The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a high degree of uncertainty into our homes, businesses and minds on a global scale. Lack of consistency in our daily schedules and unanswered questions have stimulated anxiety, which is amplified by the staggering statistics being constantly presented to us.
Those continuing to work, either remotely or on site, are subject to a unique mix of emotions: burnout, feelings of not doing enough, fear of losing one’s job, and more — all of which are energy-draining.
In order to effectively reduce burnout, promote overall health, and increase effectiveness, during these trying times it would be helpful to focus on activities, habits, and mindsets that promote thriving. We present three research-based strategies for sustaining energy during this exceptionally challenging time.
1. Identifying and using your signature strengths
During this time, it is not uncommon to feel spread thinner than ever before. Whether because of increased demands from your employer or from yourself, it can be easy to overextend. Importantly, there is stark contrast between managing your time and managing your energy, with each added responsibility chipping away at your invaluable energy reserves.
Certain endeavors may require more learning in an effort to address your weaknesses, while others are tackled more seamlessly as they easily align with your strengths. This is a crucial distinction.
Empowering people to bring their strengths to bear on the situation is important for both success and energy preservation. For example, as an employer, it is important to encourage employees to share their strengths so that you can then build teams of people with varying strengths, thus fostering a more efficient team dynamic and increased impact.
This process begins with identification of one’s strengths. This can be accomplished using the free The VIA Institute of Character website. Here are five easy steps for leveraging your strengths in this challenging time:
- On the VIA website, identify your top five strengths (free registration required)
- Target one strength per day for the next five days
- Brainstorm three ways you can use that strength each day
- Record in a journal and share with others
- Track your results and impact on your energy
The steps above can provide a structured approach For improved management of one’s energy and one’s strengths, which can lead to better work.
2. Keeping your purpose ever-present
The value in keeping one’s purpose firmly in mind during this time cannot be overstated. This can be accomplished in a number of ways such as verbal, visual or mental reminders. The overarching goal is the same: refuel your energy stores, revitalize the soul and remember your “why.”
Your “why” is uniquely yours — a special blend of internal and external drivers that give you a sense of direction and guide your purpose in this world. At times, your purpose can be in the background as successes make it seem easier to keep going. However, at other times, much like now, we can call on our purpose to be our beacon, to help guide and sustain us.
It takes a conscious effort to dig deep into our purpose, which is where the value of reminders comes into play. From pictures of loved ones, friends, colleagues and customers to small notes around the house; from a dusty, unsigned check to yourself in your wallet to a copy of your parents’ mortgage bill — whatever it is that “lights your spark” should be kept as visible as possible throughout the day.
Additionally, micro-practices can piggyback on existing activities and provide time for performing quick energy audits and adjustments. Tracking your energy levels is invaluable for making those small shifts that lead to big gains.
Be proud of your purpose and the meaning you put behind your work, and share these values with those around you. Make it known what revitalizes you so people close to you have another tool at their disposal to when you most need their support. Quite simply, more meaning means more thriving.
3. Lean into high-quality connections
The human connection is an incredible thing. At our core, we long for companionship, and the isolation imposed on us by COVID-19 is a test unlike we have seen before. In times like these, we rely on each other for support. This sense of togetherness, the need for belonging and connection, is nothing short of priceless.
Energy is contagious, and when it comes from colleagues, it can have profound impact on work performance nd how you pass on energy to others. Developing and sustaining high-quality connections promotes resilience, supports learning and growth, and fosters hope, which helps balance the COVID-related stresses that continually push us to our limits. Invest in relationships that energize so you can be, as much as possible, a person who helps energize others.
For those continuing to work on site, particularly in health care, it’s reasonable to feel like you’re relying more on colleagues than family, especially if you’re away from home more and limiting outside contact to reduce exposure risk. Investing in relationships that energize through daily acts of kindness and comradery — such as making a colleague happy, showing gratitude, noticing and adding humor — all help to promote greater vitality in yourself and those around you.
Taking pride in self-reliance is excellent, but there is no shame in relying on others for support, especially when they need you as well. This can apply to various facets of life, including leaning on co-workers or having family members keep you on track with fitness/health goals. Relationships help manage your energy.
The adage “united we stand, divided we fall” is easy to recite when things are going well. It is now, in the face of a pandemic, that it takes on an even deeper meaning. By knowing and using our strengths, keeping meaning ever present and leveraging high quality human connections we can sustainably energize ourselves and those around us.
Nicholas W. Eyrich is a graduate student at the University of Michigan. Gretchen Spreitzer, PhD, is a Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration and professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business. David P. Fessell, MD, is an executive coach, author, professor of radiology, and prior director of the Leadership Curriculum at the University of Michigan Medical School.