News & Insights

16.06.20

YGN Futuresight - Self

It is the YGN's role, as part of the professional body for the nuclear sector, to look ahead, to envisage a better world and a future in which our members and our industry will flourish.

Times of great societal pressure and motivational shifts such as this create innovation and will inevitably result in a change in behaviours and attitudes towards the vocational aspects of our lives. This is our opportunity to rethink work and the workplace - what does our future workforce value and what skills are required for the future of work?

In previous YGN Futuresight articles we have explored how our current circumstances prompt us to reconsider our Values, how this might change the relationship between individual, business and society in the future, and the Leadership required to ensure that our industry and our people thrive beyond the crisis. This week, Saralyn Thomas, YGN Marketing and Communications Lead, offers a personal story focusing on Self.

Self

It’s 10:30am on a Tuesday, I’m obsessively cleaning my flat and I’ve nearly finished crocheting a blanket I started making well over two years ago. Yes, I’ve been furloughed along with an expected 9 million workers in the UK, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Unlike some, I’m relatively comfortable with being furloughed, if anything I feel that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. The three weeks prior to being furloughed, I was constantly stressing about the lack of work I had, emailing colleagues to see if they needed support with anything and feeling guilty for being paid a full wage while sitting on the couch not bringing in any money for the company. This, combined with the fact my employer is kindly topping up the 80% of wages I’ll get from the furlough scheme to full pay, some may even be envious of my position.

During this time, we might undertake some introspective thinking and discover new things about ourselves, personally and professionally which we can take forward in the future. In this article I offer some reflections on my current “work” situation through the lens of “self”.

Self-worth

Being furloughed has had an impact on my self-worth. I haven’t been in my job for long and don’t feel I’ve had the chance to really contribute to a company I was so excited to join. The fact you have been furloughed may make you feel like you’re not an essential member of staff – that things can carry on without you. For those of us whose work forms a major part of our being, that can be a big knock emotionally. However, it is important to look at this in a positive way – the furlough scheme is in fact a job retention scheme. Furloughing is a temporary cost-cutting measure, a safeguard for the longevity of your company and your job at said company. By accepting my current situation and making the most of it, I am contributing to the future prosperity of the company I work for and care about.

Check out this Harvard Business Review on the topic of self compassion:

Self-acceptance

I think this time also means we need to exercise a little bit of self-acceptance. So much of what is happening is unprecedented and out of our control. Our personal and professional lives might not be playing out as we had planned. Remember don’t be too hard on yourself right now. We’re all weathering the same storm, but boats rise and fall on different waves, e.g. some people are working, some people have been laid-off, some people are living alone, some people are shielding as they are classified as vulnerable, some are cooped up with their children while some have had the virus or lost someone close to them from the virus. The one thing we all have in common is that we are trying to protect the physical health of ourselves, friends and family.

Self-awareness

The main way of doing this is to stay at home and practice social distancing, meaning that those who do not live with others might be spending a prolonged period of time by themselves. A lot of people don’t like being alone. Personally, I like it – I feel like you get to know yourself better that way, with no one around you to influence your decisions and your opinions. Maybe take this time to become a bit more self-aware, figure out who you really are and what you want to get out of life (for some ideas, see Self-development, below).

Self-care

However, as we try our best to protect our physical health, such measures might start to affect our mental health which is just as important. Studies have shown a spike in the number of people reporting significant levels of depression and anxiety following the lockdown announcement on 23rd March. Humans are social beings and long periods alone might result in a creeping feeling of loneliness, or anxiety about the pandemic and what it holds for the future. If you’re feeling like this, it’s important to consider self-care. For some tips on looking after your mental health at the moment, take a look at advice from the Mental Health Foundation and Mind.

Self-development

One thing that might help your mental health is to be proactive. Looking at the positive side of things, I’m taking some time to focus on self-development, both personally and professionally. I like to keep busy – friends and family know I’m not one for relaxing – and keeping active can help you keep some structure to your day. One aspect of self-development is concentrating on your continued professional development.

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Continued professional development. It’s one of those things we’re often too busy to do in our normal work schedule and gets overlooked – but what a brilliant time to focus on it! As the professional body for the nuclear sector, the Nuclear Institute (NI) offers several opportunities for professional development. Here are just a few things you can keep yourself busy with while developing yourselves for the future:

  • Join the NI – the NI has four membership grades. The associate member grade is the basic membership for nuclear professionals new to the industry. Benefits of joining the NI can be found here.
  • Apply for Professional Membership of the NI – the majority of YGN members are Associate Members. Why not take the extra step and become a Professional Member? This demonstrates your commitment to the nuclear industry and gives you the opportunity to be peer-assessed against the Nuclear Delta Standard.
  • Apply for Chartership – The NI is licenced by the Engineering CouncilScience Council and Society for the Environment. Professional registration is an important milestone for any engineer or scientist, establishing their proven knowledge, understanding and competence.
  • Research a Masters or PhD – you may have previously considered doing a post-graduate degree to bump up your qualifications or become a subject matter expert. Why not take the time now to research what’s out there? Check out the NI’s UK Nuclear University Network for more information.
  • If you’re a NI member already, you have access to a wealth of resources such as a backlog of Nuclear Future issues and previous webinars. You can read and watch these to your heart’s content whenever you want!

The YGN, in conjunction with the NI, also hold a series of Membership & Chartership workshops. In following social distancing rules, these workshops have now been replaced with a series of Membership & Chartership webinars. Keep a look out for these on our social media accounts.

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Self-motivation

Yes, this time is a brilliant opportunity for some professional development but not everyone will want to focus on this at the moment. Some of us might be having some self-motivation issues and there’s nothing wrong with that – everyone suffers with a lack of motivation sometimes and we all need to do what is right for us right now, and that might not be professional development. If you’re feeling like this however I think it’s important to remember that the NI and YGN provide a fantastic community able to support you at this time and will be here for you when and if you do decide to pursue professional development during and beyond this pandemic. More to come on this in an upcoming article on community.

One positive of being isolated and working from home compared to working in an office is the ability to focus better with minimal interruption (unless you’re juggling full-time childcare of course!). This is incredibly important in a knowledge-based industry. You may have found that isolation has actually improved your overall productivity and creativity. As I said earlier, we’re all weathering the same storm, but boats rise and fall on different waves – this is even more true when considering productivity and will depend on your particular role.

Drivers

If you are struggling with motivation, it might be useful to revaluate our self-drivers. Why do we work? Is it simply to earn a salary or is there more to it? Work has been everything to me since I joined the industry and I have been repeatedly encouraged to keep a healthy life balance. What drives me to work is to be able to provide for my future family. One of my main concerns for when that day comes is that I will become too caught up in my work, doing overtime and spending less and less time with my family. I imagine many people reading this article can identify with that. For many, the pandemic has led us to re-evaluate our values (see previous YGN Futuresight article on values), with people appreciating the increased amount of time they have with their families. For me, I am grateful to be spending more time with my partner and for technology which keeps me connected with the rest of my family and friends. I just hope that when I have a family of my own , I remember this time and maintain that healthy balance.

What the future holds…

This pandemic will pass and everyone’s lives will find a new form of normal. Our lives in the outside world will still be there waiting for us and we will return to work. But what will the future of work look like? Here are some thoughts building on the different themes explored in this article:

  • Flexibility – We will let go of the traditional 9-5, 5 days per week in the office and finally embrace working from home more often. Having not willingly opted into working from home, many of us have probably been surprised at how effectively we can still run meetings and workshops from the comfort of our living room, kitchen or bedroom. Lockdown could be considered by employers as a successful global experiment in the effectiveness of remote working. Post COVID, this would allow us to maximise time spent with our families and practising our newly found hobbies rather than wasting time in traffic during our daily commute.
  • Mental health awareness in the workplace – We still have a long way to go on this in the industry and beyond. Personally, I think many people still question why mental health should be discussed at work. It’s actually incredibly important as you can read here. For some, mental health can really inhibit our productivity, affecting our own self-worth which can have a knock-on effect to the business if adequate support isn’t available. With the pandemic raising awareness of our mental health, hopefully more companies make mental health awareness an active part of the companies’ culture going forward.
  • A clearer career path – Spending some time alone to reflect on things has hopefully taught us what’s important to us in our job role and overall careers. Does your current job give you the freedom to be fulfilled in your personal life as well as professionally? Does you believe in the same values as your company? Do you enjoy what you do for a living or are you looking for a new challenge in the industry?
  • An upskilled nuclear workforce – A skilled workforce will be key to the future of the nuclear industry. This time could be extremely valuable for professionals in their continued professional development by becoming chartered or researching further training opportunities. This down-time could be considered as one small step towards meeting the skills demand, developing new subject matter experts and skilled professionals. You can read more about plans for meeting the skills demand in upcoming articles written by the NSSG Shadow Theme Leads as part of YGN Futuresight. 
  • A more motivated nuclear workforce – If the industry becomes more flexible and the mental health and general wellbeing of our workforce is better supported, this could result in a more motivated workforce. Some professionals may also be excited to put to test some of the new skills that they’ve picked up during lockdown from professional development. Aided by the fact that nuclear has been praised during this time for being a reliable, stable supply of energy, we’ll be prouder than ever of the sector we work in and determined to continue in our efforts to meet net-zero.
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Overall, I hope to see a workplace which understands and responds to “Self” and our individual values. The idea of professionalism will become more human, putting people (and life) before work. In our role as the learned society for the nuclear sector, we encourage anyone reading this article to consider “Self” more in your companies’ policies, strategies, management systems and culture with the aim that a better supported workforce results in increased productivity and better results, while attracting the next generation, who are typically more conscious of such issues, to the industry.

So until we do start returning to a new form of normal, stay safe, and look after yourself.

About the Author

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