As I sat and reflected on what I had seen, heard and experienced over the past year, I thought I’d pen a few thoughts.
For decades now, the exponential growth in technology on the premise of improving the quality of our lives has done anything but that.
With the proliferation of gadgets and the constant chase for newer and better, we have developed shorter attention spans, spent less time sitting with our loved ones and generally have had more to worry about. We’ve woken up to our addiction of cigarettes and alcohol, but have casually handed out equally addictive devices to every member of our household.
I was a child of the 70’s where “Tomorrow’s World” gave us teasing insights into what technology might one day do for us. When Captain James T Kirk of the SS Enterprise ( Yes I’m really giving away my age now!), simply flicked open a clamshell to call someone miles away, it was ‘science fiction’.
Yet less than two decades later, I remember holding my first Motorola Flip phone, doing just that.
Ask any Gen X, Y Z or whatever they’re called now, to leave their smart phone at home whilst they’re on vacation and you’d think you were depriving them of oxygen!
But it’s unfair to say that this addiction is merely confined to the young and naïve.
The rest of us have no such excuse of age or experience.
2020 will forever be known as the year when the whole world was forced to pause and hold its breath, with little or no warning. As the contagion spread from Wuhan, a little known city in China, it spread like wildfire, taking governments and scientists by surprise.
Almost overnight we were all expected to get off the treadmill and confine ourselves to our ‘home’. A word that once upon a time had a universal meaning of our ‘happy place’, our ‘safe space’, but came to become our ‘prison’.
Looking back, there are some that have thrived, speaking of the joys of experiencing the school run, or being able to be at home for their kids. They embraced the lockdown as an ‘opportunity’ to make the most of the situation by focusing on interacting longer and deeper with their ‘nearest and dearest’, whether they lived with them or not; skype, Teams and Zoom, suddenly became household names; even my mum in her 80’s has mastered the use of a smart phone. These people have found reasons to be positive,
Some have reinvented their careers, forced through closures and redundancies, to spur them on to start their own businesses which they never would have taken on, had it not been for the set of circumstances they were forced to face.
These ‘positive choices’, the ability to look at the glass half-full has helped them sustain their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Others however, have had to face up to the realities that they had been turning a blind eye to for so long. The cases of domestic violence have grown across the world and the UK is no different.
Speaking to people from a spectrum of sectors, most have put in more hours than ever before. They describe a feeling of being completely ‘burnt out’. Words and phrases like ‘overworked’, ‘no quality time’, ‘late hours of work’ are common.
Why is that? Let’s look at this objectively, if you’re commuting less, only having to put on your ‘upper formals’ and pop into your kitchen for a spot of refreshment, you should have more time for yourself, right?!
Despite all of the other challenges we’ve faced, most of us have been working longer hours than ever. Why? Job insecurity, losing the ‘popular’ seat with senior management, don’t know how to say no or simply loyalty, there are multiple reasons, but who’s really benefitted from this? The employers of course.
As we ease out of ‘lockdown’ and come of our ‘bunkers’, the onus is now on employers to be acknowledge the mental and physical strain and find ways to allow employees to heal; to be more considerate and compassionate to those who helped them get through and survive.
Recent articles have highlighted how companies like Spotify, Twitter and Goldman Sachs, have taken a bold stance on employee health, both in terms of their physical and mental health by making remote working a ‘forever’ phenomenon.
However, this ‘one shoe fits all’ is perhaps open to question. Many people ‘need’ the change of environment and having somewhere to work from outside of home, it is important to their long term mental wellbeing. Furthermore, research shows that the dynamic generated by physically working together; the water-cooler conversations and the personal interactions that simply aren’t possible on any Virtual Platform, adds something ‘special’. So maybe some ‘middle ground’ is where the future needs to be.
Organisations need to acknowledge that 2020 has been a tough year for everyone. And employees have shown their loyalty in more ways than one, a real ‘war effort’. A lot of people I know have gone out of their way to keep their business afloat in an extremely tricky economic condition. Organisations need to acknowledge this hard work and be prepared to offer people the time and support to heal. They need to think of creative ways to do this.
Senior management have a choice to develop a caring and value-based organisation. One that believes that a company is healthy when the employees are healthy both mentally and physically. Ultimately the reward of a motivated and valued employee pays off to the bottom line. So let’s re-define investment and make it more human. Invest in people, their welfare and well-being. Be prepared to be bold and take bold decisions for their benefit.
So let me leave you a couple of things to ponder.
Given the same set of circumstances, what would you do differently?
What learnings will you take forward to ensure 2020 was a year from which you grow and not a year that weighs heavy in your rear view mirror?