@johncutlefish's blog

Pandemic, Teams, Health, and Self-Care

Published: June 29, 2020

Some thoughts on the pandemic, teams, health, self-care.

  1. Very important. When you are burnt out it becomes very hard to tell if you (or others) are burnt out. No one is immune to this: CEOs, VPs, managers, team contributors. Everyone. Burnout impacts self-awareness.
  2. Teammates will have varying approaches to self-care (and varying degrees of efficacy). The person who “just barely held it together” pre-covid, may be pushed over their limit. What worked, may not work now.
  3. People will interpret company goals in very different ways. Person A might imagine incredibly adverse impacts if a goal is missed. Person B may assume their manager (and org) will “fully understand, it is a pandemic! Right?” You need to talk about it, out in the open.
  4. Covid will (is) having massive impacts on job markets, housing markets, childcare, vacation habits, how people socialize. It is folly to try to piece this all together. It is a whirlwind. Teammates are caught in this swirl of “what ifs”. This is chaotic/complex. Not obvious.
  5. Leaders want to set a good example and be “strong and supportive” and don’t necessarily share just how messed up things are at home. This can have adverse effects. Ppl wonder…is it just me? How are they holding it together? Vulnerability goes a long way.
  6. Burnout is weird. It creeps up all of sudden. And once it hits can take weeks/months to unwind. This challenges normal “sense and respond” techniques or efforts to “balance the energy”. Normal management feedback loops break down.
  7. There are all kinds of potential “cascades” that can spring up. Over-communicating how great it was to hit a recent goal, may set in motion a cascade of additional burnout and attrition. Trying to predict these is a Sisyphean task. Consider cascades.
  8. You’ll have teammates who see this as a “ruined summer”. And some that see the unraveling of democracy, and a life-defining, tragic moment. Existential to some. Mild to others. You have to listen and respect. Your view is one view.
  9. Different teams have different norms (within the same company). Interacting with a team that is taking a different approach to self-care can be jarring and increase tension. Global norms are important if teams collaborate across boundaries often.
  10. Some ppl: “I am going to grin and bear it now, work my ass off, and when this clears I’ll take a break.” A recipe for burnout, and very hard to gauge. But oh so tempting…This may not clear up.
  11. People are delaying important life decisions until “next year when this clears up.” Contributes to a sense of suspended reality/time. Impacts “present thinking”. The brighter things are all in the future. Don’t put off self-care/things that give you strength.
  12. Company norms can be in flux. What is ok? Limits? Encouraged? How do company values and principles translate? Very hard to know what is right/wrong in such a volatile, unfamiliar situation. You’ll need new norms. Actions not words.
  13. Ppl interpreted (and interpret) distancing and lockdown in very different ways. From life-as-normal but with a mask to “haven’t left the house in 150 days”. Again, you can’t assume everyone had the same experience.
  14. Varied experiences…from “I don’t know what to do with all this time” to “I had four minutes to take a shower two days ago” (<< that is us as parents, it is so hard). Again, you can’t assume everyone had the same experience.
  15. Company direction like “take care of yourself” and “put family first” are OK…but what is less clear is impact of promotions, goals in motion, etc. Easy to say. Easy to lack coherence. Words can be hollow unless backed up with X over Y language (and action).
  16. If “our people are our #1 priority” then that should supersede all other goals, right? “Well…wait…I mean…we can sort of have both, right? We don’t want people to get the wrong idea about work. Hmmm” That is waffling. Coherent matters (and it is hard).
  17. Some are experiencing a deep sense of guilt. They have a job. Others do not. It feels trivial to complain when others are suffering so much. Grin and bear. Make lemonade. Until…This is a recipe for burnout and trauma. Guilt is so heavy.
  18. You never know what is going on at home. The coworker with a great salary and job may be paying their whole family’s bills. The whole family may be out of work. It is easy (and dangerous) to jump to conclusions. “great job in tech” != [some stereotypical experience]
  19. Managers are being thrown into a care-giving spot. But so are coworkers and teammates. Everyone is in both a caring mode, and a self-preservation mode, which is very challenging. Putting all pressure on management to absorb the pain will not work.
  20. You can’t just copy what remote-first companies do (or did). Those practices do not exist in isolation. The “casual Zoom drinks” emerged over time (and not during a pandemic). Serendipity cannot be manufactured. It may feel very unnatural at first.
  21. The normal way of implementing well-thought-out self-care/employee wellness “programs” breaks. By the time the program has “shipped”, the environment has shifted. You need top-down invitation and enabling constraints. And rapid local action. You can’t wait.
  22. “Clear communication” is extremely difficult. Ppl desperately want a “plan”. But in two weeks things shift. Communicating about uncertainty (without adding fear/stress) is extremely challenging. Learn quickly. Saying “We don’t know” is hard but is so important.
  23. Very important. It is tempting to think in terms of trade-offs … e.g. “short term productivity and stress”. “Oh wow! We’re more productive than we thought!!!!” This is dangerous/risky. It assumes you know everything that is happening behind the scenes. Watch out.