Do you trust your team NOT to overwork?

What do you do if you’re following the best advice and doing all the right things, yet your team is still overwhelmed and anxious?

Just over a year ago, as we went into lockdown and organisations had to shift to remote working, several of my conversations with clients were about trust.

‘How will I know that my people are working if I can’t see them?’

My view was that the problem wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, the problem was that managers didn’t trust their teams.

A year later, according to the Blackbaud future of work 2021 report, it would appear that worries about trust were largely unfounded as respondents were almost unanimous (94%) in stating that they felt trusted.

The challenge for many over the past year has been less about lack of trust and more about presenteeism and working harder, over longer hours and being less able to switch off than we did when we were working from an office.  The boundaries between work and home are easily blurred when the office is the kitchen table, (One of my clients told me that Christmas dinner was ruined because she was eating at her desk) many of us feel personally compelled to work all hours and this isn’t helped by emails arriving in our inboxes at all times of day and night.

We are working longer hours than before the pandemic.

According to the future of work report, when asked for more details about their daily working routine, 72% of respondents said they ‘tend to work longer hours either some or most days compared to before the pandemic. Most people clocked up their extra hours later in the day, with nearly a third finishing work later most days than when they were office based’. A third of people work longer hours overall than pre pandemic.

Although the report would indicate that there might be a high degree of trust, and employees may feel trusted, many people still feel personally compelled to work long hours and respond immediately to emails, which over a long period of time is taking its toll on our health and wellbeing.

Overall, despite feeling supported by their employer, people’s wellbeing has deteriorated over the past year. Almost half the respondents to the future of work survey felt their wellbeing has deteriorated in the pandemic.

Blackbaud highlights, ‘Going forward, a conscious focus on the health and wellbeing of our people will remain of paramount importance to the support of our teams and the effective delivery of our visions and missions…’

This doesn’t just apply to non-profits but to all organisations.

It’s a tough challenge to solve and given that according to Blackbaud, flexible working is here to stay (90% of all respondents agree that flexible working will continue even when the pandemic has become a distant memory), it’s a problem that organisations need to tackle if they’re going to maintain a happy and productive workforce.

I’m seeing many organisations taking their employee wellbeing seriously and implementing the HR and workplace wellbeing advice. I’m seeing leaders give permission to their employees to switch off, leading by example and providing training in how to work remotely including looking after their own wellbeing, time management and productivity training. Yet, despite this, employees are still checking and responding to their emails late into the night, still feeling overwhelmed by their working life and still operating with high levels of anxiety.

For example, I was recently working with a team whose senior leaders are actively helping their teams look after themselves. They can work flexibly, they have an open and honest culture and there is a high degree of trust and support between leadership and employees, they are encouraged to work specific hours to not allow work to creep into their home life, they have a generous holiday allowance which they are encouraged to take, people care about their work and have good relationships Yet, despite all the actions that the leadership are taking, the majority of the team work more hours than they are expected to and experience stress and anxiety as a result.

It’s almost the reverse of the problem we thought we had. Our people can’t be trusted not to work too hard!

So what do you do if you’re following the best advice and doing all the right things, yet your team is still overwhelmed and anxious?

If I’m honest I don’t have a blueprint here but my thoughts are;

  • Keep doing all the things you’re doing. Lead by example, don’t send emails in non-working hours, keep checking in with people both via structured one to ones and informally.
  • Consider specific processes for bringing the importance of wellbeing into the spotlight and making it normal for employees to talk about wellbeing and how they’re feeling, for example some organisations have wellbeing buddies (people matched up with colleagues with the objective of checking in on how they’re feeling) and mental health first aiders. 
  • Help your employees with prioritising and time management.
  • Know that saying that people have permission (for example to take some time off if they’re feeling exhausted) doesn’t mean people know that they have permission. Check that the message has got through.
  • Remember that you’re dealing with established patterns of working that were in place long before the pandemic. How might you understand more about the root cause of peoples behaviour? Asking open questions and listening can help understand what is going on for someone, and for example can you explore why they feel they have to answer emails immediately or always be working?
  • Make your one to ones work harder and use them to understand how people are feeling as well as their progress on their tasks.
  • Consider coaching or training – people have missed human interaction and the time and space to spend time together as a team.

What are your ideas and experiences? All comments welcome.

Lucidity and Vivid Leadership are running our next resilience, confidence and creativity one day online training that will help you unpick some of these challenges. Our next open course is on 18 May. Here’s the link to join us.

We also run this resilience, confidence and creativity day for whole teams of up to 16 people. If you’d like to have a chat about your whole team doing this course book a time to chat here.

For the full Blackbaud future of work 2021 report – go here.

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