Re-energising the workforce at uncertain times through motivation | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Re-energising the workforce at uncertain times through motivation

24 October, 2021

At a time of distress, the key responsibility of a leader is to provide direction, guidance, and inspiration to the organisation’s workforce. The most important measurement for a healthy work environment is not the external framework, but the individual internal motivation. As the world is still flipping through calendars on Covid-19, the companies need tools to re-energise their workforce by empathetically addressing their problems created by the pandemic–related restrictions.  

The workforce took extra time off during the lockdowns and even when they were lifted during the past 19 months. Nevertheless, many of them do not seem to have returned to work with a renewed sense of purpose. Remote working, Zoom meetings, uncertainty on timelines of the pandemic, and the mixture of home and work life have trapped the average worker in a psychological mess.  

According to psychologists, self-realisation is a key aspect of human life. In social and societal situations, it’s basic human nature to nurture something, and see it flourish. This principle applies to most day-to-day activities in both the official and private lives of people.

Pivotal role

Therefore, motivation is a pivotal and fundamental factor in human life. Specifically, this theory applies to organisational performance. Motivated employees take initiative and are eager to take additional responsibilities in a crisis.  They always help to maintain a positive workplace atmosphere and achieve better results in troubled times.  

A stressful work environment created by the pandemic has created significant negative implications for the mental health of employees who are engaged in both the public sector and private sector. Although the public sector workers enjoyed job security with full pay and facilities, most of the private sector employees were compelled to work under more financially restricted circumstances. 

Whilst the public sector is under the pressure of health restrictions, the private sector was hassled with both health and financial constraints. In both counts, the workforce, as a whole, underwent a troubled time with stress, anxiety, social deprivation, and depression.

Work-related stress

According to the World Health Organisation, occupational or work-related psychosocial stress is the response people confront when presented with work demands and pressure that are not matched to their knowledge and skills. However, the effects of stress are not isolated only to the workplace; they move into personal relationships, home lives, and overall performance. 

Maintaining consistency in employee performance in uncertain external situations such as the prevailing pandemic is not an easy task for organisations. The vagueness can affect the well-being of the employees of all levels and hamper overall productivity. The hazardous situation not only distracts the attention of employees but also threatens their health and safety as well. 

According to specialists, the pandemic has not changed the four fundamentals although these factors have complicated the human dynamics to a certain extent. Firstly, the bonding drives that existed due to the cost-cutting or remote working cannot be replaced easily with traditional means such as pay raises, team outings, and customary social events.

Comprehensive and defensive drives 

The uncertainties caused by the pandemic and its impact and effects have increased employees’ comprehensive and defensive drives. The reassurances the workers get through information among themselves while at work are non-existent during the remote working period. Therefore leaders find ways to communicate vital information through more formal means that can create over-communication. Hence, the communication accuracy must be maintained correctly at a time of distress.  

The key implication is that the leaders are forced to establish a psychologically safe work environment in the workplace. However, this does not mean that individual performances are compromised. Nevertheless, until the staff collectively adjusts to the new normal environment in their respective duties, they have to be appropriately motivated. 

The Covid-19 menace is far from over even though the situation is somewhat under control. The vaccination programmes throughout the world currently account for 3.2 billion people fully vaccinated according to WHO information.  However, the expert medical opinion is that the danger of resurgence remains high until at least 80% of the world population is fully vaccinated.

In Sri Lanka, a creditable 56.6% of the population is fully vaccinated and almost 90% of the over 30 years age population has been given both doses, accounting for a major portion of the working fraternity. Hence, it is time to plan and execute motivation drives to encourage and boost up the workers who have undergone difficult times. 

Monitoring mental health

Regardless of the size of the organisation and the number of people employed, monitoring the mental health of the staff is vital to recuperating. Back-to-work anxiety has to be identified to avoid work pressure after returning to work after months of self-isolation.  Therefore, in order to gauge these emotions and insecurities, monitoring individual mental conditions can be an effective exercise. One-on-one meetings, and group discussions, will allow the leaders to identify the ongoing personal feelings and set new goals accordingly. 

As the pandemic is still looming around in many countries and considering Sri Lanka’s own experience of confronting the re-emergence of the virus, short-term goals for employees would be ideal.  Short-term goals can allow the business to stay flexible on one hand and such a convenient target will permit the employees to achieve results quicker. Such quick outcomes will have a positive effect on the staff morale. Also, these fast achievements will be a confident booster for them.

The self-determination concept

Self-determination theory (SDT), a well-established concept of human motivation identifies three main areas in human psychology directly related to workplace motivation. First, the relatedness where the employees feel cared for and that the organisation promotes a sense of belonging. Therefore acknowledgment of the employee’s emotions and their reactions after returning to the workplace is vital.  

Emphasising the importance of the physical presence and the contribution of each staff member will give encouragement. The organisation must communicate that they care about employee well-being as a priority.  

Spirit re-energising

After a disastrous period, the self-confidence and spirit of employees can be somewhat lower than expected. Therefore, providing a positive sense of competence to employees is important.  Motivational science suggests that holding achievable targets can improve results.

Hence, engaging the staff in discussions effectively to brainstorm the next step can not only boost up a tremendous amount of trust but also provide a sense of empowerment and ownership.

Successful leaders cultivate internal motivation by allowing employees to make their own choices that are aligned with the organisational goals. Encouraging autonomy with recognition of each employee’s responsibility helps to achieve common objectives. Self-initiation and participation can bring enhanced performance.

The employees, as a whole in any organisation, are going through challenges that are both tangible and elusive. As discussed, recognising those challenges and supporting them makes them feel overwhelmed. In addition to the empathy and moral support, a company can identify outside sources that can help these distressed workers as wellness resources.

With the emergence of the pandemic, many employers have adopted flexible work arrangements such as work-from-home, staggered shifts, flextime, and so forth. 

Some of these methods adopted were beneficial mutually while some have placed workers in difficult situations, particularly with home and social life. For example, these new policies disrupted the habitual day-to-day practices. Therefore, organisations must reevaluate such practices and readjust the policies to suit the employees. 

The work environment plays perhaps the most important role in everyday work life. Irrespective of what the circumstances are, the staff is most energised when they are internally motivated. By engaging in motivational activities, organisations not only provide happy work-life satisfaction but are also directly involved in enhancing performance. Therefore, as the country is gearing for a new post-pandemic era, the leaders must make sure that their workforce is well-motivated.