Enabling Workplace Recovery Amid Burnout And Staff Shortages
The ‘workplace’ has undoubtedly suffered from the impact of staff shortages, sickness, and burnout. The pandemic mostly got the blame, but some of this was already in the making.
When you look across different industries there have been some winners, some losers, and everything in between, but when you look at human beings – the people that make up those workplaces, there is barely anyone unaffected. Personal and professional lives have been upended, coping strategies tested to the limits and, in many cases, trust and confidence in the ‘establishment’, whether that be society, governments or workplaces, has been damaged.
Your people may well be being asked to change the way they work again. Whether your reality is remote, hybrid, or back to the office, whether it’s facing the public on a daily basis and ‘living with Covid’, or whether you are still in a strictly controlled environment – change is unsettling, and uncertain outcomes even more so.
Chances are your people are tired, they are statistically more likely to be feeling the impact of stress or burnout and they are almost certainly still trying to process and make peace with what they have experienced. And so are you. There is no way we declare this done and go back to business as usual.
An era of new leadership
The leadership game has changed, people’s expectations have changed and what might be considered reasonable has definitely changed. If we, as leaders and CEOs, are going to create cultures that heal and not hurt, we need to scrutinise and possibly raise our leadership game.
This can feel like a big ask at a time when you too are feeling the strain, one of the things fellow CEOs most often say is ‘I can’t fix this’, and they’re right. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a magic wand, or Aladdin’s three wishes?
Recovery is not about fixing, it’s about courage, vulnerability and hope. It’s about being brave enough to explore culture, to understand where people are at, and then create a flight plan for your onward journey, with some contingency for the inevitable turbulence and a destination so compelling your people will get on the plane.
For recovery to take place healing has to happen. The culture within your workplace is probably the biggest factor in this healing. By culture I mean ‘the way we do things around here’, behaviour, attitude, levels of respect and trust. Get your culture right and people will follow you anywhere, get it wrong – or fail to address issues causing harm – and you’ll never rise above the turbulence.
Creating a healing culture makes space for recovery, it gives people the opportunity to process what they’ve experienced and find resolution. It requires a few basic human needs to be met:
- People need to feel safe, that they can trust you and the process, that there won’t be any repercussions for them personally
- They need to feel they belong, that they are seen and heard for who they are, and that they, and their views or concerns, are valued
- They need to feel significance, that their work matters and their contribution makes a difference
Your job is to model healing behaviour and make it safe for others to do the same. Pay attention to those around you, listen, communicate, and trust yourself to act with courage and compassion.
If you are hanging on by a thread, putting your game face on, or toughing it out, stop! Look after yourself, your mental well-being and your energy levels first, this is the only way you get to recovery. Your people will copy your behaviour long before they do what you say – if you don’t look after yourself, ask for help and set boundaries, you might just be denying them the chance to do this too.
So how do you make it better?
Here’s three simple, but not always easy, steps towards recovery:
Leaders often shy away from this in favour of ‘doing’. Don’t skip this, it’s critical to healing. Explore what’s happened, where are people at right now, what’s working, what’s not, give people space to talk. If you pay attention, they will tell you what matters to them, how to make it better, and what not to do. This doesn’t have to be big meetings or planned activities, a simple act of checking in with people when the opportunity presents itself is just as good.
In terms of healing cultures, belonging is the single most important thing. People want to be seen and their work recognised. They want to feel connected to something bigger than themselves, both in the work they do and their social interactions. They want to feel like they matter, that those around them care.
You set the tone for this in the way you treat people. You also set the vision in your flight plan, connecting people to the difference they make, what they are part of and how their work matters.
Be explicit about expectations, open the door for conversations about behaviour and boundaries, what’s okay and what’s not. Involve people in their own recovery, what they need, what’s possible, give them a voice, agency and enough freedom to act on what they can control – this is what keeps them on the plane.
Keep it safe, be consistent, honour what you’ve committed to, ask for help when you need it and make it okay for others to do that too.
Remember, this is not about you fixing or having all the answers, it’s about a safe, connected environment where all members of the workplace can contribute to collective recovery. Use these steps for the big stuff and the little stuff, create an internal shorthand for difficult conversations, for negotiating turbulence, and for keeping your people engaged in the journey and excited for the destination.
Good luck in crafting your recovery flight plan.
About the author: Professor Lynda Holt is the CEO of Health Service 360 and co host of the #EndPJparalysis Campaign talks about the role of social currency in keeping people moving.