experienced burnout in the past year.
There’s nothing like a really rubbish 12 months to make you ask what your workplace is doing for your mental wellbeing, after all.
But what can workplaces do to tempt workers to stick around?
It’s not an impossible task. Over half of those surveyed (56%) felt their employer is already making improvements to work culture, though initiatives that promote wellbeing or providing further flexibility.
That bit about flexibility is key. 36% of those surveyed said companies who offer increased flexibility when it comes to hours and policies are the most attractive, while 42% of employees who have worked from home in the last year are worried they won’t have the same level of flexible working going forward.
Workplaces that are proactive about the mental health and wellness of their teams are also going to benefit – 25% of UK workers said they were far more attracted to companies that actively fight burnout in this way.
Rob Archer, founder of The Career Psychologist, explains: ‘Since the start of the pandemic, many people have understandably experienced higher levels of stress and worry.
‘We know that overall rates of anxiety and depression have risen sharply in the UK, due to many factors including the isolating effects of lockdown and people feeling concerned about the health of themselves, family, friends, and colleagues.
‘Many of those working from home are putting in longer hours, and spending more time in back-to-back video calls every day. This, combined with a lack of variety, has meant that we have seen higher levels of burnout emerging.
‘As we return to a new world of work, employers will need to stay focused on championing wellbeing, managing workload, and giving people as much control over their days as they can, using technology in a smart way to help achieve this.’
Need more guidance on what bosses should be doing right now? We’ve got you covered.
We chatted with Stuart Templeton, the Head of UK at Slack, for his essential recommendations.
Stuart says: ‘At the end of the day, an employee who is cared for and supported will be inspired to do their best work.
‘Business leaders must take employee experience to the next level, in order to benefit from the new post-pandemic trend of hybrid working.
‘They need to take time to connect with people and be more aware of everyone’s physical and mental health. This means creating a culture that champions employee wellbeing and provides workers with the right tools to be productive, both at home and in the new-look office environment.’
Here are Stuart’s five things workplaces must do:
Offer flexibility for working hours and locations
There’s no need to return to the old way of doing things just because we’re coming out of lockdown. Maybe it’s time for a change.
‘Flexible hours and the ability to work in an office and/or at home has been a key theme for many workers over the last year,’ says Stuart. ‘Now that flexibility is becoming a default setting, many workers like it. Less time wasted in rush-hour commutes means more time to spend on things that really add value.
‘Flexible work even helps retain and attract employees who need to shape work around life in different ways. The 9-to-5 doesn’t suit everyone anymore.’
Openness is key
Stuart tells us: ‘Traditional, command-and-control management styles don’t work well in distributed work contexts or in hybrid work scenarios.
‘Instead of hoarding information and decision-making, businesses should share knowledge openly as a default and push decision-making to the front lines.’
Make employee wellbeing a priority
Workers’ mental health can no longer be an afterthought.
‘Make employee wellbeing a priority and actively fight burnout,’ Stuart advises. ‘As stress and uncertainty have increased, businesses must be proactive about the mental health and wellness of their people.
‘This can be achieved by helping teams set boundaries, by suggesting regular breaks and focusing on results, not time spent.
‘It’s also important that managers and colleagues themselves check in with each other — over a coffee or a walk and talk.
‘Employee benefits such as subscriptions to apps like Calm and Headspace, are also a great option.’
Make sure it’s not all about who’s in the office
Stuart says: ‘Avoid being biased towards proximity and only favouring those in the office.
‘Businesses need to be conscious about overlooking people because they are not in the physical office when meetings take place or key decisions are made.
‘After all, if the last year has shown us anything, it is that workers can be more productive and still part of a team with a hybrid working model and with the right tools at their fingertips.’
Go beyond email
As the head of UK at Slack, Stuart is obviously going to recommend you use a messaging service like, well, Slack.
But he does raise an important point about ensuring communication doesn’t only happen over email.
Managers should try to schedule in regular chats, whether these happen IRL or over Zoom.
‘With hybrid work likely to become the norm, it’s crucial that businesses don’t rely on siloed communication methods like email which can only be initiated and prioritised by the sender — insulating decision-making and knowledge from the wider workforce,’ says Stuart.
‘This cannot be the default going forward, as not only will workers feel more disconnected and out the loop but new joiners won’t be able to get up to speed quickly.’
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