Photo of worried man

Photo of worried manThis month marks an important milestone in our global pandemic experience. We’ve persevered through six months of mask wearing, social distancing, remote working, and lock-downs. Perhaps this is an accomplishment to be celebrated, as we made these choices in an effort to protect the health and well-being of our families, friends, colleagues, and strangers. These acts of kindness and care for one another have not been without consequence. Many small and mid-sized business are struggling to remain open and mental health challenges are mounting. While we should celebrate the impact we’ve made on flattening the curve and working to keep ourselves and others healthy, few people feel like celebrating. This 6-month milestone also feels a bit like a wall.

Back in March, we all had different expectations for how long these Covid-reduction measures would be in place. Some people were optimistic that a few months of extreme isolation would slow the spread and allow scientists enough time to find a viable treatment. We started the lock-down experience by learning new hobbies, completing home improvement projects, spending time with our families, and connecting via virtual Happy Hours. As the months have passed by, the novelty of having no social obligations has worn off and even the extreme introverts are craving human interaction. We never thought it would last this long. When companies started cancelling 2021 conferences, many felt like those decisions were premature. And yet, each day more and more organizations announce that they don’t expect for their remote employees to return to the office in 2020.

So here we are. In spite of our sacrifices, Covid cases are on the rise in many states, and there’s no end in sight for self-isolation.

We’re hitting the wall.

As Dr. Aisha Ahmad shared on Twitter recently: “The 6-month mark in any sustained crisis is always difficult. We have all adjusted to this “new normal” but might now feel like we’re running out of steam. Yet, at best we’re only 1/3 of the way through this marathon. How can we keep going?” She continued by saying “…In my experience, this is a very normal time to struggle or slump. I always hit a wall 6 months into a tough assignment in a disaster zone. The desire to ‘get away’ or ‘make it stop’ is intense.”

It’s important to understand that the collective burnout we’re all experiencing is valid and is something we should all be talking about openly. And while the burnout may not be caused directly by our workload, our ability to perform effectively is certainly impacted by it. Leaders should address the 6-month wall directly. Your employees are likely uncomfortable expressing their exhaustion for a number of reasons. By taking the lead to open a conversation, it normalizes and validates the emotions while providing a forum for everyone to offer support to one another. Take an opportunity to set expectations for your team. Urge them to use their PTO, remind them of any support services in their benefits, and reinforce that mental health must be a priority.

This pandemic has tested even the most resilient people in extreme ways. Accepting that you’re experiencing burnout is not a sign of weakness and should never cause shame.

“Take heart. We have navigated a harrowing disaster for 6 months, with resourcefulness and courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions. A miracle and a marvel. This is hard proof that we have what it takes to keep going.”

The feelings associated with the 6-month wall are not permanent. Reimagine this 6-month wall as the kind of literal wall in any outdoor corporate team-building event. How do you get everyone over that enormous wall? There’s only one way—communicate and support one another.

Soft Skills Graph

Soft Skills GraphFrom our archives: A 256% net return on investment—it’s the holy grail of training outcomes and easier to achieve than you might think. A study conducted by Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan found that soft skills training does NOT create soft results. The study showed that even minimal time investments in each skill (5-12 hours) boosts productivity and retention 12 percent and those results last up to 9 months.Read More

online conversation

online conversation“Sounds like a great plan. Does anyone disagree?” It’s a question that makes me cringe every time I hear it. The fellow introverts on the call all glance at one another to see if any of them will be brave enough to share their thoughts. And some of the extroverts ponder expressing disagreement, but weigh it against their desire to wrap up the meeting quickly and return to their growing workload. After a few seconds of silence, the leader takes silence as agreement and moves on. Weeks later when the plan falls apart, everyone wonders what happened.

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Thumbs Up

Thumbs UpGiven the importance of recognizing the contributions of others, as well as the need to express gratitude frequently, it’s always encouraging to see organizations that embrace formal kudos awards. Whether the recognition appears in a newsletter, through an Employee of the Month award, or just a shout-out during team/company-wide meetings, the employee feels both seen and appreciated.

It seems crazy to think that there could be any drawback to expressing appreciation and gratitude, but there are potential pitfalls that should be avoided to ensure the positive intent is not lost.

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video-conference-exhaustion

video-conference-exhaustion“Well this must be your ideal scenario as an introvert. You must love working from home without any superficial conversations draining your energy. I bet it will be hard for introverts to go back in the office after being able to control social interactions for so many months.”

This simple observation from a colleague stuck with me for a week. If introverts are drained by things like superficial conversations, spontaneous questions, and long days of social interactions, then working remotely should be the ultimate energy preservation work scenario. In a remote office, we have more control over who we engage with (and when) than if someone physically walks into our office for a quick chat. Even when we lack the social energy for a conversation, we typically respond politely rather than awkwardly explain that we just need some time alone.

But if it’s true that remote work should protect an introvert’s energy more than in an office, then why do we feel more drained than ever?

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Friend-leaders

Friend-leadersEvery change comes with challenges, but the transition from peer to supervisor can be a particularly challenging adjustment. Internal promotions are critical for retaining top talent and leveraging proprietary knowledge gained on the job. But internal promotions can also result in awkward role and relationship changes for individuals who were formerly peers.

When one person on a team is promoted to a leadership position, there can be a wide range of feelings among the peers. Some will be happy because don’t have to establish a relationship with a new, unknown manager. Additionally, the promoted manager already understands the business so there is a shorter learning curve as compared to a new external hire.

However, others will have more negative emotions in response to the news. Some individuals will feel that they were more qualified and should have been awarded the position instead. Others may struggle in the adjustment from peer/friend to a manager/direct report relationship.

Here are a few ways to manage the peer-to-leader transition:

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