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Supporting a Depleted Workforce through Energy-Inspired Leadership

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We are living in the most difficult era of work in our history. We’re working longer hours than before the pandemic–an average of three extra hours daily.

The lines between work and home are not even blurred – they’ve been eradicated. Our dependence on technology, while necessary, can deplete and addict us.

Recent data in occupational health and environmental medicine portray a telling reality: we are at increased risk of illness, we’re more injury-prone, we’re less productive, and we’re plain wearing down. At the same time, many of our people feel isolated, disconnected, and burned out because of the extraordinary burden of work and personal responsibilities, the lack of recognition/human connection, and the inability to meaningfully interact with the world and each other to regenerate energy.

We may not notice how our own depleting behaviors affect us or be aware of the full negative impact our energy depletion has on those around us. As leaders, we have a responsibility to value and safeguard our own and our team members’ energy.

This set of thought-provoking questions can help to open your eyes to the energy depletion your team is facing in several key areas and give you a start toward making the necessary shifts to support them.

  • Acknowledgement. Is your team’s energy drain the elephant in the room? Have you called it out, or are you waiting for team members to let you know when they’ve had enough? Share your own energy depletion and start detailed, open-ended conversations. Instead of asking “How are you?” try asking “How are you feeling – physically, emotionally, mentally?” Then make time to listen to the response.
  • Boundaries. Have boundaries that initially disappeared in the name of flexibility now created an “always-on” pressure for your team members? Does your team have set rules or guidelines for engagement? Decide together when people are expected to be available and when they should disconnect or be okay with not responding to messages.
  • Expectations. Overwork is a function of responding to others without differentiating more important/critical work, and without taking time for self-care. Are you setting reasonable expectations for your team and for yourself, and unplugging when you need to focus or step away? Setting clear expectations can be a safeguard against overwork-driven reactivity.
  • Resources. Has your organization set aside resources to support its people? As a leader, it’s your responsibility to find help for team members in need so they can function at the highest level. Share corporate resources like childcare support or an EAP service, encourage use, and check in with team members who may feel reluctant to leverage tools
  • Notice. In the digital workplace, people miss the connection and the affirmation that comes from a shared work environment. When people don’t feel noticed or valued, they may spend more time on email to show they are “working.” As their leader, are you giving them the affirmation they need? Take time to notice work more directly and with regularity.

Supporting Yourself First

When you’re in a leadership position, you have the responsibility to look out for others, but you can’t do that without looking out for yourself. You may have reached your current role by working long hours and wearing the “whatever it takes” badge of the ideal worker.

When you’ve lived in this mindset, you can easily fall prey to the idea that acknowledging your need for rest is a weakness or liability. However, as author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, “Whether we embrace the idea that overwork is essential for productivity and creativity or reject it, we all are defined by it.”

You cannot lead a team in the way they deserve, the way that will be most effective for you, them, and the organization unless you acknowledge the ways you and your team have become depleted, and unless you find a new, energy-inspired way to fuel your efforts.

An Energy-Inspired Leader recognizes energy is the single biggest differentiator in developing and motivating high performing teams toward a common goal.

Energy-Inspired Leaders recognize their ability (and their responsibility) to inspire their people and give them the resources and capacity to fuel their efforts. As an Energy-Inspired Leader, it is essential to focus on the ways you can support your team, including:

  • Speaking up in a healthy way about needs, bandwidth and priorities.
  • Balancing opportunities to challenge and to nurture your people.
  • Incorporating the importance of recovery as an essential part of performance.
  • Focusing on the top priorities of total wellness and their connection to productivity.

No matter what you’re doing during the course of a day, you are either spending or recovering energy. Having this awareness is a gamechanger. It gives you the ability to discern where and why your team’s energy is being spent, then to actively focus on creating a healthier, more high-performing work environment.


Giurge, Laura M. and Vanessa K. Bohns. 2020 “3 Tips to Avoid WFH Burnout.” Harvard Business Review, April. https://hbr.org/2020/04/3-tips-to-avoid-wfh-burnout
Wall, Stuart. 2020. “COVID-19 Made Our Tech Addiction Worse: It’s Time to Do Something about It. TechCrunch. December 10, 2020 https://techcrunch.com/2020/12/10/covid-19-made-our-techaddiction-worse-Its-time-to-do-something-about-it
Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. 2018. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. New York: Basic Books.

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