We’ve been hosting Think Tanks on the topic of ‘Languishing to Flourishing’ with the hope of uncovering the biggest challenges faced by businesses today and best practices for supporting and leading teams moving forward. We meet with leading HR and L&D specialists as they openly share their challenges, recommendations and top pieces of advice.

What is ‘languishing’? You may have seen the recent New York Times article that has resurrected the term ‘languishing’, which describes that ‘blah’ feeling that so many of us have been experiencing recently. It’s that sense of, ‘well, I’m not depressed, but at the same time, I don’t feel happy or fulfilled. This ‘languishing’ feeling has been mentioned as one of the biggest challenges that businesses will face supporting teams as they either return to work or focus on engaging staff as we move forward from the height of the pandemic.

So what can we do to tackle this feeling?

Let’s start with the challenges and work from there. Employee wellness has always been an important area for many successful companies, but with so many remote working, our work and personal lives are wound tighter together than ever before, making it an even more critical issue.

Challenge 1. Trying to bring back the workplace culture we once had to the new working environment.

While the return to the office is just around the corner for some of us, there are still many for whom that is not yet possible, or who just don’t feel comfortable doing so. With the introduction of hybrid working come many new challenges. How do we make everyone feel connected while also trying to adhere to social distancing and other regulations? How can we ensure nobody feels isolated when the rest of their team is in the office but they cannot return yet? There are many technical issues that we need to consider too.

‘Logistically, if you’ve got people working from home but also in the office and you’re holding a meeting, how do you have conference calls going on, plus people physically present? It becomes much more complex. Or if you’re doing hybrid working how are you booking spaces in the office and still be Covid safe? All those things, it’s the logistics of it all and secondly how to rebuild the experience of work when the experience of work is going to be so varied now going back.’

Jacqueline Mathias, Global Head of Learning and Development with Stella McCartney

Challenge 2. Re-mobilizing the workforce

Particularly for those in customer-facing roles, the idea of interacting with many people each day may cause anxiety, and some may not feel ready to put themselves at risk. In some cases, people have said they are not comfortable going back to work yet, and while that is understandable, in some cases, specific jobs require someone to be at a desk at all times or have certain time constraints that need to be considered. This puts considerable pressure on employers to find ways to encourage their people to want to return to work, in the safest possible way.

Challenge 3. Keeping momentum going

The Covid pandemic has affected us all for the past 18 months, and while at the beginning it may have been easier to get people to participate in wellness webinars and other activities, but now, a year and a half later, we are all getting a bit tired of Zoom and Teams. Finding ways to keep people interested in wellbeing activities is essential to ensuring teams are supported.

Some tips and ideas to bring your team from languishing to flourishing

Our Think Tank panellists shared some strategies that worked really well in their organisations, as well as their best pieces of advice to support teams right now.

Tip 1. Be agile

According to Jacqueline Mathias,

“One great way to come up with new ideas is to ‘design solutions with your people’, by working with your team they can help you come up with ideas that may not have crossed your mind.”

It can be easy to fall back into old habits, to go back to the same way you have always done things. Try to be innovative and come up with new ways to motivate and support people. This can help encourage them to come back to work and remove the feeling that they have to. As well as coming back to a new, more exciting workplace, taking the time to come up with new ideas will make people feel like you are going out of your way to make them feel safe and welcomed back to work.

“Never go back to what you’ve always done, just be open-minded, always innovate and think about how you can do things differently because sometimes you’ll be surprised to find out something works better than it did before.”

Stephanie Lipinski, Global Learning & Development Specialist with Stella McCartney

Tip 2. Arm and support your managers and HR

Managers and HR are likely going to be the ones working closest with people, ensuring they are feeling supported in their return to work. One common pitfall is assuming that they are already equipped to do so, when in reality, this will probably be a more significant challenge than they have encountered before, as one of our participants explained;

‘Being in HR is very complex, we’re not psychologists or financial advisors. So, when people are airing their concerns, 100% we want them to be happy in their role, we’re just not always qualified in the vast majority of different areas coming across our desk.’

Tip 3. Redesign a more collaborative workplace

We now know that we can do many of our jobs from home, but we are missing out on the collaborative element of work. Sure, we have Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but a video call is never quite the same as sitting down with your team to work together. We need to re-evaluate what the office really is and why we need it. The office isn’t where you go and sit down 9-5 and answer your emails because you can do that anywhere.

Redesigning a more collaborative space is a great idea to get people on board with the idea of hybrid working. Many of us have parts of our job that would be much easier to get done sitting down with our colleagues, and components (like emails) that we could happily do from home. Talk to your people and see what ideas they may have for a more collaborative office space. Getting feedback from the people who will be using the space is a sure way to ensure your office is set up for what your people really need.

Tip 4. The most crucial leadership capability going forward is empathy.

Empathy has become one of the most important traits for leaders to possess. People want to feel like they are understood, that their leaders recognise the challenges that they are facing at work and home. One sure way to do this is to ask your team what they want. Talk to your people, whether it’s one on one or through surveys or another platform, to figure out what they need to feel supported at work. A lot of leading companies are starting to recognise the need for more empathetic and authentic leadership. Introducing an emotional intelligence training program or talk is one good way to create more awareness of how to be more empathetic.

What are some of the biggest challenges your organisation has faced? What are some of the things they have done really well?

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