It's Time for a Recovery Lab: How Leaders Can Help Their Teams Process the Pandemic

Because we are typically in survival mode during a traumatic event, it's difficult to engage in the healing process while it's still occurring. All of this piles up to "big fatigue." Now is the time to start the "big healing."

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It's one thing to physically endure a long-term stressor, and an entirely different experience to endure a long-term mental-emotional-social stressor such as we have through the last few years. As we move through this next phase of the pandemic, we will likely continue to feel varying levels of fatigue.

Continued fatigue is a typical symptom of prolonged stress. However, after two years of straining through the pandemic, social unrest and now the anxieties of war, we are well past the flight-or-fight mode, which is designed to give us strength and energy. Rather, what we are now experiencing is a sense of depletion. Some may even feel as if they are on the verge of exhaustion.

The trouble is what you might call a "slow burn." It's the gradual compounding effects of a long-term strain, coupled with a growing number of daily, small stressors that we don't even necessarily recognize. We've become so tired, we may not even know we're tired. It continues to compound, but we just keep going until one day we're forced to ask ourselves, "why am I so tired?" At that point, we're not just tired, we're exhausted.

In addition to the length of time we've been experiencing this strain, we have not had the proper time to process what's happened to us or "deal and heal." Finding (or making) the time for reflection, interpretation and learning is necessary for deep renewal. Because we are typically in survival mode during a traumatic event, it's difficult to engage in the healing process while it's still occurring. All of this piles up to "big fatigue."

Every employee at work is feeling some level of fatigue and when you put them all together, you've got an entire generalized "workforce fatigue." That can mean lost productivity, sub-par performance, increased errors, higher risk injury rates, decreased collaboration and innovation and more. Now is the time to start the healing process or what I like to call the "big renewal."

As a leader in your organization or for your team, your focus needs to be first on your personal renewal, and then the recovery and renewal of your people. If you don't focus on yourself initially, you and your business can suffer. We know that the pandemic has been hard on leaders and the skills to lead through the pandemic are not the same ones we need to lead out of it. So, it's time to renew and get ready to grow.

The energy of your organization starts with your energy. In the words of Stephen Covey, it's time to "sharpen the saw." The iconic author of the still best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People shared this message for good reason. You must create space to renew your mental, emotional, physical and purpose well-being. These sources of energy are what fuel your leadership and influence the performance of your business and teams.

• Mental Energy: Having mindfulness and the judgment to focus on what matters most

• Emotional Energy: Constructive, healthy relationships that foster connection, trust and belonging, and the ability to produce positive thoughts and feelings

• Physical Energy: Stamina, agility, vitality, alertness and recovery to maximize energy capacity

• Purpose Energy: Integrity of decision-making and priority-setting by identifying and clarifying your personal values, purpose and mission

Where do you start? Start with the simple things. Get your exercise, prioritize sleep, drink a lot of water, eat more vegetables, practice gratitude and spirituality. These will synergistically support your overall energy. Then, go deep. Identify your personal "why" and determine the core values you operate from as a person and a leader. Take some time to journal and talk with close friends and family about what you have learned and how you have grown through the past two years. Consider the support of a mental health or well-being professional to further process your emotions and move through any trauma.

Now, on to your team. Help them be successful by investing in their energy through a workplace culture that refills and fuels people. To do this, here are some key questions to explore:

1. How can you consistently communicate the heart-set purpose of your business through storytelling?

2. How can you help your people know and understand their personal why and how it aligns to that of the organization?

3. How can you normalize the practice of micro-recoveries during the day?

4. How can you monitor vacation time and encourage the expectation that it's taken regularly?

5. How can you manage the pressure-performance curve in your people and teams?

6. How do you build more movement into sedentary jobs? And build time for stretching and recovery into labor-intense jobs?

7. How can you help leaders understand employee well-being as a primary factor for business performance?

8. What are some ways leaders can advocate for employee well-being and team health?

9. How can you create an environment where people can socialize and celebrate?

10. Lastly, how can you provide an opportunity for employees to process the trauma of the last few years in a safe and effective way?

There's a time and place for everything. Right now, it's time to engage your team through a recovery lab process to properly heal and renew from the past few years. It's time to put employee well-being at the center of your business strategy to align human and business needs that make an impact.

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