We tend to view stress and burnout in terms of the short-term demands of a sprint: the rush to meet a deadline or prepare for an important presentation. But the demands of a marathon take a different kind of toll on us. As we mark the one-year anniversary of the first pandemic restrictions, now is a good time to look at the effect that twelve months of worry and uncertainty have had on our mental health and well-being. To recover and thrive as we move forward requires strong, purposeful action from individual employees and business leaders.
The Harvard Business Review recently conducted an extensive survey of burnout and well-being under Covid. Amongst their findings:
- 85% say their well-being has declined during the past year
- 62% are struggling to meet their workload and to balance work with other responsibilities
- Many report difficulty maintaining strong connections with others
- Exhaustion and cynicism are on the rise
- Burnout levels are highest among Millennials
In the short run, there are immediate steps we can take to mitigate stress and burnout. In the long run, the best antidote to burnout is to foster its opposite: a sense of fulfillment and thriving at both the individual and organizational levels.
Take proactive self-care action
With this research in mind, here are some steps you can take to counter pandemic burnout—habits, and routines:
- Nourish your mind. To combat the Groundhog Day sameness many report, find ways to introduce variety into your day. If you cannot travel physically, travel virtually to a part of the world you have always been curious about. Learn something new that has nothing to do with your job. Take a break from work by doing puzzles or brainteasers. The mind is a muscle and needs exercise just like your body.
- Feed your energy. Exhaustion is one of the cornerstones of burnout. As you organize your day, focus less on managing your time and more on managing your energy. Make note of the activities and habits that feed your energy and prioritize them. Cut down on things that drain your energy.
- Cultivate connection. Our connection with others is a critical source of energy and morale. As restrictions loosen up, look for opportunities to reconnect with those you have lost touch with. Carve out time in your calendar for connection, just as you would for an important business meeting.
- Identify specific sources of stress. One of the challenging things about pandemic stress is that it feels all-encompassing as if it is in the air we breathe. Even if your stress is coming from multiple directions, try to identify the biggest culprits. Does your workload feel overwhelming? Take the issue up with your boss. Is work leaking into the rest of your life? Set hard boundaries as to when to end your workday.
Keep lines of communication open
Honest and open communication clears the air, builds trust and connection, and helps us take concrete steps to counter stress and burnout. On an organizational level, transparency from leadership is critical, especially during times of high uncertainty.
Create a thriving culture in your organization
Although there is much that individuals can do to take charge of their health and well-being, we cannot hope to make lasting progress against burnout unless business leaders intentionally create a workplace culture in which employees can thrive and feel fulfilled.
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