Productivity and the Second Burnout

Uncategorized Oct 14, 2020

If there’s one thing many people had to grapple with this year, it’s the idea of getting comfortable with discomfort. But even as we adapt to the continuously changing world, there’s an aspect of that discomfort that’s remained constant: The world isn’t totally “open for business,” and we can’t predict when it will be. And beyond this, there are many things—businesses and ways of doing business—that won’t ever return.

 In many ways, it’s this persistent, low-grade discomfort that’s actually the most difficult to bear, because it’s so easily hidden and rarely discussed. It’s a quiet discomfort—not showy or on the surface like the radical shifts of the early pandemic days. 

So how do you navigate that discomfort while still forging ahead toward your goals? By addressing it as the leader you are.

With no clear end to the pandemic in sight, we’re all buckling down for a continued period of disruption, creating an effect that experts at Korn Ferry are calling “the second burnout.”

Many leaders feel like their employees are underperforming, absent, distracted—and are lost on how to improve their productivity. And if you want your organization to continue to succeed throughout this crisis, you need to prioritize the mental health and wellness of your employees.

Remember last week I talked about productivity and leadership and that they must coexist? 

These times certainly call for it. It's time to play the long game.

Here are some ways to do this:

Recognize their resilience

The last six months have challenged everyone. And even if you haven’t necessarily seen it, many of your employees have shown strength through this period that goes beyond the day-to-day norm. Maybe they’ve taken over a project, role, or additional shift to support another team member. Maybe they’ve made big changes in their life to still be able to show up to work. Many have quietly stepped up without drawing any attention to the fact that they’re doing it, and it’s critical to recognize their efforts in a way that supports and highlights how exceptional that is. So at a minimum, host regular weekly or monthly all-team meetings to call out and appreciate their efforts to stay focused and committed—even if not all your employees are showing up in the same way—and recognize the true impact of how it may be affecting them. 

Schedule regular check-ins 

If you (or the leaders under you) don’t already conduct weekly meetings with reporting employees, now’s the time to start. A recurring one-on-one meeting not only gives your employees a predictable touchpoint to discuss their wins, questions, concerns, blocks, and requests—it also gives you an opportunity to really assess their current state and challenge any assumptions you may be making about them. 

Advocate self-care 

Though overarching symptoms of burnout (like anxiety and depression) are universal, everyone manages them differently. For example, during the recent wildfires, one California-based project manager shared, “A part of me wanted to take a week off and sleep, and the other part wanted to be busy.” In the midst of crisis or challenge, some people need rest while others need the distraction of work, so don’t apply the same definition to everyone. In your weekly one-on-one ask, “Can I do anything for you?” and, “What do you need to take care of yourself?” Because if they aren’t caring for themselves, the people and processes in your organization that rely on them will suffer.

Reframe your perspective on remote work

Even after six months, many leaders are still struggling with the remoteness of their employees, feeling the need to "see" people actually working to believe it. And this simply isn’t possible. Temporarily gone is the opportunity to stop by an employee’s workplace and check in. So if you tend toward a more controlling leadership style, you have to rethink how you get the assurances you need to be satisfied that your team is performing. 

The remote-work environment leans heavily on results delivered versus time on the clock, so the best way to reliably track employee results from afar is to first document their expected results. You need a structure for outcomes and deliverables. With a results-based agreement in place, each employee will know what they're responsible for and by when. That way, you’ll have what you need to track progress and develop trust in them (maybe for the first time!). 

The best way to ensure the success of your business through the discomfort of this moment is by supporting your employees. I guarantee that if you meet them where they are, you’ll see them rise up and engage more genuinely with their work. 

Leaving you with this from the lighter side: Dressing for work can be so stressful!  Black yoga pants, navy yoga pants, grey yoga pants...

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