Establishing meaningful connections across the team to prevent burnout
Surge capacity – the collection of adaptive systems that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations – has helped many of us through the first lockdown. The problem is that surge can quickly turn into a dribble, says Michael Moran
Faced with challenges such as the pandemic and working in lockdown, we are finding that we have unexpected reservoirs of energy and resourcefulness. We find the emotional strength needed to deal with the tasks ahead, and to function to a high level of effectiveness we adapt and cope as best we can.
Science writer Tara Haelle says: “Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems, mental and physical, that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.”
Often used to describe the ways that hospitals are able to deal with emergencies in the short-term, ‘surge capacity’ was first applied to our emotional range by professor Ann Masten, psychologist, professor of child development, and expert in resilience at the University of Minnesota. Reflecting our initial response to crises, this innate ability saw a lot of us through the first steps of lockdown.
We can’t maintain this level of full capacity in ‘normal’ times let alone in uncertainty. Energy reserves start to run low and you have to accept you’ve reached your limit, okay. It’s important to take time for yourself, recognise your boundaries, listen to your body and replenish your motivation and energy levels.
Connection and engagement
During the pandemic most of us have had to redesign the way we live our lives and manage complex personal and work situations. It’s stressful and, worse, there is no real end in sight. Resilience is hard to maintain when we don’t know when or if things will return to ‘normal’ or what life and work will look like in the future.
As a manager it’s important that you understand this process and take care of yourself, so that when you are managing a remote team you are able to help them reconnect with their personal resources. As a starting point we need to examine how we are feeling and what we do to help ourselves reconnect; for some it is gardening or walking the dog, exercise or hobbies that help us to manage stress and re-engage. We all need to find or rediscover activities that fulfil and encourage us.
Something as simple as a change of scenery can give you a surprising boost. Work somewhere different, change your environment and habits to reduce drains on your energy and encourage a new perspective. Avoid things and people who drain your energy and enthusiasm where you can.
Having goals and a purpose helps us feel more connected and engaged; of course the problem is that during lockdown planning can be difficult, so encourage everyone to recognise that we have to be flexible and adaptable in current circumstances.
It’s okay to have an off day. Sometimes we feel grumpy, recognise this and make allowances for yourself and others. Don’t be too hard on yourself as setting rigid expectations which are difficult to achieve can make it easy to become discouraged.
The process of admitting that life is difficult at the moment makes it easier to address issues and improve the situation. Try to be positive about the challenges that keep cropping up and celebrate your competence and achievements. Accepting the challenges posed by this new reality and dealing with the accompanying negative energies enables you to open your mind up to adaptive thinking so you can use your energy to focus on working out what you and your team need and how to obtain it.
Talk to your people to understand their situation and the challenges they are facing. You can help the team best if you are open and honest about how you're experiencing working from home and the challenges that presents. Don’t be afraid to show your own vulnerability and share your own experiences.
Make time to listen to team members so that you can all set and share reasonable expectations and boundaries. Also encourage the team to talk about problems and to air grievances honestly. Liaising via video link involves challenges we don’t experience face to face. It’s difficult to interpret body language in the same way and it’s almost impossible to achieve meaningful eye contact, so make time to engage with team members.
Leaders need to model healthy behaviours. Don’t make assumptions about priorities, challenges and motivation. Strive for a connected conversation with each team member via the communication method that works best for them, then you can communicate vision and purpose in a way that energises them.
Nothing compares to being in touch with colleagues in person, but embrace diverse ways of staying connected, use Zoom, text messages, online platforms, email and phone calls to maintain a sense of control and community.
In short, a good support network is one of the most important ways to build your resilience in times of crisis. When facing adversity, we build resilience by accessing social support networks and remaining connected to people.