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With the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, it can feel like we are back in the early days of the pandemic, with the added burden of collective exhaustion. As leaders, we have a responsibility to check in with employees, acknowledge barriers to productivity and press forward with an eye on the future.

To do so effectively, it’s important to first recognize where we are now versus where we were when the pandemic started.

In the early spring of 2020, business leaders and their employees were plunged into an unknown situation with few precedents to draw from and an uncertain timeline ahead. Humans have a natural fight-or-flight response to emergencies. Decisions shrink to those linked to survival. In business, companies were forced to pivot quickly to maintain operations.

Your employees had to learn new ways to work, whether in the office or from home, adopting safety protocols, compensating for shortages of resources and personnel, and shifting priorities in response to vast and sudden changes across industries. Those days were fueled by adrenaline.

Today, people are tired—physically, mentally and emotionally. Leaders and managers are finding their resilience and stamina put to the test. It can be difficult to remember what “normal” felt like. Stress and emotional reactions are on the rise and threaten team functionality. Unlike the early part of the pandemic when survival was the driving factor pulling teams together, this later wave requires perseverance, deeper levels of psychological strength and a deliberate choice to forge ahead with confidence.

Here are three tips to help your team stay focused for the final lap:

  1. Turn short-term solutions into long-term advantages
  2. It can be tempting to put off major decisions or movement in a new direction while COVID-19 is still uncontained. Instead, ask yourself and your colleagues what challenges and opportunities will arise once the tide turns. Are you doing all you can at this moment to prepare for the future and emerge from this experience as a stronger company? The world will look different when this is over—what steps can you take to gain competitive advantages?

  3. Practice compassion, not coddling
  4. As a leader, it’s vital to strike the right balance between empathy and codependency. Sharing your own feelings about the pandemic and inviting employees to do the same can help your staff feel recognized and not alone. At the same time, it’s important not to dwell on these feelings and leave people stuck in a mindset of helplessness. Communicating with compassion can strengthen team cohesiveness. Follow this with conversations about purpose: where are we heading as a company, how will each of us contribute, and what are the next steps we can take to get there?

  5. Drive with purpose
  6. How will you energize your team to get through the final stretch of this pandemic? Generic “stay strong” messages will not work when employees feel depleted. Specific, actionable goals can drive motivation. Communicate with your team. Reiterate your shared purpose. Celebrate successes and talk through setbacks. Express appreciation. These practices can help reinforce a resilience mindset.

Looking for support on building and leading a strong team? Contact Brynn Kline, Manager Corporate Health, for team-focused wellbeing strategies.