The Pandemic Accelerant: Digital Transformation and Burnout

Author(s): Jim Kirk

Many have called the pandemic a great accelerator for digital transformation as organizations around the world had to digitize and digitalize to sustain operations through virtual delivery. What hasn’t been talked about enough is the toll this acceleration had and continues to have on I&IT teams and I&IT leaders.

LifeWorks Research Group and Deloitte Canada recently published this article discussing the wellbeing and resilience of senior leaders around the world. Backstopped by a survey of 1,158 senior leaders from the private and public sector, there are many eye-opening results. The two that spoke loudest to me were that 51% of participants were contemplating exiting their roles and that the second-highest reported stressor (62%) was related to the desire to provide adequate support for the wellbeing of their staff.

I had the honor of leading a large team through the worst of the pandemic. It was hard. Throughout our organization’s successful pivot to online/virtual delivery, I never minded the workload – anyone who has worked in this business long enough has probably endured a prolonged period of intense workload. For me, the difficult part, the truly exhausting part, was trying to keep everyone whole – the utmost in leadership responsibility. At times, it forced me to recalibrate my own expectations (not to mention the expectations of my boss). It led me to really open up with my team about how I was feeling in a way I’d never done before. I knew others felt similarly but didn’t have a voice, and hearing me say these things gave them comfort and a sense that they were not alone. As an introvert, that last part took a toll that I’m still recovering from today.

Given that I’m writing this as an Executive Advisor for Info-Tech Research Group, I did leave that team in late 2021. My reasons were many (and I was very transparent with the team about them), but when I was considering the options for my next challenge, the notion of taking on something familiar but different felt like what I needed. The constant stream of career updates on LinkedIn tells me I was not alone.

What follows are a few thoughts about how you can keep yourself and your team whole as we continue in this post-pandemic recovery:

  1. Be vulnerable and willing to share how you’re doing. The notion that the leader needs to be unflappable is antiquated. Opening up will help you ‘level up’ the standing you have with your own team. Fostering this culture creates a meaningful support system for your team and for you.
  2. Recognize that the pandemic has changed what employees are looking for. Our IT Talent Trends for 2022 highlights that employees are now valuing flexible work, work-life balance, and organizational culture more than ever. These need to be fundamental components of an employment brand that helps you retain your existing employees and attract new talent to your organization.
  3. Partner with HR to actively support your management team as they now manage hybrid teams with a focus on balancing wellness and performance. Forty-four percent of employees reported a decline in mental wellness since the start of the pandemic. As leaders, we can’t assume this will improve on its own. We need to help where possible and appropriate.
  4. Bring order to the chaos with a clear strategy and roadmap supported by effective and adaptive governance. A contributor to burnout is maintaining this frenetic, hyper-operational state over a long period of time. With the worst of the pandemic behind us, we need to start building out strategies and plans – a roadmap. We can’t do everything today and we shouldn’t need to as the pandemic pressure continues to alleviate. As the I&IT leader, it’s the perfect time for you to refresh your IT strategy. If your organization is ready and able to double down on digital transformation, consider calling for a digital business strategy. Both will be big steps toward the order and pacing needed to maintain progress while keeping everyone whole.

Our Take

Heroism is not a delivery model. It will work for a while but is not sustainable. The pandemic combined intense workload with existential dread and social isolation. As we continue with post-pandemic recovery, we need to actively care for our teams and ourselves as leaders. Our focus needs to be on deeply rooting a more supportive culture while actively driving efforts to boost wellness. These leadership fundamentals, coupled with solid planning, are a recipe for continuing to deliver for your organization while keeping everyone whole. Including yourself.

Want to Know More?

Click any of the links above to book a call on the supporting topic and take steps to care for yourself and your management team.

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