This has always been the month for getting back to normal, our batteries recharged – but it’ll require extra measures this year to get everyone’s bounce back, warns James Wates
It’s obvious that the pandemic brought huge disruption to our lives, but what might not be so obvious are the lingering effects that we just can’t seem to shake off. They represent a sort of “hidden hangover”, a business equivalent of long covid.
It was a great accomplishment that we kept sites open throughout the pandemic, albeit initially with lower productivity. But we’ve seen continued disruptions. The “pingdemic”, combined with restrictions on labour flow and a perfect storm of other factors, resulted in a shortage of lorry drivers, which has hugely disrupted the materials supply chain. Delays are further exacerbated by new customs requirements, and we’re seeing some construction materials stuck at borders. This disruption comes as those materials’ prices are rising, creating a double whammy.
Another obvious disruption will be the termination of the government furlough programme, which will be withdrawn completely by the end of this month. How will this affect the sector, especially those smaller businesses in our supply chain? And how will that influence the whole construction ecosystem?
Some of us may be approaching September without having had a chance to fully recharge the batteries
In due course, these pandemic impacts will surface for all to see. But we should also pay attention to the hidden hangovers that might not be so obvious.
September is usually the time of year we associate with “getting back to normal” after the summer holidays. Traditionally, many of us would have taken time off in the summer to rest and recharge. And with children returning to school in September, we would return to work with a bit of added spring in our step. That’s something we can no longer take for granted.
Some of us may be approaching September without having had a chance to fully recharge the batteries. On the surface, we may be functioning just fine, but we need to be extra attentive to the mental health impacts of the pandemic, including burnout. We can start with some simple questions to ask of ourselves: Am I struggling to motivate myself at work? Do I lack energy? Am I becoming irritable with family, friends and colleagues? Am I having trouble sleeping or experiencing frequent headaches?
The difference between good mental health and succumbing to burnout can be doing one small thing differently to take care of ourselves
To encourage our colleagues at Wates to take care of their own mental health, we have been running a campaign called One Small Thing. Sometimes, the difference between good mental health and succumbing to burnout is doing one small thing differently to take care of ourselves, to recharge on a regular basis. So in this campaign we’re challenging staff to commit to doing that one small thing that will really make a difference in their lives.
It may be to take a 30-minute lunch break every day, away from your workplace. It may be arranging work hours so that you can drop off or pick up your children. It may be to leave work on time so you can pursue a hobby, go for a walk or get to the gym. Doing the one small thing is not a cure-all, but the principle behind it is to prioritise our mental health, which we should not take for granted.
I myself am really looking forward to more days either in the office or on our sites, where I can meet people in person. I’m energised by that contact, something I’ve been not getting enough of for the past 18 months.
I know I’m not alone in this. Since we reopened the cafeteria in our Leatherhead headquarters this summer, we’ve seen a gradual increase in people coming back to the office. The role of social spaces such as cafeterias as gathering places for catching up with colleagues, whether on work or personal matters, cannot be underestimated.
If staff head back to the office before they’ve re-energised and dealt with emotional issues, they could actually disconnect even further
According to a recent study by McKinsey, more than three-quarters of business leaders expect their core workers to be back in the office for at least three days a week. These leaders have high hopes for a boost in teamwork and a sense of belonging that can come from spending more time in the office.
Nonetheless, we must recognise that the psychological impacts of the pandemic have affected some people deeply. Some colleagues may not yet feel comfortable to return to what they perceive to be high-risk situations for coronavirus transmission. While I and most of my colleagues derive some confidence from being fully vaccinated and are chomping at the bit to get back to the office, we have to recognise that others may not share that confidence.
The McKinsey study also reflected that if staff head back to the office before they’ve re-energised and dealt with emotional issues, they could actually disconnect even further from their companies and their leaders.
So as the children go back to school in September and many of us (perhaps the majority) return to a more routine work schedule, there remain many hidden dangers to which we must be alert. There’s no quick solution to this covid hangover. This is going to take some time.
Sir James Wates CBE is chairman of Wates Group