Female Leader At Work During Pandemic

Workplace leaders now need to be “amateur psychologists”

Kate Pearlman-Shaw, Clinical Psychologist and Coach, recently reviewed ‘The Work After Lockdown Study’ (Economic and Social Research Council). In this article, Kate discusses the challenges employees and leaders are facing in this phase of lockdown, and how workplace leaders need to become amateur psychologists.

The study reported on the impact on working from home, and predicts new ways of working in 2021 and beyond.

2021 work predictions

After a gruelling year for almost everyone in all walks of working-life, 2021 offers a difficult start to the new year, with predictions that the workplace landscape will remain tough for the next 12 months and beyond.

Despite the rollout of a covid-19 vaccine and the promise of a return to some sort of ‘new normal’ by the latter half of the year, there is no doubt that the world of work has changed. Perhaps indefinitely…

The Work After Lockdown Study’ predicted that we will not be going back to ‘normal’ ways of working, with digital innovations and hybrid working styles here to stay, and speculation that people leaders will need to become better equipped to lead and manage in a highly people-centric way.

The preliminary results from the survey (featuring over 1,000 people working from home in professional services and public administration) found that:

  • Seven in ten employees were in no hurry to return to the office – even if they missed ‘water cooler moments’, citing their dislike of commuting and preference to spend time with family as key drivers.
  • Nine out of ten believed they were more productive at home, with 60% enjoying the flexibility that working at home brings.
  • The standout downside of working from home is that 80% missed informal contact with their colleagues.
  • A worrying finding was the level of poor mental health, although not of clinical proportions: those with line management responsibility reported a troubling work/life balance between March and July 2020 leading to a noticeable decrease in wellbeing. Line managers and people leaders were found to be the most under pressure.

On reflection, Kate suggests there is a great deal that leaders, managers, and HR professionals can do to support their line managers for this ‘new normal’.

“We’re going to need amateur psychologists”

Kate says that we’re going to need amateur psychologists; “In this new world of motiving remote workers, managing their own and other’s resilience, and influencing from afar, understanding human psychology is now an essential, not a nice to have leadership attribute”.

Leaders and managers need to know why people behave the way they do, and what their own options are to get the best from each individual they work with.

Kate believes that all managers need to learn and act upon these principles to lead successfully in this remote business era:

Understanding people are not rational

Although we generally employ people to be rational at work, this is not how humans behave. In the world of psychology, Kate explains that: “emotion comes before thought, which in turn precedes behaviour. A stressed, unhappy, lonely remote worker is going to be driven by emotions and consequent thoughts, not the logic of the task at hand. Knowing and being able to work with this is crucial.”

Properly listening and attending to feelings

Kate believes that leaders need to understand what active listening. “In my experience people intellectually understand this, but are often too busy to practice, meaning that colleagues end up feeling neglected, unhappy, anxious and even resentful”.

Needing praise is human

Kate is quick to confirm that, “this is not a sign of an over needy person!”, before going on to say, “I seem to spend an awful lot of time talking about the importance of validation or praise. Neuropsychologically, being affirmed by another has a massive impact on the brain, enabling it to get to that logical place we want people to reach.”

Showing voluntary vulnerability

Talking about voluntary vulnerability, Kate says, “this really does help you to be a highly effective leader of people or a line manager, as this is a fundamental reciprocal behaviour. If you are open and honest with someone, they are more likely to do the same in return. Understanding why, and the impact this has, and how to do this authentically is another skill that can be learnt.”

Adapting to new habits and routines

Kate confirms that, “changing behaviours means changing your responses, and we are awfully bad at changing our habits and routines. In this new, and potentially difficult ‘new world’ there is an urgent need to do things differently, especially as we are working in different places and ways.” Kate explains that new habits and routines, “require conscious planning, and new knowledge about how to establish new routines.”

Resilience, Resilience, Resilience

Kate believes that to keep oneself resilient, as well as supporting colleagues, relies on the well-proven psychological methods of emotional regulation and behaviour change.

“Fundamentally, 2021 leaders and managers need to be able to understand the way humans work, in order to make conscious, well-informed choices about how they behave themselves, to get the best out of and to support their teams. These guiding principles can be learnt – and need to be learnt!

“There is no single book to read, nor course to go on, that will equip line managers with all the skills they will need in 2021. Some coaching, either in a group via a programme or individually, is a key component to any leadership training worth its salt. With everything going on just now, investing in some support and development for those in your organisation with responsibility for people is going to be vital in 2021.”

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Kate Pearlman-Shaw

Born and bred in Leeds (Yorkshire, UK), Kate is a Chartered Psychologist, her 30-year career has involved leading Psychology and Counselling services for the NHS, before working for public and private sector organisations across the globe. Now working within the Business Psychology arena with senior leaders and business owners, Kate specialises in helping people to change their behaviours, using evidence based psychological methodologies drawn from the psychotherapies, neuroscience, and the study of effective leadership (including during Covid-19). Using demonstrable models and techniques, Kate helps leaders to change how they interact, approach their roles and crucially, make substantive changes in their organisations.

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