In our last post, we wrote about the importance of taking time away, truly unplugging, and enjoying vacations ‘off the grid’. With September around the corner, bringing with it the return of increased or full onsite operations for many organizations, we felt more needed to be said on the subject – and the associated mental wellness factors.
Over the last 1.5 years, working from home has had a positive impact on many individuals, allowing for greater flexibility, better efficiency, and more family/personal time. On the flipside, it has led to more and more screen time, communication inefficiencies/challenges, and increasingly blurred lines between work and personal time (making it more difficult than ever to unplug).
As early as Summer 2020, when we barely had a grasp on what COVID-19’s impact would be, across the globe we began talking about the new/next normal and about doing things a different way. These concepts gained momentum over the succeeding months, both as a result of legislated lockdowns, as well as organizations and individuals realizing that a different possibility existed. And yet, as a poignant example of how quickly we can return to the “way it’s always been”, despite most of us wearing masks in the workplace and in public for several months (for many, far longer than legislation required), it was surprisingly easy to simply stop doing so, and start forgetting to carry a mask. Accordingly, as restrictions have dropped and we’ve begun spending long overdue time with friends and family, this too has seemed to become commonplace quickly – even despite rising COVID cases in many areas.
One of the key pieces of input we’ve heard over the last 18 months – from people across all levels, roles, and industries – is the desire to slow down, to take things one day at a time, and to focus more on what really matters. And yet somehow, as the economy ramps back up, we’re all doing the polar opposite. We’re busier than ever, saying yes more often, taking on more, and even when we take the time to unplug, we’re faced with the inevitable backlog and extraordinarily long days playing catch up. With the significant toll the pandemic has taken on mental health, the additional impact of workload/stress can, has and will continue to tip the scales toward burn-out and illness.
If we had an easy answer to this increasingly serious problem, we’d bottle it and sell it. But we know the problem and it’s answers are, among many other individual-business factors, a complex interplay of cultural, societal, and socio-economical norms, as well as high standards for excellence. That doesn’t mean employers can or should lower expectations, nor does it mean they should simply hire more people to reduce the load. As a start, and as we’ve been encouraging all along – it does mean taking an honest look at your culture, values, goals, and work practices – why and how you do what you do, and whether the way you’ve always done it, and/or the way you’ve been doing it over these past months, is still the best way forward.
One thing we know for sure: following an angst- and uncertainty-ridden 18 months, the last thing we need is to re-enter the rat-race of better, faster, longer, harder.