How To Bear Up Under The Disruption And Stress That Don’t Seem To Be Stopping

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

Even as pundits are shaking their heads over employee burnout and “the Great Resignation,” many managers and individual contributors come to work every day and do their jobs no matter how they’re feeling. Some of these dedicated professionals may overidentify with their jobs, increasing the potential for burnout. Unfortunately, many leaders don’t know how to provide support for—or ease the pressure on—themselves or their employees. For instance, increasingly popular suggestions to perform self-care can seem downright silly to a responsible employee who is facing deadlines, dilemmas and equivalent distress at home. 

Ongoing staff shortages, broken supply chains, ransomware attacks or the disruption that comes from a crucial team member taking a vacation can make it seem like a whole series of monkey wrenches are being thrown into our plans. But there are alternatives to feeling hopeless and helpless. When it feels like every day is an emergency, here are five ways to manage yourself and your most important activities.

Check to make sure you’re okay to work. Americans are often expected to show up for work when they’re physically sick, and many employees assume that their mental health will be seen by their bosses or colleagues as an even less valid reason to miss work. But it may not make sense to try to power through a workday when you’re feeling emotionally or psychologically unwell. Presenteeism creates numerous hidden costs, from wasted time and higher error rates to fostering more conflict among team members. 

So if you’re scheduled to be on premises but you’re not feeling okay and you know you’ll work better at home, prep your supervisor and arrange to work remotely. You’ll probably accomplish more than you would by going in, grinding without getting much done and draining yourself further. Or simply take an actual sick day and get some rest so that you can recover, restore your energy and go back to work feeling refreshed enough to perform at a higher level.

Triage your commitments and the critical path for your projects. It may feel like time you haven’t got, but it’s worth it to take a couple of hours to assess the actual scheduled time you’ll need to meet your immediate commitments. You might sort out which work is important and which is merely urgent or figure out which projects have the resources to implement fully now and which are structurally impossible to complete under current conditions. Either way, block out the calendar time you’ll need to meet your most crucial goals. Having a realistic plan will help reduce unnecessary regrets about the things you’re not able to fit in immediately.

Add in some buffer time as you schedule. In the same way that supply chain managers, thanks to the pandemic, are moving from a “just in time” strategy to a “just in case” strategy, add a little cushion to your scheduling plan to save a good deal of pain later on. For instance, plan video conferences to end 10 to 15 minutes before the half-hour or hour so everyone can breathe in between events.

Ask for leeway and express gratitude for flexibility. As you’re triaging and resetting your priorities, you may find that you need to shift some of your commitments in ways that disappoint or inconvenience some of your stakeholders. Reassure people as much as you can that you still have their interests and concerns in mind and share with them your thoughts about how and when you’ll be able to take action on their behalf. It’s as important to do this with internal colleagues as it is with external customers. 

After you’ve apologized for the necessary changes, though, be sure to take your stakeholders’ needs and preferences into account as much as you can—while still preserving the overall effectiveness of your new schedule. In addition, express your appreciation for their understanding when you first acquaint them with the change, at reasonable intervals during project development and again when you finally deliver the project.

Practice both compassion and self-compassion. When so many things are going wrong, it becomes particularly meaningful to check in and see how others are doing. Helping to lift each other’s spirits and making mutually beneficial plans to sustain progress can raise the performance of an entire team or organization. You’ll also create the potential to increase innovation, which can otherwise be sorely lacking during a time of prolonged stress. If you’re simultaneously overt about the value of self-compassion, your modeling can help your colleagues learn to develop self-compassion too; not only will that enhance their own self-awareness and self-regulation, but it will also help to create a calmer and more supportive work environment for everyone.

During these truly demanding times, there may be crucial resources you can’t provide or a dearth of support available to help people recover from their own challenges. You may find it necessary to notify colleagues or customers of ongoing problems and negotiate for even longer grace periods. But it’s important to permit yourself the experience of the grace as well as the period. Adopting these five approaches will help you come back stronger, no matter how many monkey wrenches are thrown into your plans.

Onward and upward —


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