COVID fatigue? Leadership tips to revitalise your team

Tips to revitalise a tired and jaded workforce a year into the pandemic

COVID fatigue? Leadership tips to revitalise your team

Next week marks 12 months since New Zealand entered its first lockdown. And while a few months ago it seemed COVID-19 was behind us, the fresh Auckland outbreak was a reminder that normality is further away than we thought.

For people leaders, many are experiencing tired and jaded teams who are struggling to bounce back from the constant uncertainty. They want to travel, to see family, and to plan for a future without sudden lockdowns. But while many factors are outside of their hands, there are techniques to help managers revitalise their teams.

HRD spoke to workplace expert and author Michelle Gibbings who said the relentless nature of the last 12 months has taken its toll.

“If you notice that your people seem more distracted, more tired, if their productivity is dropping, if they seem more stressed, it’s important to really be available and to check in,” she said. “Ask: ‘Are you okay, I've noticed that something seems different. How can I help you?’

“Asking ‘how can I help?’ is one of the most powerful things that a leader can do.”

Gibbings said all too often, employees believe the relationship with their employer only goes one way. They don’t realise that a trait of a good people leader is someone who cares about their employees and is open to helping them when they’re struggling.

“The best leaders do that. They understand, they notice what's going on, and then they create the support mechanism so that there is psychological safety for their employees,” she said.

Read more: How to be a more compassionate leader

Whether it's reassessing that person’s workload, encouraging them to take time off or helping them pivot into a new project, Gibbings said it’s a manager’s responsibility to help their employees achieve their best. It’s also about making sure they know what resources are available, like Employee Assistance Programs or flexible work hours.

“Organisations are much more attuned to the need to address mental health now,” Gibbings said. “It’s not just downtime from people not being at work, but what we call presenteeism. People may be at work, but they're not as well as they could be and they're not working productively or effectively.”

Many workplaces are in the process of fleshing out what their future of work looks like. New policies are coming into place and individual teams and employees are figuring out what works for them. It’s not an easy process, but Gibbings said the key message for leaders is to listen to their employees.

“If there's concern and people are hesitant to come back, try to understand why,” she said. “Work through what the options are and see if there any alternatives. If you take that approach of ‘I’ve decided… this is how we’re going to work’ that is not leadership, it’s dictatorship.”

Read more: Does remote work cause communication breakdown?

One big frustration she’s seeing play out is from employees who are being asked to come back on a certain day, but when they get into the office, find they are the only ones there. Bringing people together to collaborate on a project or just to socialise are valid reasons to ask employees to return to the office, but it should be driven by the why. Employees are no longer going to accept the need to do something for the sake of it.

“Managers need to have those really conscious and deliberate conversations to work through the needs of the business and the needs of the team,” she said. “I firmly believe you can get a a way forward that actually meets the needs of both.”

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