Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay offer their advice on maintaining a positive outlook in challenging times
Business prospects have rarely looked so uncertain. Leaders and HR business partners are beginning to turn their attention towards their employees as they sense morale and team spirit are showing signs of becoming fragile. So called Quiet Quitting is much talked about: some people who previously would go the extra mile for their company, working long hours and taking on extra tasks, seeking to progress up the career ladder, have ‘tuned out’ of work.
This trend seems to be echoed in the Gallup 2022 survey that showed only 9% of workers in the UK were engaged or enthusiastic about their work, ranking 33rd out of 38 European countries.
An active approach is required to start from the ground up, working with local teams and individuals and addressing their needs.
Actions which focus on the team
Teams are a natural home for support – they provide an accessible and immediate means of looking out for each other, offering encouragement, motivation and stimulating energy. Teams which are able to set and monitor their own goals mean individuals can relate to the goals set. Remote and hybrid working has sometimes taken the emphasis away from teams working together. This is a pity because experience has shown that working together in teams can oil the wheels of an organisation and help provide a satisfying and purposeful environment for individuals.
Experience has shown that working together in teams can oil the wheels of an organisation
Consider undertaking a team temperature check to see how well things are working and what needs to be improved. Some will do this informally, others if appropriate, will circulate a questionnaire for all the team to complete, then collating the responses and sharing and discussing these with the team. Be ready, willing and able to respond to any concerns: importantly, the outcome should lead to a team action plan for improvement.
Often teams feel more comfortable with their own shared vision and mission tailored to their team – this can set out how the team want to be perceived by others, what the purpose of the team is and what its values are. Setting a climate welcoming suggestions and valuing team contributions helps to free up a team atmosphere and open up discussion. Consider raising the subject of employee well-being as part of team meetings and one-to- ones: checking-in with individual team members on how they are feeling about their work. This can loosen tensions and give people permission to speak up.
Offer support in a natural and helpful way; develop an employee well-being programme available to everyone, with mental health first aiders and a financial well-being programme to help employees better manage their money matters.
Another valuable support is to hold face-to-face team events which allow people to come together and spend quality time together. Studies show that trust is built in a team when people are given explicit permission to open-up and when they feel comfortable sharing with others, what’s working well for them as well as possible shortcomings.
Pay attention to individual needs and concerns
During times of uncertainty, such as right now, individual needs and concerns may be nearer the surface than normal. The cost-of-living crisis is putting stress on many households. A sympathetic listening ear will pick this up. Discussing issues can at least put them into perspective and may suggests ways to move forward. For example, if overload is a problem, talk through which tasks are priorities so that team members avoid being overwhelmed by sheer volume of work. Talk about the ‘why’ of a task as well as what needs to be achieved so that team members understand the bigger picture. Above all, show you are prepared to listen.
Support team leaders
What leaders say and do has a profound effect on the atmosphere in a team. Help them to recognise the value of consistency and to be especially aware of doing or saying something which contradicts the espoused values.
Leaders are valuable role models for their teams, but they themselves may be feeling under a lot of pressure. Setting up a network of peer support can be a big help, with additional support from readily available coaching and mentoring.
Organisations and their leaders can do nothing to diminish the economic uncertainty that the UK in particular is facing but can influence employee morale. Those organisations which proactively engage with employees, getting to know them, listening and responding, appreciating them as individuals and developing team morale are more likely to create a workplace where people want to continue to give of their best.
The task for HR and L&D professionals is to continue to promote such a climate in the face of harsh headwinds.
Sarah Cook is managing director of leadership development consultants the Stairway Consultancy. Steve Macaulay is an associate of Cranfield Executive Development, Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, Sarah at email@example.com