In the early days of lock down we conducted some wellbeing calls for one of our clients to check that all really was well. The organisation had done a brilliant job of setting everyone up with technology, keeping tabs on those that lived alone and allowing loads of flexibility around home circumstances like demanding toddlers and worries about family members. Their staff were grateful and commented that many of their friends were envious of this kind of support because they were not getting it. In the wind, though, there was a whiff of being over the question ‘how are you?’, in that very meaningful way we have been asking it.
Some observations we have made recently from the conversations we are having with clients might resonate with you.
I am fine, please stop worrying
Many people are managing all the plates they spin well. They are clear on their home/work boundaries, they communicate these clearly to people and perform to a high standard. Everyone knows when they are available, and any domestic challenges get dealt with quietly and without drama. If you work with someone like this, you have probably learned not to keep nagging them about their wellbeing because it is interpreted as…. well nagging! If they do ask for support, it is crisp, clear, and appropriate.
Whoops I’ve done it again
Those who are not quite in control of their surroundings can be a bit erratic. One day they are on it, the next it melts in their hands. It is all very well meaning and not malicious, but it begins to cause irritation. If you have a colleague or member of staff in this unpredictable state you may say “that’s fine, don’t worry just finish it when the dog has stopped ripping the sofa apart, your flat mate has paid the electricity bill and you’ve dealt with that really serious complaint you have forgotten”. In between your gritted teeth you are thinking ‘why can’t you just get a grip and deliver!”.
I’ll have it all!
This is a behaviour we are hearing a lot about. It is described as a sense of entitlement. Some have been given so much leeway that instead of meeting you halfway with high performance they have decided they want everything on the shelves in the sweetie shop, plus the entire stock in the backroom too. For example, some people are deciding on their own that they are going to be permanently home based because it is so much easier for them. This is before the question has been asked or the policy on future homeworking has been written.
It is a tough one because you do not want to take away the wellbeing initiatives, but you also need to set boundaries. Some managers have said they are now scared of their staff because they think they can have anything they want if it makes life easier and if they don’t get it, they accuse you of undermining their wellbeing.
Time to regroup
It might help to think about the simple concept of Triggers and Reinforcers. Behaviours are triggered and we repeat them because it is reinforced. For example, a member of your staff regularly asks you questions you know they can answer. Every time they ask, you answer which triggers the behaviour and when you keep answering them instead of pushing it back to them you reinforce it. Then you hear yourself thinking “I wish they would work it out for themselves” but wishing it does not make it so. You have to trigger a different behaviour (push the question back to them) and reinforce it (push it back every time they come to you and let them know they answered it well).
In lockdown managers have triggered an acceptance of giving their employees anything they need to drive their wellbeing and reinforced it by always responding to it – quite rightly. Many of your team will have responded by drinking in that wellbeing initiative, knowing it is something to be renegotiated down the line and that will be reinforced by you acknowledging it. Yet a minority want a never-ending refill of that wellbeing trigger and by delivering that you have reinforced the idea that they can. Instead of responding with high performance they are just sticking their cup out for you to refill it.
Re contracting the trigger
Has the time come to regroup and re-contract? Reset the trigger and reinforce a behaviour that suits everyone. This doesn’t mean undermining anyone’s wellbeing, it means getting performance back on track. Do you as a manager feel ready to have a few difficult conversations with individuals who would benefit from the lines being redrawn? Most humans want to perform well, one of the challenges of lock down has been lack of structure and sometimes lack of meaningful work to get our teeth into and this hasn’t been good for many of us. Triggering a revised way of mixing wellbeing with performance and reinforcing it by sticking with it might help you reduce wellbeing fatigue.
For support when starting those difficult conversations contact us….