Managing your career through lockdown fatigue

woman lying on wall in New York, lockdown fatigue

Article provided by Ester Banque, Senior Vice President & Head Intercontinental Commercial at Bristol-Myers Squibb

I could never have imagined what was ahead when we first went into lockdown in March last year.

We said farewell with hugs and best wishes to stay safe, “see you in a few weeks!” No one was mentally, emotionally or even logistically prepared for what the pandemic soon became: a long, hard disruption to our lives.

I am very grateful that I have a job that allows me to provide for myself and my family. We have stayed safe, working from home, with our children attending online school. While some family and friends were affected by COVID, they all made it through. I keep my fingers crossed that it stays this way, as we’re not out of the woods yet.

As we mark COVID-19’s first anniversary, there is hope that 2021 will be better.  Multiple vaccines have been made available and we’ve seen their effect as the numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and fatalities are trending much lower.  Businesses are slowly reopening and, while social distancing and mask wearing in public is still required, vaccinated families and “pods” are reuniting after a year of separation.

My first reflection on the pandemic is that I’m in awe of the extraordinary capacity and resilience of our teams and organization to adapt to what has been, for the majority of us, the most disruptive change we have ever experienced in our lives. We delivered on our mission of providing medicines to patients, we managed to operate in a 100 per cent virtual world overnight, meeting the company’s objectives and taking care of each other.

Purpose can move mountains

As the leader of a region spanning over 70 markets and five continents, this pandemic has brought so many learnings: 1) a strong sense of purpose can move mountains. Our collective mission to help patients access medicines that can change their lives has been paramount, and we went above and beyond the call of duty to make that happen. 2) a crisis can also be overwhelming for leaders. We’ve learned to ask for help: leaders do not need to be self-sufficient at all times, but rather lean on their teams, which will, in turn, empower them. Everybody is ready to step up in a crisis if you allow them. 3) show your humanity, show that you care, support your people, support your teams, and be sensitive that everyone is experiencing different realities. We’re all in the same storm, but not on the same boat. 4) take the opportunity that arises from a crisis to change things for good. For example, the pandemic has accelerated the virtual engagement and digitalization of companies.

After one year, most of us are still in “work lockdown”. We are experiencing lockdown fatigue. We are working longer hours remotely (work as the “home invader” has become increasingly dominant), and those who are playing the dual roles of at-home-worker and engaged caretaker – whether it’s parenting, home schooling, looking after elder or special needs family members – find themselves more burned out.  As the mother of twin girls, I can personally attest to the challenges – and while my wife is the primary caretaker of our home and children, I am working side by side to raise our kids through these complex times.

Overcoming lockdown fatigue

To overcome lockdown fatigue, I find it useful to have a daily routine to take care of myself – eating healthily, sleeping, meditating and exercising. I also dress differently for work hours and try to shut down my computer and brain when I finish my “office” time.  I can’t brag about doing it 100 per cent right, but I’m getting much better and I can see the difference.

It is important to continue networking with colleagues, peers and managers in addition to teams. Replacing “in presence” coffee breaks with quick calls to connect socially, makes a huge difference to mental health and could advance your professional goals or career needs. Even if you network in a virtual world, you can still connect emotionally, you just need to make your “heart jump through the screen”.

Hopefully the pandemic will be over one day, and we will get back to “normal,” but things will never be the way they were prior to COVID-19.  We will miss the ones we lost, and we will do our best to mend our hearts from hardship. I would like to believe that we can take the positive things we learned and create a better world: more human, more genuine (we have been taking calls in our sweatpants for over one year, kids have popped up on our screens, pets have barked and stepped on keyboards, we have repeated the now eternal “you are on mute!”).

We can be more present, now that we are everywhere with one click. We may even value human interaction more and increasingly appreciate the things we used to take for granted. We can have more solidarity with those who suffer. We can learn from and lean on the power of communities to make a better, greener, healthier world.

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