Winter is Coming

Winter is Coming 1080 718 Jason Lauritsen

For those of you who aren’t Game of Thrones fans, this title probably seems silly to you. An observation like this certainly isn’t going to earn me a job as a meteorologist any time soon.

But, if you are a GoT fan, you know these three words represent a warning. When the words “winter is coming” are spoken in the fantasy world of GoT, the implication is that you’d better get ready because bad things are imminent.

These three words have been on my mind a lot lately.

This year has been brutal on so many fronts. No one has escaped its effects. Sure, the gravity and severity of the impact has not been evenly distributed, but everyone has been touched.

And I understand why so many people are ready for this year to be over; in a normal year, when we hit January 1, we get to push an imaginary reset button.

On January 1, everything feels possible (after your hangover passes, of course). We put the previous year behind us and look to the future with hope and possibility in our eyes.

This year, I’m going to learn to play the guitar.

This year, I’m going to lose 20 pounds and run a marathon.

This year, I’m going to spend more time with my kids.

This year, everything is going to get better.

But, we are not living in normal times.

Just a couple days ago, my daughter exclaimed, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.”

I’ve been hearing that a lot from people. And, it worries me.

My fear is that a lot of people are just trying to survive the year and hoping that when the new year arrives, everything will somehow get better.

Just make it to January 1 and things will get better.

I sure wish that was true. But, we know it’s not.

If we have the courage to look around us with eyes wide open, we can expect that as 2021 arrives, the pandemic may very likely be at its most devastating point globally, systemic racism and inequity will have gone nowhere and large groups of people will still resent the fact that it’s even talked about, and the economy is likely to feel uncertain at best.

A big chunk of the country will be trapped in their homes due to freezing weather, isolated from friends and family when they need them most. And, take it from someone who’s grown up in the Midwest—those first couple months of the year can feel LONG even in the best of times.

Depression and mental health struggles are going to be a primary concern for everyone.

The reality that we must face is that 2021—at least the first half of the year—may feel more challenging than any point in 2020.

I know, I know. Thanks for the uplifting post, Jason.

My point in writing this isn’t to depress you. It’s a call to arms. It’s a reminder that we need to prepare ourselves for what’s truly ahead (and not a pipe dream about a suddenly better 2021).

In Game of Thrones, the phrase “winter is coming” refers to an existential threat that would come from the north to devastate and destroy everything—literally. The main defense against this threat is “the wall,” which is literally a giant wall (think Hoover Dam) protected by armed guards.

The wall is the last line of defense between life as they know it and their demise.

Managers, owners, executives, and HR leaders—you are the wall. You have an obligation to see what’s coming and help equip your people to survive.

Succeeding in this task has vital consequences that reach far beyond helping people do their jobs. It’s about helping them stay whole and healthy so they can do the same for their friends, families, and neighbors.

It’s an awesome responsibility and opportunity to truly impact your people.

So, What Should You Do?

2021 is going to be hard but we can be ready. Hard experiences only break us when we aren’t prepared and lack support.

There are a few things you can start doing now to have a big impact on how next year goes for you and your team.

  1. Confront reality.
    Help your people prepare mentally for what’s coming by engaging in conversations with them where you help them understand what lies ahead. It doesn’t help you or them if they have a false sense of hope about how things will look come January. I’m not suggesting you be a radical pessimist or dream crusher, just that you talk about reality (using real data and trends) to help each person gain perspective that we aren’t anywhere near the finish line yet. In these conversations, reinforce that while it will be hard, you are in it together and will get through it together.
  2. Create a plan.
    Given that we have a pretty good idea of what the first half of next year is likely to look like, we can plan for it. And, more importantly, you can help your people plan for it. I find it most helpful to start with planning for the worst case scenario.For example, if we assume the pandemic will be worse by early 2021 and we’ll all be confined to our homes, schooling our kids from home, and unable to see the people we love outside our home in person, what are we going to do to make it through? What’s your plan for:

    • How to stay connected with friends, family, and co-workers
    • How to stay healthy and well?
    • How to keep your family/household/roommate situation positive and healthy?
    • How to maintain a balance between work and non-work time?

    Having a plan helps even challenging things feel manageable. And, the reason I like to plan for the worst is that the worst rarely happens, which means whatever does happen will feel a lot easier to navigate.

  3. Start talking about mental health now.
    There are already some alarming signals indicating that our mental health is suffering. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, burnout, or a host of other issues, caring for our mental health in the upcoming year is going to be a primary challenge we must face with our people.The most important thing you can do right now is start talking about it. By talking about it or even sharing your own struggles, you remove the stigma and make it easier for your people to share.Also, make sure your team has resources easily available should they need them. This could mean creating a one-pager with info about the company’s EAP program, helpline numbers, online resources, etc.
  4. Embrace the holidays.
    Encourage people to take time off, unplug, and enjoy some downtime in December. Make it clear you encourage this and create a plan with people to truly get away from work over the holidays as much as they can to rest, and recharge—whatever they need to feel somewhat restored. They will follow your lead on this, so do the same for yourself.

Winter is coming. And it is going to be challenging, particularly for those who are responsible for helping others find their way through it while keeping up their performance at work.

It is likely to be hard, but we can be prepared. Start now.

Your people need you, perhaps more today than ever before.

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