In the US, there was a pivotal moment in the COVID-19 pandemic story where everything changed. It was a Wednesday in March. March 11 to be exact.
The Utah Jazz NBA team confirmed players had tested positive for coronavirus and announced the suspension of the rest of the season. A congressional staffer tested positive. Confusing travel restrictions with Europe caused mass panic at airports, as Americans overseas tried to get home before being locked out of the country. New York canceled their St. Patty’s Day parade. Twitter required everyone to work from home (WFM). And Tom Hanks revealed he had tested positive for coronavirus. At that time there were 1,237 COVID-19 cases in the US. All of those events happened in one day, and that wasn’t even all the newsworthy things that happened that day. At the time of writing this, the current US numbers are 2.2 Million cases and 119,000 deaths.
Right around the end of April, articles like this one, this one, this one and this one, started popping up all over the internet about Zoom Fatigue. By mid-May, I started noticing people were talking about how real Zoom Fatigue is. While many of the articles were helpful and maybe even insightful, I’ve been surprised that no one is talking about the elephant in the room.
Since then, there has been the rise of equality and human rights activism for Black Lives Matter, which has an equal or even more devastating impact on us as a society. The conversations are moving away from Zoom Fatigue and are turning to the inevitable burnout that is either already knocking at the door or is expected to arrive later this summer.
Instead of addressing the elephant, all we have been given are band-aid solutions. Sure, it’s helpful to know that handwriting your notes rather than typing them will help you stay present, focused, and able to better retain the information, but that doesn't really address that dancing elephant.
It’s our unfelt, unexpressed grief that is making us feel tired, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
The real culprit behind our Zoom Fatigue is our grief. We have crossed the threshold of no longer separating our personal or social experiences from our work lives. It’s all intertwined into a big messy plate of spaghetti strands and mixed up together.
Grief for jobs lost, for workplaces that will never be again, for work families that will never again be the same constellation of people.
Grief for lives lost, for good-byes not granted, for missed opportunities.
Grief for birthdays missed, for canceled graduations, for vacations and travel plans canceled.
Grief for events planned yet not attended, for marriages that have failed during home isolation, for being alone and isolated.
Grief for the racial injustices that our country has been founded on and how BIPOC have been dehumanized, discounted, and treated inhumanely.
Meanwhile, employees and business leaders are operating under the old paradigm that we left back in February; the old way of thinking and leading businesses where employees need to "check their personal stuff at the door” and that we can’t show our human side at work.
While we know we are living in unprecedented times, we haven’t quite admitted that as part of that equation, we need to change how we fundamentally operate and do business.
We went from a world where showing emotions would get you labeled as “unprofessional” or “weak,” to a world where we have to address the emotional overload that is happening.
Why? Because it’s unavoidable. Many of us no longer have the commute home to destress, instead there’s only a 30-second walk from one end of our homes to the other. We are stewing in a constant barrage of news stories and news cycles designed to evoke low vibrational emotions such as fear, worry, doubt, and anxiety. That on top of months of living in uncertainty, a skill many of us lack, the impact and toll has been high. It’s time to accept that people are complex human beings with emotions, rather than robots who are designed to compartmentalize information.
Great leadership requires a mastery level understanding and application of Emotional Intelligence.
Studies have shown that exceptional leaders have one thing in common, Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI). Yet, that is a skill that many leaders have never been taught or trained in.
In this pandemic world, business leaders are woefully unprepared for how to deal with the emotional component of their jobs. They are not prepared for how to deal with their own emotions, much less how to support their teams with the various emotions that are present, or how to effectively address the problems that arise from “emotional leakage.”
There are four main components to Emotional Intelligence, with the first one being Self- Awareness. This is the ability to recognize your emotions and the effect they have on you and your team’s performance.
If you are feeling sadness or grief but are not acknowledging it or expressing it, how does that impact you and your team? Symptoms will vary by person and may include:
Feeling on edge
Being extra irritable
Having little to no patience
Avoiding/procrastinating doing certain tasks or dealing with certain issues
Wanting to “bite someone’s head off”
Weepy, constantly feeling like you are fighting off the tears
Feeling numb or like a wet blanket has been thrown over you
Poor eating habits
One thing is certain. Your emotions will find ways to “leak out." No amount of brute force holding your $h!t together will prevent that from happening.
It’s a matter of whether you take ownership and do the work intentionally or be at the whims of emotions.
One of the best things leaders can do right now is to take a step back from their day-to-day operations and gain some elevation to look at the big picture. Take an Eagle Eye approach and look down at your business or your division. What can you see? What do you notice? Now, what are you going to do about it?
If you look closely, you’ll notice many people are tired, exhausted and running on fumes. You’ll notice that communication is breaking down. The reason you are tired and exhausted has less to do with Zoom meetings and much more to do with the constant battle to not surrender to “undesirable emotions” such as grief, sadness, fear, and anger.
You need to tend to your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health before you can really help someone else with theirs.
Remember back in the day, when traveling was NBD, those pre-flight safety announcements about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first? Yeah, that’s where we are. You’ve got to tend to your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health before you can really help someone else with theirs. HR Pros, I’m looking at you here!
Whether it’s therapy, coaching, or some other variation of support, be sure to do your own emotional work so that you may show up in your fullest glory as a leader. Then, from there, you can start to work on what your team needs to be able to thrive in this topsy turvy, upside-down world.
If you are looking for a coach, facilitator or trainer for yourself or your team, let me know if I can be of service to you.
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Aubrey Armes is a woman on a mission: To change how business is done.
Passionate about doing business differently, Aubrey brings her 20 years of Leadership, Human Resources, and Professional Coaching experience to the modern business leader.
She's giving leadership teams the right tools and teaching them "how to" elicit high performance, from their teams and themselves. Aubrey takes the disengaged and mediocre and transforms them in to energized, high-performing, collaborative teams. Her approach helps leaders and teams achieve radical results through compassionate accountability and create company cultures where everyone can thrive.
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