Tea and sympathy by all means – but then do the right thing
Mark Davies is managing director of Link Mortgage Services
Once stress at work meant exactly that – stress in the workplace. As soon as staff went home, workplace stress effectively became a mostly personal matter, invisible to the outside world and to colleagues. It was not the concern of employers to look beyond the office walls.
That has all changed. Our new working arrangements mean we have exported many work stresses into our homes. I’m sure we can all remember cursing a printer that didn’t work and then some helpful person magically arrived to fix it. They don’t turn up at your home.
It is not one-way traffic of course. The stresses of commuting for example have evaporated for many but we cannot ignore the fact that other anxieties have emerged to take their place. Leaving aside the terrible issue of things like domestic abuse, having (or more accurately not having) the right kit at home to do one’s job properly can create anxiety and tension.
The right WIFI, the correct number of screens, the space to work in, the isolation, the fatigue of video conferencing, or the constant interruption of young children can play havoc with anyone’s sense of well-being. We are all learning to live and work differently at different speeds and with hugely differing resources in the home.
Words are important but they are only part of the answer. Action also means giving your people the tools they need to do whatever job they need to do in their new working environment. Saying the right thing is necessary – doing the right thing is essential.
But this is not as easy. It’s important for managers to spot the signs of stressed-out employees, such as incomplete work, decreased productivity, lower quality of work but that is easier in an office where these things are under one’s nose.
Unhappy people can hide more easily when working from home and will do so if they do not feel they can speak up. Additionally, the managerial appreciation of employees’ working environments is in many cases zero. Do you really know the working environment of your staff? Support needs to be tailored to the individual as well as to the team. We all need to work harder at this.
Finally, all of this has interesting repercussions for our nation’s board rooms.
Giving employees the right tools costs money. There has been a tendency to look at losing office space as an opportunity to save cash but this needs to be re-invested in the tools and management structures that are fit for the purpose of working from home.
Environmental Social and Governance policies are giving most boardrooms pause for consideration as they try to establish a moral compass that goes beyond gross margins, profit and loss and distributable reserves.
The pandemic has a shone spotlight on the role of Society and in turn the society piece of ESG will increasingly focus upon how we look after our people and one another. It may mean that short-term shareholder gains will have to take second place to directors’ concerns about their liabilities (or should that be responsibilities?) to their employees.
If you are not persuaded by this then check your directors and officer insurance for employee liability cover in our new world of identity politics and COVID.
The era of ‘me too’ (let alone personal choices about vaccinations) is understandably focussing insurers’ minds and wallets. Cover is sky-rocketing in price (if it is available) for risks involving employees.