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Festival of Work 2021: highlights from day three

17 Jun 2021 By PM Editorial

People Management rounds up what we learned on the third and final day of this year’s virtual conference – from increased demands for L&D to developing young people

Firms need to normalise ‘help-seeking behaviour’

Health and care professionals are often the last people to seek support for themselves, the health service's top HR professional has said.

“It’s not only linked to health and care, a lot of us don’t seek help, especially in our professions because we feel ‘I should be able to handle anything’,” said Prerana Issar, the NHS’s first chief people officer. Those in senior positions in particular often feel they have to support their team rather than focus on themselves, she added.

To address this, the health service is trying to “normalise help-seeking behaviour”, and has started providing a range of services, including text and call helplines for staff, mental health apps and coaching sessions. The NHS website now also provides a number of resources on specific issues, with some of the most popular being how to talk to children about coronavirus, line management during Covid and supporting colleagues during Ramadan.

Throughout the pandemic, the NHS also conducted a million individual risk assessments with members of staff as part of their plan to keep colleagues safe. “We can’t decide what’s important to people’s health and wellbeing – we have to listen and see what people are telling us, and what our staff, our colleagues are telling us is important,” said Issar. Often these are practical things that would never have occurred to someone not on the frontline – including problems with parking and a lack of rest spaces to help cope with longer shifts.

Another insight Issar shared was that “resilience resides in teams. What that means is I could be having a day today where I’m really tired and feeling burnt out – but somebody else in the team could pick up a bit of the slack.” To support this, the NHS introduced specific team wellbeing interventions, including a ‘leaving well checklist’ that encourages teams to spend 15 minutes processing the events of the day before leaving for home. “We don’t want people to carry their stress home,” Issar said.

The NHS also introduced ‘virtual wobble rooms’ that always have someone on hand for staff to talk to. “It’s to take you out of that hot, high-stress environment, and then [you go] back when you’re feeling better,” said Issar.

Coronavirus has not put an end to face-to-face learning

L&D professionals don’t “need to be as daunting as we think we need to be” about the prospect of hybrid learning models, said Kenny Temowo, global head of leadership development and learning at Improbable. “The same mindset and skills you need for delivering face-to-face learning are still applicable in a hybrid model,”  he said.

This was echoed by Josie Bailey, leadership development lead at AND Digital. Speaking on the same panel, Bailey said learning had been digital for so long that people were now “craving some face-to-face learning”.

“I think there will be a spike in demand for face-to-face [learning] when it is allowed because people are desperate to get that in-person interaction,” she said. After this initial spike, it will depend on each organisation as to how they go forward.

However, Bata Davidovic, group head of executive learning at Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (Coca-Cola HBC), said despite a growing demand for face-to-face learning, “it will not go back to what it was before Covid any time soon. It will take years, so hybrid does seem to be the way forward for the time being.”

This being said, Coca-Cola HBC was pushing to reinitiate face-to-face learning across the organisation in a small scale, safe way as soon as possible. “We won’t stay fully virtual for very long,” Davidovic said.

Discussing mental health begins with asking ‘how are you today?’

Just asking “how are you today?” can reduce the stigma around discussing mental health in the workplace, said Tali Shlomo, an inclusion and diversity consultant and vice president for EMEA at SwissRe.

By asking this question to ourselves and others, “we can share with our colleagues and teammates so that we can support each other”, she said. This is particularly true of line managers who, as role models, should be asking this question. “We’re showing vulnerability [and] we're normalising the conversation.”

Shlomo added that it was just important to listen to staff, and described her process of ‘devoted listening’. “The reason it's ‘devoted’ is that it's about paying attention to tonality. Has my tone changed? Has my behaviour changed?”

Similarly, it was important to pay attention to when staff take their holiday, and to make sure people aren’t using their time off to work. “Paying attention to when the traffic of work comes through is so important”, she said. “How many people aren't taking holidays and, if they are taking holidays, how are they using it [...] If we see emails or content coming through when people are on holiday, we should call it out nicely.”

Employees need to prepare for the ‘generational impacts’ of Covid

Employers can expect to see the mental health impacts of the pandemic long after it is over, Peter Kelly, senior psychologist at the Health and Safety Executive (pictured bottom left), told delegates.

“The legacy of this pandemic is that it doesn’t stop when the pandemic stops, there's a generational impact here,” Kelly said. ”We will have kids who are 14 now going into workplaces in five years who will have lived through this whole experience, and we’re going to have to be better and more empathic and more compassionate in how we help people to recover from the pandemic.”

Speaking at the same session, Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina, bestselling author and founder of Consciously Digital (pictured bottom right), warned that employees were working longer hours during the pandemic, but were not necessarily being more productive.

“The screen time per se is not the issue. The biggest issue behind technology fatigue – and that’s a real thing – is a lack of autonomy,” Dedyukhina said, citing research that showed a strong relationship between people’s experience of autonomy and their performance, energy levels and stress levels.

“When people cannot control the level of information stimulation, when they’re getting endless requests – reply to this email, schedule another call – when all the boundaries are blurred and they are forced to use technology they were not introduced to, that does not align with their values, then they are not experiencing autonomy,” she said.

Continuing young people’s development is employers’ responsibility

It is employers’ responsibility to continue the development of early career starters entering the world of work, according to panelists on the session looking at building talent bridges.

Neil Weller, consultant at Troup Bywaters and Anders and chair of the London Apprenticeship Ambassador Network (LAAN) said that employers must continue the development of soft skills in young talent when they join the workforce from school, college or university.

“It’s about continual improvement and development and employers should build on their skills and develop any skill sets they are missing to get them where they want them,” he said. “They do team exercises in educational settings, and schools often do projects to get them thinking about real industry issues, so I do think it's about continuing that journey.”

Sam Geis, people director at Frazer-Nash Consultancy, said employers would find it useful working directly with schools and colleges to help develop skills early on. “I am always blown away by the skills that are demonstrated by new joiners and early career starters,” she said. “It is our responsibility to help develop and nurture those skills and provide development opportunities, but it should be in partnership with schools and colleges.”

This kind of partnership can be in the form of mock interviews, industry talks and visits to schools, said Georgia Fitzgerald, associate director of the Juice Academy. Schools, colleges and universities create the baseline for soft skills development, she said. “But then it should be handed over to the employers to nurture and develop the skills. You can't expect them to be fully developed and polished straight out of school, college or university.”

Employee demand for L&D has increased during the pandemic

The demand from employees for learning and development opportunities has increased over the last few months, said Paula Evans, head of employee shared services at Magnox. “People are rightly demanding a role that interests them, that they understand where they're going with that and that they can progress,” she explained, adding that “the fact that people are wanting to self invest more and we can support them on that is brilliant”.

This was echoed by Sarah Desai, global head of reward at Sainsbury's, who said L&D as a reward was “absolutely fundamental for attracting talent”. As well as a way to invest in existing employees, L&D can help recruitment, letting prospective employees know they will be invested in and developed.

On the same panel, Matt Macri Waller, a board member at Zellis and CEO and founder of Benefex, added that companies hiring and onboarding people needed to think about how they build benefits and reward into that journey. “There is a real opportunity before someone starts and gets busy with work,” he said, adding employers should also consider how to use technological tools to ensure current employees are seeing the information that is more relevant to them.

On a separate panel, Sara Burgess, global senior learning and development manager at AllSaints, said: “We shouldn’t be looking at trends in L&D, we should be identifying what we really need.”

She added that as businesses look towards a hybrid working environment, they need to look at the skills of their workforce and the skills they will need going forward and not be “tempted to fall back into old patterns”.

Some of the biggest recruitment issues are yet to come

A panel session on recovering recruitment processes after the pandemic demonstrated just how different some organisations’ experience of Covid have been. David Gawthorpe, head of resourcing at transport provider Stagecoach, explained how the firm had to all but stop hiring given the government’s advice for the public to avoid using public transport in order to combat the spread of the virus, and the company also had to furlough a significant proportion of its 24,000-strong workforce.

His challenge now, he explained, is holding on to the online recruitment processes the company has developed in the face of those senior stakeholders who believe that face-to-face is best. “We have to give the reassurance that online is just as valid and can protect candidates’ experiences,” he said. “They’ll get just as much insight into the business without the need for an in-person interview.” The key, says Gawthorpe, is putting the benefits in tangible terms, be it pounds and pence or days and hours saved, so it becomes clear the changes have worked. “It’s a tough conversation, and requires some digging your heels in, but it works,” he added.

At the other end of the spectrum, Manjuri Sinha, global head of talent acquisition at online marketplace company OLX Group, explained how the limitations of the pandemic have meant that hiring at the company has had to become more agile. A pilot online hiring model for its tech hub in Poland, which was conveniently already planned before the pandemic event began, has been successful and has now become the model for hubs in other countries, and also allowed the firm to reach talent markets it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. The company has introduced competency-based hiring processes to ensure potential recruits are a good fit and hiring is as inclusive as possible, and scores for candidate experience have increased from around 7.5 to 8.5 since the introduction of the new virtual processes. 

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