Make Them Dream: The Role of Anticipation in the Battle Against Employee Burnout
Updated: Apr 28
Covid has taught us many lessons we didn't want to learn. Among them what living without anticipation feels like. Because last spring and summer? We had trips we were looking forward to. We had barbecues, baseball games, kid activities and happy-hour chill times with family and friends. And then none of those things happened. Ask anybody who has lived without a positive relationship to the future before: this isn't a place we want to stay. Thankfully the vaccines have given us a view around the corner. But what can we do until we get there to stay healthy?
Honestly This is Hard
We can avoid joining the rising ranks of the hopeless by taking a simple step and assessing just how hard this has been and may still be. After all, we've been on lockdown and have had to cancel everything in our immediate future that we'd planned to enjoy. And as bad as this felt as days and months have passed into season, what's also happened is that Covid has wreaked havoc with our critical coping systems where the passage of time is concerned. How so?
Three Time Zones and Anticipation
Neurologists remind us that we live simultaneously within at least three "time zones." Before Covid, that meant we balanced our memories of the past against our anticipation of the future. while the present moment served as our processing fulcrum. Sometimes the balance came down hard on the past, and we'd find ourselves coping with a tough moment in the "right now" by recalling a time when we'd gotten through something similar before. In this scheme, our vitally important capacity to access our own storehouses of resilience and grit depends on having an anticipatory view into the future. Today, we have loads of present issues surrounding us at every turn. And plenty of past memories to remind us what we are missing. But what we lack is our go-to anticipation reflex, to rev up the interplay between past and present that's how and where we build our experience of life and work.
Anticipation and Hope in Hiding and our Employees
If Covid's cancelling of anticipation has been bad for us as individuals, it has been massively destabilizing at the collective level for our teams at work. From every statistic we see, it's clear that our employees are falling into burnout like we've never seen before. And that means the mental health of our businesses is in danger the longer we wait to see hope come back to our teams. The Zoom calls may show eager faces. But the upbeat presentation can wilt quickly when we click out of the call. And then our teams and managers are left alone to face the dual threats of disengagement and burnout.
Make Them Dream
Now is the moment of truth for the discussions of mindfulness and wellness that have been so current in our business culture of late. Our teams need us. For corporations, this may mean Zoom meditations at noon, plus corporate-wide subscriptions to Headspace or Calm. Or it may mean charting a path toward work-free Fridays or a future of working only from home. At the very least, leaders need to intentionally signpost that there is an exciting future ahead for everyone's shared values and beliefs. This intentionality makes people allow themselves that most human of all things: the longing to draw our past, present and future into one brilliant tapestry that is our hope for what we can do and whom we can become.