The protracted pandemic is wearing on the best of us, but there are actions that leaders can take to help alleviate the pain. Below are several challenges that I see trending in 1:1 coaching and among teams that involve pandemic fatigue.  Suggestions are included to help people developers solve them.

1. Pandemic fatigue is high

People started the year 2021 with extreme pandemic fatigue, and it hasn’t let up. While there were high hopes for a refreshing break over the summer, the actual ability to recharge did not materialize for many reasons, including the pandemic, world uncertainty, job responsibilities, and more.

SUGGESTION: Make weekend and holiday plans regular topics of conversation. Encourage one another. Share recommendations for great workouts, such as Peloton classes. In short, initiate positive dialogue.

2. Concerns are not always being addressed

Conflict is tricky to manage in the largely remote, heavily-scheduled world we live in right now. This can cause many concerns and grievances to go unmanaged, allowing them to stew or fester. This is not an ideal situation for the frustrated person, nor for the teams that are involved. Ideally, Leaders should introduce norms on how team members can connect to “clear the air” on essential issues and incidents and reflections from the past. This paves the way for a more positive future together for the sake of the team and the company, and its shareholders.

SUGGESTION: Have a Team Session to discuss with your team how best to manage your conflicts in this time of transition. Is there a framework you can all subscribe to reset when things get a bit off track?

3. Relationships need extra attention

Leaders want to ensure that their objectives are achieved AND that their teams come together productively and positively. This is not easy given the Zoom-call environment that we’ve entered. Typically, work takes priority, and relationships fall by the wayside, as “water cooler banter” is a thing of the past, and Zoom happy hours are played out.

SUGGESTION: Sometimes, the most straightforward practice is to carve out five minutes to ask your people about their loved ones and hobbies…what brings them joy. Connection is about meaningful, two-way conversations.  Listening and seeking to truly see someone can be pure gold for trust-building.

4. Workers are too sedentary

Physical challenges (e.g., back pain, leg pain, joint pain, migraines, etc.) are common from all of the sitting that people are doing. They’re working longer hours and skipping the “hustle and bustle” of commuting, as well as walking the office halls. Attention should be placed on reminding people of the importance of standing, walking, moving, and exercising (critical for physical and mental health) instead of replacing one’s commute time with yet another call.

SUGGESTION: At every meeting, start or end (or both) with two minutes, begin with silence so participants can get settled or even rotate the responsibility of leading a mindfulness exercise among team members. Another option is to check-in and out of meetings with team members sharing one word that sums up how they are doing and feeling. The idea is to get in touch with mind, body, and spirit.

5. Teams need to mix it up

Headaches from screen time are prevalent. People are tired of being obligated to show their faces and ensure their background is presentable for every meeting.

SUGGESTION: Wear glasses that will lessen the impact of the light that screens emit. Encourage the same from team members. Some meetings should be held as good old-fashioned phone calls. This avoids unnecessarily staring into the screen and camera and to give people a break from maintaining a pleasant countenance. When appropriate, these phone calls could be combined with walking outside in nature or around one’s neighbourhood, weather dependent. Encourage time working with a pad and paper—rather than screens—for planning and thinking to give everyone’s eyes and brains a break from devices. Call it out when your team falls back into harmful habits.

6. Be intentional about brand

While in a traditional office setting, “Executive Presence” is a BIG THING, regularly observed by management. In this new world, those same managers still want leaders to exhibit these traits, but many leaders have gotten complacent about their appearance, listening on calls, properly preparing talking points for presenting to an audience and more. Many people show up to calls in exercise clothing and are winging it for important events due to all of the extra meetings. This is something to watch. Leaders should not get too comfortable in this environment and lose their edge and polish. Such skills are already becoming relevant, again, for reemergence on the professional scene.

SUGGESTION: Spend a few minutes on grooming before diving into the day, from brushing your teeth to fixing your hair—select professional attire (at least from the waist up, while working remotely). And while movement is excellent, avoid turning up for video calls right after you’ve worked out and are still sweating.

7. Health concerns still monopolize most minds

Do I travel to certain events considering the risks of Covid? Will I get vaccinated or take a booster shot? Do my family members? How do I weigh the importance of the education of my children with the protection of their health? All of this continues to weigh on people’s already-cluttered minds, in addition to work responsibilities. Leaders should do their best to show compassion for those around them and recognize that they face unique challenges.

SUGGESTION: The key is to create space to address their needs and work through their fears. Leaders should be efficient with meetings and schedule fewer of them. Also critical, ask people, “How are you and your loved ones doing?” and listen for the answer. And the best question during these times is, “What can I do to help you?”

According to Gallup, “Even with subtle outreach and interaction, leaders can dramatically shape their [team] culture. Employees like to…be seen by leaders. They want their leaders to understand the stresses they face.”

Rather than waiting around for the pandemic to pass, make the best of today’s circumstances and put norms in place that create connection. You, as one person, have the power to positively shape your organization and mitigate pandemic fatigue.

Image courtesy of Depositphotos

Leigh Ann Errico founded LAeRRICO & partners in 2007. An organizational psychologist, executive and team coach, advisor, and consultant, she focuses on increasing workplace productivity and employee well-being, Executive Development, Individual and Team Coaching, and Leadership Strategy Consulting. Adult Stages of Development, based on research from Harvard and Dr. Suzanne Cook-Greuter, is the cornerstone of her practice.

Leigh Ann has specialized in successfully managing Human Capital for more than 20 years. She recently drove transformation as VP of HR with global pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo. Earlier she served as VP of HR for Schering Plough (now Merck).

Leigh Ann has achieved numerous certifications: 

Leadership Coaching Certification Program at Georgetown University
Health & Wellness Coaching Certification Program at Georgetown University (March 2021 completion anticipated)
Corentus Team Coaching Certification Program
Certified to administer The Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) for Emotional Intelligence with the Hay Group
Certified to administer the Team Conversational Norms Diagnostic Instrument
Studied under a Master Somatic Coach to harness the powers of Sensation, Breath, Voice, Mood and Center

Leigh Ann holds two Master’s degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University: Organizational Behavior Psychology and Corporate Communications. Her BA in English and Human Resources Management is from Salve Regina University.