Tuesday Nov 29, 2022

Leading an Exhausted Workforce – HBR.org Daily


Have your customers been unusually irritable lately? Are people taking forever to respond to e-mails? Are friends and colleagues making surprising life changes? Have you lost focus during important conversations?

All of these behaviors, different as they may be, are responses to the overwhelming circumstances people are facing as we move into the third year of the pandemic. Nearly everyone has lost someone or something — a job, a relationship, their peace of mind. Any hopes for a clear, definitive end to the pandemic are dashed. We are post-emergency, but still in crisis.

Leaders aren’t therapists and shouldn’t try to be. But people are coping with collective grief and trauma on a global scale, which means leaders have to learn and exercise new skills. There are steps you can take to foster healthy coping mechanisms and discourage unhealthy ones; help ward off some of the typical mistakes that people make under pressure; and ensure you don’t cause additional anxiety on top of what people are already dealing with.

Be a Role Model

Self-care is not a luxury: It’s essential. If you’re tense, irritable, withdrawn, or volatile, your team may suffer similarly. If your view of reality is warped by denial, delusion, or us-and-them thinking, your team’s ability to take effective action is severely curtailed. If you act out in harmful ways or make rash, inconsistent decisions, you will destroy trust and morale.

Bring your humanity front and center. Be a role model for managing inevitable human imperfection with mental flexibility, emotional openness, and healthy habits.

Mental flexibility

In a time of crisis, there is a greater need for mental acuity, as new information is constantly coming in and circumstances constantly changing. Yet this acuity is harder to achieve when you’re facing stress, trauma, and fatigue, which create mental fog and a kind of cognitive tunnel vision. Keep those mental muscles limber!

At work, make a regular habit of asking for input and admitting what you don’t know. Normalize and destigmatize admitting mistakes. Acknowledge conflicting impulses and values, make it OK to change your mind when new information comes in, and apologize without embarrassment when you need to.

At home, consider a personal practice to get yourself out of mental ruts. Spending time in nature, journaling, starting a new hobby, meditation — anything that uses different muscles in the brain and creates an opportunity for reflection.

Emotional openness

Acknowledge when you’re having a hard time, or if you’re not at the top of your game. There is a balance to be struck: A leader cannot share every passing doubt and fear. More importantly, it’s better not to lean on team members for emotional reassurance. It is not their responsibility to tell you everything will be all right, or to flatter your ego. But your more tuned-in team members can already tell when you’re having a bad day — you may as well admit it, so that they’ll know you know, and everyone can make the appropriate adjustments.

Healthy behaviors

Ideally, you have social/emotional support outside the office — a spouse, friends, therapist, religious leader, or even a “personal board of directors.” Check in with these folks regularly! And take care of yourself in all the simple, basic ways: sleep, exercise, nutrition, hydration, mental downtime.

Make sure that your team has what they need to do these things for themselves. They …….

Source: https://hbr.org/2022/03/leading-an-exhausted-workforce

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