As I sit down to write this—acknowledging my own burnout—I wonder if there is anyone out there who isn't feeling exhausted, defeated and a little let down right now? Whether you are in Melbourne like me, stuck in the world’s harshest COVID lockdown, or somewhere mildly more free, I will make the bold assumption that we are all mentally exhausted, worn out and sensitive right now.
This year has given us more than just a global pandemic, we’ve seen tragedies in the losses of stars like Kobe Bryant, Naya Rivera, Chadwick Boseman and Caroline Flack, a racial movement surrounding Black Lives Matter, driven by injustice and names that will be written into history like Breonna Taylor, and in Australia, we started the year burning. That’s a lot to process, take on, educate ourselves around and adapt to—all with the added uncertainty surrounding our daily lives and restrictions.
For many people out there who have made it through this year remaining in the workforce, there is definitely a sense of relief, appreciation and gratitude associated with having something to focus on and get you out of bed each day. Having worked to provide a sense of normality has absolutely been a blessing and I personally feel so fortunate to work for a company like Keep it Cleaner, that's been able to offer support to those in lockdown during this time. However, there is no denying working from home since March has also presented challenges.
Between the endless Zoom meetings and the need to over-communicate what would be so simple in person; it’s also become harder and harder to know when to switch off at the end of the day. The weekdays and weekends roll into one, and without being able to connect with others it becomes hard to feel like you’ve had a break. As someone in a leadership position, I believe it’s extremely important to recognise that your teams may not have much other joy or excitement in their lives other than work right now.
This all adds to the increasing burnout, and it also means as employees, we are putting greater expectations on employers and jobs to meet our needs. If those needs aren't met that can lead to frustration, demotivation and increased burnout.
This presents a really interesting opportunity for employers and businesses, and possibly the first time, we have a workforce demanding leaders to look out for them and their mental health needs at the same time. This excites me—the mental health of our teams should be paramount always, and maybe this hardship we’ve all endured will lead to that being a focus always.
Here’s what I have come to realise through my own burnout and lockdown, from both an employee and leadership perspective. If these conversations aren’t occurring—start them!
Mental Health Is Everything
We must implement mental health days and I'd go as far as to say enforce them. Actually, I would even go further and say let’s lobby the government and get them written into the Fair Work Act.
If You Are Free, You Must Free Someone Else
Toni Morrison said, “If you are free, you must free someone else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
Ask yourself, have you felt more freedom “at work” during this time? Autonomy leads to higher creativity, engagement and motivation—let’s continue to offer it.
Trust Leads To Greater Output
If you have worked in a team that’s worked well remotely, or if you’ve managed a team that’s worked well remotely, you must not forget that they've proved they do not need to be in the office to get the job done.
Ask Your Teams How They Want To Work In The Future, The Future IS Personalised—Embrace It
I am proud to say at KIC we recently sent out a survey to ask the team how they saw the future of work. One of the questions asked was how many days they would like to be in the office in the future.
Seek the feedback of those around you. Ask the questions about what's worked and what hasn't. Offering flexible options around working will only lead to higher employee satisfaction and 2020 has shown personalising working arrangements may be the best way forward.
Recognise The Small Wins
It is so important to keep calling each other's achievements out. Working from home and being physically distant should not mean the simple thank you’s, acknowledgement of great work, and building one another up falter—I would say it means we should make this an even greater priority.
Be Kind, Be Aware
Keep the niceties going! Has anyone else realised we’ve all been far more considerate of each other's home lives? We must not forget that.
So whilst it’s been challenging and uncomfortable, 2020 will not be a year easily forgotten and nor should it be. We have an opportunity to look at what the “new normal” may look like beyond simply returning to life pre-pandemic lockdowns. We have a chance to take on what we’ve learnt, recognising the devastation this year has brought to families, societies, and economies and move forward with greater compassion, care, resilience and impact than ever before.