It’s hard to believe that it has been 19 years since the tragedy of 9-11. It was, at the time, the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor and effectively shut down the country for weeks.

But then it was over.

Just as I will always remember 9-11, people today will tell stories about COVID for the rest of their lifetime. It is another collective moment with grave and far-reaching implications.

Only this one has no end in sight.

Essential workers and others in a multitude of positions have been on COVID-overdrive for over half a year now. Creating plans. Redoing plans. Pivoting right. Going back to the left. Implementing Plan A, then Plan B and even Plan Q. Oh yeah, throw in a couple of natural disasters, a widespread social justice movement and divisive politics. It is exhausting.

Leaders of those directly impacted by any of these crises need to acknowledge the stress this year has brought on and take steps to mitigate the incident fatigue that is consciously or unconsciously plaguing so many. Supervisors should acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and explicitly give permission or mandate that key personnel stop doing anything that is not mission-critical. Vacation or time off should be required, even if the employee doesn’t feel like they can be gone. Senior leaders should model relying on each other for moral and literal support to share some of the load.

The terrorist acts on 9-11 were over in 73 minutes. The derecho lasted just hours. The hurricane a day. Most wildfires are extinguished within weeks. Crises do not usually endure with such intensity for months, but since COVID doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, Job 1 is to make your ability to operate sustainable. Even people with a positive attitude cannot thrive under daunting conditions indefinitely. Acknowledge the toll that the pace and continued uncertainty are taking and shift to strategies that allow people to endure for the longer run.

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