Best Practice

How to fight Covid-19 exhaustion and build strength in 2021

Can we forget about trends and predictions for a minute? I know the calendar is telling us that it’s a new year, but I honestly don’t think we are finished with the events that shaped 2020 just yet. 

I think we should set priorities to address the things we know.

  1. We know we are in the long middle of the pandemic and most of us are exhausted. In fact, 75% of American workers are reporting symptoms of burnout.
  2. We know the pandemic has taken a toll on mental health with almost 41% of Americans struggling with mental health issues stemming from the pandemic. 
  3. We know it’s essential to understand how employees are feeling but they won’t speak up unless they feel safe to do so.
  4. We know the only way internal communications can truly make a difference is if there is a strategy and plan in place, but most IC teams haven’t had time to breathe let alone strategize.

To start 2021 right and finish strong, we need to focus on addressing these challenges. Much of my advice is based on my work with organizations in the last year but I’ve also found it useful to draw on my experience as a long-distance runner and competitive triathlete. 

Employee wellbeing during Covid-19: What we can learn from behavioral scienceGet started

Fight COVID-19 Exhaustion

I’ve run several marathons, so I know a thing or two about digging deep when you get tired and you’ve hit a wall with nothing left. But when everyone in the entire company is exhausted, then what?

For athletes, the ability to persevere comes from believing in yourself and focusing on your goal – whether it is standing on the podium or just getting across the finish line. For people and organizations, building confidence and focusing on your why (or purpose) can help build stamina to keep moving forward. 

You can make this a priority by:

  1. Celebrating the small wins to build confidence and keep up the momentum. Just like the kilometer markers in a race, acknowledging progress is important.
  2. Reinforcing and reminding employees of the organization’s purpose and bring it to life though storytelling.

Make a Difference in the Looming Mental Health Crisis

Mental health is already an issue, but experts predict that it will get worse. Loneliness, stress, and grieving the loss of work and life as we know it has taken a toll. While I am not going to tell you that internal communication can solve mental health issues, it can build human connection and foster strong relationships while also making it okay to not be okay.

You can make this a priority by:

  1. Communicating often and listening even more. Uncertainty and a lack of input in things that matter at work can heighten anxiety. The CEO of Morneau Shepell (a company that focuses on employee wellbeing) said that the first thing their organization did to support their own employees was to communicate more frequently.
  2. Leaving behind sanitized, stiff, and tone-deaf communication. We worked with one organization this year where we completely changed the tone of their communication, so it was caring, compassionate, and human. What a difference it made to anxiety levels!

Face the Future Fearlessly

Many organizations don’t spend enough time thinking about how to listen to employees. Understanding how employees are feeling, what they are concerned about, and harnessing their ideas is critical to building a healthy, thriving organization that can navigate uncertainty and change. But unless you build psychological safety, you won’t get the full story and many employees won’t speak up (complete the survey, ask a question during the virtual town hall, etc.).

You can make this a priority by:

  1. Asking the right questions. It can be as simple as adding questions proven to make it safe for people to speak up into a leader’s notes or a manager’s toolkit. Harvard Business professor Amy Edmondson has suggested questions and statements like, “have I missed anything?” “This is new territory for us, so I need everyone’s input.”
  2. Acknowledging and thanking people for their openness and candor. It sounds simple but it is a simple and powerful way of demonstrating that all voices are important. 

Mapping the Path Forward

I know. You’ve barely had time to think the past eight months let alone develop a strategy to support your organization’s path forward 2021. So let’s go back to my experience as a marathon runner for a minute. You cannot get to the finish line without a strategy and plan. My most successful marathon finish happened when I insanely stuck to my training, even running for three hours in a blizzard with -20 temperatures. (That certified me as a crazy Canadian).

You can make this a priority by:

  1. Don’t go it alone – recruit key people across the organization or bring in outside help. Think of it as building your strategy brain trust with a broad range of perspectives and ideas. 
  2. Break it down into manageable chunks. Schedule strategy sessions to tackle each element so it doesn’t throw off your regular work or seem overwhelming.
  3. Keep it simple. A strategy is about making choices and the better you are at focusing on a few key outcomes, the easier it will be.

This. Is. Hard. But I believe we are all getting to a better place. By focusing on what matters right now, we can continue to foster human connection and build the strong relationships in organizations that will help people thrive. 

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