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Investing in Yourself: 2021 Reflections On Balance in Life & Work

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In the midst of the pandemic, working from home was a forced nature and now more companies are looking over their employees’ well-being due to increased stress, job dissatisfaction, and resignations. Trying to navigate through the ‘hybrid work life’, digital transformation of our companies, and living in and out of lockdowns, we still have achievements to celebrate from 2021.  

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been many adaptations which I had to get used to which were drastically different from our physical office environment. What once was casually swinging by a colleague’s desk to ask an urgent question or get quick feedback for a project status was moved to communicating remotely with my team. Not only was I trying to prioritise the wellbeing of my team, but I’ve had to take a good look at my mental exhaustion of scheduling daily video calls while trying to be productive without surrounding distractions. As team leaders, we need to embrace developing our leadership skills for the new work culture of 2022: being aware of your employee’s fatigue and burn out and maintaining the human connection between remote team members.

The New Work Culture

The key factors for limited employee’s retention is the lack of belonging, safety, and emotional wellness at work. We’re built to be social creatures and we need to feel appreciated and experience gratitude to feel a sense of belonging. This goes towards both junior and senior professionals who need reassurance for their work performance. Remember that face-to-face assurance isn’t the same as online. Show your gratitude in both written communication and during calls. Let your interpersonal skills do the unsaid work: ask them what they did during the weekend or about their side project’s progress.

Be open-minded to random interruptions during calls. It’s most likely that your team members aren’t home alone – bored children are stuck at home! – and that everyone is adjusting to being at home more often. I’ve realised I need to go back to basics (sleep, nutrition, and movement) and be consistent in my self-care. It doesn’t have to be 100% successful. Take regular ‘micro-breaks’, schedule ‘positive reflections’ time (or working through negative thoughts!), practice saying ‘no’ (don’t feel guilty during burnout weeks) and ask for help when you need it. Companies need to utilize tech services to provide healthier lifestyle benefits: gym and fitness apps memberships, athletic wear, healthier food options and discounts. It allows us employees to take care of ourselves and our loved ones in an era of financial burden. We need to monitor each other’s fatigue and be offered paid time off as a safety net.

At Microsoft, we had renamed our ‘sick days’ as ‘sick and mental health time’ to encourage leaders to gain a new appreciation of the many factors of wellbeing: emotional, physical, financial, and psychological. Managers were given discussion guides in how to talk to their employees about these varied benefits such as creating new pandemic leave for parents. We had the chance to pursue passion projects and develop our creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. It was an opportunity to redirect our strengths in leading innovative solutions, encourage prioritisation, time management, and help grow our collaborative network. 10% of company hours each week is a good start to allow employees to explore alternative skills and experiences.

How To Keep Camaraderie Online

We all need the time for that ‘watercooler talk’ – it’s what helps us to reset between tasks and casually bond with our colleagues. Talking about non-work related things is part of our impromptu talks during coffee and lunch breaks. Being physically distant and isolated doesn’t allow us to ‘bump into each other in the hallway’ like old times.

Set up ‘informal chats’ where you don’t talk about work

Catching up with colleagues about non-work related things will show an appreciation and the chance to connect on different levels on an interpersonal level. Make time for pre / post meetings by starting the meetings early or ending the meetings early. Let everyone know about the open-dialogue hour to allow an unexpected chance to decide what to do and use the conversation for. Sending out virtual praises and allowing a mix of formal and informal communication drives an ‘authentic communication’ culture; have employees find a common entertainment value (like listening to the same podcast) to bridge the communication gap when employees have limited accessibility to their leaders due to remote working. Talk on common interests and share personal growth stories.

Create a space where anyone could bump into each other online

An Open Teams Channel encourages employees to start informal chats anytime based on the employee’s interests and passions. Share ideas, pictures, and interesting links to allow ‘water-cooler’ connectivity in remote teams. Downtime and casual interactions build mutual respect, trust, and connectivity between colleagues, new hires and their manager in a comfortable environment. Microsoft managers who were actively involved in the guided process were three times more likely to have satisfied new hires by creating a sense of belonging and supportive work environment.

Create a supportive and trusting environment to talk about mental health

Educating employees on various mental health topics in an era where unstable changes affecting financial and family issues is common is vital. Allowing employees to have access to e-learning or remote conferencing with mental health experts or attend workshops to teach people how to manage their stress levels and cope with difficult emotions are essential. It’s not compulsory but it needs to be readily accessible.

Share a virtual meal and plan serial activities

Team lunches ordered from the same place or delivery apps not only supports local eateries but allows informal ideas and real conversations to develop. Things like virtual trivia, ‘happy hours’, book clubs, Netflix watch parties, or lunch-and-learn sessions can break the monotony of everyday work. Co-create and build a virtual culture for employees to look forward to.

 Leave Your ‘Work Persona’ At Work

Our work and personal lives are already blurred thanks to working in the same environment: our home. Set personal boundaries of when to start and finish your work hours: differentiate between your ‘work’ and ‘weekend’ personas.

 Schedule family times in advance and be consistent with it

Book vacations, key events and video calls to keep up with loved ones especially if you’re living abroad from your home city. Set time away to spend with your family and friends intentionally with regular meeting times – your mental health will thank you!

 Don’t forget to invest in yourself too

It’s easy for us to cater to others and forget about our self-care needs. Take time away to reset by working on side projects, hobbies, volunteer work (your professional skills are helpful for NGOs!) for a much needed mental health break. Doing ‘nothing’ on the weekends counts too!

Take a ‘work-life balance’ approach to your work days

Balance work across the week and ensure that the weekend is a ‘no work talk’. Take a ‘life with work’ balance and prioritise living your life where work is the ‘side dish’. An active recovery means balancing self and professional care in real-time recovery – things like meditation, yoga, exercising, whatever works for you! We’re expected to embrace the hustle culture in a fast-paced landscape since pre-covid times but we’re not all ‘high-performing superhumans’. Put your needs first before meeting your team’s to achieve higher engagement.

Be Transparent About Your Mental Health Status

With hybrid working and talks about diversity, inclusivity and equality becoming increasingly common, we have to take serious action in implementing certain societal changes. We need to listen attentively to each other in and out of the workplace in a sensitive crisis time. Working remotely can be isolating but it’s also crucial that we maintain our stress levels by achieving a better ‘life with work’ mindset. Talking about your mental health status to your leader and team members should be normalised. It benefits everyone in practicing empathy for each other. Don’t feel guilty in talking about serious physical and mental health issues that are impacting your work performance.