For the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our work and on our lives. We’ve had to forgo the activities that energize us and make us feel productive and content at work, such as lunches and happy hours with colleagues and personal interaction with our teams.
“We have missed out on all that, and those losses have left us feeling exhausted and alone. We all need to make a bigger effort now to remain motivated and energized,” said Jesmin Ehsan, ACMA, CGMA, business controller at Ericsson for Singapore , Brunei, Philippines, and Pacific Islands.
Loretta Outhwaite, ACMA, CGMA, is a managing consultant with 4OC, a London-based management consultancy that supports the UK public sector. She blames the pandemic’s prolonged period of uncertainty around our health, our families, and our jobs for contributing to the burnout we are feeling.
“We are tired and stressed because we’ve experienced a lack of control over our circumstances. Our routines have gone out the window, and we’ve been stuck at home and socially isolated,” she said.
As pandemic protocols now begin to ebb, people face renewed change and more uncertainty, coupled with anxiety about the war in Ukraine, as they leave home offices and return to workplaces.
Ehsan and Outhwaite offer strategies for recharging and refreshing workday habits as finance professionals continue to adjust their routines, either wholly or in a hybrid arrangement.
Tap into workplace resources.
When the COVID-19 pandemic sent the workforce home, many organizations created a bank of resources for employees to use to alleviate stress.
At Ericsson, the team set up an internal online resource with a variety of wellness activities. Ehsan’s favorite is Wellness Wednesday, designated as a day to engage in healthy habits.
Ideas include making phone calls while walking, taking ten-minute mindfulness breaks, or engaging in stretching exercises at lunchtime.
“This could be a day when you’re going to eat healthy, and you’re not going to order something like fried chicken or junk food,” Ehsan said. “Instead, you are going to eat good clean food and practice healthy habits to bolster your energy.
“On top of this, we schedule regular catch-up calls with our finance teams where we celebrate birthdays and organize virtual cookouts. It’s a fun and refreshing way to ‘hang out’ with everyone,” she added.
Learn breathing exercises to relax, and practice mindfulness, Outhwaite advised. She recommended using apps to help you unwind and take your mind off stressful situations. Outhwaite’s personal favorites are Calm and Headspace.
“Taking time to pay attention to your surroundings, like listening to the sounds around you, hearing the birds singing on your walk, and feeling the fresh air can make a real difference,” she said. “And it gets you grounded in the present as well, which is really powerful.”
Continue new hobbies and activities.
During the pandemic, some people adopted new hobbies to compensate for not being able to enjoy their normal activities with friends such as going to restaurants, concerts, or the cinema.
Ehsan, who started growing herbs, recommended continuing the new hobbies you enjoy to maintain continuity, even when socializing gets back to normal.
“I love to cook, and I started growing herbs and plants, like basil and spinach,” she said. “I also started crocheting, especially amigurumi [small yarn toys]† So growing herbs and crocheting are the activities I am going to keep doing.”
Make small changes at work.
Sometimes a massive, prolonged period of stress can cause you to take stock of your life, which may lead you to consider a career change as a way to escape.
However, Outhwaite warned against making drastic changes, such as quitting your job without thinking it through. Instead, she recommended talking with your employer about making some small changes in your current job, such as redeployment opportunities or help adjusting your schedule so you are working in the office some days and working at home on other days.
Developing a sense of purpose at work may be refreshing as well, Outhwaite suggested.
“One important thing … that will help refresh you and give you energy is making sure your work is really matching with your values and your reason for being and giving you purpose,” she said.
Set of achievable goals.
If you feel burned out, setting small goals that you can easily accomplish can help you feel successful and give you the motivation you need for more ambitious accomplishments, Outhwaite said.
“I am a great believer in goal-setting,” she said. “Firstly, setting goals helps solidify what you want to achieve. And setting the goals in small chunks so you can actually tick them off as you do them helps you feel like you’re making progress.”
If you are struggling, speak up.
Your manager may be able to offer support if you are feeling exhausted. Ehsan recalls a time in 2020 when she was struggling, so she went to her boss and explained the problems she was dealing with. Ehsan’s boss offered support and gave her the opportunity to take a break.
“It’s not only your manager’s responsibility to help you deal with stress,” Ehsan said. “I think it’s your responsibility to speak up because, if you do not speak up and [instead] try to ‘fake it till you make it’, your problems will only multiply.”
Seek professional help.
Make sure you are checking in with yourself and evaluating your own mental health. If you are feeling stressed out, and it’s not just the odd day, but you are at the breaking point all the time, getting to the bottom of what is causing you to feel that way may require the help of a career coach, a life coach, or even a mental health counselor, Ehsan said.
“Professional counselors can help you think through your problems and talk through how you’re feeling,” she added.
And, she said, with a bit of reflection, personal effort, self-care, and workplace support, you may find yourself looking forward to the next phase of pandemic workplace change.
† Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com†