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Regardless of your set up, the pandemic has meant we are all battling new stressors

The year has been challenging for everyone, both personally and professionally. It’s crucial to admit this if we’re to take care of ourselves and each other.

It’s even more important to do so given a recent poll of managers in the UK finding that 61% had suffered burnout at work since the first lockdown.

Regardless of whether your work set up from home hasn’t been optimal, you’ve been trying to be both teacher and parent, working under government regulations or missing human connection, the pandemic has meant we are battling new stressors.

As chief people officer at KFC UK & Ireland, taking care of teams and helping them build resilience and mental fitness is a critical part of my role and helping people avoid burnout is something I take very seriously. While it has become a buzzword recently, before the pandemic, emotional and physical fatigue in the workplace were growing problems and it is no surprise that workplace burnout is a parallel pandemic.

Yes, some deal with stress better than others, but burnout affects everyone. Acknowledging that is the first step to taking back control of that emotional state.

With reflection and a commitment to change, it can be managed and avoided. Perhaps the best way to prevent it is to understand there are two types of stress: distress and eustress.

The latter is positive. Through it we feel challenged and find “flow”. Through the completion of tasks, we find fulfilment.

The former is a state of emotional suffering associated with stressors and demands that are difficult to cope with. It should be recognised early and avoided.

Being able to recognise the difference will allow you to maximise productivity, feel fulfilled and avoid burnout. And if you’re a manager, spotting it in your teams will bring out the best in them too.

That’s why we must call out these stressors. They have real psychological and physiological impacts, such as reduced creativity and collaboration or retreating from peer relationships.

Doing so isn’t rocket science, but it does take time, effort and leadership.

However, the trade-off is worth it if it helps you and your team. And if you think it isn’t happening in your team, then check. According to research by YouGov, Britons are the most likely to report that Covid has harmed their mental health.

We’re known as a nation to be stiff upper lipped, but we should ask people how they are, and then ask again. It’s amazing how often you’ll get the actual truth the second time round.

The pandemic has been a needed disruption to people & culture leaders and organisations. No longer are employee wellbeing initiatives a side-line activity. They’re fundamentally connected to an organisation’s ability to retain an engaged, healthy and high-performing team. The initiatives your organisation pursues and embeds for mental fitness have real business impacts if they help or hinder employee performance and will become mainstay employee expectations.

Burnout happens at all levels, in all jobs and is common in hospitality. At KFC, we’re providing four additional holiday days as personal ‘recharge time’ this year. We’ve partnered with a mental health support provider to launch anonymous group virtual journalling sessions plus confidential 1:1 mental health coaching support, and we’ve also worked with consulting & clinical psychologist Marc Rogatschnig on advice for teams to avoid burnout. Here are six tips. 

  1. Declare the crisis over – This helps your team stop reacting to something that’s been done and start making proactive choices about how to invest focus and energy.
  2. Demonstrate calmness and consistency – A dependable environment absent of knee-jerk change is an important culture to create.
  3. Demonstrate empathy, not sympathy – supporting people to manage their mental fitness and avoid burnout is about demonstrating the value of listening and of moving through to action
  4. Manage energy over time – A bad day is different to a bad week. Focusing on self-reflection over time helps to maintain perspective.
  5. Define goals and visions for the year – Individuals need short-term clarity to avoid unrealistic expectations on capacity, but teams must have momentum and optimism about the direction they’re travelling.
  6. Prioritise 1:1 meetings – When moving from meeting to meeting it’s crucial to invest in deeper 1:1 connections focusing on relationships, not just tasks.

These strategies have had a big impact alongside our new coaching for line managers on spotting burnout and, to help set boundaries and reduce screen time, we’ve also implemented ‘virtual commute’ periods and ‘leave me the cluck alone time’ (yep, you read that right) – and we’d recommend it.

We’ve already seen the benefits.

We have a saying at KFC and it’s that everyone has a seat at the Colonel’s table. It’s never been more important. The least we – and you – can do is to check in on those that we interact with every day. It’ll do the world of good for everyone involved.