Let’s Talk About the Wall

Photo of worried man

Photo of worried manThis month marks an important milestone in our global pandemic experience. We’ve persevered through six months of mask wearing, social distancing, remote working, and lock-downs. Perhaps this is an accomplishment to be celebrated, as we made these choices in an effort to protect the health and well-being of our families, friends, colleagues, and strangers. These acts of kindness and care for one another have not been without consequence. Many small and mid-sized business are struggling to remain open and mental health challenges are mounting. While we should celebrate the impact we’ve made on flattening the curve and working to keep ourselves and others healthy, few people feel like celebrating. This 6-month milestone also feels a bit like a wall.

Back in March, we all had different expectations for how long these Covid-reduction measures would be in place. Some people were optimistic that a few months of extreme isolation would slow the spread and allow scientists enough time to find a viable treatment. We started the lock-down experience by learning new hobbies, completing home improvement projects, spending time with our families, and connecting via virtual Happy Hours. As the months have passed by, the novelty of having no social obligations has worn off and even the extreme introverts are craving human interaction. We never thought it would last this long. When companies started cancelling 2021 conferences, many felt like those decisions were premature. And yet, each day more and more organizations announce that they don’t expect for their remote employees to return to the office in 2020.

So here we are. In spite of our sacrifices, Covid cases are on the rise in many states, and there’s no end in sight for self-isolation.

We’re hitting the wall.

As Dr. Aisha Ahmad shared on Twitter recently: “The 6-month mark in any sustained crisis is always difficult. We have all adjusted to this “new normal” but might now feel like we’re running out of steam. Yet, at best we’re only 1/3 of the way through this marathon. How can we keep going?” She continued by saying “…In my experience, this is a very normal time to struggle or slump. I always hit a wall 6 months into a tough assignment in a disaster zone. The desire to ‘get away’ or ‘make it stop’ is intense.”

It’s important to understand that the collective burnout we’re all experiencing is valid and is something we should all be talking about openly. And while the burnout may not be caused directly by our workload, our ability to perform effectively is certainly impacted by it. Leaders should address the 6-month wall directly. Your employees are likely uncomfortable expressing their exhaustion for a number of reasons. By taking the lead to open a conversation, it normalizes and validates the emotions while providing a forum for everyone to offer support to one another. Take an opportunity to set expectations for your team. Urge them to use their PTO, remind them of any support services in their benefits, and reinforce that mental health must be a priority.

This pandemic has tested even the most resilient people in extreme ways. Accepting that you’re experiencing burnout is not a sign of weakness and should never cause shame.

“Take heart. We have navigated a harrowing disaster for 6 months, with resourcefulness and courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions. A miracle and a marvel. This is hard proof that we have what it takes to keep going.”

The feelings associated with the 6-month wall are not permanent. Reimagine this 6-month wall as the kind of literal wall in any outdoor corporate team-building event. How do you get everyone over that enormous wall? There’s only one way—communicate and support one another.