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ARTICLE: Fight the fatigue that’s killing your team’s productivity

Photograph by Paul Bradbury, Source: strategy + business

Leaders and their teams fighting lack of motivation are finding that what they are actually suffering from is fatigue. Signs of tiredness, lack of energy, and sustained stress include snapping at colleagues over small errors, venting to coworkers for hours, and pushing employees for more and more hours to improve client engagement. Strong leaders question if they are doing enough when they would not normally react this way. Lockdowns and restrictions on vacations, travel, and socializing are taking their toll on both leaders and employees—long periods of stress and extended hours, without the usual ways of renewing energy, elicit damaging behaviors that compromise a team’s energy, efficiency, innovation, and ultimately their performance.

Before COVID-19, companies awarded badges of honor to employees based on their busy-ness, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem of overwork and its accompanying stress. Employees have lost the chance to do activities that provide a welcome break, they have lost downtime provided by daily commuting (even if that commute was stressful), and they are home all day—making it harder to turn off work—and are therefore working longer hours.

To correct this dynamic, leaders need to start assessing patterns to see how they might be adding to the fatigue of their team and others. Is the efficiency of the team being undermined by their own choices and actions? Do they raise the general workload and stress without substantial gains? Leaders should challenge whether the team’s time, energy, and resources are focused on what brings the greatest returns. Lastly, leaders should examine work processes—while well-intended and sometimes essential, are deadlines and layers of review realistic? Are there enough resources to justify the enormous time consumption, the draining of motivation, and increase in fatigue? Ask your team what is creating the strain.

Research on elite athletes shows that the secret to sustaining great performance over time is pairing periods of stress with times of recovery—any activity that lowers the heart rate and dissipates stress hormones, generating calm, energy, passion, and joy. Ideas for how to recover are: listening to favorite music, taking a real lunch break, getting closer to eight hours of sleep a night, or taking micro-breaks to do something non-work related such as reading a magazine, catching up with a family member, or walking. Leaders need to ask each person on their team what would help them perform at their optimal level, then give them permission and encouragement to do those activities.

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