The Price of Connection
Posted on 8th February 2021 at 13:05
As lockdown three rumbles on, many of us are feeling disconnected from our fellow man or woman. At the supermarket, or even on country lanes, we swerve to avoid each other. You wonder what the long-term impact of this will be, on our mental health and our ability to connect on an emotional level.
Yesterday I bumped into a friend on a long walk and we chatted about the current situation. She has been having a particularly tough time with poorly relatives and has been feeling unmotivated by life. It’s just been a bit too hard and she is struggling to see the ‘so what?’ of the situation. So what - if I stay in my pyjamas until lunch? So what - if I watch tv all day? Who cares if I don’t progress my studies? It’s understandable right? What struck me was how restrained she was. I know some of the awful things she has been through recently - and yet she glossed over it. It was almost like she didn’t feel she could share her sadness in case that was catching too.
I worry that our lack of connection will have long term impacts on our society. Over all three lockdowns, I have worked with organisations, and I have seen the impacts on people. I think businesses need to think long and hard about how they engage people now and into the future. There has been a great deal of excitement about people working from home and how this will save organisations a great deal of money. I am not convinced. I have seen people working from their bedrooms or kitchen tables and they feel trapped, isolated and burnt out. In the current situation, we do not have a great deal of choice. We have to knuckle down and carry on. In many ways, we have learnt that we can work flexibly and this is to be applauded. I am an advocate of flexible working and think we have to challenge the old paradigm of ‘bums on seats’ but there needs to be some balance here.
Organisations are not just transactional money-making machines - or at least they shouldn’t be. I know many companies are now thinking that they can close offices and save a fortune on overheads. I personally think this is a short-sighted approach. If organisations purely become widget generating machines and humans are the cogs, we will lose. Organisations are built on relationships and connections. You know how easy it is to get things done when you have a great relationship with your colleagues or clients. On the flipside, if you have a difficult or non-existent relationship with a co-worker, it is difficult to make progress or get things done. If we don't care about each other, what does it matter?Relationships are organisational glue and if they get fractured or de-valued, it will show in the results we achieve.
So, what is the price of connection? Ultimately it is engagement. If organisations stop investing in trying to connect with their people in a meaningful way, they will fail. From my recent experience, many people are keen to keep their jobs and so will do whatever is necessary to do that. They will comply. In affect they will show rational commitment – do their hours, put in their time and feel numb. The challenge here is that we don’t feel any emotional commitment to our employers. We feel like we have been abandoned and put upon, rather than supported and engaged. This approach can only be used for so long before companies start to lose people because they don’t feel valued and their work meaningful.
The organisations who will flourish as we exit this pandemic will be those organisations who have worked even harder to connect during this time. Leaders who have had meaningful and candid discussions with their staff and not just about the numbers but also their personal reality. It never ceases to amaze me how many leaders do not ask “how are you?” in one to ones. More to the point, how many are not interested in the answer. Organisations need to be giving people chances to connect more frequently, rather than less, during this time. What are they doing to get everyone together? How do they ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and that people get the chance to build relationships, even though we are not sat together in a room? What opportunities do you create for teams to have fun, feel energised and together? This is possible but it takes effort and a will to want your best for your people. Many organisations have lost sight of this in a bid to survive -or even exploit the current situation. If we were being smart, we would understand that our employees feeling valued and engaged is what will create positive outcomes for everyone.
There are no organisations without people and ultimately people need connection. If you treat people like a component, they will behave like one.
If you feel like this is your situation, what can you do to help your organisation have a positive conversation about connection? How can you be a part of the solution? How do you give feedback, positively, about the impacts of the current situation? How do you ask for change so that we can all be successful together?
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