The Corporate Athlete: Sustaining High Performance In a Work from Home Environment

As leaders and managers in a work from home environment, how can we renew our energy and play a meaningful role on our teams while avoiding burnout?

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On March 16, all Cerner associates began working from home in an effort to help slow the spread of Covid-19. As Cerner Chairman and CEO Brent Shafer mentioned in a recent note, we have accomplished some amazing things during that time, even while adjusting to a new work environment. This unique time has been challenging and rewarding for all of us in many ways, I personally feel blessed with the opportunity to spend more time with my family, my daughter unexpectedly returning from college, and extra walks with my beagle, Lily.

Working from a setting outside of an office can be a refreshing change for many. It can be empowering to have more control over how your day is structured and some studies indicate that this level of empowerment can actually have a positive effect on innovation, work output, and provides a number of benefits including flexibility and a shorter commute. Many have asked what key factors drive productivity, a few leading indicators are increased autonomy in scheduling and organizing work, and an intentional focus on results rather than time spent in the office. Allowing employees this flexibility tends to increase intrinsic motivation which leads to more work effort.

Eventually, the novelty of working remotely fades and we recognize it comes with its own share of challenges. As leaders, one of the biggest risks we and our associates face in this new way of working is burnout. It can be hard to define boundaries and separate your personal and work life when working from home. This inability to disconnect can lead to high levels of stress and lower levels of sustained performance.

As we’ll continue, for the foreseeable future, to experience changes in how and where work gets done, it’s important that we as leaders have strategies in place to avoid burnout and sustain high levels of performance for ourselves and our teams. A recent Gartner study on workforce trends also suggests 41% of employees will work remotely after the pandemic. Our associates and clients are counting on us to deliver innovative, impactful and lasting efforts, playing a meaningful role in transforming healthcare will require sustained levels of performance. It is a marathon, not a sprint! 

In their article entitled The Making of a Corporate Athlete, first published in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz introduce the concept of reaching the “Ideal Performance State” where the body and mind can operate at optimum levels over extended periods of time through the combination of physical well-being, emotional health, mental acuity and a sense of purpose. Their theory suggests we can apply some of the strategies used by high-level athletes to improve the performance of leaders in the corporate world.

“Eventually, the novelty of working remotely fades and we recognize it comes with its own share of challenges. As leaders, one of the biggest risks we and our associates face in this new way of working is burnout.”

Physical Capacity

There are many things we can do to help enhance our physical capacity and improve our ability to battle fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating and a lack of emotional resilience. Unlike athletes who spend most of their time practicing, our leaders spend most of their time performing, with very little rest or time for recovery in between. Loehr and Schwartz remind us to exercise regularly, get sufficient sleep and make time for regular meals – in other words, make time to do all the things you know you are supposed to do for good health! Allowing ourselves to pause and step away for reflection, can result in additional perspectives and fuel innovation.

Emotional Capacity

Have you ever lost track of time when deeply immersed in interesting and challenging work? Most likely you were calm, confident and having fun! This is what it looks and feels like when we’re working in our Ideal Performance State. Positive emotions ignite the energy needed for high performance. Not surprisingly, negative emotions such as frustration, impatience, anger, fear resentment or sadness drain energy. With the sudden shift in work location, some associates may experience feeling isolated. It’s essential that we as leaders practice inclusion through engaging our teams and intentionally support associate’s vulnerability to ask for help with what they need. 

There are several steps we can take to manage our emotional well-being in the work environment. This can include listening to music, breathing exercises, and visualization. Loehr and Schwartz also remind us that it’s important to set clear boundaries and spend quality time with loved ones to replenish your levels of emotional energy so you can perform better when you get back to work. 

Mental Capacity

In business, it’s hard to avoid distractions at work – phone calls, email and instant messages abound (not to mention kids, pets and distractions from others in our homes). To reach our Ideal Performance State, we must be able to concentrate. Operating in a ‘perpetual state of triage’ interferes with our ability to focus and dissipates your energy. This is a perfect time for renewal, take the opportunity to learn something new or start that book you’ve been wanting to read.

Stepping back and clearing your mind is a necessary tactic for maintaining mental energy. According to Loehr and Schwartz, you need a break every 90-120 minutes. By alternating periods of mental stress with renewal, you will improve your mental energy for work. And sometimes, when doing something mindless, the solution to a difficult problem just might present itself.

Spiritual Capacity

Spiritual capacity is a powerful source of motivation for performing at high levels over an extended period of time. Loehr and Schwartz clarify this capacity as, “the energy that is unleashed by tapping into one’s deepest values and defining a strong sense of purpose.”

This capacity serves as a source of strength in the face of adversity and is a powerful source of motivation, focus, determination, and resilience. Making a spiritual connection requires that you take time for reflection which may include meditation, journal writing, prayer, and service to others. Each of these activities can also serve as a source of recovery—a way to break away from goal-oriented activity.

In conclusion, Loehr and Schwartz maintain that “the real enemy of high performance is not actually stress, but instead the absence of disciplined, intermittent recovery. Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance.” As such, our ability as leaders to intentionally move between expending energy (stress) and renewing our energy (recovery) is the secret to sustained high performance. How we manage our lives matters as much as how we manage our work. When we feel strong and resilient—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—we perform better, with more passion, for longer periods of time.

Share Your Story

As leaders, we can all struggle with this challenge and can learn from each other. It is equally as important that we are transparent with our teams with all aspects of capacity, including not only what we are doing but how we are doing it.

I invite you to comment below sharing the methods you use to intentionally renew your energy, sustain performance and avoid burnout while working from home and in different ways.

Originally published on LinkedIn.com

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