In the past few weeks I’ve heard some distressing comments from former colleagues, younger colleagues who have been working through the strains and constraints of COVID. The COVID work world, complete with rapidly switching to Zoom, teaching by Zoom, having meetings only by Zoom, and communicating with colleagues and/or students electronically night and day, non-stop. The observations I’ve heard include sadness at the loss of community and the feeling of no longer being appreciated. I can’t help but think that this rings true for many, many people working in a vast array of occupations, including healthcare and education at all levels, but so much more.
The reality is that finding ways to show appreciation for everyone going the extra mile – employees, students, supervisors, etc. – has never been more important than during COVID.
I’m one of the lucky ones: I’m retired.
I’m not a student who’s trying to navigate the world of adolescence and the beginning of independence while confined to my bedroom, studying and socializing by Zoom.
I’m not a teacher or professor who’s now teaching students both online and in-class, with never-ending online demands and little ability to provide everything my students really need.
I’m not a new employee who’s trying to learn how to do a good job while working remotely, with no-one down the hall to ask for advice or assistance, and with no clear way of absorbing an office culture or figuring out how to fit in or do the job I’m meant to do.
I’m not a supervisor or administrator who’s trying to guide/lead employees to do their best in a nearly impossible, continually changing environment where there are no obvious right or wrong decisions as to how to proceed. And all the while, I’m unable to engage with my employees or my administrative colleagues face to face; it’s all by Zoom.
I’ve been in all of those roles at some point in my life, but never in these trying circumstances. And I can’t imagine how difficult this is for everyone. What I enjoyed most about working, regardless of position, was the sense of community. The sense that I was part of something bigger than myself and that my work was making a contribution to the success of the organization. I liked being part of a development team or a department. I liked being part of groups where people worked collaboratively together to tackle problems. Working collaboratively towards common goals brings feelings of appreciation a well as accomplishment. It builds community.
It turns out that a sense of community that has been strong for decades can disappear quickly when people – the same employees, students, supervisors, etc. – suddenly find themselves working remotely. In isolation from each other and living in a stressed-out world. Day after day, week after week, month after month. What’s really different? After all, there’s Zoom, right?
But … no seeing colleagues in the hallway or coffee room. The ability to have a quick chat about something on the side is gone. No meeting new students or employees in person, and if so only at a distance and with masks on. No ability to see each other’s body language, which can convey so much. Body language can help communicate lack of conviction about a decision, or allow a misunderstanding to be recognized when it hasn’t been verbalized. Body language may communicate that someone needs some additional support, perhaps technical support or even emotional support. In these times, maybe even more likely emotional support.
All this has been missing for many, many people. And for those who have been working in in-person settings, it has been so stressful in many environments that any sense of community has undoubtedly suffered anyway. Those people, such as in the healthcare field, for example, are too stressed and exhausted to reach out to others. They all need to be reached out to themselves.
How do we re-establish the office cultures that enrich our work lives post-COVID? How do we regain a sense of community within our various work places, a feeling of belonging to and contributing to something of value? It saddened me no end to hear people who I know put their heart and soul into their work feeling unappreciated. They had never felt like that at work before. Overcoming this broken relationship needs to be on everyone’s list, because everyone can have a role to play in turning it around.
First of all, show gratitude to yourself. You have been working long and hard and have done a great job in very trying circumstances. You have made a difference. Remind yourself of this from time to time.
And then, tell someone else that you appreciate them for what they’ve been able to accomplish during these trying times. And then ask that person to pass it on. Spread the appreciation. Make it contagious. Spread it up the chain, spread it down the chain. Spread the appreciation bug. ‘Tis the season.
Images source: Pinterest