The first few months of the year can be mentally and physically taxing, especially in industries impacted by heightened holiday demand. Since the onset of the pandemic, individuals, teams and organizations have been working through turbulent times. Now what? We know it’s not sustainable to stay in the same mindset of trying to simply survive the madness by tapping into a shallow pool of energy that may already be depleted from the pandemic. There is a great opportunity for leaders to set the tone for a more balanced workplace, create the space for employees to prioritize and empower more individuals to become leaders, all without suffering from burnout. To enhance mental health and business outcomes, leaders can implement small shifts that make a big difference.
Alleviate burnout and prevent system backlogs
With burnout a major obstacle for manufacturers, it can make a big difference in short- and long-term productivity to help teams shift from “survive” mode into “thrive” mode. There are biological reasons for this. High-stress situations can prompt us to enter a period of rapid problem solving, acute focus and “negative” emotions like anxiety or fear that might be momentarily productive but eventually lead to a crash. This is known as “survive” mode. Alternatively, when we recognize an opportunity, we can access a moderately increased amount of energy to help pursue long-term goals. This “thrive” channel in the human body releases chemicals predisposing us to social engagement and a broadened mindset.
Thrive mode can help people feel confident in their role at the company and lead to greater business outcomes, ultimately mitigating the buildup of stress to keep things running smoothly. A key element of shifting from survive to thrive is empowering employees at all levels, helping them feel part of a bigger vision and supported as they manage their mental health. Evaluating existing processes and establishing top priorities, then aligning everything else to fall under them, can help move the business forward smoothly. Streamlining priorities and finding the most efficient and effective ways to work together towards a clear vision can prevent backlog stress and help mitigate the build-up of anxiety over how things are being done and whether the team has a manageable workload. Feeling supported, focused on a clear goal or set of goals, and free from an endless pile of work can help prevent or reduce burnout along the way.
Boost productivity through meaningful workplace conversations
When demand is high and workers are feeling the burden, having a leader who effectively communicates expectations, recognizes the reality of the workload and lays out a clear plan for making improvements is critical. Sharing how each person is contributing to the broader vision and remaining open to meaningful discussions can make a great impact on morale, trust, and productivity. Highlighting team wins encourages others to pursue similar ones. More people may feel inspired to make suggestions for refining processes or share lessons learned from previous busy seasons. Regular check-in conversations help leaders get a better understanding of where employees stand and how teams are operating, which sets a nice precedent for engaging with one another, especially when people are worn out. When leaders clearly demonstrate support for their team, it can motivate employees to work harder to maintain that support.
Meet business goals by transitioning from “survive” to “thrive”
Operating in “survive” mode can be effective in trying times but can come at a cost to mental health if “survive” mode turns into “over-stimulated all the time” mode. By reviewing the longer-term goals and ensuring nearer-term responsibilities are absolutely essential, leaders can help create more manageable workloads and exciting opportunities for employees to shift into a “thrive” mindset. Having clear priorities and trimming out extra noise for a period of time can help right-size workloads, reset morale, and give teams the feeling of pride when they are able to finish or drive an initiative forward successfully. When the workforce is feeling down, having too many priorities and not enough “wins” can take a toll. Sharing good news, business performance information, and progress updates in an open way can help people feel like they are, in fact, thriving.
While you can’t prevent stress from impacting your people, you can make an intentional effort to create a culture of communication and trust based around key priorities and everyone’s roles in achieving them. Reviewing processes and preventing system backlogs, opening the floor for genuine communication, and shifting from “survive” to “thrive” mentality can all help alleviate burnout and help teams focus on the most pressing items, leading to strong business outcomes. This time of year can feel cold, dark and endless– feeling supported, focused and heard can make a huge difference on morale and productivity. While some of the time pressures of year end can’t be avoided, the way in which you lead your teams through it can keep spirits high and empower people along the way.