By Celia Willis
After almost two years of emails beginning with some iteration of “In these challenging times…,” I’m ready to talk about what’s next. It’s important to acknowledge the challenges we’ve faced, but after months of dwelling, I am exhausted. The heavy weight of burnout is juxtaposed with a desperate need to move forward and stride confidently into a more hopeful future.
As a leader, I am eager to reignite the energy my team thrives on. I see so much opportunity on the horizon, so I am refocusing on a vision for the coming year with renewed optimism rather than remaining anchored in a never-ending reflection on the previous two.
You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but how do you do it?” It’s a fair question. I believe the key to moving forward lies in embracing a community-focused, connection-driven strategy.
Just as we saw the digital age sweep across industries more than a decade ago, we are witnessing a new wave — one focused on people. So, here’s what I believe leaders must do in 2022 to lead us into a fresh start:
- Understand and address burnout to move forward.
- Invite all employees to be active participants in collectively achieving the vision.
- Take responsibility for inspiring a shared sense of purpose.
Coming back from burnout
Did you know burnout is contagious? A person’s attitude and outlook influence those around them — for better or worse — even among the most well-intended team members, according to The British Psychological Society.
When employees experience unchecked burnout, apathy and negative attitudes spread, and the cycle continues. Simply willing a group (particularly leaders or managers) to be more positive or ignore the symptoms isn’t the answer.
Instead, as we head into a new year, I recommend addressing burnout head-on. Tackle work-life balance issues proactively with intentional processes and policies, encourage employees who need it to take a break, and for those ready to try something new, create space and opportunity for them to do so.
A few years ago, I designed and implemented a sabbatical program within my company specifically aimed at reducing burnout. The program allows team members to take five weeks of paid time off (in addition to their regular vacation time) after five years with KWI. In fact, we offer sabbaticals at five, 10 and 15 years with the company, and we’re already reaping the benefits.
According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout costs U.S. industries $300 billion per year due to resulting absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced productivity and other expenses like legal, medical and insurance costs. The value of investing in a solution for burnout cannot be overstated.
By creating space for our team to recharge, we engage with one another in more encouraging and positive ways, setting our community up for sustainable success. In fact, Harvard Business Review identified community as one of six areas related to burnout. “In many cases, you can’t choose your colleagues and clients, but you can improve the dynamic.” Healthy, supportive, human connection is fundamental to a thriving workforce, and no one person’s experience exists in a vacuum.
Empowering active participants and inspiring a sense of purpose
In addition to nurturing healthy relationships across teams, leaders will play a critical role in setting the agenda for 2022 by casting a forward-looking vision. As we recover and refocus, leaders whose values and purpose serve as a guiding light for the organization and who invite teams to take ownership will find more sustainable success.
Often, people end up sleepwalking through their days, going through the motions. But when you go out of your way to really see and understand your people and set up avenues for them to connect with one another, stronger relationships become a catalyst to engagement. The connection wakes them up — employees are more invested and energized, which inspires innovation that can catapult a business forward.
To capitalize on the momentum, encourage even greater participation by offering employees a seat at the table. Empower employees to identify and solve problems, to innovate and offer ideas.
Not only will this diversity of perspective benefit the business, but people are also naturally more invested in ideas they themselves contribute to. Involving employees in creating and implementing change — whether it’s cultural, organizational or process-oriented — is instrumental to success.
And finally, if there was ever a time for companies to reevaluate your “why” and intentionally communicate it to employees, then it’s now. A clear purpose and effective communication are critical to maintaining an inspired and invested workforce.
Resolving to be resilient
I have seen so much resilience among my team and the teams of our clients, which is how I can be certain there is good to come. And — at the risk of oversimplifying — I believe that refocusing on the future and expecting employees to do the same can make all the difference.
I am choosing to look ahead, to allow myself to be excited by the possibilities and to lean into the joy I glean from what we do every day. I trust that in doing so, my optimism will be contagious. Just as burnout can spread like wildfire across an organization, so too can hope.
Read more from Celia in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics or connect with her on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.