Working Towards Organisational Recovery

8 min read

Over the last two and a half years, we have all experienced personal and professional challenges. There’s been an environmental and social shift where people are increasingly looking to their organisations to continue to provide a psychologically safe workplace through supportive and empathetic leadership with the addition of wanting more flexibility to integrate their work and life needs.

Many of us have experienced a new way of working; some by choice, some by necessity and some by mandate. There are many varied experiences – both good and bad and many in between – and we know that the reality of the pre-COVID work environment is not one we might be able to or even want to re-create as we work towards organisational recovery.

Organisations are at a point where there is a real opportunity to affect positive organisational changes. We can do so by reflecting on our pre-pandemic work culture, and how we will need to equip ourselves, our leaders and our people to meet the demands and high expectations of organisations as we continue to adjust and adapt for the unknown future will continue to change.

Here are some of the ideas and initiatives that were shared:



What makes a work environment somewhere you want to be in?

We are seeing and experiencing a shift in the work environment, the cultural and social. People are experiencing grief, anger, anxiety and stress that will never be the same again. It is time to acknowledge and discuss how we can rebuild moving forwards. How do we support leaders and staff towards recovery, adaptation and transition of the work environment? How can we be resilient in adjusting to another shift with events outside our control?

How can organisations and People Leaders better support their people in working towards organisational recovery?

First, we should acknowledge the difference between management and leadership:

Management is the ‘fixing of problems”, the organisation of targets, schedules, goals, logistics and people. But we can’t solely ‘manage’ our way out of this constantly challenging and changing environment as we forge our path into this ‘second act’ in the workforce since the pandemic.

What we need is leadership. The distinction between management and leadership is that those who lead are connected to their teams emotionally, have self-awareness of their values, emotions, and motivators – and seek to understand and support those around them in meaningful ways.

We know we have no control or predictability over this changing landscape, so cultivating certainty, security and stability in our teams (which will have flow-on effects in terms of productivity, engagement etc.) is the connection piece.

We have become almost conditioned to fear being in the physical presence of others to protect our health. Reemerging into office, onsite, and other physical environments of shared space with colleagues and teams can create cognitive dissonance, as our nervous system is still conditioned to be in this hypervigilant state. What we know about the brain when we feel stress (or go into that FFF response) is that our ability to be rational, logical, think clearly, and control our emotions goes out the window!

How do we balance the benefits of working from home against wanting to be physically together, socialise, innovate and learn? How do leaders begin to accommodate employees’ various requests within role requirements?

The cookie-cutter approach is an old and dated way of managing teams. We’re calling for an individualised and compassionate leadership approach that prioritises time for employees to speak one-to-one with their managers, listen and meet them flexibly wherever possible. For example, we know that working from home can increase performance for projects requiring deep thought and concentration. Equally, tasks that require teamwork and close collaboration are almost always better done face to face in group environments. Figuring out which tasks suits which individual in which context is a more effective way to get better outcomes.

Work-life integration is increasingly relevant in the post-covid hybrid working world. The term takes the concept of work-life balance (maintaining a firm boundary between our work and non-work life) a few steps forward, but it still has the goal of achieving an equilibrium between our personal and professional responsibilities.

How do we balance the benefits of working from home against wanting to be physically together, socialise, innovate and learn?

The primary difference between work-life integration and work-life balance lies in how we can achieve that equilibrium.

Work-life integration seeks to bring work and life closer together. Rather than drawing lines between “work time” and “personal time,” workers can negotiate flexibility to carry out their responsibilities at the times that work well for them.

Having your work and personal life coexist separately is almost impossible. The concept of balance implies a state of perfection, which was never realistic. Allowing workers to attend to other parts of their lives according to their needs, e.g. flexible work practices, can reduce stress and the risk of burnout while generating loyalty and engagement.

Employers and leaders can support their staff to achieve better work-life integration by:

  • Becoming more familiar with the concept and talking about it in your team or workplace.
  • Being open to hearing about each worker’s own life and work priorities and what flexibility they might need or want.
  • Ensuring work and life boundaries remain clear, encouraged, mutually understood and maintained.
  • Role modelling and sharing your approach to integrating work and non-work life and how you prioritise and protect your wellbeing.

The difference between “Conflict Avoidant” and “Conflict Embracing”.

Organisations need to shift to a conflict-embracing workplace intentionally:

  • We need to look at high-level and macro-level responses and interventions that create positive cultures of workplace safety, wellbeing and respect.
  • Clear, consistent, repeated and well thought through messages and communication from senior leaders about the behaviours and practices tolerated and expected between staff.
  • Staff conduct and bullying and harassment policies that formalise these messages and include mechanisms for staff to report complaints, receive support and, where possible, resolve interpersonal behaviour concerns.
  • Focus on capacity-building actions, including awareness raising and empowerment training for leaders and all staff in these areas, including skills training for leaders and staff on having challenging and empathic conversations.
  • Directly encouraging individuals to be empowered in having courageous conversations with colleagues.
  • Leaders need to role model being empathic and kind but also assertive when necessary – especially when they see poor or below-the-line behaviour.
  • A vital element of a high-level macro response is organisational wellbeing and ensuring that workplace stresses are minimised,allowing staff to work in a psychologically safe and sustainable work environment.

When it comes to when and where we do our work, how should we allow employees an opportunity to co-create this?

  • Supporting individuals coming back to the workplace.
  • How to make the workplace comfortable (physical and psychological) is a Spectrum of how we define “comfortable” with leaders needing to navigate this.
  • Re-establishing workplace culture and resetting expectations of moving forward between work and home, including discussing mutual needs and organisation/leadership clarity about flexibility and its limits.
  • Opportunity to reflect on how the office culture was set up before and what we can introduce from the home environment increasing the organisational culture.
  • Allowing staff to co-design and choose when and where to create a psychologically safe workplace will contribute to an organisation’s attraction and retention strategies.
  • Focus on individual outliers – those who may be highly anxious and not speak up about their situations. Provide reasonable workplace accommodations and encourage staff to address chronic or disabling anxiety patterns.
  • Leaders may need a refocusing/training on having challenging but productive and compassionate workplace conversations.
  • Important that leaders get support for themselves and their stresses and wellbeing impacts – role model vulnerability and realness.
  • Many family members of employees have access to Benestar’s My Coach service. As leaders, you may want to share such benefits with your team, especially if they are having difficulties at home.


Empathic Leadership in the Face of Organisational Change

Constant change is a reality for many organisations, be it structural change or responding to broader societal change. That’s implicit in what’s going on in wider society. So leaders must remember what might sit behind why people behave the way they do. For example, individuals who appear “difficult” and oppositional on the surface may be reacting to change, stress and anxiety. As a leader, taking an empathic approach and taking the time to have those individual conversations is essential.Leaders must engage with people and remember that their resistance may be led by fear. So what do we do as leaders?

Don’t be afraid to have empathic validating conversations - we should not underestimate the importance of listening, understanding, and validating people’s experiences. When we’ve been able to do that, we can build more of a sense of trust and connection with staff and an openness to engage in problem-solving conversation.

Culture reset can be a helpful exercise to refocus and realign a team or workplace. However, it needs to be an intentional action that takes time. We know that busy leaders may not have time when trying to get the work done in the organisation. Still, it can be hugely worthwhile to either do it yourself or have someone come and facilitate a team conversation about what the new work culture work world looks like. How can we collaboratively develop ways forward that will work for all of us to reduce the chance of us essentially fighting each other about this?

Even if you are exclusively working from home, there are still ways in which we can cultivate a sense of meaningful connection, even if it’s through a Zoom screen. The trick is to prioritise it and to be intentional about making time. Businesses need to ensure that we are making that time and effort.

Also, leaders need to be walking the walk and talking the talk, having those crucial conversations, getting to know their team members and making them feel that their concerns are valid and normalised to explore how best to offer support.

What is the difference between macro-management, the way we work, compared to micro-management?

Macro-management is about focusing on the big picture and being less focused on the fine details. Micromanagement is a low-trust approach that manages people’s time and tasks in minute detail.

Instead of being a micromanager, ask yourself, “what’s the big picture here?”

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What are the most important things we want you to focus on?
  • What does success look like?

Let people know they’re doing an excellent job to know they are valued. There’s a place to let people know what’s not going so well, but only after you’ve been careful about reminding people about the big picture. Macromanagement means spending most of your time focusing on the big picture. A leader’s role is to bring that perspective to the team.

Sharing a vision ensures people know why they’re doing what they’re doing and the common goal. It’s usually those things, those intrinsic motivators, that keep us going during difficult times. As leaders, encouraging people to tap into intrinsic motivators of values allows for a better level of engagement, even through volatile and uncertain times.