Treating staff well is the real bottom line for employers - Pete Coghlan comment
The pandemic drove a shift in the geography of work – hybrid working is becoming the new norm – and renewed interest, for both employees and employers, in wellbeing in the workplace.
No longer are warm words in an induction pack enough; staff now expect to be seen as more than outputs and outcomes – and recognition that their mental and physical health is as vital to the business as profit margins. That happiness matters.
I’ve had lofty job titles in my time, but I’m an accountant by trade. A sentence beginning "I decided to become an accountant because...” might not immediately grab you, but stay with me. My options were to join the Air Force (my dream job), or find a way to finance university. Opportunity knocked when an accountancy firm was prepared to subsidise the cost of my textbooks.
In recession-struck Sydney, this was no small thing. And accountancy seemed recession-proof; in good times or bad, people will still need to know how much money they have. Friends didn’t fare so well; employment was scarce. I was grateful to have a job. From then on, "thank God I’ve got a job” became my mantra.
Fast-forward 28 years, that bright-eyed, if pragmatic, young man was lost, depressed, overwhelmed – and older. On the surface, life was good; I’d moved to Scotland after meeting my wife in Sydney, started a family and had a series of senior finance roles. Wherever I worked it was the same story; high expectations and heavy (often self-inflicted) pressure. No matter, I was grateful to have a job.
And then Covid-19 happened. Life changed for everyone – we were all scared, locked in our homes and worried about loved ones. Most business-leaders had been through the 2008 banking crash – the natural response of financial professionals to crisis is to put every effort into protecting their business and staff.
This was the third time – at least – in my career that I had seen a seismic challenge to “business as usual”. I found it increasingly difficult to manage. But there was a global health crisis and many people had seen their careers disappear overnight – or worse. My mantra kicked in again – I was grateful to have a job.
I continued to spiral and started to feel unwell. I began to see a therapist who helped me understand why – and also that, just like with any illness, you need time to recover.
I’d pushed myself continually since leaving high school; I needed to “recalibrate”. For only the second time in my career I was without a job. For five months, I stayed home, I walked the dog, and I worked on my mental health.
Over time, I got better. When I was ready to return to the workplace, being grateful for a job wasn’t enough. I needed to rethink my approach. My solution? Go for a junior role – less responsibility should mean less pressure, right? I wanted to go to work, do my job well, within core hours, and leave at the end of the day with my peace of mind intact.
It was an imperfect solution. I would become bored, no doubt, and frustrated – I wouldn’t be using my skillset, and, in time, I would feel unfulfilled. That too would leak into life outside work, and affect my self-esteem and confidence.
That eventuality was the furthest thing from my mind when I signed up with recruitment consultancies. You’ve likely had experiences where you can often feel like a means to an end (a bonus for the consultant?) and find yourself thrown at any position your CV vaguely matches. I resigned myself to beginning that exhausting – and often demoralising – journey.
One of the first companies I contacted was specialist finance recruitment consultancy iMultiply. The ”recalibrated” me wanted to be open and honest, and something extraordinary happened. The consultant listened, really listened. He asked me about how I wanted to feel about work.
This was completely different to what I’d experienced, and it felt so refreshing to find someone who thought differently about employment. He said he could try me for one of those junior positions – but he’d actually had a better idea – and after meeting iMultiply’s MD, I was given an offer to join the firm.
My entire working life had been in accounting – I wasn’t planning a career change, just something new. But they saw something else; someone who knew the sector and understood the pressures and pinch points.
Someone who understood that the right fit was about more than salary. And I experienced something special; the feeling of being seen for who I was, not just for what I could do.
The "Great Resignation” has turned the job market on its head, and employers are scrabbling to attract candidates. Flexible working, gym memberships, nap pods or inhouse yoga teachers are all very well, but businesses ignore the benefit of happiness at their peril.
And happiness is built on something deeper and more fundamental than lunchtime Spotify jam sessions or Friday desk beers. It’s about fairness and respect, and having your voice heard. It can’t be window-dressing, and it takes time – but it’s worth it. For you, your team – and your bottom line.