Understanding mental health is a necessity in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter a new year, much still feels just as it did at the very beginning of the global lockdown, and especially in the context of work. Nearly an entire year of repetition and constant adjustment unlike any most of us have experienced before can make the prospect of burnout very real, even among leaders. Yet, as we sit here and struggle to keep breathing, keep pushing, we may ask ourselves: is burnout an inevitable destination where we will all arrive?
From my own experience this year, I can tell you that although profoundly discouraging, this feeling of burnout is not one to which we need to resign ourselves. Although I manage a diverse array of projects that demands the highest of energy levels from me in my work, I know the feeling of utter exhaustion very well. If 2020 has taught us anything, I doubt anyone can honestly say that they have not encountered the feeling as if they are ‘running out of steam.’ However, after some careful thought and deliberate practice in my own struggle with burnout, I assure you that you don’t have to settle for this kind of restless paralysis. Here are some leadership tips for the beginning of 2021 that can come in handy whenever you sense that your team or your colleagues may be craving some relief.
Firstly, touching on such a subject as mental health in the context of leading a team demands a reconfiguration of priorities. As leaders, our actions dictating the tone of our teams and disproportionately affect the mental states of those under our charge. Lead with a ‘rational’ leadership style, categorizing tasks by an urgency to find the best middle ground for your workload and those of your employees.
Establish goals that your organization can work towards in the long-term and encourage staff to remain creative and productive during “lull periods.” Brainstorm what your organization might look like once the quarantine ends. Will you reach out to clients who could not afford your services during the pandemic and ask for their business? How might productivity be impacted if and when your company shifts back to work from the office? Deliberately formulate these and other general questions to guide your goal setting and delve into topics that are more specific to your organization.
Another concern for leaders during the pandemic revolves around balance. Mental health is of equal concern to smoking, according to a global survey conducted by Mercer. Consider your employees’ mental wellbeing. You may need to cater your tone based on their specific struggles, meaning that you should take an interest in familiarizing yourself with the biggest stressors ongoing in their lives. It always helps to be open up with your team about your own emotional state and how you have struggled with feelings of isolation in quarantine. However, in these sensitive discussions, always be mindful of your employees’ self-esteem. Delivering positive affirmations of their quality of work and personal value can help soothe anxiety around job security and overall second-guessing.
It is critical to balance empathy with a grounded sense of stability, also known as containment. According to IMD professor Anand Narasimhan, containment is “the ability to observe and absorb what is going on around you” while also providing “a sense of stability.” Containment means that leaders can “take the temperature” and set expectations accordingly. You want to show your employees that you are compassionate and understand what they are going through while also giving them the tools to keep them grounded and focused on the task at hand as part of the bigger picture.
It is more imperative than ever for leaders to remind their employees of their worth. Use actionable items, such as variation in assignments and the arrangement of new collaborations between teammates to reinforce the idea that each can excel bringing their own unique gifts and specialties to the table. Conquering monotony is critical, especially during extended periods of turmoil and uncertainty. You can make these acknowledgments by establishing a clear threshold of expectations. Giving employees a consistent workload of intellectually stimulating projects will remind them of their professional value and distract them from the pandemic’s monotony.
About Bo Parfet
Bo Parfet is a real estate professional, avid mountaineer, and philanthropist. He began his career in finance working at J.P. Morgan in New York City as an investment banker. During his J.P. Morgan tenure, he successfully embarked on a journey to climb the Seven Summits: Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Denali, Vinson Massif, Elbrus, Carstenz Pyramid, Kosciusko, and Everest. A Michigan and Colorado native, Parfet currently lives in Boulder with his family. He spends the majority of his time leading Denali Venture Philanthropy. He founded this organization alongside his wife, Meredith, to continue his family history of philanthropy while partnering with social entrepreneurs who are eager to foster positive change in the world.