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Don’t settle for ‘the new normal’

‘The new normal’. That must be one of the most ubiquitous phrases that workers in the UK and beyond have heard in the past couple of weeks.

But if you’re anything like me, the situation we find ourselves in right now – social dislocation, financial risk and high levels of anxiety about those we love – can (and should) never feel ‘normal’. That’s not to say we don’t need to adapt – we’re all becoming very good at that – but rather that we have to keep hold of what the ‘old normal’ really meant, including all the positives we associate with it. Hugging your mum, catching up with friends over a meal, watching your team winning… or quite often losing in my case… they are all waiting for you when this is over.

As the MD of Robertson Cooper, working in the business health and wellbeing space has changed overnight – this is different from the 2008 crash and anything else I can remember. Like everyone else, of course, we have to adapt, innovate and learn to ‘fail fast’. I know that it’s a stretch to ask people to strive for a Good Day at Work in the current circumstances – but that certainly doesn’t mean we should all accept that every day for next three months is going to be miserable! In fact, that quite simply would not be sustainable across the large and complex organisations with whom we work.

I can already see that organisations are coming to terms with the implications of this pandemic – operationally, but then quickly in terms of their duty of care to staff. It’s also becoming pretty clear that how ‘wellbeing gets done’ is going to be very different over the next few months – remote working being one, among many, key drivers of that change. Leaders and managers now have a critical role to play as they try to navigate a way to back to some evolved version of normality, but they are leading in a completely novel context… there is no road map. Yet.

Work-Life Balance has been re-defined (or lost its meaning altogether) for many employees after offices and schools closed; employee resilience is being tested to the limit on the front-line. Taken together this all means a big shift in the psychological contract between the employer and employee…. and a huge duty of care challenge for the employer around mental health and wellbeing.

I remain hopeful though. I’ve seen clients and connections move with great agility, alongside great acts generosity and support amongst the supplier community that reflect those taking place outside of work. So while I’m not buying into the idea of ‘the new normal’, let’s just say that I can see signs that we’re all beginning to adjust to something which is ‘normal for now’… and that augers well in terms of fostering hope that we can all find a way through to the other side.

For more on seeing through to the other side watch our Founding Director, Professor Ivan Robertson’s webinar here.