Atul Padalkar, Director, Potential Project India

Atul Padalkar is a Director at Potential Project India. Potential Project is a global leadership training and organizational development firm that helps leaders and companies enhance performance, clarity, focus, resilience and creativity in today’s fast-paced, complex, “always-on” world. Before commencing his journey with Potential Project India, Atul has a vast experience in the IT industry, in Capgemini and Wipro, with over 21 years of global business experience across consulting, solution design, sales leadership, account development, contracting, program management and IT delivery.

 

It’s over. It’s not. It’s over. It’s not. It’s definitely over. Is it?

No, as much as I’d prefer it, I am not talking about any ill-fated relationship. What I am talking of is something that we’ve all had a relationship with for close to two years now.

The pandemic.

Why do we still need to talk of the pandemic, again?

Because it’s not just the exhaustion of hearing about the pandemic that’s driving us close to insanity, it’s also the exhaustion of having to continue to deal with it even now, when we thought we would be free from its shadow long back.

Because one pandemic has given rise to another epidemic – the exhaustion epidemic.

The pandemic took away our loved ones, our careers, our experiences, and major landmarks such as graduations, marriages, and funerals. It compounded all the bigger and small strains of our life and handed them to us in a grief-ridden bundle of “exhaustion”. This bundle included everything – from the feeling of being cooped up and cut off from usual hobbies, the exhaustion of keeping our grief at bay, the fatigue from trying to make “good use” of this time to the incessant worry of whether we are being safe enough, and alarm at how long we need to be this kind of “safe” for.

The exhaustion epidemic and employee burnout

More than half of workers said they were burned out in a study done by the careers site Indeed in March, with more than two-thirds indicating the feeling had become worse throughout the pandemic.

Burnout affects every part of an employee’s personal and professional life, resulting in symptoms such as irritation, loss of enthusiasm, increased errors, bad sleep habits, separation from family and friends, and more. An astounding 76 percent of employees claim that workplace stress has a negative impact on their mental health, resulting in depression or anxiety.

As many workers reach 19 months of working from home, exhaustion and burnout have prompted a whole swarm of workers to quit their jobs. In the West, this has resulted in the Great Resignation, a trend also leaving its imprint in the Indian job market. In September 2021, Amazon India commissioned research that indicated roughly 51% of job-seeking people intended to pursue possibilities in fields where they had little or no expertise. And 68 percent of them desired to change careers.

The challenge is to help your employees combat burnout and exhaustion before they are pushed to considerations of quitting because of them.

Tackling employee burnout at the root

Any attempt to invest in employee well-being will pay off in the long run, but it must begin at the top.

Prioritising mental health is not a liability

The first responsibility of a leader is to give employees permission to prioritise their mental wellness.

Allowing employees to prioritise mental health is crucial to building comfort within companies. The current moment needs leaders to trust people and create flexibility in the organisation. Employees and corporate productivity will only gain from creating safe spaces, providing psychological safety and resources, and emphasising employee mental health, because where employees are valued and understood, they do not churn.

Connect with care and presence

A lot of the times, however, leaders believe a concern for mental health simply translates to a basic “How are you?” once a week or whenever they get to talk to an employee one on one. But there’s more to it than that.

If you truly want to assess how your staff are doing, your inquiries must be more precise and empathetic.

  • How are you, really?
  • How did this week go for you?
  • What were the high points and low points?
  • Is there something in your home life that I can help with?
  • What can I do to make things simpler for you next week?
  • What steps can we take to help one another?

Schedule short, “no-agenda” meetings

While a lot of meetings last far too long and focus on superfluous topics, a weekly 15-minute discussion between managers and staff, not merely limited to work-related topics, can pay off in terms of mental health and quality of work life. Make the above questions a part of your 15-minute talks. They work just as well in groups.

However, the transparency of the 15-minute work sessions is equally vital. Constant communication keeps teams on track, reducing the chances of veering off course, which decreases workload and, in turn, burnout.

Investing in programs to manage mental wellbeing

Leaders must also be able to lead staff to appropriate resources. Allowing employees to nominate themselves on mindset programs is a good place to start, which de-stigmatizes it for employees.

Mindset programs emphasize resilience, being in a high performance zone whilst recognizing and managing stress and burnout, and allows participants to develop a set of skills and practices, starting with foundational mind training, to navigate these pandemic times.

In conclusion, employees will feel more connected to their job and to their leaders if they can talk about mental health in the workplace. Along with ensuring that employees reach their goals, addressing the issue helps leaders try to truly understand what their employees need to become more productive and not reach the point of exhaustion even before they’ve started. Because, unquestionably, employees can’t be expected to push through burnout if a company isn’t ready to address the issue at its root.

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