Changing Needs of the Workforce – A Psychotherapist’s View

The Changing Needs of the Workforce – A Psychotherapist's View
16 September 2021


Psychotherapist Noam Sagi explores how facilities managers can better respond to a post-pandemic workforce.

Noam Sagi is a Psychotherapist, Change Facilitator and Co-founder of 58 Wellbeing, and offers a unique perspective on workplace wellbeing. Coming from a corporate background, to then going on to train as a Psychotherapist and found a major wellness centre in London, Sagi can blend psychological and corporate advice with a true focus on wellness in the workplace. Sagi works with corporations and companies to facilitate mental agility and prioritise wellbeing for employees.



Picture: a photograph of Noam Sagi



Why do Some Employees Feel More Ready to Return to the Office Than Others?


Returning to the office is a daunting experience for many employees, whether that is semi-permanently or part of a flexible-working schedule. It is important not to put pressure on people to settle in quickly because people are finding themselves in situations in which they don’t feel ready to cope. Psychologically, we are still in the process of catching up on the everchanging pandemic situation (we are six months behind) and not everybody will feel ready to reenter the workforce at the same time, especially when news of the pandemic changes daily e.g. government statistics, news and updates. This will require patience and understanding from facility managers who will have to accommodate for varying numbers of employees in the office, all with changing needs.

We need to recognise that we are all individuals and each one of us will react in different ways to what we experience. It might be that some people require more distance from their colleagues (e.g. greater desk space), others might benefit from coaching and psychological support (e.g. designated wellness rooms).

It is important not to confine people into categories and give them labels or lanyards to determine how they are feeling e.g. it might feel good hugging a colleague one day, but you might feel uncomfortable giving a high five the next. We need to let people come forward with what they are comfortable with and recognise that that may differ from day-to-day. Especially with the dialogue on the pandemic constantly changing. There is no one size fits all answer, everyone has a different set of changing needs and circumstances.


“It is important not to confine people into categories and give them labels or lanyards to determine how they are feeling e.g. it might feel good hugging a colleague one day, but you might feel uncomfortable giving a high five the next.”


Listen to the Changing Needs of Your Workforce


Open up the conversation – whether this is over a Zoom call, a coffee in the courtyard or chat in the breakout room. A conversation will go deeper, and help the workforce to feel seen and heard. The next step is to use their feedback to inform decisions, e.g. the use of office space, flexible working, virtual/ in person meetings. Group discussions are valuable and can help employees share feelings in a supportive environment. 

It’s important that facilities managers listen to the workforce, and one way to do this is by creating a survey to ask employees how they feel. This must be an inclusive dialogue between FMs, HR, managers and the wider workforce. Employees must feel like their opinion counts and that they are being listened to. 


How Can Offices be Better Utilised in Response to the Changing Needs of the Workforce?


Many buildings have acquired surplus office space since the pandemic – see this as an opportunity to promote workforce wellbeing. Consider optimising these areas by integrating spaces to facilitate wellness support, in the form of talks, group coaching and on-to-one wellness consultations with professionals. These create opportunities to invite all employees, regardless of whether they are a manager or a newcomer. 

Take a look at your existing break out areas, are they psychologically safe spaces? It is important to create safe spaces for people to switch off from work, whether that’s to enjoy a coffee, chat with a colleague or simply take a moment to breathe. Creating these spaces will help employees feel like they can take time out and not feel invaded. 

Emerging from the pandemic has been emotionally difficult, with many employees feeling highly anxious and socially awkward, this undoubtedly impacts our behaviours as we return to the office. However, we cannot predict what the long-lasting impact of the pandemic will be (on both emotional health and behaviours), the full extent of the pandemic is yet to be seen. Whilst restrictions are lifted, we are still in the eye of the storm. Across the workforce, new mental health struggles are emerging and new behavioural patterns are going to start showing now. Whilst we cannot offer a solution yet, facility managers can ask, what can we do to help people cope?


Is it Only a Matter of Time Before People go Back to the Way Things Were?


We have spent 18 months in existential fear and many of us have found our own ways of coping. Everyone is on a different trajectory here and we need to accept this is a delicate process to navigate. Everyone moves at their own pace and people will do so when they feel safe and secure. How facility managers prepare the office environment to support their employees emotionally will play into this. Once people feel seen, heard and supported people will feel able to move onto a “new normal”. People need to take the time and space to fit their psychological space with their external reality and this applies to their situation at work.  

Important lessons can be learnt from the ways that organisations/ employers have had to navigate the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, organisations were not set up properly to deal with such an event, so it doesn’t pay to try and revert back to what the workspace looked like back then. It is futile to try and achieve full capacity in the office 5 days a week. Instead, the aim should be to look forward and to make sure that everyone feels safe, secure, happy and productive, and to support different ways of working and different emotional needs. 

Picture: a photograph of people working at a desk

Article written by Noam Sagi | Published 16 September 2021


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