Hi Andy + Emma,
I am a manager and an extrovert, but honestly have really struggled with being a people manager through the events of 2020 (I also work in a field where my team is tasked with our company’s response to crises). I’m finding 1-on-1s and other management responsibilities really, really exhausting—and while I’ve taken time off, I’m finding that I’m dreading my weekly 1-on-1s. Help!
Andy: Oh yes. Of course you’re feeling bottomed out. We’re currently living in a bunch of concentric crises circles: they exist at the global level, and in our country, as well as whatever is happening locally. Plus there’s your team’s task to respond to these crises, and also you’re trying to understand and process your personal experience. It’s a perfect storm for kind, generous people managers to develop a touch of compassion fatigue — basically an overuse injury of what’s likely one of your core strengths: caring.
Emma: Yep. Wanting to avoid your reports is, I think, very normal when things are shitty. Extroverts like you and me are used to feeling buoyed by the presence of others — not wiped out. And even though we want to be fully there for our people, just like always, most of us don’t have enough practice to endure the scope or longevity of everything that’s going wrong right now. It’s tough stuff. You are doing great.
Andy: And you will get better at this. You will develop more resilience and bigger emotional muscles. You will look forward to connecting with your team again in 1-on-1s. But it’s going to take some time and maybe some new habits.
Are you suffering from compassion fatigue?
You likely have an intuitive understanding of your level of burnout and compassion fatigue, but if you’d like to quantify it a bit more, researchers have developed a quality of life self-assessment that can help.
Use your score (instructions for scoring start on page 4) as a way to notice if and when fatigue is creeping in so you can intervene with some tools before you’re 10 out of 10 on the scale. Also, if it’s at all possible, talk to a therapist. You need someone to support you, too.
Take the self-assessment Emma: We’re by no means experts in this area, which is why we floated your situation by a few therapists we know, who’ve had professional training dealing with compassion fatigue. We found their advice supremely helpful.
Andy: They offered up a two-pronged approach: a little defense to avoid taking too much in and a little offense to replenish your personal tank.
Emma: First up is a defense strategy that will allow you to hear the things your team is telling you without sponging up all their feelings. Every therapist recommended a visualization technique where you place an ✨energy barrier✨ between you and the person you’re talking to.
You can choose how permeable that barrier is. For real energy sucks, you might enclose that person in a bell jar. For someone you feel a deeper connection with, that barrier might be a sheer, floaty cloth.
Andy: My energy barrier most often takes the shape of a pink pool floaty and a color field of pink between me and the other person. I think of it like a filter and also a moat.
Emma: The pinker the better!
Andy: Another form of defense is to simply decrease your exposure. Can you shorten each 1-on-1 to 30 minutes? Adjust your schedule so you have the afternoon off after back-to-backs, or space them throughout the week so they’re more like micro doses than deluges? You’re allowed to switch up your routine as much as you need to right now.
Emma: Now, on the emotional offense side is refilling your energy tank. It’s very clear that you know you need this. I imagine that’s the main reason you’ve taken some time off.
Andy: Which, kudos! (If you need time off and don’t know how to take it, we’ve got you.)
Emma: It also sounds like that time off didn’t really work. Your mission right now is to find a more consistent, sustainable way to replenish your emotional energy. This is a separate thing from self-care.
Andy: It’s an important distinction! I love massages. They are my go-to form of self-care — they relax my body and help me empty my busy brain. But energetically I usually feel better after I lie down on the floor and listen to Tracy Chapman and cry.
If you’re drawing a blank, try thinking back to when you were a kid. What are the things that you did for fun? It was probably not a massage. Maybe it was coloring, or exploring bugs in the backyard. Maybe it was kicking around a soccer ball, or playing a game with friends. These are great clues to what your energy tank still needs to feel full.
Emma: When I think back to my childhood, I was always reading novels — the cheesier the better. I’m still drawn to cheesy books when I need a recharge, so I give myself plenty of time to read some paranormal queer romance historical fiction.
Andy: Links, Emma. We need links.
Emma: You ask, I deliver.
Andy: YES! I’m restored just reading the synopsis.
I like to make a list of these tank fillers and tuck it in my desk drawer so I always have the reminder. Next to it, there’s a little box of treasures: fun stickers, tea flavors I like, $5 bills, nice candles, truly excellent lip balms, fresh pens in many colors.
Emma: Be gentle with yourself. And please let us know how you’re doing in a few weeks or months.
Andy: We’re rooting for you!
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Compassion Fatigue Edition
Don’t forget! You can get some real-life Good Boss Achievement Stickers here.