We Are Going To Need A Bigger Boat

For many we are in uncharted waters. And it will be a choppy ride.

Our learning and development roles are changing

I don’t mean to the extent of the nautical metaphors I have flooded this blog post with (even I inwardly groaned at that one), but in terms of how drastically our learning and development role has changed.

It is well mapped by now on places such as LinkedIn and in webinars that due to Covid-19 we were at sea when we went into lockdown, some battened down the hatches and hope that the storm would blow over quickly and that we could return to our January 2020 lives giving reality a wide berth, others pushed the boat out and immersed themselves into the world of online learning, and for a few already in online for them it seems to be plain sailing.

But what if now we are captaining a different kind of ship? A phrase used time and time again during this pandemic is ‘we are all in the same boat’. I counter that we are not. We are all in the same storm, but our boats are all a little different. And now we have a stowaway.

Previously in Learning and Development (L&D), our focus has been on compliance training, learning about products and services, and developing the soft skills required to become high performing individuals. Those soft skills were centred around people skills, communication skills, and social skills. But now we need to do more, we need to help our stowaway who has been quietly hiding in the lifeboat, hoping to make it to the shore. Our mental health.

In a number of webinars, podcasts, clinics and discussions I have been in since the start of the pandemic, I have spoken strongly about how we now have to provide a high level of pastoral care within our learning and development role. When reviewing your L&D offering, how much of your content is dedicated to mental health? Not just in terms of basic mental health awareness, but how to adjust for your own and other’s mental health, how to spot non-visual signs (especially as a high proportion of us are still working from home or one split shifts, and may be for quite some time), and how working from home can in time potentially degrade your mental health leading to increases in anxiety and depression.

This for me should be top of our agenda as L&D professionals, if our workforce is struggling, we need to help. If managers don’t know how to adjust to managing staff and their teams needs remotely, we need to help. If teams are struggling to work in split shifts in the workplace, and without the social norms and conventions they are used to, we need to help.

So here are some pointers to helps everyone get onboard:

  • Work with HR to set up a mental health development programme.
  • Set up drop in clinic hours in the week that staff can book a call with you, it could be a simple coffee chat about absolutely anything, or a place for them to ask for development.
  • Send out links to content about the importance of self awareness, self care, creative use for break times, meditation, mindfulness, adult colouring (I’m a bit fan of this), podcasts and YouTube videos on how to sleep, how to meditate, how to relax.
  • Dive into the world of TikTok, famed for GenZ dance clips, since the pandemic this app has become a fantastic resource for mindfulness, filled with coaches, psychologists and doctors. With #mindfulness being used 64.3 million times, and #meditation being used 434.8 million times it is definitely an evolving resource. @drjuliesmith is definitely a favourite account of mine. With 15-60 second clips it’s microlearning at its finest.
  • Take time to talk to managers about the changes in how to manage staff remotely, not only recognising their team’s needs, but also the manager’s needs as this is a stressful time for them too.
  • Ask staff what they need from you. As a strong advocate of ‘Socialist L&D‘, I wholeheartedly believe in giving the people what they want, need and ask for.
  • Reassure staff that this is by no means a filtering tool for any potential redundancies or restructuring. The ‘I’m fine’ automated response is usually one directed from a place of fear, and that isn’t a culture anyone should want in their organisation.
  • And finally, put on your own life jacket before helping others. Never forget your own mental health has taken some beating in this storm too. You can’t help anyone if you are falling apart yourself.

We aren’t in clear waters yet, but this is a great opportunity to help clear the decks, and come out of this not as a rag tail collective of different boats, but as a fleet in ship shape and Bristol fashion, and with L&D firmly at the helm.

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