Got the Covid Blues? How to energise your people to do great work

Over a year into the global pandemic, many of us feel the weariness of multiple lockdowns. Being cooped up at home and at arm’s length from our colleagues is causing many people to lose heart. Leaders everywhere are facing the challenge of keeping their people engaged and energised whilst the turbulent times continue. 

Here are seven ways that leaders can help their people connect with their zest for work. 

  1. Connect with your innate vitality

Having a clear sense of purpose is directly related to our health, resilience and longevity. A leader needs to be in touch with what brings them alive. We cannot energise another without being energised ourselves. We cannot engage a team unless we are engaged ourselves. Leadership begins with attending to our own flow of energy. Our vitality ‘infects’ others more than anything we do.

Activating enthusiasm is key to unlocking our own and other people’s energy. When work gives us a ‘warm glow’ inside, we’re willing to go the extra mile, collaborate with a colleague and be an ambassador for our organisation. Ask yourself: 

  • What’s the most meaningful thing I can do in my work right now? 
  • Who do I feel most drawn to help? 
  • What’s the impact I most want to have?

As our time and talents flow towards something that stirs us, it brings positive energy to ourselves and others. It is a sense of purpose that powers us to move though difficulties as we keep our gaze on the cathedral we’re building not just the brick that we’re laying.  

2. Enable your people to grow

In our fast-paced, achievement-oriented, materialistic culture, it is easy for leaders to skip over how they can help others to grow. Research by Korn Ferry Hay Group has found that in high change environments, leaders often overlook the need to develop the people they lead. They might be too busy, too stressed or too unclear about what the future holds. Leaders who are aware of this pervasive blind spot have a much better chance of addressing it and keeping their people on board.

Employees who feel connected to a higher purpose at work and doing what they do best have been found to be three times more likely to stay with their organisation than those whose work lacked meaning. 

Enable your people to tune into what they feel called to do. Be curious. Ask genuine questions: What does being your ‘best self’ look like for you? Listen to what they have to say in response.  

3. See the gain in pain

‘Crucible moments’ are life-defining experiences that test us to the limits. They might be a single event or a pattern of experiences. They often involve pain or loss, difficulty or despair. Leadership thinkers Nick Craig, Bill George and Scott Nook, who coined the term, suggest that is the tough stuff that give us our mettle – and meaning – as leaders. 

Our purpose is often connected with our past and our pain. TRU Colors is a brewery in North Carolina where active gang members brew beer, have conversations and share stories that change people’s perceptions. Born in the aftermath of a gun killing, they have the mission to unite rival gangs, decrease gun violence and help the local community live in peace.

Dig into the difficult experiences of your team members. Ask them: How has this challenge shaped you? What learning stays with you? What strength have you taken from it? 

4. Spend time with your people

The ‘Hawthorn effect’ is a classic finding in organisational psychology. This term was coined after a series of experiments in the 1920s-30s at a factory outside Chicago to explore how to improve workers’ performance. They increased lighting levels, changed the pattern of breaks, put workers in a separate room and, with each change, productivity increased. Regardless of the specific intervention, it was the interest being shown that led to the productivity gain.

Making time for a meaningful conversation is a powerful way to give your people attention. We all need to be seen, valued and appreciated at work – without this we feel isolated and resentful. By talking with your team members, you can explore whether what they are doing every day reflects their values. A conversation expands thinking and spurs action. People become both calmer and more motivated.

5. Connect your people with their beneficiaries

Research has shown that ‘generativity’ – doing something for the benefit of future generations – is the most common source of meaning. Purpose arises out of living an active and committed life where we want to make the world a better, more sustainable, place.   

Connecting people with their stakeholders creates ‘local meaning’ according to Freek Vermeulen at London Business School. Rather than leaders providing employees with a set of grand words – the typical way that organisational purpose is communicated – it is more effective to help people to observe and, more crucially, feel the direct impact of their work on their beneficiaries. 

Whereas lofty purpose statements can lead to cynicism, even a short conversation with a recipient who expresses genuine appreciation makes work meaningful. It transmits the message that we don’t have to save a rainforest or do spinal surgery – day-to-day acts make a difference.

6. Make it safe to be vulnerable

As a leader it is important to create a supportive environment where people can explore and feel a sense of belonging. Research on highly productive teams at Google over a five year period, Project Aristotle, found that ‘psychological safety’ – team members feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable – was ‘far and away the most important of the five dynamics that set successful teams apart.’ 

When a leader is able to deepen the understanding between team members of what brings them alive, they will be much better at getting the best from one another. Be willing to model what it means to be vulnerable. Say, ‘I don’t know’ or share one of your own struggles.

7. Get creative

Ask people to come up with an alternative job title that reflects their talents and unique contribution. When the CFO introduces herself as the ‘Queen of the bank’, the CEO as ‘Chief Cheerleader’ and the Director of Partnerships as ‘Chief Meercat’, the atmosphere becomes playful. People quickly get a sense of who they really are and who others are and this opens up an authentic dialogue where people feel that they can be themselves without wearing the corporate mask. 

According to Dan Cable, a professor at London Business School, this exercise improves team dynamics because people increase their understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. This greater role clarity aids decision-making because it reduces ambiguity – a team gets on with the task that it is there to do, with more zest and confidence. 

CEO of Bridgework Consulting, Sarah Rozenthuler is a leadership consultant, chartered psychologist, and dialogue coach with 15 plus years international experience consulting to many organisations including BP, Discovery, Book Trust and Standard Chartered Bank. Author of new book, Powered by Purpose, she coaches CEOs and their teams to lead more purposefully and communicate more effectively.

Sarah will be co-facilitating Activating Purpose-Led Leadership, a two-day programme, in autumn 2021,  for business leaders, executive coaches and community leaders wishing to create resilient organisations and engaged teams through harnessing the power of purpose.  For more information, visit:

Sarah Rozenthuler
Sarah Rozenthuler