Op-ed: Managing dissonance in the post-pandemic workplace

Op-ed: Managing dissonance in the post-pandemic workplace

By Elizabeth Jung Rowlinson, Corporate Wellness Advisor and Mental Health Counsellor, The Fortitude Partners

As most places - locations and workplaces - attempt to resume, there is a greater challenge which is slowly being spoken of. I refer to this as “dissonance”. Dissonance is a musical reference - which indicates a lack of harmony between notes - and I am seeing it as a very relevant topic for both my corporate and individual clients.

Starting with individuals, the global pandemic has had effects on some of us that we are just beginning to realise. There is much discussion on how these effects could be defined as burnout and / or lack of motivation. Although this is typically how they are presented, after further investigation, I am discovering that they are actually a lack of harmony between who we are today, post-pandemic, and who we were pre-pandemic. This dissonance inside some of us may feel like burnout, lack of motivation or depression. Also, if left unaddressed, these sensations can potentially result in resignations, including resignation even when there is no new job lined up, and just a general lack of dissatisfaction with one’s life.

Organisations that I work with are feeling the effects of dissonance as well. Some of their employees are difficult to connect with and motivate, even ones that were once not challenges; presenteeism is up along with turnover. Taking that one step further, organisations are hiring from a pool of candidates that may not have found their inner harmony but need a job. As a result, organisations are hiring from a dissonant candidate pool. Some are attempting to retain talent through early promotions, ‘stay interviews’ or providing additional perks and benefits. However, my corporate clients are finding that some of these approaches are not as effective as they hoped and can also only be short-term solutions.

What can be done?
Addressing dissonance can feel arduous and nebulous at first as it could have developed slowly over time. As we are busy, working long hours and managing our personal lives, some of us might not realise this is what is happening until it’s progressed to a certain level. However, that does not mean it cannot be addressed. The ideas below are not one-size-fits-all but could be of help.
  1. Talk it out! Make time to have conversations with a trusted, objective person (colleague, friend, family member, etc.) and / or mental health counsellor.
  2. Ask and explore. This person should be able to ask you questions that will further determine your value set and priorities, whether they have changed, if a reset or new strategy is needed, etc.
  3. Set a goal. Making a goal can help keep us focused. I work with my clients in a very goal-focused way to foster a sense of achievement.
  4. Plan. Come up with a plan that is flexible and be open to re-strategising when needed. Having a plan can bring a sense of empowerment and control over one’s life.
For managers and organisations that believe employees might be struggling with this topic, a potential first step could be to ask! As mentioned, dissonance can present itself differently. Exploring with your team / colleagues what is happening instead of making quick judgements or assumptions can be a proactive first step.

Another positive step is to focus on your team’s strengths. This approach is steeped in Positive Psychology, a modality I use regularly with both my corporate and individual clients. For teams, I run workshops to understand their strengths and how those can contribute individually and collectively. When managers focus on strengths, teams are more productive and have a greater sense of harmony. It is impossible to find an individual with every single strength, but we can build a team which has them all - all to complement each other so that together, we can create a beautiful melody.

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