I’m writing this in May 2020, 10 weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic response in the UK, when the spotlight in organisations is firmly on leadership. How you respond to this crisis, how you support customers, and how you look after your people. It’s a sensitive time and leadership actions are under more scrutiny than ever.
Are Your Team Burning Out?
Repeatedly, I’m being told by my clients, that amidst juggling working from home, childcare, homeschooling, and more, their workload is actually higher than it has ever been. Yes, there was an initial lull as teams worked out what on earth to do, but it didn’t take long for the response to be full-on and ultra-demanding.
So, in a time when your organisation response needs to be near-perfect, yet you fear team burnout from all the juggling action, what can you do?
7 Essential Actions To Prevent Team Burnout
Whilst we’re all in the same storm, we’re definitely not all in the same boat, and each person will have different circumstances, pressures and requirements. Leadership action must recognise the individual and encourage a response that’s personalised.
Ask lots of questions and really listen to understand what that person’s boat is like. This has to be a ‘no assumptions’ territory. Explore options for an approach to work that works for them. Allow them time to try new ways of working, and also the opportunity to change it again, and again, if needed. Don’t stop listening.
As much as everyone says they can get things done, and as much as everyone wants to continue as “normal”, the stark reality is that the work stack has to reduce. It’s simply not possible for people to work in a sub-optimal working environment with a ton of other responsibility and distraction, and do what was required of them before. Therefore, you need to prioritise, and do so ruthlessly. And we know that’s not easy.
Empathy and understanding are needed in abundance to enable you to be realistic in your expectations. Undoubtedly, people can bust a gut and get things over the line. It’s happening every day. We all have something truly amazing in us that allows us to push that bit harder. But this isn’t just a 2-week period, this is the long haul, and if you continue to expect 110%, you’ll end up with burnout in your team, along with waning performance and commitment.
Whilst it might be the last thing on your mind right now, your people are already thinking about the potential implications if they are not able to complete their responsibilities as usual. What will it mean for performance ratings and any related pay, that promotion they were working towards, and those opportunities they would usually be able to take on? Avoid assuming that people know you will just work this out fairly later. Put the elephant in the room and talk about it now, even if you don’t have the answers.
Those quick office conversations aren’t happening at the moment and so the inbox is overflowing more than usual. That in itself is a stressor, as well as a productivity killer. Similarly, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is setting in as the exhaustion of constant video calls takes its toll. The answer has to be talking to your people about making communication efficient, effective and clear.
If you want to dive into the subject of using email effectively, there’s a blog I wrote earlier all about that beautiful topic.
Be Consistent Between Words And Action
If you’re telling your team that this is a ‘best endeavours’ period, avoid giving them a hard time if they are struggling to get things done. It’s that classic situation of mixed messages. Instead, keep that communication open (and efficient) so everyone knows where things are up to and where the pressure points are. Make it easy for someone to ask for help when they need it.
Oh, the trickiest one of all, because for all of this to have the benefit you desire with your team, the powers-that-be need to be toeing the line too. And that means you being a ninja at managing upwards and outwards – which you know you can do.
Look After Yourself Too
And in all of this, ensure your needs and understood and met too – after all, you are the role model for your team.