How can business leaders improve work environments in 2022?

14 January 2022

As we get back to the daily grind, University of Canterbury Professor Katharina Näswall has some great insights that could be useful for business leaders as they support their team this year.

  • Business employees talking with tab
Professor Katharina Naswall, Psychology, Speech and Hearing

University of Canterbury psychology Professor Katharina Näswall

It’s common to spend time over the summer break reflecting on the year that’s been. People often consider things such as, is it time for a change? Does my job bring me joy? Could something in my life be improved?

In circumstances such as the aftermath of a natural disaster or a global pandemic, these questions become stronger because people have experienced different ways of working, including greater autonomy. Not going back to the status quo may become even more appealing.

For all the organisation leaders out there, here is some insight that may help you support your employees when they return to work after their summer break, when they’ve likely reflected on the year that’s been and feel motivated to make the coming year better.

Research on holiday time shows benefits for employees from having a good break, but if things stay the same when staff return, they’re going to quickly become just as wiped out as before.

Long vacations aren’t the only way to deal with stress. In fact, it’s crucial to build recovery throughout the year, as this is something that gives people energy.

As a business leader, your start-of-the-year reflection could include considering how successful your work environment has been in empowering staff to maintain a healthy wellbeing. Are your staff members taking frequent breaks throughout the year? Does your team take regular lunch breaks? If your staff work from home, do they have healthy rituals in place that enable them to disconnect when stepping away from their work set up?

When the dust eventually starts to settle on the Covid-19 pandemic, employees could either realise they want something different or feel vulnerable.

In my research of psychosocial recovery after disasters, I’ve discovered that it typically takes a while to see the consequences of significant events on staff wellbeing. Therefore, being supportive, whatever that means, could look different. It is important to be adaptable and maintain an awareness of how your staff are tracking with their wellbeing. When looking at the effects of the Canterbury earthquakes, we saw that some people reacted almost immediately, while for others it took a few years before they needed support.

Providing certainty, when possible, is a key support you could provide. For example, if an employer knows that there aren’t going to be layoffs this would be a positive thing to share with staff. Job security is a big influence on employee wellbeing.

Where possible, embrace supporting your staff with “job crafting” – this will help those who are seeking something different.

Job crafting is an action where employees identify options and different approaches to completing work. Usually these are small things that can be tweaked to make work more enjoyable. This process is focused around reviewing what we do and how we can make it better.

Support your staff to look at how they frame their work in relation to their purpose. This can help someone to see their role as part of something bigger, for example. They might want to ask for different assignments, or they might just want to work from home once a week.

Over the past two years, employees have experienced new ways of working that are more autonomous, such as working from home. Autonomy is a major factor for work wellbeing, and your staff are likely going to want to keep that in their work life.

This article was originally published on Stuff. 

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