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How to reenergize your organization to overcome pandemic fatigue

March 1, 2021 - McKinsey Organization Blog

 By exploring these five ways to re energize their organizations, leaders can help individuals grow personally, nurture their talent, and live their purpose through work.

March 1, 2021 - Pandemic fatigue is real: Some 75 percent of employees in the U.S. and close to a third in the APAC region report symptoms of burnout. The number of those who rate their mental health as “very poor” is more than three times higher than before the crisis.

Encouragingly, companies are waking up to the need for greater compassion to unleash the full potential of their people. There are no easy answers, but these five actions have shown to be effective in reenergizing organizations.

  1. Listen deeply

Leaders looking for solutions should start by listening. While listening is partly about identifying signs of exhaustion and stress, more importantly, it reconnects people on a deep, personal level. That makes listening a powerful intervention in itself. Consider training executives in deep-listening skills, then encourage them to meet with colleagues in virtual focus groups.

For example, one financial institution sent top executives on a listening tour to better understand energy levels by asking “What fuels/drains your energy?” Employees spoke about their dwindling sense of belonging and connection, in the context of performance, innovation, and customer service. Leaders gleaned great insights while employees reported new levels of reconnection, trust, and team spirit. Leaders committed to continuing with informal and agenda-free interactions.

  1. Reimagine the future of work

The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to reimagine the organization. First, operationalize and activate purpose. Putting purpose at the heart of the work helps employees focus on activities that directly deliver strategic value.

Second, reimagine the physical workplace. Many organizations are embracing a hybrid model where the office becomes a meeting place for collaboration and innovation versus for individual work.

Third, create a faster, more flexible structure. Our research shows that agile organizations reacted to the COVID-19 crisis roughly two times faster than their peers. Try moving from annual planning to a quarterly cadence, resetting priorities as needed, and reallocating people and capital to where they’re needed most.

  1. Develop adaptability and resilience

Research on chronically ill patients shows that those who meet their circumstances head on and incorporate them into their identity thrive compared to those who pine for the past or who cannot imagine future growth. The pandemic experience can be viewed through a similar lens.

The ability to grow and develop during times of change and stress is an important muscle to build. Research indicates that organizations that invest in their people’s well-being see four times higher profit and more than 20 percent gains in productivity and innovation. They also are better prepared to handle shocks and disruptions with greater speed and resilience in the future.

  1. Focus on holistic well-being

The pandemic has shown the importance of communities and the rituals they create to foster connections. In a remote and virtual world, leaders must take ownership not only of business results but of the energy and mood of their organizations.

Reinvent the micro-habits of communities—including feedback, informal conversation, and even gossip—to foster a sense of care and belonging. Many well-being initiatives, from wellness programs to videoconference happy hours, often fail to address the real problems. When well-being is addressed as a holistic concept, so much more can be done.

  1. Address disillusionment with bounded optimism

Leaders who embrace bounded optimism—inspiration and hope tempered by reality—communicate less about returning to normal and more about acceptance. Grounding this narrative in the organization’s purpose helps employees process their new reality and regain a sense of stability, which can help reignite individual motivation, well-being, and productivity.

 By exploring these five ways to reenergize their organizations, leaders can help individuals grow personally, nurture their talent, and live their purpose through work. These organizations will emerge more human-centered, innovative, and better positioned to adapt to the challenges ahead.

By Aaron De Smet, Laura Tegelberg, Rob Theunissen, Tiffany Vogel