Lots of people I talk to are tired

It has been more than two years since we packed up our workspaces, set up our makeshift home offices, and bedded down with our pets to await the end of the pandemic.

While life has improved dramatically since the days of supermarket panic-buying and extended lockdowns, there is no doubt that – 25 months on – the pandemic continues to cast a long shadow over our days and impact how we live and work.

The cumulative effects of lockdowns, and the very real threat of contracting COVID-19, have taken their toll on many of us with a background level of uncertainty that is not going away. Add cost-of-living pressures into the mix, the war in Ukraine, exorbitant petrol prices and the spectre of interest rate rises, and many of us are still as on-edge as when the pandemic began.

This means that any control that people can have over their workday is more valuable than it has ever been.

People are tired; they’re exhausted, they’re wondering what is going to be thrown at them next.

Managing mental health at home

One of the biggest changes to our working lives is in the way we work, or more to the point: the way we want to work. COVID has changed our view of work and people want more flexibility than ever before.

Working from home has its good points and bad points and while flexibility is an undeniable boon, the blurring of work-life boundaries can lead to burn-out.

Flexible working means you must actively manage your diary to keep the home and work spheres as separate as possible. The instant messaging, the feeling like we need to respond immediately no matter what, is something we need to manage and set expectations around.

The point is to not be too rigid. Set some broad expectations around boundaries but be prepared to be flexible if that is what works best for your mental health and wellbeing.

Ask yourself what will help you manage your mental connection and disconnection to work tonight for sleep and being productive tomorrow and sometimes that does mean staying a bit later at work to get a few tasks done so that you are not thinking about them all night.

What leaders can do

Crucially, leaders must ‘walk the talk’ so they’re not passing stress and anxiety along the line. Leaders must support themselves and manage their own health and wellbeing so they can perform their best and then support people appropriately.

Managers need a high level of self-awareness to achieve a harmonious workplace and being able to plan, read, review, think, even just have regular breaks is more critical now than it’s ever been.

The ability to self-reflect is so important. You need to be able to say to yourself, ‘I’m not doing too well today, I’m stressed to the eyeballs, I’ve got to do something about that’.

If leaders can just take that moment to ask what it is they can do to ease their stress and anxiety, to manage their diary, then they’re not transferring the stress to their teams.

KPMG has recognised we need to address our efforts around fatigue. Historically, we have been more inclined to offer programs for everyone, and while that is still the case to some degree, we are much more data-informed now and customise our programs in response to feedback.

An important point is that wellbeing and high performance are not mutually exclusive.

Part of the reason so many high performers burn out is that they overuse their strengths – such as resilience or an ability to focus – and in doing so miss out on the warning signals their bodies send them telling them to recover or slow down.

Wellbeing and high performance are not mutually exclusive, these two things go hand-in-hand and they need to co-exist: in order to keep well and perform at our best. If wellbeing is done properly it is part of what we do in our day, the daily habits and rituals to help us be at our best.

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