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Leading Off
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Maybe T. S. Eliot had it right: April is the cruelest month. Vaccines are taking hold, some people are seeing family and friends again for the first time in more than a year, and the restorative effects of strong economic recovery are on nearly every forecaster's radar. Yet the season's turn finds many of us flat, exhausted, headachy, short of attention, short of sleep, short of breath, grieving, anxious, depressed, and hostile. We are “burned-out husks, dimwitted approximations of our once-productive selves,” writes Sarah Lyall in the New York Times. Leaders can define burnout and treat it, and they would be wise to start doing both as a potential catastrophe in public mental health looms. Your business may have become fast and agile during the pandemic, but that won't amount to much if you can't manage postpandemic reentry for yourself and those you lead. This week we tap the experts to help us make our way back to emotional normalcy.
Rethink workplace mental health
The intense compounding effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on organizations' existing mental-health challenges calls for leaders to take a new approach. Rather than setting up a series of programs owned by HR, it's possible to bring together workplace mental-health research, deep organizational-design and change expertise, and a value-first perspective, write the authors of “Out of the shadows: Sustainably improving workplace mental health.” Integrating mental-health best practices into all elements of a company's operating model can help create—and sustain—a more psychologically safe and healthy workplace.
That's the calculus in one recent study of how many loved ones are left behind for every person who dies of COVID-19. The chilling bereavement multiplier considers spouses, siblings, grandparents, parents, and children. (Some 37,000 children in the United States have lost a parent to COVID-19 so far.) When you include extended family and friends in the calculation, the pain spreads even further, suggesting that another health catastrophe is on the way. Bereavement grief can have long-running physical, emotional, and social effects, spurring calls for employers to help women—particularly hard-hit by demands of the pandemic—in the workplace, for communities to provide children with support to help them cope, and for leaders to investigate and address grief as they would other indicators of public health.
“I hope the great awakening that follows this is that every one of us depends on each other.”
So says Brené Brown, the researcher and author whose 2010 TED talk on the leadership quality of vulnerability has garnered 52 million views online. In this Wall Street Journal interview, she talks about the mental-health pandemic to come, the role of leaders in managing it, and her discovery that leadership has nothing to do with title, position, or salary.
spotlight interview image
“We need to help everyone claim, ‘My own sanity matters. My own physical health matters.’”
Bill Schaninger, a McKinsey senior partner, says it's important for leaders to acknowledge that their teams and individuals have more stresses and claims on their time and to give them permission to work and operate in different ways. In this McKinsey Talks Talent podcast with McKinsey partner Bryan Hancock, the two explore how to talk about complex feelings, which have been unleashed in the workplace at a scale and an intensity not seen before the pandemic.
Help your grieving organization
photo of a person grieving
Sources of loss, big and small, are radiating across our work and personal lives. Leaders often fail to facilitate, or even allow for, burnout and mourning to unfold in their leadership approach and their organizational cultures. To begin addressing this gap, writes McKinsey's Aaron De Smet, start by asking questions that invite and allow people to reflect on their experiences, acknowledge and recognize their feelings, and express their emotions. Dedicate time for this in your organization—and include yourself. Make it “OK to not be OK” all the time.
Lead vulnerably.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey's New Jersey office
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