How do you feel at work post-summer? Refreshed, fatigued or depleted?

Originally published in the Globe & Mail September 28, 2020

We are entering what may be a tougher phase of this pandemic. The summer gave us some relief, both in COVID-19 case numbers and in the ability to get outside and socialize (following appropriate distancing and mask-wearing protocols, of course). Now as we’ve begun sending kids back to school, marking the transition from long summer days to cooler and shorter ones, and have started to see an uptick in cases, many of us are daunted by the question of how to work productively through the winter, especially with so much uncertainty.

To get ourselves into a mindset that will enable us to thrive through the undoubtedly challenging months ahead, it’s worthwhile reflecting on how we’re feeling post-summer holidays. While they may seem like a distant memory at this point, how did you feel when you returned? Refreshed? Or seemingly just as fatigued?

Interestingly, though we may think we are fatigued, many of us may actually be depleted – which, as described in a recent blog post by David Lapin of Lapin International, is completely different, requiring different interventions.

“Fatigue is when a muscle or the mind has been used almost to the point of failure and it requires rest to recuperate. Contrastingly, depletion is when our inner resources of energy have been drained – and this may have no connection to exertion,” he writes. “Because fatigue and depletion can feel the same, we often misdiagnose our condition. We think we are fatigued, so we rest. But in fact, we might be depleted, in which case no amount of rest will restore our inner resources. When we are depleted, we need restoration rather than rest or relaxation.”

Under the circumstances to which we have had to adapt over the past six months, one can appreciate how our energy stores have become depleted: with minimal in-person social, spiritual and physical connectedness, we have all done our best with technology to fill the void; however, there’s no doubt many of us are feeling drained at a deeper and perhaps subconscious level. As online meetings seem to take up all of our energy and time, how can we focus on re-energizing ourselves and our teams to prepare, with a renewed sense of focus, for the winter ahead?

Lead with purpose: It has never been more important to focus on what matters for our organizations and for ourselves, which comes from clarity of purpose. While this can include corporate social responsibility, it is broader: it is why the company is in business other than for shareholder return. When we lead with purpose, priorities become clearer, and team members spend less energy worrying about where to invest their time and spinning their wheels on tasks that do not contribute to (or that even detract from) the bigger picture. Further, as team members make connections between their own individual purpose and that of the team and company, a sense of fulfilment brings about renewed energy.

Create space: Both for ourselves and for our teams, we need to create space in our calendars to engage in energy-adding activities, as well as space to approach and tackle business challenges without being micromanaged. For the former, encourage team members to spend some time (and do so ourselves) walking in nature, having non-work-related discourse, journaling, listening to music, meditating … whatever gives you/them energy. Let’s not confine ourselves to any rigid ideas of when we should be engaging in energy-adding activities: as the lines between personal and working time have become increasingly blurred, we need to give ourselves and our team members the space to balance getting work done and restoration in a way that works best for each of us. It is important to empower colleagues both in their jobs and perhaps in pursuing additional projects and initiatives that tap into their passions. For example, volunteering to join an employee resource group or an enterprisewide project can be great ways to connect with personal passions and purpose and to rejuvenate.

Openly communicate: Simply recognizing the difference between fatigue and depletion can be restorative. Having open dialogue provides the psychological safety teams need to speak up and take steps they need to restore. As we become more aware of and deliberate about the signs and antidotes of each, we can better manage energy levels within ourselves and our teams.

Naomi Titleman Colla is founder of Collaborativity Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work. She is also a co-founder of Future FoHRward, a Josh Bersin Academy partner.