After a year of disruption, we each stand at our own crossroad. Leaders are fighting a war on two fronts. On one hand, they must find a way of keeping themselves engaged and ready to work at break-neck pace for the next year. On the other hand, they face the prospect of returning to the office with team members who are, quite justifiably, fatigued. For leaders, 2021 will be defined by their capacity to inspire and motivate themselves and their colleagues.
Australians have been dealing with COVID-19 and its associated social and economic consequences for nearly 12 months. You would be forgiven for thinking we would have grown accustomed to our new reality by now.
While our individual and organisational responses to this crisis have been admirable, many of us will attest to the effects of ‘COVID fatigue.’ Plainly and simply, most people are over it. None of us were truly prepared for how long this virus would linger in our lives. Therefore, the fact that everything we do is still filtered by the lens of Coronavirus is more devastating than we ever could have imagined.
That is not even considering the impact of the distressing news we hear each and every day about the death and destruction occurring beyond our national borders.
In recent weeks and months, multiple Australian cities have been put into snap lockdowns to stop the spread of mutant strains of the virus. Even those of us who coped well during the first (and, for Melburnians, second) lockdown would have been struck with that sickening feeling of impending doom when Premier Andrews announced the reimposition of Stage 4 restrictions.
How long will this last? When will I next see my friends and family? Am I set up to work away from the office?
It is truly crippling. Whenever we build up hope of a return to normal, we seem to take a backwards step.
Recent figures released by the Melbourne Institute are a testament to this emerging lethargy. 30% of Australians are financially stressed, while a further 20% were feeling depressed and anxious. This is a contrast to the more hopeful figures we saw for parts of 2020.
For leaders, this creates a significant problem. After a year of stagnation, 2021 is do or die for organisations. We need innovation, ideas and inspiration. A disconnected, unmotivated workforce is not conducive with those goals.
So, what can leaders do in light of this country-wide fatigue? How do they re-engage their employees despite the shadow cast by Coronavirus looming ever large?
Heidi Lynne Kurter, writing for Forbes, explains how a recommitment to organisational values can work to combat this fatigue. Purpose derives from higher ideals. When we are totally absorbed in an overriding goal, perseverance becomes a whole lot easier. If a leader is able to engage his or her team by reaffirming the organisation’s commitment to its values, motivation will begin to flow once again.
Another option for leaders, according to Kurter, is to invest in personal development. While a sense of being connected to a group via values is motivating in and of itself, it is vital that each employee feels a sense of worth. Personal development can contribute in that regard. An investment in an employee is a statement of faith. If you feel the support of your leader, you are far more likely to devote yourself to your projects.
As always, these methods should be supplemented with skillful communication, unity, inclusivity and empathy. The human touch has never been more important. The issues Australians are having right now are ones of vulnerability. The way to respond to that is with humanity.
For many people, this pandemic is, and will remain, the worst thing they have experienced. Leaders cannot pretend that this reckoning will be forgotten. Many people will carry their negative feelings for months, if not years.
Our trust is in our organisational leaders to raise us up.