Give me a break...

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No shit Sherlock, these last few months have been tough, some of the toughest many of us will have faced or will face in our working lives.  You, and the people around you, have adapted to the fastest and most dramatic changes in our working practices imaginable - indeed well beyond what would have been imaginable when we started the year.  At the same time you, and they, have juggled caring for relatives, home schooling, worrying about your (or their) own health, perhaps bereavement, furlough, and decisions about others' furloughing or worse, lockdown (do you remember when we were allowed out once a day?), isolation, confinement with people that drive us round the bend, anxiety about all of that as well as the economy, job security and much much more.  

We have all done very well indeed to get through this far as intact (or not) as we may feel right now.  

Humans are often very good at dealing with crises.  But there is sometimes a price to pay afterwards.  I am reminded of a period back in 2002 when I was up for partnership at work, had two kids under 5 and another on the way with my wife in and out of hospital for months on end with life threatening lung issues, not helped by the growing boy inside her womb.  We got through it, we managed the storm, but a few months after, once I knew we were through the worst of that cycle, I collapsed, exhausted, burnt out.  Fortunately that was fairly short lived (and so I didn't learn the lessons I might have done).  

This current storm is not going away.  As furlough unwinds, the threat to our economy and job security will increase.  A stroll down any high street will show just what a threat there is to many of our traditional businesses.  The virus is by no means in retreat.  Any return to the office will create its own stress.  We have a long way to go.  There will be a lot more pain to experience before we can breath more easily.

It is now the summer.  Traditionally this is a time when most people get a decent break, probably the longest and most decent break they get all year (particularly if they have school age kids).  We need it every year.  We need it more than ever this year.  

"But I cannot book a holiday so what's the point of taking time off?"  

"The business has been struggling all year, we need to keep going and hope that demand will pick up or continue through the summer to make up for the shortfalls earlier in the year."  

"We are barely managing as we are, we cannot afford to take the foot off the pedal now?"

There are lots of reasons not to give yourself (and your team) a break.  There always are, and many of them will be screaming more loudly now than ever.  And part of the reason why they are screaming so loud now is the very reason why you need that break.  A lot of that screaming will be the result of the increasingly anxious and dutiful and well meaning and conscientious and diligent and responsible and selfless and sensitive and vulnerable characteristics that drive so many people to burnout.  For an unbeatable expose of what drives good and strong people to burnout, read chapter 1 of Tim Cantopher's Depressive Illness - the Curse of the Strong.  And if it resonates with you, get your family to read it and pass it round your team.

We are going to need every ounce of our energy and drive for the next stages of this Covid experience.  We are all depleted right now and you cannot keep going on an empty tank.  Eventually things will get too much and people will break.  It is typically those with the strongest sense of duty (and perhaps the weakest sense of self worth) that will carry on the longest until that break, that burnout, happens.  The people you need to worry about most are often those that complain the least.   Those that experience burnout will often be those that you least expect to experience problems, because of all those characteristics that make them so dependable.   

It may be that it has to be at home, it may be a series of days out, rather than weeks on a beach or exploring wonderful cities or stunning natural beauty, but take the time to switch off, properly, for days and days on end.  And make your team do the same.  Get time booked out and respect it - if you need to, put in place measures to stop people checking in with work on a regular basis.   Let August be August, let the summer be summer.  There will be time and need aplenty in the autumn to crack on.  For now, give yourselves and your team that break, which this year is that much more well earned than usual.

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