Most of us need a shot in the arm these days, and I’m not talking about a vaccine or booster. Between the toll the Pandemic has taken on our physical, mental and financial health, the worst labor shortage in our lifetimes, and the sheer difficulty of accomplishing the most basic tasks of daily living, people are exhausted. The condition isn’t limited to individuals who lack resilience, good self-care, and a solid support system. Even leaders who typically bounce back fast and are highly motivated are struggling to replenish their energy and enthusiasm for work.
Over time, some people will recover, others will remain stuck, and a percentage will pursue new career opportunities or drop out of the labor force. The good news is managers are not powerless in impacting outcomes. The most current research reveals a strong correlation between individuals’ resilience and the support systems available to them at work. In this column we’ll explore five actions you can take to get yourself and your team back on track.
1. Assess where your team is. The process begins with you. Success-driven people often mistake losing their momentum for mental exhaustion. Unlike physical exhaustion, the feeling isn’t as easy to detect. When you are mentally exhausted, it’s virtually impossible to think clearly and make wise decisions about how to move forward. Rather than trying to muscle yourself into action, allow yourself some time and space. This can be a tough concept for hard-driving personalities. If taking breaks is difficult for you, take a lesson from world-class athletes. They all know that recovery time is a critical component in maximizing performance. If you feel there is no way you can take time off right now, that’s a good indicator you need a break – even if it is a short one.
Next, talk with your direct reports individually. Do your best to assess each person’s state of mind, including how they’re feeling, challenges they may be facing, their level of engagement at work and what support they need from you. Recognize that everyone’s needs will be different. Some may just need to vent; others may need more flexible hours and time off. People who feel tired and overwhelmed will need help prioritizing and clearing some tasks off their plates. A percentage of employees may need access to mental health services. (If you’d like a free copy of “Warning Signs There May Be A Mental Health Issue,” email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Increasingly, professionals need a reason to feel enthused about work again. A shift in responsibilities, a new project or participating in a professional development course can reignite the spark.
Consider Kevin, who was recently promoted to management. On the surface, he was grateful for his promotion. He had convinced himself he was happy. Working in isolation during COVID-19 with too much time to think, Kevin had to face the fact that he was miserable in his management position. He was uncomfortable admitting to the people who promoted him that he wanted to return to his old role. Known in the state as a great business development person, several competing organizations were courting Kevin, and he was close to making a move so that he could get back to the work he loved. During a “state of mind assessment” the manager sensed Kevin’s lack of enthusiasm for his new position. Valuing Kevin as an employee, he encouraged him to transition back to full-time business development.
2. Find what gives you energy. Most of us use tools to manage time effectively but we don’t stop to think about managing our energy. Unlike time, energy is not finite. It can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed. Think of your energy as if it was a bank account – you are either making deposits and building up your account or making withdrawals and depleting it. When someone feels exhausted, it’s time to increase the energy supply. That begins with a clear understanding of what builds your energy and what depletes you.
For the next couple of weeks, pay close attention to your daily activities. List the key activities you do during a day (e.g., talking to clients, business development, coaching employees, strategic planning, playing a sport, taking a class, game night with your kids, walking on the beach, reading a book, etc.).
Once you’ve tracked your activities for two weeks, review them. Which ones give you energy and which ones pull you down? Look for ways to decrease the activities that drain you and increase those that energize you. When you feel depleted it is often because you’ve stopped doing the things that energize you. If you spend time on an activity that energizes you – even a couple of minutes a day – you increase your energy supply.
3. Leverage the spillover effect. If you are not feeling enthusiastic about your job these days, rather than force it, find something that gives you positive energy outside of your job. The odds are that the energy you get from this activity will spill over into your work life.
Take Trevor as an example. A third-generation owner of a well-respected family business, Trevor’s life had been a relatively easy one. He had gone to good schools, had financial security and had a beautiful home and family. Trevor felt grateful to his family for the life he’s been given but he also felt pressure to stay at the helm of the family business. While the business afforded him a great lifestyle, he derived little satisfaction from running the company.
When Trevor finally stopped beating himself up because he didn’t have his father and grandfather’s passion for the business, he found an answer. Trevor was driven by a strong desire to help people who did not have his advantages in life. After some research, he found a local volunteer organization that teamed successful business owners with disadvantaged teens. He loved opening these kids’ eyes to the possibilities and options they had in life and mentoring them along the way.
Trevor’s satisfaction in his volunteer work changed his attitude at the office. Instead of feeling trapped and resentful in his job, he stayed focused on the opportunity it afforded him. As a result, his mindset and performance at the office dramatically improved. That wasn’t the only win. Trevor created two intern positions in the business for kids from his volunteer mentoring program. The internships are proving effective in bringing new talent into the organization.
4. Give people the chance to upskill. Many workers are at crossroads in rethinking their careers. They may feel like a hamster on a wheel continuously trying to satisfy angry customers and get unresponsive business partners to deliver. Others have been doing the same job for years and feel bored and unfulfilled. Acquiring new skills that make it easier to get the work done or help the person advance or transition to a different role within the organization can reenergize depleted employees.
Ashley is a powerful example of upskilling. As a client service manager, she gets the problem clients. Since COVID-19, the number of angry, frustrated, and impatient clients has increased exponentially. She began to lose confidence in her ability to satisfy customers and felt overwhelmed and ineffective in her role. Her manager suggested that emotional intelligence training might be helpful. Ashley agreed to give it a chance. Ashley reports that the training has helped her immensely. She’s feeling more in control and better equipped to respond effectively to her clients. She’s also better able to manage her own emotions. Her confidence level is up, and so is her job satisfaction.
5. Manage the stress level in your office environment. Faced with competitive pressures and the need to grow, organizations take on more than they can handle. They increase the number of initiatives, accelerate the speed of their activities, raise performance goals, and introduce new organizational structures and technology systems. For a while, it works. The frenetic pace and level of achievement become the norm. But people can’t sustain this level of intensity day in and day out for long periods of time. They lose their enthusiasm, and exhaustion and resignation set in. Human beings and organizations perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense activity and regeneration. Building in time to recharge improves productivity and performance.
Keep the organizational plate clean. Organizations are great at adding projects but not so good at finishing or eliminating them. Over time, the volume adds up. Due to many organizations’ heavy reliance on a small group of “go-to” people, the same people are continuously tapped. Consider instituting a spring and fall-cleaning ritual that challenges every initiative. If the initiative doesn’t align with organizational strategy, eliminate it. If a new initiative is being taken on – something needs to be removed from the plate. (If you would like to “stress test” your work environment, email email@example.com for a free self-administered evaluation.)
As you move forward, stop trying so hard to get motivated. Motivation generally stems from something you feel you should do and comes from a source outside of you. It typically requires a kick in the butt from oneself or another to reach a goal. “Should do’s” tend to drain your energy. They are the stuff New Year’s resolutions are made of, and they seldom come to fruition. Instead, think about getting inspired. Inspiration is entirely self–generated and comes from within. It gives you energy and makes you want to act. Inspiration is more compelling and long-lasting.
Kimberly Paterson, Certified Executive Coach and Master Energy Leadership Coach, is President of CIM (www.cim-co.com), CIM works with organizations and individuals to maximize performance through positive lasting behavioral change. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kimberly on www.linkedin.com/in/kimberly-paterson and twitter.com/CIMChangeMinds.
Even leaders who typically bounce back fast and are highly motivated are struggling to replenish their energy and enthusiasm for work.