How the pandemic changed the conversation about mental health | Thomas.co
Submitted by suraj.khutale on Tue, 05/03/2022 - 08:21

Future of HR series - Sarah Houston

In this interview, Sarah Houston, Head of HR at Southampton-based Mayflower Theatre reflects on the pandemic, now that many regions are restabilising. She shares insights into what the pressure to ‘go remote’ means for businesses that rely on embodied experience, and how the pandemic has changed the conversation around mental health.

Would you agree that there has been a gear shift in HR recently?

I think that perhaps Covid has assisted the HR profession. Companies have been shown the importance of good HR practices and procedures. 

Going forward organisations will fall into two categories; those that were already on the journey of hybrid working will continue, and organisations like theatres, where many roles can’t be home based. Our ‘product’ is putting on a show. So, I think there is going to be a mixture. 

This whole balance between work and life has been heightened. Some people have worked harder during this time because you can’t switch off. I see this with some of my team. Remote work also relies on really good internet connections. When you have bad internet, it can really affect your mental health and stress levels as well as work outcomes.

If I look back on my career, obviously the computer revolution has been transformative. Systems are so crucial now. HR relies on data. We are streamlining our processes and making managers more accountable for what might have been more traditional HR activities.

"Perhaps Covid has assisted the HR profession."

- Sarah Houston, Head of HR, Mayflower Theatre

What have been the biggest game-changers in your view? 

Zoom and Teams have transformed the workplace. But I think that you lose something by not meeting face-to-face. Getting people inducted into the organisation’s culture and values is quite tricky if you’ve never actually met them and they can’t physically experience the environment. 

I think that whole element of coaching, buddying and mentoring is crucial for younger or less-experienced employees. I’ve got a very new team and I don’t know what they don’t know until they make genuine mistakes. While I had Covid, they made some decisions for the right reasons, but they were wrong for our organisation. Because they are all new, there was not always someone to turn too. 

I think that whole issue around how to do training and development effectively is quite important. If you don’t do it correctly, you’re going to have problems. We use the Thomas PPA [Behaviour assessment] to talk about our different styles and how we can work together to make the most of our different skills.

"Appetites have changed."

Sarah Houston, Head of HR, Mayflower Theatre

What do you think the future of work will look like? 

I think there will be pressure put upon us to work from home. We have lost some people because colocation doesn’t suit their personal lives. We haven’t taken a hybrid approach yet. Resilience is something that has really been highlighted by the disruption. The whole mental health discussion.

I think that people are more likely to talk about their mental health now, and they don’t mind having some sort of label, like being on the autistic spectrum. And the question becomes, ‘how do organisations deal with that?’ How they support those people is going to be key. It may always have been there, but the pandemic really opened up the discussion about cognitive diversity.

I think the theatre industry, cinemas and art galleries - organisations that involve discretionary spend - don’t know what the future holds. For instance, audience appetites have changed. We occasionally have opera on, which usually attracts an older audience. But this generation are still quite worried about going into a large indoor space. Behaviours are shifting, and we need to find solutions to support people through these changes.