How HR leaders can build resilience in the 'B-suite'

85% of the workforce experienced high levels of burnout since the pandemic

How HR leaders can build resilience in the 'B-suite'

The strain of the global pandemic has well and truly taken its toll on the workforce. Yes, returning to the office will be ‘heaven’ for some, to escape the cramped living conditions and working on the kitchen table, but the reality is no matter what your work or personal situation, 2020 and 2021 have been two very long years, resulting in significant suffering in mental and physical health for a lot of people.

Gartner Research from 2021 revealed that 85% of the workforce had experienced high levels of burnout since the pandemic, while 40% experienced declines in their work-life balance. The question begs, how do we build resilience back into your workforce?

“Connection has been proven to be a major contributor to wellbeing during the pandemic,” Rebecca Houghton, CEO of BoldHR, told HRD. “Research shows that a high number of regular, positive interactions have a direct correlation to general happiness and resilience. Conversely, a low number of interactions and/or poor quality, negative interactions also affect your wellbeing.

“The biggest drawcard to returning to the office is that we can connect - so make sure that your people actually do connect!  Even your early adopters, who are keen to come back to the office will be put off if they turn up and everyone's in meetings all day.”

Houghton raises a salient point. If the office atmosphere is going to return to pre-pandemic mentality of silos, continuous meetings and little general in-action between its incumbents, people will lose the zest that had built up about returning. Companies need to plan for more social interaction, as that is what society has been lacking now for two long years.

“To practice a positively attractive workplace, create connection events for at least three months that are focused not on the work, but on the human connection,” Houghton added.  “Coffee safari Tuesdays, pizza order Wednesdays, and quiz time Thursdays amongst other activities. Until the connection factor overcomes the comfort and commute factors, you'll need to work harder.

“In your mid-level leadership group - what we call the B-Suite - the signs of burnout are often overlooked at great cost to performance.  This group suffers greater burnout than any others - over 50% according to Adecco.  If you're observing your leaders over-react to tiny tipping points, or if your C-suite leaders are complaining of suddenly demanding or recalcitrant attitudes, a lack of accountability, a sudden sense of entitlement or surprising naivete from their once-coping leadership teams then these are signs that your mid-level leaders are reaching burnout.”

The past two years has seen the traditional working day blurred with employers not shy to contact employees at all times of the day and night expecting a response imminently. The matter is further complicated by the reliance of technology to accommodate simple tasks meaning most people don’t turn off their phones until they are about to go to bed, compounded by it is the first item they reach for when they wake up. Being always on compels people to respond to messages even when they don’t need to.

“ADP Research proves that full time remote workers are doing an extra day per week at the moment – and HBR research shows that increased work demands are one of the top drivers for wellbeing issues,” Houghton added. “While we want our workers back in the office, many executives do not believe - or are not prepared -  that they may face a significant productivity hit.  The result will be that expectations will increase - just as many hours, and a longer commute with more interruptions - unless it is proactively addressed.

“You need to engage your staff and empower them. Launch into these issues with openness and leverage the conversation to bring your teams closer together.  This will mean putting aside assumptions about what your people think or feel and actively listening and enabling them to direct the actions that matter most.”

Human resources must engage with senior leadership and the workforce if it is to provide an ongoing role as a solution provider. Human resources is an important conduit and must emphasise its knowledge in helping exhausted employees regain enthusiasm for office work.

“In Deloitte’s 2021 Global Resilience Report, more than a third of respondents were not confident that their organisation had done a good job of developing trust between employees and their leaders,” Houghton added.

“Did you know that the disconnect between executive and employee is the widest it has ever been according to PWC? 

“Despite human resources best efforts, many executive teams remain stubbornly confident that they know what their people need. They still make decisions on norms that are three or more years old and are resolutely cynical about the research you’ve put in front of them to the contrary. It’s like beating your head against a brick wall.

“High-performing businesses have regular, quality listening and dialogue between C-Suite and workforce, as well as between C-Suite and B-Suite; agreement on the norms that have changed, and the new assumptions that underpin decision making, and finally, a clear approach to negotiating the gap between what employees want and what executives want.

“Your B-Suite leaders are the glue that will bring trust back into the room, and your C-Suite needs to listen hard.”

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