Today, I want to address an issue you may face as more people return to work after the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis:
Many employees continued working throughout the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in environments that put them at risk of infection. Some of them have served on the front lines of healthcare; others have performed essential tasks and services for the rest of us. The physical and psychological tolls placed on these people cannot be overstated.
For Them, It’s A Marathon, Not a Sprint
We’ve all worked around-the-clock when facing critical deadlines. We can survive working without a break for a short period of time. But that’s not what front line employees have faced; rather, they worked under heightened threats in environments that were ill-prepared to protect their safety.
What can you do for these employees whose situations put them at a higher risk for burnout?
1. Know the signs of burnout.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout includes three things:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- Growing mental distance, negativity, or cynical feelings towards the job. In health care, this can lead to a condition known as Compassion Fatigue, and it greatly reduces workers’ ability to do their job effectively; and
- Reduced professional efficiency or productivity.
Unless you know and look for the signs actively, you might dismiss them as general fatigue or irritability. And that means you might miss an opportunity to intervene constructively.
2. Evaluate employee emotions regularly.
Ubiquity Financial uses a 5-emoji rating system. When employees leave for the day, they click on the emoji that best reflects their feelings on how the day went. This allows the organization to get a snapshot on stress levels from all employees.
Imagine having the emotional pulse of your employees on a daily basis! You’d see signs of stress quickly. A real-time snapshot would allow you to immediately address changes, stressors, and emotional issues within your organization.
3. Share successes during each work-shift.
If you are working in a silo all day, you may have no idea what’s going on around you–or how your peers are doing. The best way to the end a shift is to ask your team to recap successes that took place that day. This allows even people who had an emotionally draining day to benefit from all the positive things that were accomplished.
I’ve found this particularly helpful with healthcare groups. In general, those working in healthcare throughout the COVID-19 crisis have had more chaos and stress than most employees, including:
- increased risk of exposure to COVID-19;
- insufficient PPE and safety supplies;
- isolation from friends and family (due to contagion risk);
- increased risk of death by suicide; and
- higher than average mental health issues.
Instead of turning over a healthcare shift with employees lost in their own heads, give employees time to reconnect with peers and share collective success stories, even if small. These moments to gain positive head-space will add positivity to those who’ve had losses on their own shifts. Positive stories answer the question, Does my life have any purpose? Even for those whose struggled through a shift, sharing a small victory gives hope that tomorrow can bring a difference.
4. Treat heroes like heroes.
Many of those facing burnout won’t get a Stimulus Check or unemployment compensation. Those that have worked throughout the crisis haven’t had extra time at home; they’ve had less. And when they go home, they risk spreading COVID-19 to loved ones.
Those who’ve worked through this crisis are heroes. You and your organization should treat them as such. Have food available when they take a break. Send people home, especially those who are too focused on others to take a break for themselves. Work alongside them to learn firsthand how you can support them. Make a big deal about these employees. Give them extra time off to regroup. Compensate them outside of their pay grades. Honor them with team and corporate celebrations.
What will you do?
Leaders, how will you care for these employees who faced hardships in a very personal way to keep your business going? How will you care for those caregivers and demonstrate how much you value them?
If you need help creating or implementing ideas to help employees on the brink of burnout, I’d love to help. Please reach out!
(My last post addressed ways to RETAIN YOUR SUPERSTARS once they return to work. Re-engage your best employees, many of whom may have used the last couple of months to update their resumes, sharpen their skills, and start a job search–especially if they feel like you or your organization didn’t do right by them during the COVID-19 crisis.)