You’ve done the sprint….now for the marathon

3 minute read

It’s been an exhausting year for HR professionals as they pivoted quickly to deal with the pandemic. But with widespread vaccination still some months away, the marathon is just about to start. Using lessons from his time in the military and in HR, Chris Roebuck offers 10 tips to help you recharge your batteries ready for what comes next

Chris Roebuck

You’ve done the sprint….now for the marathon

Since COVID-19 hit the HR profession has been in overdrive delivering increased support from organisations trying to adapt to the new world in the greatest disruption to business and society since World War II. Simply more work, less time, fewer people equals significantly more pressure resulting in high stress levels. And, of course, expecting HR to have all the answers relating to anything to do with people.

After a few weeks of initial madness to get to grips with the COVID challenges there was an assumption that this was a sprint for a couple of months then, as infection rates reduced, people would return to work and COVID would go away. Well, that was the theory. Then, of course, the relaxation of restrictions brought infection wave two.

The initial pressure has eased, but the impact of COVID has been so widespread and deep that the sprint has become a marathon of lower level pressure, greater than pre-COVID business as usual. In addition the fundamental change in perspectives which COVID has driven in how people see their relationship with their employers, work in general and what's important to them has to be factored in as well. That change will still be embedded even when the vaccines arrive.

For many HR professionals this period has left them exhausted, with their batteries run down to almost empty in anticipation of the sprint ending. The transition into a marathon, for at least another four to five months before significant vaccination, now means every HR professional really needs to focus on recharging those batteries in a regular and structured way to get through what's coming next.

I have some insight into recharging under stress from my military experience, in my senior HR roles and as a neuroscience qualified executive coach. I’ve guided a few leaders through their own marathons. Since COVID hit I’ve been looking at how senior leaders across the world have been dealing with the sprint, responding to infection waves and preparing for the marathon to a post-vaccination world. Some of their tactics might be helpful for the stressed HR professional, simple ways to recharge the batteries during the marathon. Many of these have come from CEOs, so they might be ideas we can share with our own stressed senior leaders.

None of these are rocket science, none are massive strategic insights, all are small actions that are proven to trigger the power of our own bodies and brains to beat the challenges of the marathon. They’ve been proven to work for senior leaders guiding organisations through COVID and some are also used by the military to get their people through challenging situations, as I can testify.

Accept that you are not superman or woman. You can’t do everything. It's difficult enough when others set unrealistic expectations let alone when you set your own. It's about being willing to recognise and accept that the batteries are getting low and that a recharge is vital to your long term viability. Know your strengths and pace yourself. You can’t look out for others if you don’t look out for yourself first.

With COVID no one has all the answers – no CEO, no HRD, no medical expert, no Government. We are all learning as we go so it's ok to actually admit you don’t really know everything or what's going to happen next, but you will develop responses as things change. However the changes we experience are now better predicted by experts so not a total unknown.

Show you are human not superhuman via proactively showing you care, and welcome the reciprocation response of empathy you get back.

Find energy boosters and use them regularly, every morning focus on a positive from the day before; a 20 minute walk in the middle of the day resets the neuro system and enables creativity. In particular have positive quiet time prior to any potentially stressful meeting or activity.

It’s obvious, but often neglected when pressured, but take regular exercise and good sleep. Ban mobiles, tablets and laptops from the bedroom.

Have regular contact with people who energise you and in particular make you laugh – family is important here.

Get clear in your mind your purpose in doing what you do and that of your organisation. Delivering on that powers you up again.

Minimise meetings, including video calls, to high priority only and use the saved time for the other things on this list. It's easy to get Zoomed out – don’t.

Small things really matter. Little gestures that show you care about others, from asking how they are to showing appreciation more.

Know that in challenging times people watch your example and remember it. What you do under pressure shows them who you really are.

we move from sprint to marathon these small insights will help you, HR and wider organisations get to the end of the marathon in good shape for when the vaccines arrive.

Published 2 December 2020

The impact of COVID has been so widespread and deep that the sprint has become a marathon of lower level pressure, greater than pre-COVID business as usual

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