The New Normal: Adapt or Perish!

Summary: The question every leader asks these days is: “What is the new normal?” Not just about days in the physical office but also about how we behave with each other. “The times, they are a-changing,” is correct. Here’s how to adapt.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

As a leader, I am concerned about how to help my staff adapt to new ways of being together.

One example is where we sit to do our work day after day. Here is the plight of today’s workforce: Back to the office full time? Part-time at home? Full time at home? Who makes the decision?

We must learn to adapt to business as unusual.

Look; initially, It won’t be business as usual. I know it has to be business as unusual. 

We all yearn for physical security, and equally as important, we long for psychological safety. 

Physical security may still mean nods or elbow bumps, not handshakes. You know, be careful when you sneeze. It means stay home if you feel lousy.  

Therefore, it’s essential to continue to follow guidelines even if the policies change frequently.

As we adapt to physical changes, we also need to consider psychological safety at work. 

In addition, what about psychological safety? 

That’s where I need some suggestions.

For example, I’m not sure if that means ignoring conflict to keep the peace or what?

Thanks in advance for your ideas.

Signed,

Living in Strange Times

Dear LST,

You hit that proverbial nail smack on the head.

Your question is what everyone asks over and over these days.  

Here’s what I think is foundational for individuals, teams, and any company anywhere. 

To adapt at work, it’s vital to combine emotional intelligence and pattern awareness.

It’s a combination of the vital work of Daniel Goleman about emotional intelligence and my work about pattern awareness. 

In the same vein, I believe that because of the complexities of living through a Pandemic, many people are now more open to new ways of thinking and responding.

However, unless we underline the new ways, there will be a knee-jerk reaction to return to the same old patterned ways. 

We saw this after 9-11. We are seeing this from Covid. And, once again, with the horrific war in Ukraine.

Many want to shake their heads and look away. However, more and more are asking what we can do differently so that we won’t repeat the past.

To adapt, we must learn from the past to not repeat it.

Let’s look back at 9-11 for a moment.

Initially, most of us were kinder, more attentive, more honest, and more willing to help each other. And then? 

It slowly slid back to the way it was.  

Several months after the deadly destruction, I was in Manhattan when the twin towers crumbled. 

Our taxi driver told us he was close to the towers when the plane hit. My husband and I sat quietly, listening to this tired and confused man as he spoke about the smoke, the fear, the uncertainty. He wanted to talk and share what he saw. When he spoke about watching those who jumped from the burning buildings, he had to pull over to wipe his tears.

At our destination, I gave him my card and said if he wanted, I would do some EMDR sessions (a method used with trauma victims). All he had to do was call and come to our hotel. 

Surprisingly, he did. And I had the complicated privilege of helping with his healing journey, given from my heart as a gift for his courage to look deep inside.

I hoped that he would be able to get some long-term comfort.

That was the best I could offer.

Above all, he did call me weeks later to thank me. He went to a trauma clinic to get some ongoing help.

There are tools to help us adapt, such as EMDR.

And for those reading this, please check out the benefits of EMDR. It is a practice to help limit the extreme pain of past traumas.

On the other hand, I watched so many people become more aggressive, nastier, and less caring. 

Move to more recent times. Do you remember the days of clanging pots and pans to honor the first responders and health care practitioners during Covid?

It was heart-warming—so many coming together to support and acknowledge.

We adapt, become more connected, and somehow old behaviors creep back.

And then that stopped. Soon, the constant complaining became stronger. We were returning to the days of judging, blaming, and attacking (what I have named JUBLA).

Can this time be different? 

Consequently, more of us struggle to make sense of the invisible “curse” that has swept the world. There is desperation for many who have been attacked by the virus or hit with financial hard times. 

Further, seeing the brutality in Ukraine is heart-wrenching.

There are conspiracy theories (as there were in 2001), those who want to disregard the toll on lower-income workers, ignore the plight of the homeless, loud demands claiming individual freedom, and those hoping to reap a fortune from the unprecedented times. 

It’s time to get back to work and embrace the new normal.

Here are a few critical elements for business leaders to consider as the new normal evolves: 

  • Purpose: Leaders are here to create a vision with a strong sense of purpose. How will the business align around contributing to employees’ growth, to do work in a setting where we address stress before it becomes a chronic health condition, where time on and off is looked at beyond that old 40-60 hour workweek. 
  • Openness: Leaders will engage to help everyone feel free enough to speak up and be part of the solution rather than stand on the sidelines waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. In essence, to be treated like the adults they are. 
  • Compensation: No hidden agendas so all employees can negotiate a just and fair wage. They are not there to get an “allowance” as if they are children. The fiscal realities are discussed and understood. The theme of “we’re in it together” is that leaders commit to and speak about it with integrity. 
  • Excellence: The vision is where the need is NOT to be the best (an immature and impossible goal); instead, it is to hold the standards high. Everyone has the opportunity to achieve and grow to their highest ability. Competition to be “the best” is often destructive and leads to withholding information and playing office politics to the max.

This push into the future has lots of challenges.

However, the opportunity is for a more positive and healthy work environment where trillions of dollars don’t have to go down the drain due to excessive stress and chronic health conditions that we can avert.

This issue requires a new way of thinking about organizational culture, not just having a “tune-up” with an occasional “feel good” meeting.  

Some are waiting in the wings for their chance at retrenchment, for back to basics. They will lobby for “the good old days.” 

This time of transition can become a time for transformation.

I believe the world of work is poised to lead to positive change. Progress is in the air. With enough determination and willingness, it is possible to keep the vision of a more connected, more caring world front and center. 

The theme of my company and many organizations we work with is: 

We are all connected, and no one wins unless we do. 

Let’s make business as unusual, the new normal. 

Here’s to your success,

Sylvia

P.S. I am giving complimentary copies of my newest book, “Invisible Stress (It’s NOT What YOU Think).” It is a guide to stress reduction during high-stress times. Please send me an email and receive the e-book now.

Sylvia Lafair

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