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Putting the joy back to work

A kinder, more empathic and gentler workplace that does its very best to put workers first is not a pipe dream. It can be a reality and it is hoped that the post-COVID-19 work culture will reflect this.

Let's put our thinking caps together and make a better workplace for everyone after COVID-19
Let's put our thinking caps together and make a better workplace for everyone after COVID-19

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has knocked many of us hard and some have even fallen flat on their faces.

The pandemic has led to a near 95 per cent decline in air travel and Singapore Airlines, my homeland’s national carrier, posted its first annual loss in its history.

Elsewhere in the country, businesses have had to shut down and some may never re-open as the economic cost has been too great. For others, staying on the job includes a realisation that working from home (WFH) is a new reality.

As the Circuit Breaker measures that help flatten the curve in Singapore are slowly being lifted, phase by phase, the words ‘new normal’ are being cited and spoken as part of daily conversation. Things will not (and probably will never) return to normal as per pre-COVID-19 but it is my hope that this event will spark some changes in workplace culture that can be nothing but beneficial for everyone concerned.

More WFH opportunities

There is no doubt that WFH will become a default work style for many people from now on. As one who cherished (and still cherishes) the separation of home and work spaces, adapting to WFH had been difficult at first but necessity is the mother of invention and eventually, I overcame my fears and am getting used to WFH.

It is my hope that more and more facilities for WFH will be made available in the ‘new normal’ so that those with young children or who are caring for elderly parents can avail themselves to caring for their loved ones, at least for one or two days in a work week.Singapore is making inroads in this area but we are still far behind the Scandinavian countries and even Australia in this regard. Hopefully the new normal can be a chance to close the gaps.

Empathy

Some surveys indicate that Singapore and the United States lead the way in the proportion of disengaged workers in the workforce, those who go through the motions at work.

Such an attitude does not bode well for us as a nation, especially one that relies heavily on its human capital. Reasons for the lack of engagement are numerous, including lack of empathy from bosses and colleagues.

After the common solidarity achieved through our shared experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is hoped that the ‘new normal’ work culture will include time for understanding one another.

Many of us may not be able to share our feelings and difficulties openly due to lack of empathy or understanding. The longer these feelings are left unattended, this can lead to reduced work performance, emotional withdrawal, and lack of joy and purpose at work – leading to increased disengagement. At worse, some may even become emotionally or mentally ill, or even take their own lives.

We have to make a start to nip this in the bud.

Community

Although we often work as parts of work teams and departments, there are many who feel no sense of belonging to the ‘work family’ because hardly any effort has been made to connect with each of us on a personal level.

Company-wide events such as Dinner and Dance, annual parties and other events have their place but the road to cementing lasting workplace friendships and camaraderie is made by brick upon brick of understanding and a sense that ‘we are all in this together’. This can be fostered through actions as simple as having a common pantry where food and snacks can be shared among team members, or remembering one another;s birthdays with cards and simple gifts. Keep at these events long enough and your colleague in the next cubicle could soon be the person you confide in when things get tough at home.

Continuous learning

If you are going to spend six hours chopping trees, I would spend three hours sharpening my axe, said Abraham Lincoln (paraphrase mine).

Learning new skills and refining old ones keeps the mind sharp and puts dementia at bay. But many older workers have been afraid of engaging in courses to learn new skills or upgrade themselves because of several factors namely

  1. information overload – too many things covered in too short a time

2. lack of patience by the trainer – not everyone is as tech-savvy as the younger millennials, and coaches and trainers need to spend more time to ensure that everyone can learn at their own pace.

3. letting the older workers share their experiences – many older workers are a joy to be with and are great storytellers and repositories of great experiences and memories that we younger ones could never be part of, e.g. life during World War 2, life under poverty or ill-health. When we let the older workers teach us and share their expertise, we can only benefit

More comfort

One of the advantages of working from home is that the environment is often much more comfortable than at the office. Unfortunately, office furniture in many workplaces in Singapore and around the world is not designed to be very comfortable for work.

Many people, myself included, complain of sore backs and necks after long hours hunched over computer screens, as well as poor lighting that leads to long-term vision problems. Hopefully more can be done to provide more ergonomically-designed furniture that will make work easier and more comfortable.

There is so much more that I can say but it is my hope and prayer that these small steps can go a long way towards a ‘new normal’ that will be a ‘better normal’ for everyone post-COVID-19.

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