Dealing with the emotional toll of the pandemic.
Stagnation is a devastating condition for any business. No enterprise chooses to be stagnant, and rarely does anyone within notice when inertia begins. Still, the effect can launch a downward spiral that can cripple companies, even in the most dynamic industries.
Stagnation has many causes, which can take a long time to do damage. Most common are simple things, such as when a company slows or stops development of new products or capabilities, or when it takes existing customers for granted while not working to develop new ones. Most common is when management stops investing in needed equipment or workers to make the bottom line look better, quarter after quarter. Each of these decisions are made, consciously or not, by management. And while the intentions may have been good, over time they become the root cause of stagnation and can bring a vibrant company to its knees.
Yet stagnation can occur despite management’s best efforts to maintain a focused, engaged and vibrant business. Sometimes external events create an environment that must be dealt with. In the meantime, corporate progress falls by the wayside. Covid-19 is just such an event.
Covid-19 began to wreak havoc on the globe about a year ago. The pandemic has thoroughly changed how people go about their day, at work and home. People everywhere had to adjust from relatively carefree lifestyles to an era of social distancing, face masks, hand sanitizer, and the loss of face-to-face interaction, all while hearing about those who became extremely ill or died from the disease. Few of us don’t know someone personally affected by the pandemic.
While there finally appears to be some light ahead in the form of vaccines that, at some point over the next year should be distributed to enough of the population to stop the spread, we have a long, long way to go. As we approach the second year of the pandemic, however, many are experiencing another phenomenon: Covid fatigue. Coping with this may present the biggest challenge for all. Employees, exhausted by the changes to their lives and routines, might not function at optimal levels at work. Worse, management also experiences Covid fatigue and is unable to rally the troops.
Over the next several months, possibly the top managerial challenge for most executives will be how to operate when employees are fatigued and the novelty of working remotely, social distancing and interacting with coworkers only via Zoom or WebEx wears thin. While many, if not most, have seen the advantages of harnessing technology to function while socially distanced, everyone yearns to get back to “normal” and reconnect with people, without donning masks and sanitizer and the stress of a Covid infection.
How businesses deal with this next stage is critical. Companies diligently made necessary changes and pivoted to ensure the physical safety of employees. They now need to focus on the emotional state of those same workers to prevent further Covid fallout.
Simple acts of kindness matter. This includes abundant patience and offering sincere thanks to all the employees who have endured so much over the past year. We must remain diligent and careful to avoid contracting the disease, of course. But we equally need to keep our senses of humor and show concern for each other. For company leadership, when developing and communicating new initiatives to move the team in a positive direction, remember to focus on the person as much as the goal. When frustration erupts, it could just be ongoing fatigue that needs to be released.
Let employees know the emotional toll they have endured is shared throughout the organization. Embrace this realization. Do not ignore it. For some, open acknowledgment of the difficulties and challenges of these times can offer relief.
Knowing that fatigue is setting in also creates an opportunity. Open discussion of lessons learned during the pandemic, and employee recommendations on how to make their lives easier, can bring stress relief and valuable input.
But possibly the most tangible way to both deal with Covid fatigue and prevent it from stagnating your workplace is to discuss the future. Engage employees in the aspects of the changes that might fit the post-pandemic work environment. Start a dialogue about how effective – or restrictive – trends such as working remotely or interactively have been, and what mix of in-person vs. virtual would work best. How has staggering or splitting shifts really worked for the company and employee? Engage all levels of employees and managers in conversations on how to utilize the benefits that have been realized. Finally, focus on moving forward so the enterprise does not stagnate. •
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