After nearly two years of the grief, trauma and anxiety of living through a pandemic, it’s no surprise that most of us are tired and have brain fog. Many workers report a feeling of languishing and it shows no signs of abating. As of the writing of this post, the omicron variant has hit the shores of the United States. The uncertainty of its impact creates fresh dread across the globe, which further fuels weariness.
Fatigue is real and people are tired. Is there anything leaders can do to help their employees get rest?
There’s More Than One Way to Rest
As a leader, you may be skeptical that you have much impact on employees’ “rest”, apart from giving them work breaks and ensuring they take their PTO. A surprising interpretation of rest offers insights that there may very well be some ways leaders can help their team get reenergized. I read a fascinating account of a journalist who spent a week trying out seven types of “rest” as outlined by physician Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith in the book Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. Some types are clearly up to employees to decide (for example, determining how much sleep to get.) Even so, within the framework presented by Dalton-Smith, inventive leaders will see opportunities to encourage and support “restful” applications for their work teams.
Here’s my take on how leaders can capitalize on Dr. Dalton-Smith’s notion of the seven types of rest.
For this blog post, let’s stick with physical aspects of office work, rather than jobs that are very physical in nature. Even though desk work is by its nature sedentary, there are still detrimental physical tolls with this type of work. Too much time spent in front of a screen, or with shoulders hunched while you type impacts how our body feels. As a leader, give consideration to how you’ve configured the work your team does – and if you are inadvertently contributing to a lack of simple body movement that can reinvigorate a body.
- Are meetings (in person or virtual) scheduled back-to-back with no time for stretching or taking a quick walk-about to get the blood flowing?
- For lengthy meetings, are stretch breaks part of your meeting protocol?
- What’s one thing you as a leader could role-model for your employees to show that physical health is important?
Lack of concentration is a primary complaint of those experiencing brain fog. Part pandemic holdover, part sign of our “always on” society, workers report difficulty finding quiet time to work on deep-thought activities for their jobs.
- What expectations have you set regarding response time? Do you send emails, texts or chats all throughout the night? Do you expect team members to do the same?
- Do team members have a way to “unplug” to do work that requires concentration?
- If you work in an open environment is it acceptable for people to use noise-blocking equipment to get their work done?
In a work context, this type of rest is related to helping others figure out how to set appropriate boundaries with people who “deplete” them emotionally. Workers can’t always avoid dealing with people they find “difficult.” An effective leader coaches frustrated employees to build relational strategies that help them work through difficult relationships.
- Are you aware of the relationship friction points on your team? What have you done to address these challenges?
- We all have preferences for whom we like to work with; are you inadvertently creating your own set of friction points by avoiding certain colleagues?
- Have you paid attention to any significant changes in a team member’s behavior? Might it be time to call in an expert (counseling center or your HR team) to determine if a mental wellness check is warranted?
This form of “rest” has to do with the benefits of spending time with people with whom you can wholeheartedly “be yourself” – warts and all. And while leaders have no easy way to tell which employees feel the need to show up with a type of “work mask” on, there are a few areas to consider.
- Consider the amount of time you are spending on-camera; women and new employees in particular feel the brunt of judgement with an “camera always on” policy.
- It’s human nature to have in-groups and out-groups; who might be excluded from activities such as casual lunches and after-work activities? How can you do a better job of including them?
So.Much.Noise. That’s the complaint of both people in high-density open office environments as well as people who are co-working from home with spouses, pets and kids. Some personality types are more sensitive to auditory input. After a while, their rest is depleted by the constant barrage of sounds, interruptions and general hubbub of organizational life.
- Ask your team members if they’re feeling depleted by sensory input; they might not be making the connection between noise and fatigue. Brainstorm how they can take 5 – 10 minute “quiet breaks” to recenter themselves.
- The next time you meet with your group, pay attention to the noise level–do certain team members’ energy level seem to dip the louder it gets?
- Audit your own tolerance for noise–what do you notice? How is that showing up in the way you lead your team?
Dalton-Smith advises people to create 30 minute “mini-sabbaticals” in which they can experience something novel that might spark creativity, or at the very least, provide a brief respite before getting back to work.
- Ask your team members: is their work energizing or draining? Although some jobs are inherently more repetitive, don’t assume that this is draining – some people thrive on the stability and predictability of tasks.
- Don’t force a “creative” activity wholesale onto the team; that’s the antithesis of fostering creativity. Instead, offer choice and see where people choose to take their mini-sabbaticals.
In its broadest sense, “spiritual” to Dalton-Smith means that people are connecting to something meaningful that provides a sense of purpose. According to consulting firm McKinsey, people who find purpose in their work are more productive and also are healthier. Leaders can help by “connecting the dots” to how what an employee does each day contributes to the company’s overall mission.
- What conversations have you had with your team about the ways their objectives and tasks line up with company objectives?
- Do employees create their own objectives or are they “handed down from on high”?
- Take a moment and think about each of your team members. Can you identify one thing that you believe is important to them, that gives them a sense of purpose? For example, are they driven by serving others? By achievement? By helping others succeed?
It’s an interesting exercise to consider rest as part of a management strategy. It goes way beyond nap pods and PTO. Restfulness, as framed by these seven factors, helps leaders create an optimal performance environment for their employees. And who knows? Maybe this will reduce turnover and improve engagement. Gives a whole new meaning to “give it a rest,” doesn’t it?
Disclosure: some of the links in this post are affiliate links.