For those of us in the United States, May brings the hope of good weather and Mental Health Awareness Month—both a necessary boon to the wellness of so many. In the corporate world, the enduring global pandemic has highlighted the need to prioritize employee wellness, perhaps more than ever before.
With many people working remotely during the height of the pandemic, the lines between work and home became increasingly blurry—and sometimes, even invisible. No longer were our laptops powered down and left at our desks at the end of the day. Today, our workspaces are often also our living spaces. And when we’re so connected to our work, it can be easy to feel compelled to be available—and difficult to feel empowered to take time off.
The Great Resignation has highlighted that the workforce has been so tethered to their work that it’s led to unprecedented burnout. The United States “quit rate” was the highest it’s been in 20 years last November, with more than 4 million workers resigning each month in the last half of 2021.
But it doesn’t have to continue this way, and taking time off is essential to changing this story.
How to Recognize the Need for a Break
Noticing signs of fatigue for ourselves is essential for our own wellbeing. But it’s also helpful not to go it alone: for people leaders especially, recognizing the signs of your team’s need for a break is crucial for long-term success as well.
When we’re run down, we get tired, we get sick, and then we get resentful—a perfect combination for burnout. When you see your team members exhibit any of the below manifestations consistently, it’s time to check in, create a safe space, and create a plan to give this person a break!
- Fatigue. It feels like being tired comes with the territory of being an adult (what I would give to reinstate nap time). However, there is a tipping point where “tired” becomes chronic fatigue. We can see this manifest itself in a multitude of ways, including a change in appearance, a lack of ability to focus, decrease in productivity, irritability, and mood swings.
- Questioning Decision Making. It can feel like we make a million decisions each day, including what we are going to have for dinner (pizza or sushi?), how we word an email, and which strategic business paths to take. The ability to make decisions comes with mental clarity. When we’re bogged down with stress and burnout, deciding anything can feel impossible. Then, anxiety and pervasive self-doubt can cause us to feel unqualified to make a decision, resulting in analysis paralysis.
- Non-Verbal Stress Cues. When we work in person, it’s easier to “read the room” or take the temperature on how a team is feeling. But with most of my meetings on Zoom these days, I’ve had to become more in-tune with non-verbal cues. In our Zoom boxes, we’re typically only seeing someone from the collarbone up, which can make reading body language difficult. However, there is a new language to learn: the head tilt. If someone is tilting their head down, it’s a sign of anger or frustration. If you’re hearing a lot of deep sighing on the other end of the Zoom, it may indicate that someone is actively trying to relieve stress. As a way of self-pacifying and redirecting nervous energy, we fidget: think twirling hair, stroking a beard, or repeatedly moving around in a chair.
Empowering Your Team
When I first joined Relativity, when I thought I would be onboarding and doing laps around the office floor, I instead found myself navigating unprecedented territory: a global pandemic. Then, once I felt like we had that under control, new pressures arose; and after that came a war impacting many of our own Relativians.
With the situation in Ukraine, I reached a breaking point. I was bursting into tears and didn’t have the emotional or mental bandwidth to regulate my emotions (sign number one). I felt incredibly tired most of the time (sign number two). Then, I got sick (sign number three). My body essentially forced me to take a break, and I needed it. When we put our oxygen mask on before helping others, it can feel like we are letting people down. However, when we don’t bring our best version of ourselves to work, we’ve already let our team members down.
I know it can be easy to find yourself saying “But I’m the only one who can do this task,” or “no one can manage that without me.” But that’s a solvable problem, too. When we give our team visibility into the work we’re doing, it gives them insight on what’s important, what takes priority, and what goals we’re working towards. Then, it’s no secret what anyone is working toward in a given week, month, or quarter. This empowers your team to fill in without added stress when you take time off.
I often hear: “I’m technically out of office, but I’ll be online.” Take this sentence out of your vocabulary! You can’t refill your tank completely if you’re not unplugged. If you’ve got one foot in email and the other on vacation, you never release the tension that comes with being “online.” And whether you're on vacation with someone or by yourself—no one wins when you’re distracted.
Here are some tips that keep me away from the computer when I have scheduled time off:
- Make Meetings Disappear. Decline everything so meetings don’t appear on your calendar. This eliminates the temptation to jump on a call if we happen to be available while out of the office. I know, FOMO (fear of missing out) can be tough. Just entrust someone on your team to attend in your place. Once you’re back, schedule a check-in to get a download on everything you missed.
- Turn Off Notifications. I swear I can hear the familiar sound of an Outlook notification from a mile away. My body has a visceral reaction to the sound of a ping. As soon as you turn on your out-of-office message, turn off notifications (banners, sounds, lock screen) for all the work apps on your phone.
- Hide Your Charger. I understand this one may sound extreme. But if you’re on vacation with others, ask someone to hide the charger of your work laptop. That way you can only access it if there is a true work emergency.
At Relativity, we discuss the importance of protecting “our fortress” in the context of ensuring the highest levels of data security. As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, I challenge you to apply that same mindset in protecting the fortress of your wellbeing.