Efforting. Is it a real thing?
“I’m logging in at 7 AM and working until 11 PM. I didn’t sign up for this!” The first thought that jumped into my head was: none of us signed up for this. Instead, I paused, bypassed my judgment, and took a deeper look at this comment and what might be behind it. The comment came from one of my colleagues, a man in his late twenties, during a focus group. I hold them regularly to get a sense of how my team is doing and to hear about their needs.
In my first article about the impact of this pandemic, I mentioned the trendy new term for this dangerous habit: efforting. Most major dictionary sources don’t formally recognize the term. This new age word identifies a new age problem that is affecting our work, our relationships, and our lives. Many people don’t realize that they are living a life of efforting, because it is an unconscious, conditioned habit. Society conditions us to believe that we should do more to get more, creating an abundance of “shoulds.” Thanks to the pandemic, which brought fear and uncertainty into almost every aspect of our lives, we spent eighteen months carrying this extra burden. Working from home turned efforting into a monster that continues to eat many of us alive. We falsely believe that efforting is the only way to prove our value in the virtual workplace, and this pandemic has amplified this belief to crazy levels. As we ease back into a post-COVID workplace, whether that means virtual, in-person, or a hybrid model, many of us are still dragging this efforting mentality along with us. No one is exempt from the need to prove one’s worth. Every level in every organization, from the interns to the C-suite, feels this pressure. Of course, we all must demonstrate our value and that we are capable of consistent, quality work. But the way it is working right now is not working.
Efforting is a scarcity thing
Efforting is a habit based on fear and scarcity. We have developed a scarcity mindset, and this unconscious habit has a negative impact on our wellbeing. We are operating out of the fear of needing to do more to prove ourselves and show our value. That comes from a place of “I have to, I should.” If your mindset is in this place, then it does not have energetic resonance and you are probably feeling flat and drained. These thoughts come from a negative patterned way of being and will eventually lead to implosion.
People are looking for jobs right now because they are so stressed out. In our interviews at my staffing firm, we often ask if candidates feel their boss is causing the stress. The answer is usually: no; it is me. Our inner critic has us convinced that our work is never enough and pushes us to go to the extreme out of fear. This pandemic has amplified the fear and self-doubt that our inner critic feeds our minds. Efforting started before COVID hit, but it escalated into an epidemic of its own. Many leaders struggle with how to manage in this environment because we never faced it before. In my first article, I talked about the fact that the entire world is at the same starting line; we are all novices together. After eighteen grueling months, the stress has worn leaders thin. Leaders have their own self-doubt driven by pressure from the board and the need to hit the numbers. If we keep going this way, creativity will come to a standstill. At this very moment, our brains are snapping into fight or flight mode as our unconscious behaviors take over to run the show.
Running away is not the solution
The people looking for work right now are not solving their problem with a new job. You might move on, but you will drag the baggage of your patterned thinking, efforting, and stress with you to the next job. The solution lies in how we meet and deal with our current situation. At the start of our focus group, we were just being with my colleague in his low energy and negativity to meet him where he was. Through listening and thoughtful feedback, we helped him name his fear, make it okay, and helped him recognize he was blaming and in judgment. We can choose between blaming or looking at what needs to shift so we can have more mental freedom. There is no way he needs to be working twelve plus hours a day. He was choosing to do this. I checked in with him at the end of the meeting and he said he felt great and that the meeting was awesome. He felt heard and understood. He hasn’t worked a twelve-hour day since then, and his productivity and job satisfaction have increased.
Leadership strength comes from asking the tough questions, then listening. At times this can feel scary because we do not know what to do with the answers. Dealing with this onslaught of emotion in the workplace is a new reality brought on by the pandemic. Many leaders are thinking, “I didn’t sign up to be someone’s therapist.” But entering the emotional intelligence realm means we must be ready to deal with the emotions. We didn’t choose this space we are in, but we are here, and we must choose what we are going to do about it. The generations alive today have never been in such a grave extended state of emotional outpouring. One CEO told me in exasperation that he is “so done” dealing with emotions. I completely understood his feelings and exasperation. Yet, his team is pleading for help to deal with all this emotion and stress. More than ever before, the work we need to do is on our mindset. Systems need to change, but how we are with ourselves and one another must change first.
The big reveal
I have discovered the secret sauce that leaders are seeking. Are you ready? The secret sauce is to help our people move through these emotions while still being responsible and accountable. As leaders, we do not want these emotions turned into excuses about why a person can’t show up or is underperforming in their role. We all need to name it, claim it, move through it, and move on. It is a simple process, but not an easy one. The difference is being with the person instead of talking at them. None of us want to hear “you should, you have to, you need to, just deal with it.” The workforce has experienced unprecedented breakdown in the last eighteen months. Most leaders and management are ill-equipped to manage effectively in this situation. Many of us approach management in a telling mode, and that is simply not working in this new environment. We need to approach this new reality in a listen first, be open, co-create way.
Here’s the big reveal in all of this: this secret sauce of helping our people is a retention tool. Imagine if you could learn to be with your people and help them name their fears and emotions, claim them, and break through into creativity and innovation. Our fears paralyze us because we are trying to protect our egos. The energy is unstoppable on the other side of that fear and ego. I believe this next phase of leadership and workforce development is about learning to tap into the energy of being human first, and the rest will take care of itself.
What do you think? What are you seeing within your teams and workforce? I am fascinated by the development of alternative ways to manage and lead our people forward, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.