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Michaela Jefferson 

Six questions with Uzma Afridi, head of careers at NABS

Six questions with Uzma Afridi, head of careers at NABS

Uzma Afridi, head of careers at industry support network NABS, outlines the wellbeing support employers need to be providing as we begin to transition out of lockdown and offers some valuable advice on how to make the most out of your career

After almost a full year of Covid lockdowns, restrictions and working from home full-time, what kind of wellbeing support do employers most need to be looking at and prioritising in the coming months?

NABS’ wellbeing surveys have demonstrated that high anxiety and low motivation have been challenges throughout the pandemic. Now we’re in a third lockdown, many people are experiencing fatigue on top.

There are so many examples of how people have been impacted by Covid and all of these challenging situations can have an effect on employees’ mental health and wellbeing. So mental health support has to be top of the list.

This is also something to consider as we move towards a gradual return to the office. Some employees may feel worried about going back into the office while others will be dealing with long-term trauma brought on by the pandemic. Have open discussions with your team about what’s going on for them and how they’re impacted to help you work out how best to support them.

Keep that human connection going with your teams to understand their challenges as they evolve, because they will evolve, as they have done throughout the past year. What worked for people in lockdown one may not work in lockdown three. You’ve got to keep talking to your people to help them work out how their responsibilities are changing, what’s right for them, what isn’t, and how you as their employer can support that.

Many people are reporting feeling that they are now hitting a “wall” when it comes to working through this pandemic, impacting productivity and motivation. How can individuals and employers overcome this barrier?

Lead with empathy and understanding. There’s a danger of ‘empathy fatigue’ happening, which is assuming that everyone is experiencing the pandemic in the same way, when they’re not. It’s a shared experience, but it’s not the same for everyone.

Empathy is so key at the moment. We all need to understand that of course some people are hitting a wall. This is tough for all of us. Productivity and motivation can be impacted, but that’s not what we should be looking at first. Wellbeing is the key to everything here.

Support your employees’ wellbeing, give them the space and resources they need to build their resilience and energy back up. Without wellbeing, it’s very hard to achieve any standard of work.

Communication has to be a top priority across the board too. You need to keep your people on the journey with you if you want to keep them engaged and motivated. Many businesses in our industry have had to do several gear changes to keep operating in the pandemic. You need everyone’s cooperation and buy-in to achieve those kind of results. Keep communicating your vision, the ‘why’ of what you’re doing as it changes, and equally keep listening to your people too.

How can employers effectively balance employee care and achieving their business goals?

Employee wellbeing and business goals are so intrinsically linked that it’s not a question of balance. At NABS we firmly believe that you cannot have true success without placing your people’s wellbeing at the centre of what you do.

More and more organisations in our industry are doing a great job of showing that employee care is an essential part of your operations. Empathetic leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives, and giving employees access to wellbeing resources – such as NABS’ services and online knowledge hub – are three key ways to meaningfully support your employees’ wellbeing.

The advertising and media industries are known for a culture of overworking, particularly in agencies. Is this a problem, and if so, how do we tackle it?

Historically, long hours have been a huge problem in our industry. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve had such a huge churn rate in comparison to other industries – 30%, which is around twice the national average.

Before the pandemic hit, we could see a growing awareness about the dangers of overwork and organisations were starting to tackle it. However, the problem we have now during remote working is that many people are feeling the pressures of online presenteeism – for example, having to be in Zoom meetings all day, only to get round to their actual work once the day is supposed to be over. There’s a blurring of the lines because we’re all living at work, not working from home, with some people feeling pressured to ‘just answer one more email’ well into the evening.

Managers need to empower their teams to set boundaries, and a great way to do this is to model the way. Clarify your working hours and talk about the benefits of taking a proper break in the evening and at weekends. If you don’t tackle it, your people may experience burnout, anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges.

What advice would you give anyone who has either lost their job as a result of this pandemic, or who feels that their job is no longer secure?

Know that you’re not alone. At NABS, we have a popular online redundancy hub which gives all the information you need if you’re facing or worried about job loss.

In fact, we have resources to help you with all aspects of job loss. There’s coaching to help you build your confidence back up and to work out how you’re going to tackle your job search. There’s advice on our website on how to manage anxiety and your finances. We’ve got a grants service if you need some help making ends meet while you’re out of work, or to pay for a course to upskill if you can’t afford it otherwise.

We also have a fantastic Advice Line where our experienced team can give guidance on employment matters along with support for emotional and mental health challenges.

Can you tell us about a career challenge you have faced and how you were able to overcome it?

In one role I had, I was working really hard towards a promotion when my line manager changed. I was facing having to prove myself all over again when the company announced a promotion/salary freeze. This was so frustrating as I had my goal in mind and felt that I’d had two setbacks, after working incredibly hard.

I had the choice at that point to look for another job or to stay. If I chose to stay, I knew that I’d have to get over the frustration and not let it impact the quality of my work or motivation levels. I decided that I was in an organisation that I wanted to work for, so I needed to be more resourceful to view my role, work and development in a different way.

I sought out two mentors – one internally and one externally - to build my confidence and learn about the sector outside of my organisation. I focused my one-to-ones more to split them between to-do lists and learning and development with my manager and I also realised the value in learning from others through podcasts, articles and TED Talks.

By drawing on my resilience and building up my confidence, I learned that I could take ownership of my career rather than expecting my bosses to do it for me.

Uzma Afridi is head of careers at NABS, the support organisation for the advertising and media industry. Call their confidential Advice Line on 0800 707 6607.

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