A common phrase being thrown about during this pandemic is that ‘we are all in this together’ and ‘we are all experiencing the same disruption’. This could not be further from the truth. Many individuals are stuck in the cycle of trying to over-deliver, and while we certainly are all experiencing the pandemic, the experience for individuals is as unique as snowflakes. No two are the same!

Are You Trying to Over-Deliver?

As the weeks stretch out and people are more enmeshed in working from home, we are hearing more stories of people feeling overwhelmed. They feel challenged with the lack of boundaries between work and home, and harbor feelings of extreme ‘double guilt’ – trying to ‘over-deliver’ to prove they are putting in their hours, while also trying to ‘over-deliver’ on home schooling or simply being with their children.

Some people might be suffering from intense isolation and loneliness while others, especially people who have children at home, might be experiencing anxiety, exhaustion, and guilt that they are not devoting enough time to either family or work.

I’ve deemed it the ‘role-in-the-moment confusion syndrome’. You know, at the exact moment your video meeting is about to begin and you are putting your ‘I’ve got my sh*t together hat’ on, your child absolutely needs to have that snack, or that toy they can’t find, or has smacked their sibling and someone is screaming, or has just gone potty and needs their bum wiped…

Burn Out While You Over-Deliver

Kids understand when you are not at home, you are working, however this new system is utterly confusing. One exchange went something like this…

Parent, “Not now, I’m working.”

Toddler, “But I can see you mommy so you not work.”

Parent, “I’m going to cry now if that’s okay?”

We are having many conversations with leaders on how to best support these employees.

One leader last week was concerned about several of her team members who are working from home with small children, “I’m concerned that they are going to burn out,” she shared. “I don’t know how to get them to believe that I am not going to judge them for needing to take care of their kids alongside trying to get their work done. When I try to talk to them about shifting priorities they balk and tell me they don’t need any special treatment.”

Her dilemma, “How can I convince them that this is not ‘special treatment’ but a desire to support their success during a challenging time while still getting the business results we need?”

How can we bring to the attention of our team that they are working too hard to over-deliver?

What Are You Unconsciously Conveying to The Team?

Whether you are working side by side or across the world, building trust and promoting communication have always been two key factors in getting the productivity you need from your team. These two key factors have not changed and perhaps have been highlighted as being extremely important in continuing to lead for results and support your people.

Communication and trust building happens in two ways – what you say and how you react to situations.

For example, how you respond to surprises that come up during video calls sends the signal to your team as to whether or not they should feel guilty or ‘uptight’ about their home/work life balance.

That hit home for me the other day on a coaching call. At some point during our video call my client’s son burst into the room, so excited that he had gone on a rare excursion with his mom and was bringing his daddy some donuts.

At first it seemed my client was a bit embarrassed and was going to shoo his son from the room, so I jumped in quickly and said “Hi! Wow those look really good! Your daddy is very lucky!” I could visibly see my client relaxing and he then introduced his son to me.

His son was beaming when he left the room shortly following the introduction and we settled back into what we had been discussing with an ease that was palpable.

This was such a powerful moment. In an instant I had the choice to convey annoyance or acceptance of his new reality, one that is not so different from the changes in my situation. Leaders who show interest in the struggles of others make it easy to communicate heavy workloads and therefore avoid the need to over-deliver.

Leading with Compassion Slows the Stress to Over-Deliver

You have a natural leadership style, and this style guides your behavior! This is a time to be very conscious about how your style impacts others. You may find you have to be more conscious and candid about shifting this style depending on the situation and employee, but doing so is an act of compassion that great leaders show.

For example, if you are naturally a ‘hands off’ leader you might need to provide some employees with more concrete direction and timelines. But if you are naturally a ‘hands on’ leader you might need to step back and provide more results-oriented guidance. And if you are someone who is ‘I keep my home life separate from my work life’…oh boy…are you in for some impressive self-development opportunities!

Tips to Not Over-Deliver

  • Take inventory of what you are telling your team ‘is okay’ right now. Does your behavior match up with your words?
  • Encourage ‘virtual tours’ of each person’s home office environment. Start with yourself and then pick one person each meeting to give a tour of their ‘new office space’. Encourage them to include their family, children, pets, elderly parents, to really share what their life is like right now.
  • 1:1 connections are so important right now. Make space for what’s going well and what is challenging on a personal level before diving into ‘work talk’. And remember, you don’t need to solve their ‘what’s challenging’ issues…just listen. If it seems appropriate, perhaps ask if there is anything they think they can do differently or they need from you to be able to work through the challenge, but leave it up to them to lead the action.
  • Change your deadlines from Close of Business (COB) to Open of Business (OOB) – this will not affect your business progress but will help those who need more flexibility and more time. Many parents are free after 8pm when their children are in bed and nothing is disturbing them!
  • Support what is reasonable to get done. Help employees be brutal with prioritization. Some people really struggle with figuring out how to spend their time and identifying what is really a priority. Now, add on top of that the continual disruption of the people in their home environment and it can quickly lead to overwhelm, guilt and under performance. Some will need more direct communication/collaboration with you on what you consider their top 3 priorities this week.
  • Focus on outcome, not process. Be clear on results needed, timelines, and then let the employee share how they can get that accomplished. Again, some will do this naturally on their own and others might need more support from you to map out the timeline to complete.
  • Be transparent. It is okay to share that this is hard for you too! Ask your team for help and invite them to share if they need more or less from you. You don’t actually have to do it all yourself!
  • If your organization has an EAP program, encourage employees to take advantage of counseling if required. Or, offer employees a coach to support their success! 

Parenting While Productive Tips

For those of you who are caught in the ‘role-in-the-moment confusion syndrome’…

  • Be kind to yourself! Your children will not be permanently scarred because you didn’t, alongside your full-time work schedule, set up the perfect home school schedule that will send them back to school two grades ahead of their peers!
  • Be kind and flexible with your kids! Their world has been rocked too! They have had their routine, school and social connections abruptly altered. Whether it is staying in pajamas all day or having a bit more screen time than normal, these concessions won’t hurt them. And, allowing a bit more screen time will give you the much needed alone time.
  • Reset expectations – yours, your families, your boss’s, your teammates. It is very tempting to say “YES, I can do it all!”, when you really want to say “Help me! I’m drowning and can’t find the life preserver.” Start to change conversations with everyone in your life to “This is what’s reasonable right now”, or “I could do that if this came off my plate.”, or “If someone could help with these things, I would have time to do these other things.”
  • Seek support – after you have set your capacity boundaries, have an honest conversation with your manager about what you can deliver on. Have an honest conversation with your partner about dividing up ‘office time’, childcare and household chores. Have an honest conversation with your kids about how they can pitch in and help you during this unusual time. Depending on their age, challenge them to come up with their own ‘daily or weekly success chart’ of what they want to accomplish while they are at home. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist, suggests writing down a maximum of 5 goals per day: 2 things you have to accomplish for work, 2 things your kids need to accomplish (preferably things they can do on their own!), and 1 family/partner activity, so you don’t miss out on the family/social connection. If you live alone this list could include a video or phone call with a friend or family member plus a couple of personal interest things you would like to do for yourself.
  • Look after your health – get some sleep, get some exercise (even 10 minutes a day), get outside, eat regularly, have some fun, and laugh. Try some of these ‘desk stretches’ throughout the day if you feel stiff!

This is new territory for most and we would love to hear what you are experiencing – what’s working, or not, for you!

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Don't over-deliver: create possibility