Remote working model was in place even before the pandemic’s onset, but had yet to be adopted as a philosophy by the organisations. However, the pandemic threw one of the biggest challenges of the era to business globally, causing an immediate shift to remote working which gradually ended up in hybrid working.
As the lines between work and life blurred with work penetrating our bedrooms and drawing rooms, mental health became a matter of grave concern and employees started struggling to balance between the two. This pushed the leaders to relook at the leadership style. Today, trust stands to be one of the major factors affecting mental health of employees.
To dive deeper into this aspect, People Matters interacted with Sonal Arora, Country Manager, Gi Group Holding, India. Here are some excerpts from the chat.
How do you look at the difference between a good manager and a good leader in the era of hybrid work?
A leader's role is to define the company's long-term vision and strategy, inspire people, and build a positive work culture that ensures business performance, people development, and engagement. On the other hand, a manager is responsible for strategy execution, achievement of performance milestones, monitoring the team on an ongoing basis, and building systems and processes.
A good manager and a good leader usually work together in close collaboration, and many times a leader needs to wear the hat of a manager as well, and some- times, even a manager needs to move beyond the traditional approach of "managing" a team and inspire them to reach their potential.
For a hybrid working model to be effective, a leader needs to not only state his/her vision of the organisation but also have buy-in from the team on the same, since at least part of the time; the team will be working without real-time supervision. In addition, there needs to be a community spirit and a culture of ownership.
This requires the leaders to create interpersonal connections, speak often and freely, and be reachable to the team.
In a hybrid work model, there is also a certain blurring of boundaries between personal and professional, and this has its disadvantages, including increased stress and poor mental health. Leaders have a huge impact on the mental well-being of employees. Our recent research report on this subject 'All in the Mind: The Leadership Factor, reveals that mental health awareness, coupled with appropriate resources, can transform corporate leaders into caring and nurturing visionaries that people would love to work with.
Parallelly a manager's primary responsibility in a hybrid work setup is to put in place and execute a framework of accountability with well-defined roles and outcome expectations. At the same time, team members should have a clear mechanism to get the support, guidance, and encouragement needed to effectively fulfill their responsibilities.
According to the 'All in the Mind: The Leadership Factor 2022' report, "43% of the leaders felt they were greatly or solely responsible to create a safe workplace and ensure employees' mental well-being was taken seriously." How do you look at this?
There is a distinct correlation between the state of our mental health and our work. Work is a significant part of our daily lives, and especially in a demographically young country like ours, it generates immense economic, personal, and social value. At Gi Group Holding, we believe that Work has the power to change lives – both ours and those of others who are impacted by our work. To that extent, business leaders wield enormous influence over the people working in their organisations.
Leaders who display positive traits like accountability, effective work delegation, and responsibility inspire trust are able to ensure an element of psychological safety for their team.
While it is encouraging that as many as 43% of the leaders/managers acknowledge that they have a significant impact on the well-being of their team members; It's also pertinent to note that an even higher number of employees (77%) believe that leaders are greatly or solely responsible for creating a safe workplace and ensuring employees' mental well-being.
What is your take on the rest, 57% of the respondents? What, according to you, makes this difference?
More than 50 % of leaders don't consider employee mental well- being to be either their responsibility or within the purview of their influence.
This could be on account of multiple factors – in spite of the pervasive nature of this challenge, mental wellness or mental health concerns are still not really seen as a priority in our country and, therefore, not a priority for the leadership structure with a corporate organisation.
At the same time, the report also shows that leaders are not sufficiently equipped with the knowledge and support mechanisms related to mental wellness. Only 28% of the leaders surveyed have undergone training carried out by their organisations to ensure employee mental health. Less than one in seven leaders (13%) receive adequate support related to mental health policy from their organisation and only 22% of leaders acknowledge getting adequate budgetary support with respect to employee mental health. So, though there is definitely a need for more ownership by leaders, they will also need resources and policy support to help address this issue.
How has hybrid working affected your leadership style?
At Gi Group Holding India, our aim is to take the concept of work further. With our ecosystem of HR Solutions and Staffing at its core, we foster a more sustainable and enjoyable Labour Market, while making a positive, life-changing impact on our Employees, Labour Market, Companies and Society. The pandemic has made it clear that there's no going back to pre-pandemic norms. and the hybrid work model is here to stay. Moreover employees increasingly look for greater flexibility and also support from their managers and leaders.
Here, our approach is to trust and empower the team members instead of micromanaging. At the same time clear expectation setting on deliverables and timelines helps ensure effectiveness and efficiency. The pandemic has not only established the idea of hybridisation but also emphasised the fact that leaders must take care of the well-being of the employees in the organisation. As an organisation, we also realised that well-being cannot be ensured until a company enables individuals to prioritise themselves and discuss their well-being, particularly their mental health, as readily as they could discuss a broken arm.
How do you look at the longevity of the hybrid work model?
The hybrid work model is here to stay. Most people have become accustomed to it during the pandemic. Flexibility to structure their work-day is a key expectation most employees have, and they will be willing to walk away if this is not given to them, so organisations will need to adapt and keep up. The ratio of onsite – offsite work might differ across organisations, but barring some industries/roles, where given the nature of work, it might be difficult to work remotely, most organisations will eventually embrace the hybrid model and find a balance that works best for them.
With adoption of remote collaborative technologies and Metaverse, hybrid working will also get more effective and engaging. Additional benefits of a hybrid work model include enhanced cooperation and working relationships, more productivity and employee happiness, more chances for lifelong learning, and better results for workers' mental health, making this a win-win option.