The conversations I am having with leaders and witnessing online have dramatically changed in the last few weeks. For me, it has been most marked by the shift in language I am seeing people using. No longer are we talking about ‘pivoting’ or ‘survive and thrive’ instead, ‘fatigue’, ‘overwhelm’, ‘stress’ and ‘burnout’ are the new words. (In fact, these conversations have driven me to create a 30-minute masterclass for leaders who are worried about their teams to get some practical solutions to help them – if you’re interested you can find out more here).
What I find most interesting though is that this shift in conversation marks a move from putting the professional impact front and centre, to discussing the personal toll this period of time has taken on the individual – and, quite rightly may I add. It is short-sighted to not recognise how undeniably interlinked the personal and professional effects are. Here I am going to explore why businesses need to shift their focus to solving this, the top reasons underpinning burnout, and why most of the new initiatives leaders are trying are falling short.
Mental Health is a conversation in business that can no longer be ignored
Covid aside, stress is the number one cause of disease and has unfortunately been the currency for a lot of high-performing teams well before the events of 2020 unfolded. So, in the last few months, it has been heartening to see discussions around mental health become woven into the narratives of leadership and company policy. I have seen this byproduct of the pandemic as being an overall positive move in business. Clients have told me about a new wave of honesty in the conversions they’re having in 1:1s, of wellbeing articles, landing in their inbox, and, virtual mindfulness sessions organised for lunchtimes and after work.
However, for those who are already up against it managing childcare alongside full-time hours, increased workload due to a depleted team or increased levels of anxiety (which is a normal response by the brain to extended periods of uncertainty), they are simply not able to take advantage of added initiatives. And for those that do take part, these offers are good painkillers and most definitely a step in the right direction, but they are not going to heal the root cause of the problem.
We’re stuck in a loop
Not only that, but the big worry that I have is also that the leaders I am speaking to are so stressed and overwhelmed themselves that they can’t be there for their team in the way they want to be. They recognise they are falling short, but they simply don’t have the time, nor the headspace to do anything differently right now. In trying to keep their heads above the water and keep their team in a functioning state, the consequence is that everybody feels like they’re at best, treading water, and at worst, sinking.
When the impact is affecting the leadership level, we see a dangerous loop emerging. Teams are struggling to adapt to changes, they turn to their leadership team for guidance and they see their experiences being reflected right back at them. Certainly, there is a levelling that happens when different ranks in business are united behind a shared experience, not ideal though when the experience is a negative one that impacts personal and professional success.
Businesses truly have a responsibility to help. Not only will a team who are struggling with overwhelm or motivation be more likely to be affected by anxiety and low mood, they will also struggle to make decisions, stay focused and perform well. Burnout is the word of the moment and suggests that teams and their leaders are not simply under-performing or struggling, they’re at a point of crisis.
So how did we get here?
There are, of course, many reasons that have led to the current landscape. Below are the top take-aways from our findings over the last few weeks:
- People are being expected to do two people’s roles due to the depletion of teams
- People are taking on tasks they are not skilled in or do not have enough experience of
- Leaders are in survival, short-term reactive mode and therefore is causing panic amongst their teams
- Investment in training and development has gone – or budgets have been frozen
- Leaders are not skilled in coaching or human behaviour patterns, so do not know how to help themselves their teams, with stress and anxiety
- With the increased pressure of childcare, employees are having to now do both with the expectation that their work outputs should remain the same
- Team members who thrive off connection and interaction are struggling to stay motivated and find fulfilment in a virtual working set-up
The key is shifting your thinking
Another interesting thing to note is that burnout is also caused by the ‘fear of not being good enough’. This fear is undoubtedly amplified right now due to people seeing the loss of jobs happening all around them and wondering if they will be next. Most leaders I am speaking to are experiencing a level of uncertainty in their future. This is leading to confidence and worthiness issues in personalities who have never previously experienced this before. Let alone those who were prone to this before the pandemic.
Now more than ever we need leaders who can be there for their team and give them the level of support they deserve. Teams need leaders who can understand how to best manage their own levels of burnout so they are able to help others do the same. This process can only begin when leaders start to shift their thinking.
Here are some quick tips on what you can do to be there for your team:
- Become a leader who is comfortable with mindfulness practices. It is proven that taking 60 seconds out every hour to do a slow stretch, yawn or perform a conscious breath improves focus and motivation – in your meetings, start or end with a stretch or a yawn. Have fun with it and don’t be embarrassed, you and your team will see the benefits if you make this part of your daily workings.
- Know your team on an individual level. We are all different and need different things to help us be okay. Find out what each of your team members needs are and let them be heard. For some of them, it will be a simple feedback call once a week, others will want to have fun to release stress and some people will just want to be left alone to be able to focus on their work. It is not a one size fits all model. Know your team and then you can manage your time better to be where they need you to be.
- Be mindful of your language. If you as the leader are using pressure language like ‘it’s a nightmare’, it will increase your stress and your team’s stress as it releases cortisol, which will affect their ability to come up with a solution. Instead, choose a phrase like, ‘it’s an inconvenience’ – this will not only make you smile (as it’s a bit daft), but it defuses the intensity. This allows you and your team to think of how you are all going to support each other to find a solution forward.
These are 3 simple tips to get you started. If you’re interested in learning some proven exercises you can do with your teams to discover how to keep their energy levels charged up and increase motivation, do join me on Friday at 3pm. I would love to help you discover how you can really be there for your team.
I work with ambitious leaders to maximise their influence to 2X productivity, retain top talent and increase profits.