Covid Sustenance: Your resilience lies in your core strengths

COVID sustenance: Your resilience lies in your core Strengths

By Dries Lombaard

At any given moment, we are strongly influenced by our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It may be more accurate to say we ARE these three aspects, all the time.  Our actions are observable.  Our thoughts are knowable.  Our emotions are expressible.  But, for most of us, none of these are always that comprehensible.  Not within ourselves, and even more so, not within others.

In a time of crisis of any sorts, our patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour are what defines us.  Watching the behaviour of people around us often causes us to say something like, “What was she thinking?”, or on the more positive side “How on earth did he do that?”  

When it comes to the thoughts and emotions of others, it may seem more difficult to grasp, and less observable.  Unless, of course, people express their thoughts and emotions clearly, something that is strongly indicated currently in protest actions all across the globe. 

One thing is undeniable, not since the last world war have we lived in such unprecedented stressful times. A psychiatrist friend of mine remarked that she has been busier in the last three months than in the whole of her twenty year career. Almost all her current cases are related to anxiety and stress, linked to the effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

But what if some real and immediate stress relief is right within your grasp?  What if you can pinpoint, and describe the patterns of thought, feeling or behaviour that forms a recurring pattern within you?  What if you can give a definitive word to your frustration or irritation, and, what if the mere fact that you understand its origin will bring you relief?

This is where the development and management of you strengths become important. But what am I talking about when I refer to strengths? And how do we distinguish between a Talent and a Strength? 

Consider this:  Talent reflects how you’re hard-wired. That’s what sets the concept apart from that of knowledge or skills. Talent dictates your moment-by-moment reactions to your environment — there’s an instinctiveness, an immediacy implied. Talent results in consistently recurring patterns of thought or behavior.” (Sorensen and Crabtree, Gallup Business Journal, 2000). 

During the past two decades, Gallup accelerated their research into human talent.  Where talent is generally understood to be “ability” or “skill”, Gallup explored the connection between our unique individual “hard-wired” patterns that result in the way we think, feel and behave.  They defined this as talent, and, even more revealing, they explored the ways in which we can develop these “raw” patterns of talent into “mature” patterns, which then becomes our unique combination of “Strengths”.

My point is this: If you know your distinctive set of most dominant talent patterns or “Talent Themes” you can do more than simply understand where specific thoughts, emotions or actions originate.  When you are able to develop and manage your Talents, they become your sustainable Strengths. 

When you see your Strengths as unique patterns that explain “what is right with you”, and not “what is wrong with you”, you engage into the powerful journey of Strengths-based development. Most of all, if you manage your Strengths well in the work place, you are better able to manage your stress levels, and will become more resilient and adaptable. 

The best part is that it is not complicated or academic (even though my introduction may seem a bit theoretical in nature).  Gallup developed the CliftonStrengths Assessment, which ranks your strongest talents up to the unique combination of 1 in 33 million!  Thus, the chances of somebody else having exactly the same combination of talents than you do, are one in thirty-three million!  

All this said, how would this assist you in navigating the stress and challenges related to the current COVID time?

I will explain this by using some of my own, most dominant talents as an example.  A few of my strongest talent themes are described as “Ideation, Input, Intellection, Adaptability and Deliberative”.  The first three, indicate that my personal pattern of thought, feeling and behaviour is strongly linked to my thinking. I am inclined to come up with new and fresh ideas, love to research and gather meaningful information, and think deeply about the world around me. I am also very responsive to the moment, and I have the tendency to be very careful and deliberate in my actions.  

It is important to realise that these talents are not necessarily my Strengths yet – they can simply be raw indications of thoughts, behaviour or feelings.  But, since I have dedicated most of the last fifteen years of my life and career to develop my own talents (and those of others) into mature strengths, I know that I can rely on them as an accurate indication of my own state of being.

Each of these Strengths can be well-managed or mismanaged.  It is up to me.  If I mismanage them, they will be to my detriment.  If I manage them well, they become my strongest asset in my response to my circumstances, in a work context and my personal life.

The knowledge that I tend to research and gather information (Input), provides me with the insight that I should manage this pattern when faced with the COVID challenge of constant barrage of news and information, and not become enslaved to all the informative news channels and apps all day.  It may satisfy my “Input” Strength, but if I do not set boundaries, I will become overloaded with negative information. 

The knowledge that I tend to respond well to the moment (Adaptability), and could be reactive to the here-and-now, gave me the insight that I could strongly lean into this specific Strength during lockdown by simply taking it one day at a time. 

By the way, this was a benefit to me in comparison to my wife, who has the Strength of Futuristic and not strong Adaptability. Her tendency to always plan far ahead into the future became a real challenge to her in these times. Insight into the fact that there is nothing wrong with her, but that she only need to temporarily “turn down” her Futuristic needs, helped her to also rely on my Adaptability more, and go with the flow during the frustrating lockdown period.

Each one of us has unique strengths.  This is not mere skill and ability.  It is the patterns that guides our thoughts, emotions and actions.

If you know what your strengths are, you have a powerful advantage in self-management.  You can lean into some of your strengths, or intentionally “turn down the volume” of some other strengths.  This is do-able.  

The even bigger advantage of knowing your strengths, is being aware of the strengths of people who are close to you.  Family, colleagues or friends.  If you know their Strengths, you can lean into their patterns of thought, emotion or action when you need to do so, and you can offer up your natural Strengths as support to them.

Remember: You might need help, but you are also exactly the help someone else needs.  

Dries is an experienced Strengths-based Coach, Leader and Team Facilitator and Trainer of  Coaches in Strengths Coaching.  His more than 7000 hours of active leader and team Strengths Coaching experience, makes him one of the most sought-after Strengths Coaches and Facilitators in the world. View Dries Lombaard biography

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When Burnout becomes the Elephant in the Office

When Burnout becomes the Elephant in the Office

by Thérèse Fensham

“When people feel inspired, motivated and supported in their work they do more work, and that work is significantly less stressful on their overall health and well-being.” 

Ben Wigert, Gallup Online Magazine

When birds become ill, they try to stay upright as long as possible. Should they show any signs of flopping down, they become immediate prey to opportunistic vultures. Though there do not seem to be any cannibalistic line managers in the corporate field, most employees are hesitant to admit to prolonged ill health, chronic lack of motivation, or fatigue. 

It is generally accepted that the moment one is back at work after a flu attack, you are expected to be fully present and productive. In today’s competitive world of work there is not much space for being booked off regularly with continued health challenges.

In many cases, it is not only about the response of our colleagues or managers, but our own disappointment in not fulfilling our ambitions and aspirations. It could mean losing that promotion you worked so hard for, or worse, being medically boarded on a meagre disability grant. But most of all, it is our innate assessment of ourselves, which becomes the worst stressor of all.  Our inner voice telling us we are failures, when we struggle to keep up with our work load. 

Nowadays, we are all too familiar with the term ‘burnout’ to describe a colleague or ourselves when we can no longer keep up the pace. For some time, many big corporates have established Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), but as more and more employees struggle with performance due to poor physical or mental health, this is no longer enough. 

More recently, organisations have realised that lack of physical, emotional and mental well-being in the workplace can no longer be ignored if performance targets are to be reached, and are thus striving to offer more support to their employees. 

It is no longer only about the bottom line. Companies realise the importance of finding a balance between “profit” and “people”.  And yet, it remains almost impossible to maintain equilibrium with high on-the-job demands. Additionally, many employees would rather avoid using company support services than being perceived as not coping at work. 

Now Covid-19 has entered the mix, and an already pressurised environment has become fraught with difficulty, especially on the back of massive global retrenchments, the extreme stress of lockdown, remote working, and the insidious threat to our livelihoods. 

Ironically enough, as a result of the pandemic’s devastation of the global economy it is now more than ever paramount to stay healthy and productive in order to remain employed.

The Origin of “Burnout

But where did the concept of ‘burnout’ come from?  The source of the word ‘burnout’ cannot be more relevant for our Covid-19 times where healthcare workers are stretched to their limits. In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger, a German-born American psychologist, became the first researcher to publish a paper using the term “burnout” in a psychology-related journal. 

Freudenberger based his paper on his observations of healthcare workers working in high-pressured clinics in the 1960’s. He characterised burnout by “a set of symptoms that includes exhaustion resulting from work’s excessive demands as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and sleeplessness, quickness to anger, and closed thinking”. He observed that the burnt-out worker “looks, acts, and seems depressed”. 

After Freudenberger’s paper was published, ‘burnout’ research gained traction with other researchers. It became clear that it existed in many work contexts, not only in the high risk environment of healthcare, and so the concept of “occupational burnout” became an accepted term in the work environment.

WHO Definition

The World Health Organisation (WHO), describes occupational burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic work-related stress, with symptoms characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.”

In 2019, after the WHO declared burnout a global pandemic, it was officially recognised as a syndrome, specifically in the work context, in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD11).  It was defined as “chronic work-related stress when an employer’s expectations and employee work load exceeds the individual’s perceived ability to cope”. 

According to Gallup’s most recent survey, 76% of employees experience burnout at least some of the time. Employees who experience burnout are 63% more likely to visit a doctor and 23% more likely to visit an emergency room.

What is more, it would seem that burnout is becoming more and more prevalent amongst the younger generations, the millennials and even Generation Z, and is no longer limited to middle-aged employees. Thus, organisations stand a chance of losing the very employees they invest in the most for long-term sustainable productivity and results.

Causes: “It is not the hours you work.”

But what are the causes of burnout? Gallup’s research signifies that it is not the long hours of work that cause burnout, but rather how people experience their work load. Thus, the amount of hours you work does not matter, but rather your perceptions of whether you feel valued, and can self- actualise in your work. 

Gallup’s study indicates the top five factors of burnout as:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • An unmanageable workload
  • Lack of support from managers
  • Unclear communication from managers
  • Unreasonable time pressure

Although managers may carry a considerable responsibility in causing burnout by having unrealistic expectations or being unsupportive, they are not solely to blame. Often line managers are experiencing burnout themselves due to an organisational culture that does not fully support its employees. It is thus the responsibility of the organisation to create a positive ethos of training, support and down time. 

Cost of Burnout

According to Rob and Terry Bogue in their article Blocking Burnout in your Organisation, the cost of burnout to the organisation can be observed in increased turnover and lower productivity. While estimates vary on the impact on productivity, there is clearer research on how burnout impacts turnover. 

They state that in the USA, voluntary turnover, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, was 26.9 percent in 2018. According to Josh Bersin, an independent analyst and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, the cost to replace an employee is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 times their annual salary. Thus the average cost for voluntary turnover in an organisation is somewhere between 40 and 54 percent of the organisation’s payroll. Burnout only increases this cost.

A separate research study indicated that the global loss of productivity and compensation can cost around $300 billion annually.

In South Africa, a study PPS conducted in 2019, indicated that burnout was a serious issue amongst top professionals. Conditions resulting from constant work pressure were depression, anxiety, alcoholism, dependency on sedatives and other dependency-forming medication, as well as gambling, the internet, drug and sex addictions, as South Africans search for relief from pressure.

Under the siege of the novel coronavirus, burnout numbers can well climb to crisis proportions, especially in South Africa with its already struggling economy. Trade and tourism disruptions resulting from Covid-19 might cost South Africa as much as R200 million and 1,000 jobs, according to simplified estimates from Big Four accounting and advisory firm PwC. This could very well be a gross underestimation. A more recent study by a group of 30 academics and researchers estimated that 3 million people lost their jobs between February and April, while 1.5 million others were furloughed.

Where does this leave the remaining employees, who still have to maintain high productivity? 

The Organisation’s role

The role the organisation plays in supporting their staff has now become more crucial than ever. And this means support not only for middle management and below, but also the top executives, who have to deal with a different kind of extreme stress from the rest of the organisation. In these unprecedented Covid-19 times, senior teams have the sometimes impossible task of keeping the ship afloat under the siege of global economic devastation. 

Gallup’s research has indicated that the sources of stress in an organisation are often systemic and structural rather than employee-based. A study conducted by Ahola, Toppinen-Tanner and Seppanen indicated that a two-prong approach of implementing systemic organisational interventions, as well as individual support strategies, works best to mitigate occupational burnout.  

This would include re-evaluating policies and how it supports employees. Here talent management is of the greatest concern. Factors impacting employees are the clarity of expectations from the top down, the efficacy of reporting structures, job clarity, performance management and most importantly, adapting to role changes due to current rapid global change.

Prof Portia Jackson Preston, Assistant Professor of Public Health at California State University has identified five essential approaches to alleviating burnout in organisations.

  • Work place stressors need to be identified. 
  • Strategies need to be implemented to ease the high incidence of burnout in organisations.
  • Opportunities must be created for employees to engage in stress reducing strategies, and be taught sustainable management of their stress levels.
  • A good work/life balance structure and culture within the organisation is essential, even more so in our current Covid-19 reality.
  • All of the above should be incorporated as permanent strategies into an organisation’s culture. This means that a definite culture shift is necessary from ‘always on’ to more balance between work and recovery time.

Thus, in view of the rapid rising incidence of burnout in organisations worldwide, this elephant in the room can no longer be underestimated if companies want to protect their bottom line. Drastic measures are necessary to maintain a healthy, productive work culture. If not dealt with, burnout in the business sphere might well overtake Covid-19 in its pandemic proportions. 

Join our FREE Webinar, “Nevermind Covid-19. Is Burnout the new normal?” on 19 August from 3 – 4.30 pm SAST.

Learn more about our Burnout Recovery, Resilience-building and Organisational Culture Change Processes:

Coach to Thrive 

The Thrive Programme

Culture Change Workshop

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