A year after the pandemic first hit, there are more than 30 million cases in the U.S. and 125 million worldwide. There are also a number of vaccines that offer a glimmer of hope -- that there is a semblance of normalcy on the horizon. And while the vaccine and its potential are exciting, we aren't quite out of the woods yet.
As leaders, many of us are likely contending with what I call the "Covid Corollary" -- Covid-19 and its compounding aftereffects such as Zoom fatigue, work-life imbalance issues, and most acutely, burnout for ourselves and on our teams.
What's more, leaders are wearing multiple hats -- manager, therapist, referee, friend -- as they attempt to help their staff find some degree of equanimity. That's a lot for any leader to carry and isn't sustainable for the long term.
Below are a few tips that you as a leader can use during these tumultuous times to help your staff (and yourself!) manage the Covid Corollary.
1. Know the Signs of Burnout
In sports, there's the term "load management" -- as defined, it is "lowering the threshold of load on a player so that the athlete is able to recover and decrease the risk of injury or chronic fatigue."
As leaders, it's important to understand the signs of burnout and when to deploy load management. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of burnout can include irritability, difficulty concentrating, disillusionment with the job, and a lack of satisfaction from your achievements. When you see the signs, it's a good time to offer whatever tools are at your disposal and work with your employee to craft a solution that makes sense for their situation.
Leveraging the employee assistance program (EAP) and wellness programs, as well as helping staff rediscover the benefits they already have can greatly aid those who might need the additional support. Staff aren't always aware of the resources that are available. Also, consider offering time off so that they can take a break and get time to recharge and rejuvenate.
2. Set Boundaries
Great managers want to help, listen, and understand, but it's important to set boundaries in the manager-employee relationship. It's simply too hard to help others if you're maxed out. A set of healthy boundaries is required to develop an action plan with commitments of what you will do and won't do. Setting those expectations ultimately reduces the friction that can occur because everyone is on the same page.
3. Model the Right Behaviors
Some managers say the right things, like "Take all the time you need" or "We have unlimited PTO. Use it as needed," but they neglect to take time off themselves. However, when managers send emails or Slack messages at all times of the night or call staff on the weekends -- the manager may be verbally supportive but the actions tell a different story.
If managers don't model the behaviors they espouse, they may be contributing to the burnout, as staff may feel they have to meet the level of their manager's unstated expectations. Managers must practice what they preach to show their care for the team and also recognize that high-performing teams need adequate support and rest to be their most productive.
4. Acknowledge Your Feelings
Along with burnout, the team can be suffering in silence because they don't feel they have the space to share their feelings. As a leader, share your feelings and acknowledge that this has been difficult. Even better, share personal stories to create greater rapport -- humanizing and connecting is the key here. By being vulnerable as a leader, it creates psychological safety and shows the team that they, too, can share and rest.
Knowing the signs of burnout and creating space for the challenging realities we are all facing goes a long way in building and maintaining trust with your teams and for your company.