Leaders everywhere are beginning to plan for how and when their employees return to work. While many are yearning to return to “normal,” the reality is that this past year has changed us, both personally and professionally.  Savvy leaders will intentionally build upon where we are now to craft a new and better way of working. Here are three strategies that can help rebuild connection and trust in your organization.

1. Actively address the strain of burnout

One recent study found that nearly 70% of employees are experiencing burnout. According to Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski, coauthors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, people with burnout experience a decrease in their sense of accomplishment even when they are doing well, which eventually creates a decline in productivity and engagement. Sufferers of burnout also experience a depletion in their capacity for empathy and compassion. 

Before your employees can lean into reuniting, they need time off to rest and recharge. Successful leaders are addressing this by giving employees extra vacation time and even paying people a bonus to take it. Other leaders are announcing unexpected company-wide days off or closing for extended weekends or over holiday breaks. Others are investing in wellness programs and mental health services. What matters most is that you recognize that burnout is a critical problem and you actively start addressing it in productive ways. 

2. Empower the science of connection and belonging

Humans are a tribal species and a sense of belonging is crucial for our well-being. There are many ways we form and maintain bonds with others, unfortunately, these methods are either strained or absent on video calls. As a result, we have to work harder neurologically to communicate online, creating “zoom fatigue” and a sense of disconnection.

Leaders need to help people rebuild that sense of authentic connection and trust in their colleagues. Some leaders have already launched these efforts, using Slack channels with names like “the watercooler.” Other leaders are building connection time into regular team meetings, sending people off to virtual breakout rooms to connect before the official agenda launches or hosting virtual coffee breaks and happy hours. Innovative leaders are using asynchronous short video tools such as Voodle to give teams that boost of connection and creativity in a way that works for today’s distributed workforce.

Consider how you can create something similar that matches the culture and context of your organization. Just be mindful of timing. If you launch programs before you have addressed burnout, people might feel pressure to participate when they don’t have the physical or emotional bandwidth to do so effectively.

3. Plan to re-onboard your new hires (and possibly everyone) to rebuild connection, trust and organizational culture

Onboarding to a new organization or a team is stressful, but it’s especially challenging when everyone is working from home. New hires that work remotely are denied access to the daily interactions that create the culture of a workplace. 

Your new employees have also been stripped of many of the biological cues that help them accurately read the intent of their peers and supervisor. Research shows that psychological safety and trust are the hallmarks of high-performing teams. Both are built through small interactions with each other over time, as we tune in to the alignment between people’s words, actions, and cues their body sends. We certainly gain this information during work meetings, but we gain even more during those spontaneous conversations as we learn about our values, families, likes and dislikes, all of which are crucial data for building and maintaining trust. 

At this time, new hires need some special attention. Assigning a peer mentor to a new employee consistently drives good results, yielding higher levels of engagement and retention. Today, a mentor can also play a critical role in bridging the gaps that new hires experience in these unusual times. Managers can also make a difference by meeting more frequently with new hires as well as investing in those informal opportunities for connection listed above.

In addition, leaders need to plan for a second onboarding event when it’s safe to be together again. By hosting a re-onboarding event, you can create meaningful engagement as you build the next new normal together. In fact, it might be a great way to engage the entire organization in celebrating all that we have survived and marking a new beginning as we build back better.

While we are all feeling the strain of this past year, the good news is that we are a resilient species. The efforts you make right now will determine whether your people emerge disconnected and disengaged or stronger and more connected than ever before. 

Source: Entrepreneur