Is Your Staff Crumbling in 2021? With Fraying, We Must be Braiding

May 6, 2021 1 Comment

If you or the people in your organization are fraying or even crumbling, ask yourself why wouldn’t you be? After over a year of a vicious virus, political disruption, and continued racist trauma, of course we are unraveling. What does fraying look like in organizations?

  • Staff needing to call in sick more often or take leave from their jobs to heal, restore, and pivot
  • Employees quitting or moving onto other opportunities, including relocating to other states as they reevaluate their priorities after a year of survival
  • Staff engaged in greater conflict with each other as the tensions they have tucked away come into fuller view
  • Individuals lacking patience as Zoom fatigue deepens to intolerable levels
  • People complaining of new physical pains, aches, and challenges arising from working in home offices that are not adequately set up to support physical well-being
  • Too many meetings and projects and not enough people to manage them, which causes stress in the workplace under the best of circumstances
  • An increase in racial microaggressions as stress burrows into workplaces
  • Lack of purposeful attention to relationships as people focus on quickly moving into reopening
  • Staff taking care of children or others unwilling to return to in person work and old office norms that don’t support flexible work options

As we navigate the space between how things used to be – the “old normal” – and the emergence of a new way of being and working with one another – the “new normal”- we are essentially emerging from a metaphorical portal. Indian novelist Arundhati Roy introduced the concept of the pandemic as a portal when COVID-19 first broke. She shared, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” I believe that we are emerging from the portal like a shaking and vulnerable rocket ship returning back to earth after it breaks through the sound barrier.

What can we do to support ourselves and our teams to emerge from this portal?

There’s braiding to be done. Bringing people back into connection and collaboration to build toward the future. And it will be gradual.

  • We can validate the experience of others. We can help those who work for us, as well as our peers and partners, to understand that it’s normal to feel the fraying and crumbling that comes with being isolated and in survival mode for so long.
  • We can reflect and re-collaborate. This involves regrouping as a staff, reflecting on what’s happening to us and our organizations, and recommitting ourselves to operating in the spirit of human and community care and collaboration. We need to focus on building and sustaining relationships while we build better processes and strive for results that can build a better future.
  • We can give people a sense of control and hope.  Ask staff and communities, what new opportunities do they envision for themselves and organizations and networks as we emerge from this portal?
  • We can close down our offices. For a week or two, or even a month, several times this year to replenish. If everyone’s not working, everyone can attend to themselves without distraction. It’s like a mini sabbatical for all.
  • We can continue work-from-home options. For many jobs, offering flexibility through continued remote work will be critical in retaining high-performing staff and boosting morale. Twenty-nine percent of working professionals say they would quit their jobs if they couldn’t continue working remotely.[1]
  • We can center Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in all of what we do. Whether it’s in our planning processes, implementation, organizational culture, or visioning, we can follow their innovation, ideas, and leadership to deepen our strategies and approaches. Our workplaces can benefit from the traditions of BIPOC cultures to slow down and take time to reconnect in human ways. Strategies informed by a racial equity lens will be relevant and timely to all the decisions we are making in this moment.
  • We can come together in-person as soon as people are fully vaccinated. It’s not too early to plan the reunion which will offer connection and signal a new beginning. Consider planning a ritual or exercise during the time together to leave behind the old and bring in the new.

People are exhausted, mentally and physically. Expect the crumble. It’s coming, if it hasn’t already. Plan for the crumbling and consider new ways to braid people, yourself, and your community back together.


[1] According to an online survey of 1,022 professionals by LiveCareer, an online resume and job search consulting service.

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