Stumped, flummoxed, puzzled, confused — all relevant and relatable words in my current state. Except I had no idea why I was feeling this way. Usually I know when and why I am out of sorts; this time, the cause was not clear, at least not right away.
It was in a meeting (Zoom, of course) when I felt the darkness disperse and the sun rise. By listening to others recount their experiences at work, I began to understand what was going on. My frustration was actually a feeling of helplessness.
As the person responsible for the people in my organization, I was doing everything possible to keep my team healthy, engaged and productive. The more I was doing, the more needed to get done. And everything had an underlying sense of urgency; everything needed to get done today. Taking a deep breath, I wondered if this was just about me — my issues, my workload. However, this overwhelming weight was far-reaching.
How do we help our folks cope with change, isolation, technology, remote work, accountability when we ourselves are still learning to deal with it as well? With increasing frequency, we are hearing comments from our team like “there is nothing to look forward to anymore.” As tacky as a white-frosted birthday cake with token candles may have been, it brought us together. The same went for potlucks, celebrations and Lunch’n’Learns.
The responsibility many of us are taking on for the people in our organizations can be a very weighty anchor around the ankles. As we watch our team grieve for what was, the feeling of powerlessness to give them the support, the resources and the advice that they need to be fully productive at work can sometimes suddenly feel overwhelming. It is on me to make things better, yet I was struggling to figure out how to do so.
Let’s face it, working from home is not as easy, delightful or desirable as we romanticize it to be. It is hard. Take, for example, exercise. The workout I normally got walking 30-minutes each morning from my parking spot to the office and the same distance at night back again to my car had to be replaced. And the COVID cushion is real – if this did not get sorted quickly, there would be a big price to pay.
But exercise is perhaps the easiest issue to resolve, provided we have the willpower to do it. It is not too difficult to figure out how to put exercise into my schedule (because it does not tally between my bed and my home office). The harder weights are the ones we can’t just pick up on our own.
Whether you have remote workers or are practicing physical distancing at your workplace, the bottom line is the same. The members of your team are struggling. So how do we lift this extra burden on people’s lives?
There is no simple solution — just as there have not been simple solutions for many issues relating to this pandemic. Have courage. Be brave. Look after others. Continue to try new ideas and take comfort knowing that there are many others in the same position you are in. It’s not much, but it’s the only guidance we can offer.
Personally, I called a team meeting. The subject of the meeting was: “Discuss workload and productivity concerns and any impediments to reaching our goals.” I knew that simply asking people to start talking about their feelings is not usually a great way to get them to do so. It was only when we talked about “impediments” that all the emotional baggage that everyone was carrying started to come out. I listened.
The conversation was rich and meaningful. At the end there was no solution. There was no action plan, to-do list or follow-up. There was, however, a genuine promise that we would continue to speak truthfully to each other. Given that everyone felt so much better afterward, that was a good-enough start for me.