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Back to office?  Leaders may have to resolve the post pandemic distress first

More than a year after the officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and business leaders are still navigating through the aftermath of the pandemic which is deemed to be one of the greatest challenges of our time. It is all dependent on the capability and competency of business leaders when the government restrictions are gradually lifted, business operations will resume and they will determine when to kickstart the gruelling task of returning back to the office, while taking into consideration the safety and health risks of the all employees.

While multiple effective coronavirus vaccines are being produced, approved and distributed certainly brought optimism to many which brings hope of a return to normalcy at the workplace, though the disruptions of the global labour market will persist for an indefinite period of time.

The social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be long lasting and irreversible

The focal point of this article is to touch base on the social and economic impact that has affected humanity as a whole, primarily in the workplace and mental health of employees. When the COVID-19 pandemic hits, there has been significant changes in the livelihoods of many, offering profound uncertainty on what’s next for them.

The combination of job security and financial woes unfolded the growing prevalence of anxiety, depression, defensive coping mechanisms and withdrawal symptoms. Due to the occurrence of the pandemic, some people may think about their own mortality which results in more stress thus significantly reducing workplace engagement.  Weak mental health may sometimes be perceived as a disadvantage at work hence most of the time, workers keep it concealed.

The pandemic has alerted all leaders globally for an unyielding leadership test: What can leaders do to boost employees’ mental health and wellbeing in the workplace?

Results have shown that the emotional sufferings of employees have significantly reduced when leaders exhibited Servant Leadership methods that centres around empathy and having “the notion of being ever ready to serve”, for instance:

– Empathize with employees’ emotional sufferings — both mental and physical wellbeing

– Prioritizing and developing employees personal, professional growth and happiness

– Encouraging employees to find contentment during the pandemic by contributing more towards the less fortunate or fostering pets

– Empowering employees by being available and present to them

– Communicate more often than usual — be a listening ear and provide suggestions when required

– Encourage employees to utilize Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and speak to psychologists and counsellors

– Offering one on one support to their employees

– Considering giving employees time off or day offs

– Be vulnerable and open up personal struggles with employees

Laurie Mitchell, assistant vice president of global wellbeing and health at Unum stated that “Leaders and employees’ awareness, early intervention and education are some of the most vital components of adopting mental health resources and benefits.”

Servant leaders play significant roles in ensuring the emotional priorities and needs of the employees are met, once this goal is achieved, employees will unite behind a common purpose and recommence to stay engaged and positive at work while contributing to their communities, which in turn creates a culture of confidence, belief and impartiality at work thus allowing employees to be more creative, efficient and productive in their role.

As most of the attention is being shifted towards employees’ concerns, servant leaders understand their needs hence providing them with autonomy and adequate resources to manoeuvre around different situations.

Top-down approaches such as transformational leadership do not work well in a stressful environment, with or without a pandemic. Servant leadership methods are more effective in positively influencing a workplace environment, causing a massive reduction in states of uncertainty and anxiety as leaders embrace a bottom-up approach, emphasizing on the needs and growth of employees.

In retrospect, there are numerous ways that employees could reduce stress by themselves by making a couple of lifestyle and routine changes at work:

– To reduce burnout, employees should develop boundaries and flexibility on their working hours and personal life

– Turning off email notifications after work hours

– Engaging in activities that boost employees’ dopamine and endorphins levels

– Strike up a conversation with a colleague, talk about things outside of work

– Set up automatic replies when you’re on leave as it signals a crucial boundary

Vaccinations are being rolled out globally and many are being inoculated at a rapid rate, Anthony Fauci, American immunologist and scientist suggested that 70–85% of the population has to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity and return to normalcy. Bloomberg report made a prognosis based on a global vaccination tracker, stating that will take approximately 7 years based on today’s vaccines rates.

Notwithstanding the many difficulties that business leaders have to face as mass vaccinations programs take place and having the offices open up again while gradually allowing employees to return to office. In a survey conducted by Gensler, 2300+ employees in the US from various industries are eager to work in the office again but expect changes with the new ways of working.

Employees may feel uneasy to return before herd immunity takes place as there are possible repercussions such as a second or third wave of the pandemic by the loosening of social distance restrictions, worrying about their own health and safety upon returning to work can cause substantial amounts of stress for employees.

Firstly, to combat the above worries, organizations can conduct surveys to gauge employees’ desires and readiness to return to work post-pandemic as business leaders can better understand employees’ expectations and what they can prepare and provide for the next phase.

If in any case an employee refuses to return to the office due to fears of being exposed to the virus, the first step an employer could do is to ensure that everyone in the organization comprehends and abides to health and safety protocols, such as mask wearing, maintaining a 1 meter distance, daily temperature checks, being open and transparent to one another if any persons have been exposed to the virus or are close contacts and providing sufficient personal protective equipment and disinfecting supplies at the office.

Employers should enquire if employees have a pre-existing condition that makes them more susceptible to coronavirus which puts them into the category of being a high-risk individual. Furthermore, the environment and the nature of a person’s job is predominantly a major feature in their requirement to return to office and the employers would have to make a judgment call after taking into account the various above-mentioned factors.

In a nutshell, the most critical and prominent aspect of all would be the organizational leaders’ commitment towards easing anxieties in employees should not just be mere lip service, leaders must “walk the talk”, with consistency in their actions, leaders build trust and respect among employees and it sends a key signal that they immensely care about every employee’s safety, wellbeing and mental health — that is how you differentiate between a leader and a boss.

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WiseNetAsia Knowledge Center
Copyright © 2021 WiseNet Asia Pte Ltd.  All Rights Reserved

 

Read this first if you’re stuck in a career limbo

Be grateful when you still have a job during the COVID-19 pandemic, they say. But what if you never truly fancy your job to begin with and you’re just staying put because you avail yourself to the sense of dormancy that comes with having a stable job? Or do you actually enjoy what you’re doing but you have reached career stagnancy? These are two differing factors that you should deeply consider before making any radical moves.

Did the pandemic and transition to remote working heighten your current discontent at work or you were already dissatisfied prior but reactiveness and complacency prevented you from thriving further, and now you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, your mind is reinforcing you with metaphorical quotes of “the grass is always greener on the other side” and “your job is the bane of your existence”, so now you’re ruminating on what could have materialized if you have left pre pandemic.

Do not leave your job for the wrong reasons

It is sensible to leave your current job only if these criteria are met:

  • It is taking a toll on your overall health, mentally and physically. For instance, you’re experiencing nausea, migraines, sleeplessness, depression and anxiety, these are symptoms that would not only impact your health in the long run should you choose to stay but it will predominantly affect how you react towards the relationships you have with your co-workers, family and friends. In a science-backed survey by AIA Insurance, the 2019 survey has shown that in a pool of 17,595 employees, 51% suffers from work-related stress and 53% sleeps less than seven hours per night, 84% of employees suffer from upper body pain and musculoskeletal conditions.
  • You have this sense of disarray that your skill sets are not being fed through the right funnel, you feel like you’re not contributing enough to your company. You might be thinking to yourself, am I even in the right role? Are my visions and interests aligned with the company’s long-term objectives? You’re dreadful because you’re not achieving anything significant, you’re demotivated at work, your productivity and output has dropped. Us as human beings seek for high value work, one that requires us to be creative, analytical, involves human engagement that brings an overall sense of happiness.
  • No growth opportunities and poor remuneration in your current job. Your job is very mechanical and routine based, Joyce K. Reynolds an Expert Business Coach stated that “If you feel static and you can’t earn further responsibilities or get ahead after pitching ideas on a subject matter, you’re most likely in a dead-end job”, this could mean prejudiced treatment, favouritism in management practices, you notice your co-workers are getting career opportunities that you aren’t getting. Remuneration does not justify the workload and treatment being imposed on you, if this has been communicated to your line leader and no clarity has been given after countless occasions, then you should make your move.

From another standpoint, leaving your job for the wrong reasons might pose major career upheavals:

  • Don’t leave your job if you’re being given a strenuous task that is not within your expertise, it is a golden opportunity to experience a new learning curve. In today’s fast paced environment, you’re bound to be given unfamiliarized tasks, by accepting it without hesitation directly showcase your ability and willingness to learn. Job scopes are constantly changing and are becoming more cumbersome hence we need to alter our ways of working.
  • Don’t leave your job if your company is undergoing a corporate restructure. With this ongoing pandemic, many organizations have to downsize and end up outsourcing some work functions to contractors. Upon receiving this news, most employees would panic, frantically updating their resumes and LinkedIn profiles in hopes of landing a new job before a career catastrophe occurs. Always remember, if you’re an asset to the company, you would not be easily replaced, don’t rush into unwise actions, have a transparent conversation with your line leader during your performance review, constantly upskill yourself, identify knowledge gaps and discuss opportunities.
  • Don’t leave your job if your workplace relationships aren’t blooming. There’s this catchphrase that one should manifest “Do not take workplace relationships personally”. In a corporate setting, it rarely revolves around you as an individual but on your work performance itself. All relationships need effort, managing expectations and it requires a two-way communication, contemplate if you have been contributing to a less positive rapport with your line leaders or colleagues. If this underlying issue leaves unresolved, undeniably, you will bring on this toxic trait to your next job.

    Ensure that you have 3 to 6 months of emergency savings before leaving your job

However, if you have well taken into consideration the above components and you’re adamant about leaving your job, continue reading as these are risks to be evaluated upon making a decision:

  • Ensure that you have enough savings to cover your fixed expenditures and commitments such as home mortgage and rentals, car loans, health insurance, food expenses
  • Sharpen your soft skills in communication, problem solving, analytical thinking, leadership, stress and conflict management, adaptability
  • Recognize your credit score to ease future borrowings
  • Redo your budget and eliminate unnecessary spending
  • Set up an emergency fund that will cover your expenses for 3-6 months
  • Notify your line leader a month or two in advance prior to leaving and provide adequate justification of your resignation
  • Express gratitude and appreciation towards your co-workers, peers and line leaders. Don’t burn bridges and leave your workplace with dignity and respect

Before making that drastic leap, cultivate self-reflection and identify the fundamental cause of your job misery, ask yourself, would you regret this decision in the long run? It is a precarious choice to make if you leave your comfortable job with or without a backup plan, the repercussions would hit you, psychologically, physically and financially. Keep in mind that we are in the midst of a public health crisis and an uncertain job market hence it is essential to plan ahead and implement various strategies before making this bold move, keep in mind that leaving your job does not equal to a personal failure but merely embarking on a brand-new endeavour.

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February 2021

Head of Innovation for an Accelerator Hub in Jiangsu providing funding and infrastructure support for Singapore companies expanding to China in the areas of biomedical science, nanotechnology, and advanced manufacturing

 

February 2021

Successfully placed the role of Freight Forwarding Sales Director, China for a multi-modal Transportation and Intelligent Logistics Park in Chongqing under Singapore-China (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative Framework, integrating land, rail, water and air transportation at western part of China

February 2021

Closed the position of General Ledger Manager, Singapore for a world leading solutions provider of smart electronic devices