The heavy mist seems to cling to everything. Walking through the haze makes any forward motion feel like a fruitless effort.
Any of this sound familiar? It may be because you’re languishing—a feeling of stagnation or emptiness. And naming it is a first important step, Penn’s Adam Grant, a professor of Management with the Wharton School, explained in a New York Times article. Once you can identify languishing, it can help bring clarity to one’s experiences.
Furthermore, charting our collective response to a disaster such as a global pandemic allows us to recognize where we are and how we can move forward. The American Psychiatric Association has identified emotional phases of disasters to understand how communities of people react over time.
A disaster event is followed by the heroic phase, where people come together—that lasts for a short time during the honeymoon period. This is followed shortly by disillusionment when reality sets in over what is actually happening and what it will take to recover. Languishing can occur during this period of disillusionment and recovery. Over time, recovery and reconstruction occur.
“When we talk about the amount of people who are languishing, we are talking about people who are not reaching their full potential,” said Lisa Bellini, MD, MACP, senior vice dean for Academic Affairs and a professor of Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Particularly for those who work in health care, how does one move out of the fog and keep the momentum going? Bellini believes that self-care—something that you can control—is one of the keys to de-fogging. Giving people adequate time and space to focus on themselves is also necessary.
Giving labels a makeover
Turning the tables on the way we reference and phrase things will also help you take a more positive spin on things. Words have great power in telling us how to feel. If the phrase “burnout” makes you feel even more burnt out, it’s time for an overhaul.
“Some organizations are beginning to rethink the meaning of paid time off to be more inclusive of wellness needs. “Taking the time to get your annual wellness checkup, teeth cleaning, a support session, or just enjoying a walk in the park in the middle of the day will do wonders for your mental health.”
Bellini believes that the secret sauce to move beyond a languishing phase is engagement. Especially for those in health care, she says it’s critical that people know that organizations are investing in them as people. For example, career development gives people an opportunity to engage in a meaningful way, Bellini explained.
“Encouraging people to develop or enhance their skills and giving them the tools and time to grow professionally will make a significant difference.”
Specifically at Penn Medicine, there are a bevy of tools, programs, and offerings that have been customized for a variety of audiences at every level of the organization to engage staff. The key to engagement is helping people make the connections to the exact content they need.
One Penn Medicine program that gained traction over the last few years is Lunch with Leaders, a recurring live, virtual program with leaders across the organization that taps into topical issues and current trends related to leadership development, talent management, and key priorities for the health system.
“Lunch with Leaders was born out of a need to have people connect in a real and meaningful way during the early days of the pandemic,” said Cindy Morgan, vice president of Organization Development and Learning. “It’s been a real touchstone in providing a sense of community and belonging, allowing the audience to interact with the guest speakers, sourcing best practices from their peers, and having a little fun along the way.”
A recent Lunch with Leaders explored the topic of “authentic resilience” and featured Michael D. Feldman, MD, Ph.D., vice chair of Pathology, Clinical Services, and Gretchen Schmelzer, Ph.D., an executive coach and consultant with Teleos Leadership Institute, who engaged with Morgan in an honest conversation about exhaustion and the reset and repair that’s necessary for self-care and collective wellbeing.
Flipping the script on how COVID-19 has made an impact, Feldman explained that the pandemic has enabled those in health care to stretch in different ways. For example, it has pushed Penn Medicine to rethink what the future looks like—opening opportunities for consistency, creating pathways for innovation, and taking a more holistic approach to advance patient care, education, and research.
Schmelzer took a similar position and recommended we turn our attention to “look for what’s growing.” Growth can be an incremental progress in just about any aspect of life. Focusing on those things can provide encouragement and motivation to take that next step.
One initiative focused on professional growth that took off during the pandemic is the Penn Medicine Book Club. Hosted by University of Pennsylvania Health System CEO Kevin B. Mahoney, the book club is open to the Penn Medicine community and features in-depth discussions with Penn professors about topics related to their recent books. In fact, Wharton’s Adam Grant was a recent book club guest who generated a lot of enthusiasm about his book “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.”
Reignite your drive to thrive
The phrase “hope springs eternal” is more poignant than ever as we emerge from the omicron surge and the seasons are about to begin another transition. “The shift from winter to spring is going to be a welcome change,” said Bellini. “Longer and warmer days and more sunlight will help clear some of that fog.”
As the fog lifts, Bellini advised setting small, realistic goals to make things more manageable. In a professional setting, collaborating with colleagues and nurturing those relationships will yield a more productive work environment and successful outcomes.
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