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  • Writer's pictureWanda Wallace

Thriving at work in the post-pandemic world

Leaders can take four steps to show employees how valued they are and ease the trauma of COVID-19.

Let’s call the past two years what they have been: a collective trauma. We haven’t always labeled it as such because we tend to think of trauma as a horrendous experience, like war or a physical attack, that happens to a discrete set of people. However, in organizations across every industry, the impact of the last two years has a lot in common with what would widely be considered traumatic events.

In our work as consultants in the workplace, and in the academic research on the topic, we see people exhibiting a decreased capacity to deal with emotions (their own and others’), increased displays of anger, higher rates of anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. We believe one of the key drivers of the “great resignation” is the trauma we have been through. So how can leaders and managers help people reduce anxiety and regain balance and energy?

Moving forward after any trauma depends in large part on both feeling heard and sharing common experiences. We know that these two workplace conditions are essential for employees to feel engaged and do their best work. According to a May 2021 study by Glint, a company that creates employee engagement platforms, the top two drivers of a work culture in which employees are happy, satisfied, and engaged are (1) an opportunity to learn and grow and (2) a sense of belonging. Researchers reached these conclusions after analyzing millions of responses from 629 companies on Glint’s platforms and studying more than 275,000 job postings from 375 organizations on LinkedIn.

Moving forward also requires having the opportunity to acknowledge and grieve what’s been lost. To do so, people need a psychologically safe environment. At work that means allowing colleagues to talk freely about the challenges they’re facing, such as fears about new coronavirus variants, grappling with uncertainty, and collaborating with coworkers whom they may have never met in person. Telling employees to “tough it out” is not helpful.

To better understand and facilitate healing without becoming mired in talking about trauma, leaders should focus on four actions that will help employees feel valued in the post-COVID workplace.

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