Why are we feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted

With thanks to SHRM for this image – link to their blog post below

This post needs to start with an absolute acknowledgement that in Australia, particularly Western Australia, we are doing it much much easier than most. And that overwhelm doesn’t come near the trauma that many in the world have experienced over the last year.

A friend of mine sent me a text recently saying that she feels completely exhausted, as though she is drowning; that life is being sucked out of her. Others have talked about the feeling of languishing, a term coined by Organisational Psychologist Adam Grant. Still more have talked about complete overwhelm. A colleague told me that a whole day of meetings was cancelled because every single meeting had a key person away sick.

As my Mum tells me from time to time, try bringing up kids and working back in the days when you had to walk a couple of kilometres to the laundromat to do the washing, and there were no home phones let alone mobile phones. And it’s true – there are a lot of conveniences that we now have available to us that do make life easier. There’s the inevitable but..

50 years ago, there was no expectation of being “on” 24/7. There were clear boundaries between work and family and social lives. And then add in a pandemic.

Then add in a pandemic

The research tells us that we are working longer.  According to a recent survey by Deloitte, 77 per cent of women interviewed said their workload had increased since the crisis began and 66 per cent said they bear the greatest responsibility for household tasks.

A report by ADP  found that 44% of employees are logging more hours than ever before, with one in ten working an additional day or more (8+ hours) per week. This culture of overtime is only being made worse by employees’ seeming reluctance to take any annual leave (I guess there’s nowhere to go really??).

Then there’s just the feeling of exhaustion with it all. The emotional load that comes with constantly monitoring and adapting to the state of the world for the latest implications of COVID. Whether that’s a snap lockdown with associated home schooling. Or the exhaustion that comes from being on zoom/teams 8-10 hours per day. Maybe it’s cancelling flights for the third time. Or the sadness of not seeing grandchildren being born or growing up.

A free week off?

A number of organisations are offering paid time off for employees – to recognise that the last year has been something unlike we have ever seen before. Bumble is offering employees a week off, and LinkedIn and others have previously reported offering additional leave to employees.

My accountants sent out a note this week advising that they were closing their offices during July to give employees a respite after the year that has been.

And where there is the opportunity to have a no strings break, that can definitely break the cycle and allow for a brief breathing space.

But it’s like a bandaid on a trauma wound if nothing changes back in the workplace after that break.

What else can we do?

Back in the workplace, we need to look at what’s causing the extra load.

  • Is it that the flexible working arrangements or hybrid arrangements need to be reviewed to make sure that they are working optimally?
  • Have there been changes that have been introduced over the past year that haven’t been properly implemented; leading to confusion and lack of clarity?
  • Are there fewer people available to do the work as a result of redundancies and other organisational changes?
  • Has the economic impact of COVID put financial pressures on the organisation which are having a flow on effect in terms of pressure and stress?
  • What is your team’s emotional load at the moment?

The Takeaway

This isn’t going to go away anytime soon. So as leaders we need to proactively look for ways to support and protect our teams. That means protecting and supporting ourselves in the process. That’s hard when everyone is already working at full capacity – but it’s one of those times where:

A stitch in time saves nine

More Reading..

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