Help your team overcome emotional and cognitive fatigue

by | Nov 8, 2020 | Pinned, Team and Culture | 0 comments

As the second wave of pandemic goes across Europe, many countries are introducing additional lockdown measures and many companies are extending work from home until next summer. In these uncertain times of the pandemic which influences our daily lives, our families and friends and our workplaces, we still need to figure out a way to find motivation and focus in all of those areas in order to not only survive but also thrive physically, mentally and emotionally. As leaders, we have additional responsibility to help our teams do the same. Here we present a three-step approach – Assess, Address and Progress – to do just that. In each step, we will explore ways on how to understand, empathize and encourage your team to go through these challenging times, and come out of it more united and stronger than ever.

# 1: Assess where you and your team are right now

The place to start is to do a quick assessment and comparison of where you and your team have been in the last few months and will be in the months to come. If you don’t have this data for the past several months, no worries, start with the present situation, and capture some data now that will serve as your baseline in the months to come. Then continue with the same approach in the following months and collect the data to spot any trends. This will inform where you need to focus your attention, how to better structure the workload, prioritize and delegate in the most efficient way.

There are two tools that work well to do this assessment:

  1. Two-word check-ins: In her podcast Unlocking Us Brené Brown shares the tool of two-word check-ins with which she begins every meeting. It’s short, concise and it gives the leader an insight into the various emotions the group may be feeling. People choose two feelings that demonstrate their current emotional state without any further discussion, elaboration or possible judgment from others. Brené notes that people are feeling many opposing emotions these days (agitated and hopeful, tired and motivated, etc). So the simple acknowledgment of the presence of such a variety in the room gives the team encouragement and normalizes the situation. Ensure that you as a leader are also open and vulnerable to encourage your team to share. It later gives the leader the opportunity to pair up people who can be more productive if working together.
  2. Scale 1-10: If sharing emotions openly is not in the culture of your team, there is another option on how to go about it, and still get the same result in the end. Ask your team to share a number from 1 to 10 where they find themselves energetically. I do that with my team, and it is very informative. Let’s say if most of my team is below 5, I know that my number one focus for this week is to provide support and motivation. If for example, one person is at a 9 and another at a 2, it also helps me to pair folks up to help one another. Over time these numbers also give me a sense of how we are trending as a team and if there is a need for further support.

# 2: Address with empathy and care

  1. Pair up: Once you assess and recognize how different people are doing in your team, be proactive and use the positive energy from people in your team and spread it virally (not a great pun for 2020). Design projects and pair up team members who could benefit from working with each other on energy level, and eventually the positive energy will add up. Folks also appreciate having a peer, the counterpart to share the workload and emotional rollercoaster with. It is true, some people are great at designing these peer alliances themselves and do not need extra help from their leader. However, in this time of uncertainty do not leave that to chance. Be proactive.
  2. Get real: Ensure you are connecting with each individual member of your team and understanding their unique situation. Now is not the time to be separating home and work life (we can’t – we are working from home, after all!) In all seriousness, asking your people questions like – “what’s on your mind?” & “what support do you need?” – will increase trust and give you ideas on how to support your people. Each situation is different – people may be worried about their ill cousin, childcare, the family they cannot visit, etc. Now is the time to get real and vulnerable with your team. It will pay great dividends to the level of trust you have with your team in the future.
  3. Ask your team about self-care: Even though one cannot but smirk on just a mention of oh-so-trendy #self-care, we must not overlook its benefits. Yes, share and do ask your team about the weekend spent with friends and family barbecuing, the 5 km run they finally managed to find time for, the stolen hour just for reading a comic book. Once people start sharing the experiences, that positive space multiplies.
  4. Disconnect from electronics: For many of us, all of our human interactions have been replaced with the virtual reality of Zoom meetings. They are all great tools to keep us connected, but the amount of time we spend in this virtual world is unprecedented. As the need for screen time and the virtual world is not going to decrease in the months to come, thoughtfully ask your team to switch off their work electronic devices after a certain time or take breaks away from their computers during the day. Hopefully, people will do the same in their personal lives as well.
  5. Understand stress and stressors: In their book Burnout, Amelia and Emily Nagoski, distinguish between stressors which are events and stress which stay in our body even when the stressors are gone. So, we need to understand how our body holds on to the stress and the ways we can release that stress so as not to accumulate and result in burnout. It is not uncommon to experience to any of us, that when we have an important presentation at work, we power through it, and when it is over, instead of being happy, we get sick. Remember this and account for the time between important projects for the team to have the time to re-group and heal.

# 3: Progress with focus, strength and consistency

  1. Focus on people’s strengths: As we always hear – what we focus on multiplies. If you constantly focus on problems and what is not working, the solution will not present itself easily to you. It is the same with people, at difficult and stressful times, to try to reduce stress levels and set assignments that can leverage the strengths of your team. Focus on each individual’s strengths and design projects in such a way to play on your people’s strengths. This will help them be in the zone, find that necessary drive, feel good in their skin and feel good about their surroundings so that they can perform on a high level. Remember to ruthlessly prioritize at this time and keep removing the noise – all unnecessary and non-value work. This will free up some of your time to focus on strengths. To find out more about how to identify and leverage the strengths of your team members click here.
  2. Keep showing up and know that you are not alone: Finally, remember leadership is not easy and especially it is not easy now. Each of us needs to find motivation for ourselves each morning to show up. Sometimes we can barely do that, but we need to show up for others, to motivate, inspire and wear our “leader” hat. On those hard mornings, remember that you are not alone, we are all in this together and even if you didn’t show up the best way to your team yesterday, show up better today, share your vulnerability with them, that can only increase their trust and confidence in you. The only thing that matters is that we keep trying and showing up. Whenever you need reassurance that you are doing the right thing for your team know that the most important one is showing up for them the following day, and bringing your love, care and compassion for your people.

Edited by Milena Antic Petrovic

Ana SJ

Ana SJ