Is the ‘old normal’ coming back? Or are we heading for a ‘new, new normal’?

One year on from the start of the pandemic, as spring starts to pop and we continue to progress with the vaccine roll out, we’re all starting to think about summer months – and perhaps a return to our old ways of living and working.

There is no doubt that the pandemic stopped UK society in its tracks and there have been many negative consequences to all of our lives.

Loneliness, missing friends and family, employment worries and uncertainty about the future are just some of the reasons significant numbers of people are experiencing more anxiety (46%), stress (44%), sleep problems (34%) and low mood (46%).

Yet many employers are now starting to think about what they can learn and take away from this period which could have a long-term positive impact on their teams.

New priorities for mental health

Many forward-thinking companies are setting up employee surveys and focus groups over the next few months to do precisely this, with the aim of developing new wellbeing policies and looking at what their working practise should be, coming out of this period.

Nearly one year since we were all told to work from home if we can, the pandemic has transformed our lives in ways that have impacted negatively on the mental health of nearly one in two people (49%), according to research from Public Health England.

Yet it’s precisely because of this impact that more employers than ever are prioritising mental health and practising compassionate, giving rise to several trends we can all learn from when it comes to optimising the mental health of the workforce.

Managers stepping up to support their teams

Before the first lockdown our lives were full of a variety of things we placed real value and reward on, but suddenly not being able to go out, go on holiday or buy things, put the rest of our lives, in particular our jobs and our relationships, under a microscope.

For many people, especially those living alone, work become the only real source of everyday human interaction. This meant that managers have had to become much better at handling people’s fears and anxieties, alongside learning to work and motivate their teams remotely.

One common aspect many managers reported was having to make sure that people felt okay about not feeling okay. In essence simply acknowledging the shock and fear that everyone felt having never known this situation before, ‘normalising’ the anxiety that everyone was experiencing.

Gaps in HR and management training

This change has forced employers to focus on encouraging and empowering managers to acknowledge emotions and get into the habit of remembering to ask individuals how they are or what help they might need. In many cases they have had to train those managers on how to detect and deal with signs of emotional distress.

Managers also had to find new solutions to deal with the burnout and fatigue experienced by those not able to switch off or separate work and home and of working parents, trying to home school and maintain their work. All of this highlighted gaps in HR and management training highlighting the importance of informed wellbeing strategies and management development in soft skills.

Time for reflection and positive change

It is an important human quality to look for the silver lining and as we start to plan for the return of more normal times, we have a genuine opportunity to learn from the last year.

We have demonstrated that teams can be trusted to work hard and stay focused, even when we can’t see them, and to deliver results outside of the 9 to 5 working day.  Managers have shown themselves to be incredibly creative, finding solutions to problems they have never experienced and new ways of working and thinking.

So, can we keep this going and find a way to bring more balance to the employee / employer relationship; better meeting the needs of the individual whilst also achieving the organisations goals?

Building back better

Many organisations have an established annual engagement survey in which they ask the same questions so they can benchmark how they are doing, but what will this year’s look like and how can we ask those same questions after the last 12 months?

It’s time to take stock of the year and to understanding how people are feeling right now, especially when it comes to mental health and what they want from the ‘new normal’.

Organisations who are looking at the factors undermining the health and ability of individuals to perform stand a much greater chance of being able to quickly, but sustainably, rectify any issues they identify.

And those same employers are better able to optimise their wellbeing spend on areas that will have the biggest impact and make the most positive difference.

If your organisation is starting to think about ‘something new’, rather than returning to the ‘old normal’ our expert team is here to help.

Through software, it takes a matter of hours to develop a relevant and focused employee survey which could help you and your organisation to learn build something better.