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HR needs to slow down

Earlier this week, I attended a CEO roundtable, where we agreed that the pressures on organisations to deliver faster – whether that be products or services – is growing.

Technology has changed what is possible and kept many businesses functioning during the pandemic. But just because we can deliver ever faster, should we? How often do we stop to think about the impact on our own wellbeing and that of the people we manage, when we are always being asked to do more?

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January may seem like an odd month to suggest slowing down, given that the ‘norm’ is often to speed up post-Christmas. But I would argue, that slowing down is exactly what we need, and it’s something that we can’t afford to delay.

The UK is heading towards a mental health crisis. The pandemic has contributed to this. It has put pressure on our health, our finances and our social interactions. It has also resulted in people working longer hours and taking less annual leave, according to research published by Hays.

So, at a time when we should all be being kinder to ourselves, why are we actually demanding more? As individuals, I would suggest that we often feel helpless to bring about change.

As a HR professional or manager there is much you can do to support the mental wellbeing of your teams (Business Disability Forum has just launched some new line manager guidance on the subject) but not all pressures we face are within our control. We may not have the authority to change a deadline which has been set elsewhere in the organisation or externally. That is why BDF is calling for a global movement, #SlowDown, to not only change the demands of our workplaces but the demands of society as a whole.

I know what you are thinking. Global movements don’t often just happen overnight, and you are right. I’m not suggesting that we will see HR policies on slowing down any time soon, but we can all play our part. So, what might slowing down look like for you and your organisation?

Slowing down

Encourage colleagues to talk about mental wellbeing: what is good for their wellbeing and any pressures they are facing. There may be pressures you weren’t aware of or patterns you spot that you can address.

Remember remote workers. It is more difficult to spot that someone isn’t coping if you aren’t physically in the same room. But including time in meetings and one-to-ones to ask how people are feeling and noticing if, for example, someone doesn’t turn their camera on if they usually do, can be a conversation starter.

Lead by example. Discourage competitive busyness and make sure you reward activity that is not based simply on volume of output. Encourage proper breaks and take them yourself.

Respect working hours. By working late to get a problem off your 'desk' are you just shifting the problem to someone else?

We are seeing skills shortages in many sectors and the temptation for fewer people to do more work is strong. Instead, we need to remember that this is a seller’s market and that employees are increasingly looking for roles and organisations that recognise and meet their wellbeing as well as financial needs.

Avoiding burnout

Slowing down at a time of staffing and skills shortages may seem counterintuitive. But if we don’t focus on our own wellbeing and that of our teams and colleagues, now, then greater problems lay ahead. It won’t be easy to do, but the more we talk about it and do it, the more accepted slowing down will become.  

Diane Lightfoot is CEO of Business Disability Forum