At 6 Group, part of what we do is to examine and explore the traits and drivers of executives, in order to determine what psychological preferences and behavioural patterns they have and follow. This creates the impact they will have in and on an organisation and on themselves. We use a number of tools to help us do this – mostly Saville Wave and Hogan, but we have used DISC profiling, as well as Thomas and Myers Briggs (the last three being a ‘types’ assessment rather than a ‘traits’ assessment). All have value in getting you closer to understanding what is driving someone or why some people act in a certain way that others don’t.
However, one important thing to know is that ‘traits’ based assessments allow for a much deeper examination of the existential influencers in how and why an individual sees something as very important or not, whether or not they like doing something, or whether or not they believe they are good at doing something. The best example of this is when a person thinks a certain type of behaviour or action is important – not because they truly believe in it, but the because their Manager is telling them so. This leads to the belief that this behaviour is most important to them in evaluating whether or not they are doing their job correctly or not – even if it is counter to the culture the organisation as a whole espouses.
What happens when that continual context and guardrail of pointing you in a certain direction is removed and you have to do it from home for over a year?
"People felt a greater ‘duty’ to be working more and trying to ‘deliver’ more whilst working
Conscientiousness and Dutifulness
In recent research from Hogan Assessments, they found that in the early stages of the pandemic and the first months of lockdown, not much changed in terms of traits. Another more comprehensive study (of Change in five-factor model personality traits during the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0237056) showed a negligible impact to average traits scores in the US. However, it did demonstrate the first signs of an increased Conscientiousness score. In the facet scores around Dutifulness, all respondents under the age of 65 showed increases in all traits scores, so too were the scores around Productiveness. What this means is that people felt a greater ‘duty’ to be working more and trying to ‘deliver’ more whilst working at home.
This Conscientiousness score will be music to the ears of senior executives who have been cited as complaining about potential productivity levels suffering and about a ‘lack of commitment or increased complaining about the situation’ (KPMG Chairman’s recent comments to staff being a case in point). The psychological impact of this has not yet been fully examined, but we are starting to see it.
Mental health is clearly deteriorating. In June 2020, The Health Foundation could already see the affects of the pandemic lockdowns on mental health. ‘More than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) report feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. The most common issues affecting wellbeing are worry about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%). A large contributor to the Anxiety score were two key areas. The establishment of the Furlough scheme, whilst being a godsend for many businesses up and down the country, became a catalyst of great anxiety for people’s confidence in their future: “Will I have a job or not?”. Further anxiety was pushed on those, whose businesses unscrupulously demanded they still work whilst being paid out of full Furlough monies. The second was the Dutifulness facet turning into a sense of ‘guilt’ at not feeling like they are being productive enough – this has led to much higher levels of stress and anxiety for workers across the UK and other countries around the world.
Whilst our average ‘traits’ may not have changed much during the acute phases of lockdown, there are other (idiosyncratic) psychological factors that have changed significantly.
Work vs. Life
Most people actively create a separation of the work world and personal Life. Very few of us truly allow ourselves to completely integrate the two into a seamless melange of living. The advent of Zoom and Teams has opened up this protected personal world to everyone at work and even customers, stakeholders and literally the world (especially if you have been interviewed on BBC or the like)!
Whilst this has the ability to build resilience and has in a lot of cases increased the concept of Psychological Safety at work, it has also had the opposite effect. It has brought many people (particularly introverted types) to become even more isolating and removed from the organisation and others.
The pressure of constantly having your work at home and being scheduled into Zoom-meeting after Teams-meeting means people are actually working more and longer hours to catch up on actually doing things other than video calls. They see how the company is handling (or mishandling) the situation and many people are now coming to a personal decision to move their work to a more purpose lead opportunity. They are redefining what is most important and least important, what they like doing and what they don’t like doing and what they think they are good at and not. These are the basic building blocks for determining each individual’s preferences around their behaviours and psychological drivers.
"The pressure of constantly having your work at home and being scheduled into Zoom-meeting after Teams-meeting means people are actually working more and longer hours to catch up on actually doing things other than video calls. "
Unfortunately, in some cases this change has been forced on employees due to losing jobs and livelihoods. In other cases, it is an epiphany moment that they then have the luxury to potentially look at alternative options. Either way, the extended pressure, ambiguity and stress of the lockdown has and will change people’s psychological drivers and (perhaps) fundamental traits going forward.
Companies need to realise this. The leadership programmes they engaged in before lockdown are pretty much now redundant. New expectations on how the future of work will look like, greater focus on purpose-lead ESG considerations and fundamental economic models of business have all changed. The human capability landscape has changed and companies need to reassess and learn what is driving their employees now.
What are the strengths and levels of resilience their workforce can cope with? What is most important to them and what leadership impact will these new preferences have on the organisation and its people? It is time to get to know your people again and time for your people to understand your company, its values and behaviours in a the new COVID and vaccinated world.
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