Aug 24 2022
Lois Castillo

Leading Through Turbulence


Hi. How are you?

Are you feeling balanced, energetic, and content in your day-to-day life? Or are you, like three in five Americans, dealing with emotional exhaustion or the inability to put in more than minimal effort at work?

It’s been a rough several years, to say the least. We’ve watched a staggering number of tragedies unfold—the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mass shootings in the US—as our daily lives have simultaneously been upended by economic hardships like inflation, supply chain crises, and food shortages.

As a leader at Basis Technologies, I’m constantly thinking about how to support our people in the context of global stress, trauma, and burnout. And as Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, I’m very aware that events like the pandemic or the civil and social unrest that have occurred over the past few years impact different populations in different ways.

I know a lot of leaders today are wondering how to support their workforces through times of turbulence, and how to broaden their leadership skills to support their employees who have experienced a tremendous amount of harm and hurt during these unprecedented times. It’s a journey we’re all on together, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. However, I’ve learned a few useful strategies in my time as a DEI leader, particularly in the last several years, and I'd like to share them with you:

How Is Global Turbulence Impacting the Workforce?

If you’re a working professional, you likely already know the answer to this question. It may be a buzzword, but it’s a buzzword for a reason: I’m talking about burnout, a condition so widespread that even Beyonce is talking about it. If that isn’t a sign to pay attention, I don’t know what is!

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is defined as a combination of three factors:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism about one’s job
  3. Reduced professional performance

Doesn’t sound like good news for professionals or organizations, does it? Unfortunately, burnout might be described as an epidemic unto itself—especially in the tech sector. Consider the following:

  • In the US, Google searches for burnout are at an all-time high
  • One recent study of over 36,200 tech workers found that two in five employees want to quit due to “excessive stress, exhaustion and a broken work-life balance”
  • In the same study, over half of the tech workers surveyed reported being unable to relax once the workday is over, and 62% reported feeling physically and emotionally drained

Put simply? Burnout is a serious threat to the wellbeing of our employees and to the success of our businesses.

At the same time, the research bears out what many of us already know from lived experience: that people with marginalized identities are impacted in different and more intense ways by both global turbulence and burnout. On top of the various upheavals in the world, certain groups are dealing with the daily burden of underlying stressors like racism, transphobia, and ableism, to name just a few.

Women, for example, by and large carry the burden of household caretaking responsibilities—whether that be for children, parents, or other relatives. And in 2020, many of the support systems that women relied on to support that caretaking (such as schools and daycares) shut down. Even today, those same systems can close unexpectedly due to COVID outbreaks.

Here’s another example: Research shows that Black and brown people are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. My Black and brown coworkers have had to deal with more sickness and death in their communities than others in the past several years due to a plethora of factors caused by the history of anti-Black racism in the United States.

Are burdens like these going to impact how coworkers who belong to those communities show up to work? Of course it is. As leaders, is it our responsibility to make the process of showing up as easy as possible? That brings me to my next point...

Do We Have to Lead Differently?

In this moment, a lot of leaders want to “just get back to business.” And while I feel that desire as much as the next person, I also know that you can’t get back to business if everyone’s not 100% there.

Your people are your best asset: They’re the heart of any organization. You need them healthy and vibrant and committed. As leaders, if we don’t consider all the external stressors that are affecting our people and make sure we’re providing an environment that mitigates some of that harm, then our employees won’t be able to come in and focus on the job at hand.

To that end, I want to share a few of the things I know can make a difference to combat burnout during turbulent times:

Four Strategies for Leading Through Turbulence

1. Acknowledge

Validating your teammates’ experiences is the first step to leading through turbulence, and it’s a crucial one. That’s why my first recommendation is to acknowledge what’s going on.

For those of you who haven’t seen the latest research on burnout, it may have felt incredibly validating to read my post thus far. Why? Because it legitimizes your personal experience. When leaders acknowledge that global turbulence inevitably impacts employee emotional and mental health, they open the door to communication, trust, and understanding between them and their people.

2. Establish Systems of Care

Of course, simply acknowledging that it’s been a rough several years isn’t enough to support your workforce through upheaval. Setting up systems of support and care is how leaders can actually mitigate burnout. If leaders do their best to create safe spaces where their people can access resources that bolster their mental, emotional, physical, and financial health, they’ll be giving employees the support they need to focus on their jobs.

Here are a few examples of the benefits, perks, and resources Basis Technologies offers our people to help nurture their wellbeing:

  • Wellnesspalooza, a two-month long series of events focused on providing our people with opportunities to support their physical, mental, emotional, and financial health
  • Free memberships to Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app
  • Basis You Bucks, a program that reimburses our employees for fitness and education expenses

Even more, Basis Technologies offers resources that are geared specifically towards supporting members of marginalized communities. Here are a few examples:

  • Community group-led Wellnesspalooza sessions, such as a workshop on how to support loved ones who come out into new LGBTQ+ identities, led by Basis Out in partnership with PFLAG
  • Free access to Maven, a program that provides around-the-clock support through egg freezing, fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, adoption, surrogacy, new parenthood, and returning to work after leave

3. Address Situations Head-On

While systems of care can help address the collective impact of turbulence and burnout, it’s also sometimes necessary to create tailor-made responses to specific events. For Basis Technologies, this came up around the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022—a decision that rolled back reproductive rights for a huge chunk of our workforce, creating significant barriers to essential healthcare services.

We responded by committing to cover travel expenses for employees and dependents on our medical plan to obtain abortions where they are legally available. It was a simple decision for our leadership team: We are committed to taking care of our people, and ensuring that all our employees can access reproductive healthcare is part of acting out that commitment.

4. Give Folks a Break

This last one’s pretty simple: In the context of continuing global turbulence and high rates of burnout, sometimes you just need to give your people a break. For example, in the wake of the Highland Park mass shooting earlier this summer, Basis Technologies reached out to our people to let them know it was OK to take some time away from work to process and decompress. Additionally, a few months ago, we rolled out Flex Fridays, an initiative that gives our employees every summer Friday afternoon off to catch their breath, take care of themselves, spend time with loved ones, or take care of anything else they might not have had time for otherwise.

Wrapping Up

Here’s the bottom line: Good leadership today looks a lot different than good leadership pre-2020. People are trying to survive in a chaotic world, and that has an impact on how they show up to work. In order to both support our businesses and lead ethically, leaders need to embrace new practices that show our people we are evolving with the times.

The Great Resignation has shown us that professionals are leaving organizations because they want to work for leaders who are aligned with their values. They want to know what their leaders stand for—and it’s our job to show them.

To learn more about Basis Technologies’ benefits and workplace culture, check out Life at Basis Technologies.

Life at Basis Technologies