How leaders can promote well-being and happiness at work during pandemic times.
From companies to individuals, we have all been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. While we know that many businesses have had an extremely difficult time, some businesses have thrived dramatically. There is no doubt that the way we work has changed, but in many ways, it has changed for the better : Remote working, flexible working. During this unprecedented time, we have seen companies and employees learn new skills and develop new behaviors which have improved the way they operate.
I had the opportunity to Interview Sam Carey, to discuss how to lead and boost well-being at work during these pandemic times, she is the General Manager of Impact, a global leadership development agency.
“It’s important to find ways to help people feel connected. One of the things we have been really proud of, is that many of the wellbeing initiatives have been very much employee led”
Tell us more about Impact, which we know is a world-leading experiential learning company, but what services does it provide, to who those services are addressed?
Impact’s work is ultimately about liberating human potential. We do that by helping people to learn about themselves and to change whatever they need to be better, whether that’s a better leader, better manager or just a better person in general.
When you change hearts and minds like we do, it manifests itself in an organisation by helping people to drive change more effectively. We help organisations across three core areas: leadership, change and sustainable innovation, and at the intersection of the three. We offer our support right the way up and across organisational structures too. This ranges from graduates and apprentices just starting out in their careers, to emerging talent and middle managers, all the way to CEO and senior management level, and everything in-between.
You joined impact in 1990, when you were only 20 years old, during that time with the company you have worked your way up from an office administrator to the leader of the entire UK arm of the business. The business has since grown from an office team of 25 to over 250 staff worldwide, what is the recipe for your success?
Being passionate about the company, it’s culture and ethos, and the work we do has been vital to my career development. Ever since I came for my first interview at Impact, it felt like somewhere I could be at home. Even as a junior member of the team, I felt like I could make a difference, not to be noticed, but to add value to the business and what we do. I’ve always loved what we do. I think it's incredible that we help people to be better, either in the work they do, or to simply be better human beings. Doing good in the world just feels like a really important mission that I’ve always wanted to be a part of, and I continue to want to be a part of.
I’ve never really had a game plan, as it were. I certainly never came in thinking ‘I want to be the boss in 20 years’ time’. I have always worked very intuitively, taking opportunities within the business as they have emerged. That has meant doing things I never expected, or thought I’d be capable of. As a result, I’ve been able to flex into different roles, taken a few risks and really challenged myself, which has also meant accepting that failure is part of that process along the way.
“Now many of us are working more remotely, finding ways to keep communicating the positives and recognizing people’s contributions and achievements is more important than ever”
You're the general manager of Impact UK, the largest operational base globally, and you're responsible for leading the talented team to achieve the UK’s contribution to the global vision, goals, or strategy. What are the lessons you've learned over the years about leadership?
I've learned that there is leadership capability in anybody, including myself. I didn't think I would be a leader or had it in me to be one. But I am, and I have been for the last 20 odd years!
One of my biggest fears was that, as a leader, I would always need to know the answers, but it’s usually the case that whatever answers you need, you will find them from within your team. So, I've also learned how important it is to listen. I'm quite consultative within my role and the majority of my job is to listen to people, either in groups or on a one-on-one basis. I listen to their ideas, to their problems, and the issues and challenges they are facing, and from lots of different angles and points of view. One of the skills I then bring is to make sense of all those different viewpoints and come up with a clear path forward. It’s absolutely not just about a leader coming up with a plan in isolation and hurtling forward with it, saying “Right, this is what we’re going to do.” It’s important to get consensus and consult with people to test out ideas. It’s crucial to get people involved and engaged in a plan so they can really buy into it and make it work.
Communication is also critical to effective leadership. Keeping people informed, regularly, in an appropriate way, so they can really understand and see progress, is key to helping them understand the part they play in the business. It also means you are offering a constant feedback cycle to be checking in with people about whether things are working as best they should be, and if not, ascertaining how they can be done better.
Covid changed the way the world works and models of working in these times of constant uncertainty employees have had an overload of work over exposure to zoom amongst other things that have damaged their mental health. Based on your experience, how can we promote the well-being of employees at work?
Absolutely no one has been left unaffected by Covid. Even organisations that were well set up to tackle some of the initial challenges, such as working from home, will now be facing the inevitable effects of the long-term pressures and uncertainty that have stemmed from the pandemic and now the tragic situation we are seeing emerge in Ukraine.
One of the most important things that organisations can do to boost mental wellbeing, is to acknowledge the situation we are in and encourage openness about how people are feeling, recognising that things are hard and that we may not have all the answers, but ensuring people feel that we are all there for each other.
Leaders have a fundamental role to play in facilitating this, by carving out space and time for people to talk. Crucially, this shouldn’t always be work related. At Impact we have done this in a number of ways, from ensuring regular catch ups including all of our global offices, which then break out into smaller more informal group conversations, through to specific wellbeing programmes.
It’s important to find ways to help people feel connected. One of the things we have been really proud of, is that many of the wellbeing initiatives have been very much employee led. For instance, one colleague was passionate about yoga, so he took the initiative to lead a lunch time virtual yoga session for anyone to join. This grew into ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’, a designated time for employees to lead an activity, or just a non-work-related moment, for people to chat about whatever was going on for them.
The pandemic has shone a light on the fact that we all have multi-faceted lives and that has a huge impact on how people are faring at work. By creating these spaces and opportunities for people to share what’s going on, it not only ensures people can be their authentic selves in the workplace, but it means we can find out what additional support might be needed. It also helps the individual gain perspective to separate out what is the main cause of their stress, which may not always be the work itself.
That said, especially as leaders, we shouldn’t lose sight of just how much additional work and change employees have had to navigate in extremely difficult circumstances. Leaders and line managers have a responsibility to model positive working patterns and keep an eye on how much work people are taking on and calling things out when we see behaviours that aren’t healthy, such as sending emails at all hours of the day and night.
Encouraging a healthy work/life balance can be done in all sorts of ways. For instance, offering flexible working patterns, time off for appointments (and yes, that can even include a trip to the hairdressers), mental health first aid training for employees, emergency childcare days and dedicated self-care days and a focused wellbeing week, all of which are things we offer at Impact.
Lastly, continuing to celebrate success is vital. People’s resilience has been, and continues to be, tested. So, it’s important to shine a light on the great work people are doing and the impact it is having. Especially now many of us are working more remotely, finding ways to keep communicating the positives and recognising people’s contributions and achievements is more important than ever. We are also committed to creating a safe space where colleagues know it’s ok to take risks, even if that sometimes means failure…so we have a dedicated annual award for the biggest mishaps of the year as well!
Can you share with us some good practices carried out in Impact on how to help employees be happier, considering that happiness generates a lot of profitability? It's good for business. It's good business sense for companies.
It’s been widely reported that a happy team is more engaged and productive, so taking time to create a company worth working for reaps benefits for everyone.
At Impact, we feel passionately that putting people at the heart of a business and ensuring this runs through all of the organisation’s decision-making processes and communications, is critical. This means recognising that all businesses are groups of people working in service of other groups of people, so the creation of any organisational objectives and strategy should factor in what that means in terms of giving back in some way and making sure people understand their role in achieving that.
We know through our client work that some organisations can find this a challenging concept, but it is worth investing in. When businesses are underpinned by strong ethical goals, it creates a virtuous circle. When meaningful goals are communicated effectively to employees, they are more likely to be motivated to perform well, which in turn generates job satisfaction and happiness.
“When meaningful goals are communicated effectively to employees, they are more likely to be motivated to perform well, which in turn generates job satisfaction and happiness”
We’ve made every step to be as inclusive and open as possible. Our Global Management Team meet weekly, and the entire business is invited to attend. During the sessions our CEO communicates with the entire business on key stories from the organisation and strategic initiatives. As much as possible we want to increase the feeling of being valued by including everyone in strategic decisions, so everyone can have a sense of pride and fulfillment stemming from what we do.
Impact’s goal is to unlock human potential, so our work is inherently motivational anyway, but we also try and stretch that as far as it will go. In practical terms, this means we dedicate a lot of resource to working with not-for-profit organisations, as well as releasing staff to take time off to go and undertake charity work related to their own areas of interest.
We also commit to being a learning organisation, providing our staff with the opportunity to expand their own personal and professional goals, so everyone can be the best version of themselves. This is beneficial to the bottom line too, as we see more and more roles evolve and some even become obsolete as we move more towards automation and machine learning, having a workforce that is agile and adept at learning new skills and ways of working is key to keeping talent within the business.
For more information, please visit www.impactinternational.com