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Are Leaders Now Psychologists and Sociologists?

October 7, 2021

By Mary E. Corrado, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

The fields of psychology and sociology have always been of great interest to me, in fact, I double majored in them for my undergrad degree.  And over the past year and a half I’ve really noticed the importance of it, including within the workplace.  While leaders are not qualified to act as psychologists or sociologists, they must apply some of the disciplines’ methods during this time, including showing empathy.

The pandemic has definitely changed employee views towards work – including who they work for, what work they do, and where they work (remote, hybrid, office).  Employers must respond in empathic ways and find new solutions to keep employees feeling safe and cared for.

I recently found five tips on that leaders can use to help them reframe their approach to the pandemic and how it affects the workplace and their workers. Quoted below are the WeForum tips that I find to be very insightful:

1. The individual as a whole

Leaders need to work with ‘the individual as a whole’. An employees’ work persona is just one part of their wider life experience, embedded deeply within the community and wider society. Leaders must shift their mindset to acknowledge that employees’ experience goes beyond work. They must focus on designing holistic policies, structures and systems that are fluid and contextual.

During the pandemic some organizations recognized the strain experienced by employees with children during the school break, when holiday camps were not an option. They sponsored activities such as art classes for young children during employee ‘prime time’. These organizations were not only creative in getting the best out of their employees during the most productive periods of the day, but also inclusive as they acknowledged their lives outside work.

2. The leader as a sociologist

There are lessons to be learned from the ‘great resignation’. A recent survey of over 30,000 workers conducted by Microsoft found that 41% were considering quitting, rising to 54% among younger workers. To counterbalance this wave of dissatisfaction, organizations will need to develop fluid structures that are democratic, agile, and versatile. HR and leadership executives should draw upon solutions outside of their usual disciplines, looking to sociology and systems thinking.

3. Psychological safety, well-being and motivation

The role of leadership is to create psychologically safe spaces for employees to be able to speak freely and bring their whole selves to work. Studies have highlighted the unprecedented level of stress and burn-out for employees during the pandemic. Ensuring employee well-being is particularly important and challenging when staff are working remotely or in hybrid work schedules, according to Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School.

4. Equitable experiences

Leaders are responsible for making sure that employees have equal access to opportunities at work. Technology platforms can play a significant role by providing similar access to tools and features, but leaders need to go further. True equity is about creating conditions that generate similar outcomes for diverse individuals – irrespective of levels, backgrounds, and social status.

It is a well-known fact that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In a recent survey of North American female employees, one in four women said they were thinking about reducing or leaving paid work due to the pandemic, citing company inflexibility, caring responsibilities and stress.

5. Insight over data – measure it

Organizations often have access to plenty of data, but still lack insight when it comes to valuing intangible assets, such as reputation, human capital, and intellectual property. This is an area where leaders need to rethink what they measure.

For example, investments in mental health initiatives alone are not a measure of effective well-being systems. Instead, we need to measure the extent to which the initiatives are being used by individuals who need them.

A remarkable feature of the pandemic has been the focus on these intangible assets, that are by definition harder to measure. These will be key when it comes to acquiring and retaining talent, and account for as much as 85% of the total business value across industries.

Leaders and employees have more on their plates in today’s workplace and home.  Employees are experiencing levels of stress that they’ve possibly never experienced before, yet continue to give their current best to the organizations they work for. It’s important for organizations to also give them their best.  We now must be able to put on our psychology and sociology hats to provide the support our employees need.

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