Empathy, equity and flexibility: your three starter blocks for a future-focused 2022 - NABS
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Empathy, equity and flexibility: your three starter blocks for a future-focused 2022

by Paul Wells, NABS director of wellbeing services and culture change  

How to make the workplace work for your employees

2022 has started off on another uncertain note. In many ways, we’re in a better position than we were last year. Yet we’re still living with the same ‘one step forward two steps back’ pattern that’s dominated our lives for the past two years, as we go from Covid variant to Covid variant. Our hopes of returning to normal are regularly dashed as soon as we’ve dared to raise them. We’ve been like balls in a pinball machine, bashed around by ever-changing guidelines. The effects of the pandemic have taken their toll on all of us, whether emotionally, financially, physically or all three.

Covid life has had huge ramifications for the wellbeing of our industry. Low mood and anxiety have increased amongst people contacting NABS for help, with emotional support now the number one reason why people are calling us (accounting for 35% of all calls).

If the outside world can’t bring us certainty or comfort, then it’s on us as an industry to pull together and do what we can to create a brilliant future where we can do as much as possible to look after our people. As far as NABS is concerned, we can’t say this often enough: wellbeing is the cornerstone of creativity, collaboration and great work.

Our job as an industry is to create an atmosphere that values and sustains happiness and wellbeing. That’s the only way to future-proof our world, by making sure that good talent stays with us.

Our vision at NABS is to help create an industry that’s founded on wellbeing. Now, more than ever, this vision has to be a collective one for all of use to realise if we’re to thrive into the future. This year is the year to come together and take action.

Consider this a clarion call to build a better future for adland on three cornerstones: empathy, equity and flexibility.


NABS has been calling for more empathetic leadership for years. Since March 2020, we’re glad to have seen many others join us in hailing empathy as an essential quality for our leaders and their management styles. Frankly, the only way to have got anybody through the pandemic is with kindness and understanding. Rightly, people in our industry have come to expect an empathetic approach from their leaders. If they don’t get it, they’ll look elsewhere. If any managers out there have missed the empathy memo, they’ll most likely find that their people will join the Great Resignation and go elsewhere.

Many clients in our coaching sessions have told us the pandemic has been the catalyst for them to think seriously about their futures. They want to seize what they see as their last chance for happiness. Our job as an industry is to create an atmosphere that values and sustains happiness and wellbeing. That’s the only way to future-proof our world, by making sure that good talent stays with us.


Equity is a huge factor in wellbeing. It’s been two years since the horrendous murder of George Floyd, but we’re still at the beginning of our D,E&I journey as an industry. This is the year to take our conversations forward into action, while also recognising that there are many underrepresented groups out there who need more support and recognition from us.

This is a huge task, but a vital one. The industry of the future has to be an equitable one. If we in adland don’t offer support for diverse groups, we will fail. Society is slowly yet finally becoming more openly diverse and that’s great to see. We have to reflect this vibrant demographic mix in the world of advertising – both in the people we employ and the adverts they produce – while ensuring that everyone who works for us is treated equitably.

Education, learning and conversation are all vital. But more than that, we need to start doing.

Policies are important; actioning them (with much of the aforementioned empathy) is essential. Make 2022 your year of action so that our future is one where what we do to support different groups is visible and authentic.

Equity also has to be at the forefront of your planning when considering how hybrid working can benefit all of your teams. Are those working from home fully included in meetings, and feeling empowered to participate? Do your managers hold biases towards those who they see more often in person? It’s time to ask some uncomfortable yet essential questions here to ensure that everyone is treated and included the same way, whether they’re working from home or in the office.


The future of our industry has to be a flexible one – for everyone.

It is galling to consider that after everything we’ve been through, some organisations are insisting that their employees come back into the office for five days a week (when government guidance allows). Surely one of the key learnings from the pandemic is that the flexibility offered by remote working enables a wider range of people to work well and contribute to their teams and organisations as a result.

Flexibility used to be something reserved for working parents (and a few lucky ones at that). Yet it can facilitate an easier and safer working life for many. I’ve seen first-hand amongst the NABS team that those with disabilities and medical vulnerabilities benefit hugely from being able to work at home. Their contributions to work have been fantastic, no doubt enhanced by the lack of stress caused by a difficult commute. In fact, the benefits of flexibility can suit everybody, whatever their situation.

Flexibility also means how we work, organising and improve ourselves. There are many different ways to build team working patterns and to use people’s skills for the greater good. Flexibility can be applied to training people and helping them to acquire new skills and expanded mindsets. An hour or two walking with a podcast can facilitate useful self-education. Equally, walking meetings are a refreshing and regenerating alternative to sitting in the office.

Also consider how you can best use people’s skills and interests to build teams. 2022 should be the year that you stop thinking in silos and start allowing people flexibility in their roles to collaborate on projects that might sit outside their traditional remit. It allows them to grow while bringing about new perspectives for your business, which has to be a good thing. Essentially, keep people energised and interested, and your output will reflect those characteristics.


This was originally published in BITE.
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