You haven’t felt like yourself lately. There is nothing drastically wrong happening, but things are not going as well as they should, either. It’s a sensation that pervades your corporate and personal life. You lack the motivation and concentration to complete daily tasks. Goals that used to excite you don’t feel so compelling anymore.
Languishing is a term the world has resonated with in recent times. Sociologist Corey Keyes adopted the term, putting a name to what many of us have been experiencing. And your staff are feeling it too. Those languishing are simply going through the motions, increasingly indifferent and dull.
The danger of this state is that, for most people, this dullness may not cause the alarm bells to go off right now. However, according to the popular New York Times article by Adam Grant, those who are languishing right now are the most likely to experience mental disorders and depression in the future.
While your organization needs to keep generating revenue, you can’t ignore the epidemic of a languishing workforce.
Burnout and fatigue also plague today's workforce
According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index report, more than one in two global survey respondents say they feel overworked; 39 per cent feel exhausted. This puts business leaders, employers, and managers in a tight spot.
The report findings also show that the reduced human connection as a result of remote work has left many employees feeling disengaged and exhausted. “According to Dr. Mary Donohue, Founder of The Digital Wellness Center, the exhaustion we’re feeling can be blamed on the speed and urgency of virtual work. In-person conversations give our brains a chance to assess things like tone, social cues, and body language to make meaning. But technology can create digital static: “‘the gap between what you try to communicate online and what the person receiving the message understands.’ And as that digital static increases, so does employee fatigue, anxiety, and burnout rates — while motivation and engagement decline.”
"The exhaustion we’re feeling can be blamed on the speed and urgency of virtual work." — Dr. Mary Donohue, Founder of The Digital Wellness Center
Resilience is key for a languished and fatigued workforce
As a leader of a company, what are you supposed to do about this? Your people are wading through a pandemic fog at a time when companies need to be firing on all cylinders. You want to be supportive, but you’re also running a business, and you need your workforce to be productive.
To make it through the current crisis and return to a new normal, you and your team will need to increase your resilience.
Resilience, as described by Psychology Today, is “that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.” In a nutshell, resilience can be defined as the ability – and tendency – to “bounce back” from adverse experiences.
This ability to bounce back allows people to push through ongoing change and non-stop challenges, moving people from trying to make it through each day to being engaged and excited about what they are doing.
Resilience can be learned and everyone can develop it. Like a muscle, the more we use it, the more it grows, and the more it grows, the better we are able to bounce back and flourish. Here’s how we can help our teams build individual and collective resilience to bounce back from their languished state:
1. Help staff to gain clarity on their emotions
Psychologists have found that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them. When we are able to call out the feeling of languish and help our teams identify how they feel, we provide them with vocabulary to understand what seems like a foreign emotion. By doing this, they are better able to regulate and manage their emotional state rather than be overwhelmed by it.
Rather than resorting to self-blame and internalization, calling out the emotion also helps our colleagues attribute their feelings of “meh” to the external circumstances experienced through the pandemic. The step from “I am this…” to “I am feeling this…” is both an important realization, that they are not that emotion exclusively, and a timely reminder that the emotion is temporary.
By naming the emotion, they become more self-aware and their emotions can be acknowledged. This makes it easier to communicate and address it.
2. Create a safe environment where ‘It’s okay to not be okay'
In essence, naming the emotion helps our teams realize: It’s okay to not be okay.
In a safe environment, staff are more open to sharing what they are going through and the challenges they are facing. This allows managers and leaders to better understand the realities on the ground and find the root causes of problems helping them make better decisions.
Creating a culture where there is trust and safety requires leaders to lead with relational competence. When staff are free to communicate their challenges, they will feel heard and acknowledged, boosting engagement and resilience.
3. Foster connections and prioritize relationships
One of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic is isolation. Not just the physical isolation but the mental and emotional isolation people experience. This is ironic since technology and remote work keeps us more connected and contactable than ever before.
There can be a lot of communication without connection. Both are needed but what is lacking is connection.
It is paramount to build meaningful social connections with our staff and encourage them to do so with their family and friends too. This is easier said than done and can be challenging for staff in remote settings. They may need to be equipped and interventions may be necessary to enable and facilitate connection.
When they are able to humanize their feelings and engage in authentic and meaningful interactions, this builds a sense of community and mutual support that will provide them with the mental fortitude to bounce back from stressors of the new post-pandemic world. These positive human interactions and validations can make all the difference in how quickly our workforce adapts to new challenges and recovers from its languished state.
These positive human interactions and validations can make all the difference in how quickly our workforce adapts to new challenges.
4. Inculcate a growth mindset and create learning opportunities
According to Dr. Carol S. Dweck, a pioneer in the study of fixed versus growth mindsets, it doesn't matter whether someone is gifted or not. What matters is a person’s belief that they can succeed and prevail, and more often than not, those who do not succeed are those who are blocked by a fixed mindset because they believe they were born with certain qualities, both positive and negative, and that they are largely fixed throughout life. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, and can, with time, effort, and practice, acquire and improve skills and abilities to bounce back from challenges and accomplish things previously thought to be impossible.
Those with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, and can, with time, effort, and practice, acquire and improve skills and abilities to bounce back from challenges and accomplish things previously thought to be impossible.
One way to develop a growth mindset is to help your team focus on the learning opportunities amidst these challenging times. When we can help our teams experience a paradigm shift to view roadblocks as learning opportunities rather than a string of failures, it builds their resilience, enabling them to take on greater challenges in the future.
Another way is to point your team towards strategic initiatives with “just-manageable difficulty.” Rather than focus on major accomplishments, work on tasks that are right on the edge of your team’s current abilities. These small wins and little moments of progress help to stretch their skills and heighten their resolve, building resilience to bounce back from adversities while at the same time ensuring that the work they do is meaningful and will not cause them to burn out.
Organizations and leaders must look after their people
“If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that employees crave investment in the human aspects of work.” —McKinsey
Flexible work is here to stay. Hybrid, distributed, virtual teams are now the norm. While this brings many benefits for employees, it has also caused many to burn out and fall into a state of languishing. As a leader, you will not be able to control or eliminate all forces of stress. However, you can commit to supporting your employees. It can be through creating holistic solutions that can provide support at scale, providing resources and learning interventions, designating no-meeting blocks of time, workplace flexibility, and time for employees to do things that build connections and replenish their mental health.
As a leader, you will not be able to control or eliminate all forces of stress. However, you can commit to supporting your employees.
Leaders who strengthen the resilience of their workforce not only do the right thing for their people but also set themselves up to succeed in the new normal of volatility and virtual work. Upskilling on adaptability and resilience can be a powerful way to improve well-being and engagement, which in turn has been shown to improve creativity, innovation, engagement, organizational speed, and performance. Research indicates the impact is large—organizations that invest in the well-being and energy of their people see four times higher profit and more than 20 percent gains in productivity and innovation. They also are better prepared to handle shocks such as COVID-19 or other business-model disruptions with greater speed and resilience.
Leaders who strengthen the resilience of their workforce not only do the right thing for their people but also set themselves up to succeed in the new normal of volatility and virtual work.