How do teams stay positive during a pandemic? Even well-performing teams have been thrown into a bit of a tailspin with COVID-19. Many adjustments are being made from new work-from-home and school-from-home directives. We are spending more time on electronic communications for which our brains simply were not designed.
In this 2-part series, I am going to present some topics I cover in Team Wellness workshops. These include a team framing of wellness and the differences between burnout and COVID overwhelm, a term I created to acknowledge the added stress of our current situation. I will sprinkle some tips on dealing with stress, burnout, and overwhelm throughout.
The first way to deal with stress is by hitting the pause button. I know it feels like you must do more – to be seen, to feel significant – in this time of uncertainty. But fear blocks us from making good decisions. Before sending that email, planning that meeting, or responding to whatever “new” information has come on COVID – just take a pause. Be purposeful about what you are doing. Do I NEED to do this right now? What is the purpose? What outcome am I hoping to achieve?
Stop and breathe. I promise if you wait a few minutes, hours, sometimes days, the pause won’t kill you. Pause to check in with your feelings. Find a feeling wheel online and use it when you need help identifying what the feeling is. Write the word(s) down and/or journal about your feelings to acknowledge and process them. Then, knowing what is going on and what you are feeling, figure out what it is you want. Is that want the most important thing right now? If not, just jot it down and move back to a higher priority or more purposeful task.
I have several projects going right now and often catch myself spinning during the day. I realize, pause, and often take a step outside for fresh air. When I come back, I ask myself if what I’m doing right now is the best use of my time and adjust according to the answer.
2. Set Priorities
If you haven’t already done so, evaluate your priorities in work, home, and self-care. Some of the spinning you feel is because you have lost track of what is most important. The situation will be with us for the foreseeable future, so take the time for the wellbeing of everyone in your life and make sure you, your family, and your work team are fully focused on the top priorities.
One of the things I suggest in my Team Wellness workshops is to start with “NO”. When someone wants to add to your plate, and this includes yourself, say “No” first and then justify the “Yes”. If everyone in your family and on your team can say this and prove the need, I am guessing much of the pressure you feel will be alleviated. Make sure you aren’t taking on too much or you will be of little use to others.
I am a squirrel type – I want to say “Yes” to everything – it’s part of my personality. So, I understand the struggle. If the “Yes” is about pleasing, being seen or so that you don’t disappoint others, you have a burnout situation in the making. Ask yourself, what will a “Yes” cost me? Is it health, emotional wellbeing, time with family, self-care? Nothing is free.
3. Understand team wellness
Taking a pause as a team is a good way to start team wellness. The model I use for making teams follows the same one I use for personal wellness. I explain this model, briefly, in a blog called Inviting Imperfection. An ill team is one that has a discouraging tone and culture. So, if you want to do a quick test, check your team’s email and meeting language for tone. Are people being encouraging or discouraging? Discouragement over time will become self-defeating and eventually, your team will become dysfunctional.
On the other hand, a team with a growth mindset in place will expect issues to be brought to the table so everyone is aware. They realize that if one member isn’t well, the team is not well. Solutions can be discussed and agreed upon only once the team is fully aware. Team members can learn about each other’s needs and the team can come to an agreement on how to behave in ways that are encouraging.
4. Define what you want your team to be
I do an exercise, which I’ve described on LinkedIn, where I suggest teams complete the following sentence: I want my team to be [fill in the blank]. Through a mix of voting and discussion, teams can use this to arrive at a top three. Once the team has arrived at their top ways to be, I ask them to check-in on how they are doing at the end of every meeting to keep these ways of being at the top of their minds. Once well-practiced, the team can check-in less periodically, like bi-weekly or monthly. During the first few check-ins, it is possible that you didn’t quite nail the top three and you need to discuss them further.
An act of being with each other
Last year, I worked with a team and we came to three words: trusting, supporting, and challenging. Before committing to them, we talked briefly about what each meant. We learned that each person is a bit different and shared how we could be supported in each word. For one, challenging meant being very direct. For another, it meant providing a gentler approach to include positive feedback in addition to the challenge. During the first few sessions together, we checked in at the end to see how we did with those. We never had to change them.
A team that encourages each other and practices agreed upon behaviors to help the team succeed will continue to grow. As this continues, the team can be more actualized with all members and the group achieving at or near their full potential. Team wellness is a state of being and a process that must be continually monitored, refined, and improved for greatest team success.
5. Note the differences between burnout and COVID overwhelm
Many are feeling overwhelmed and I’ve heard many say they are burned out. Burnout is strictly a work-related concept and it doesn’t have a medical diagnosis. But in today’s crazy times, I think it might be difficult to separate burnout from the stress of COVID-19.
Burnout is defined in the International Classification of Diseases as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The three symptoms most associated with burnout include exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of confidence. If you want to know more than you ever wanted about burnout, search the internet for Dr. Christina Maslach.
I created the term “COVID overwhelm” in preparing for my Team Wellness workshop. Some of the situations creating additional stress in this uncertain time include, but may not be limited to;
- Little to no in-person contact
- Inability to travel
- Overuse of or disorganized video meetings and calls
- Changing roles at work
- Supporting staff through COVID
- Balancing work with taking care of or teaching children
- Family illness or loss from COVID
- Maintain friendships with people who have different levels of concern for COVID
Now imagine if you or your team were already experiencing burnout pre-COVID. Add any one or more of these factors and you have a serious recipe for trouble, decreased mental health, and overall conflict.
When I ask how many participants experienced burnout pre-COVID, more than half have. Some have experienced it only once a year and others daily. COVID-19 has amplified the need for a focus on mental and emotional wellbeing in the workplace.
In the next post, I’ll provide much more information on the antidotes to burnout and COVID overwhelm. In the meantime, also check out my Wellness for Wildlife article in September/October issue of The Wildlife Professional where I talk about what wellness is.
If you want to know more about Team Wellness or are interested in offering a workshop for your team, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. State fish and wildlife agencies can ask for the workshop through the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, so if you are a member of the organization, let me know and I’ll refer you.
“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’re going through the motions your soul has departed.” Sam Keen
See Part 2 of Team Wellness HERE.