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Stepping away from screens and leaving your work behind during the pandemic has been a challenge. As Jennifer Davis, Senior Manager, Healthcare & Life Sciences at West Monroe puts it, “My biggest challenge has been unplugging, and making it visible for my team that I’m unplugging so they feel empowered to step away from their laptop, too.”

But how can she do this as a leader? Well, for Davis, she tries to be more mindful when sending emails and takes the time to “consider whether I’m practicing what I preach when I tell my team to set boundaries and take time away from work to recharge,” she says. 

And it’s not only Davis, but her whole team that works together to support one another. “I’m fortunate to have a team that pushes me to take care of myself, and I know they will have my back when it's my turn to unplug and recharge,” Davis explains.

In this article, Davis took the time to share her best tips and advice for others who are leading teams during times of crises. Read on to learn more!

Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?  

I’m a senior manager in West Monroe’s healthcare and life sciences consulting practice. In a nutshell, I help my clients, mostly healthcare payers, run their businesses more effectively and efficiently. 

Day to day, my job is to balance client satisfaction by successfully managing our engagements with the fulfillment of my team members—meeting the needs on both fronts is my top priority. 

West Monroe’s mission is to develop the next generation of leaders, so supporting the growth and development of our team is a focal point for me and other leaders in the practice. It’s something we talk about every week, and we don’t believe that client satisfaction should come at the expense of our people – ultimately, if our people are fulfilled, we believe they will be better able to serve our clients.

How have you had to adjust your leadership style during the pandemic?

The pandemic forced a lot of conversations about being human and our basic needs. I’ve become much more transparent and vulnerable with my team. I share a lot more about what I’ve got going on at home or what’s keeping me up at night. This helps create an environment where my team feels they can reciprocate and share their own struggles. There’s a lot of talk about work-life balance, but I think of it as work-life blend — my team is an extension of my family and home, and that’s never been more clear as now when we’re all inviting our colleagues into our homes every day through Zoom!   

What strategies have you used that have been most effective in promoting connectivity across your team?

We’ve been more intentional about creating opportunities to have fun. For instance, we have some gamers on the team who have done a great job organizing virtual game nights. As the office has opened up for optional use and we’ve become more comfortable, we are working toward coordinating a day each week when we all go into the office for a change of scenery and to see each other face-to-face. 

In consulting, our teams used to build relationships while on the road together, spending all day together at the client site and having dinner as a group each night. To replicate this, we’ve had team members in other offices fly to Chicago and spend the week working side-by-side and grabbing a team dinner or lunch — as people are comfortable, of course. My team also has a team text thread where we send silly messages and share personal updates and photos from routine and major life events (weddings and engagements!), much like we would if we were traveling together. 

Additionally, what resources or support has your company offered employees during the pandemic? 

West Monroe established regular mental health listening sessions and a mental health resource library. The sessions are facilitated by outside mental health professionals and have covered a range of topics, such as racism and backlash against Asian Americans, the pressure caregivers are under, loneliness and isolation and understanding racial trauma. They also offered a summer leave for those who needed to dedicate time to caretaking, mental health first-aid training for managers and a free subscription to Headspace. 

The most impactful part of these efforts has been making mental health part of everyday conversation. Our healthcare practice leader closes emails encouraging people to take time for their mental health, and I hear people openly talking about going to therapy in a way I hadn’t heard before. I think it’s awesome and that the firm has done a phenomenal job normalizing discussions about mental health. 

How is this kind of support reflective of the overall culture at your company? 

The encouragement to communicate what support you need during any given moment in your life was always there, but it’s become much more pronounced and visible from my vantage point. I think it’s because we’re all going through a similar experience at the same time, so we’re all willing to pitch in and figure out how to support each other. I’m fortunate that at West Monroe, I know leadership has my back, and, in turn, I can then take care of the people I lead. 

Across industries, reports show that women are experiencing increasing levels of burnout. How do you keep your employees motivated? 

I think we’ve all had moments where we’re just ready to be done. Typically, I start to sense feelings of burnout from my colleagues around the holidays, but this past year it seemed to come on much earlier. We encourage people to take PTO, but a lot of people don’t want to take time off just to sit at home because it doesn’t feel worth the effort required to catch up on work. I think it is important that we also encourage each other to take advantage of smaller moments to recharge as well. 

Taking PTO doesn’t have to mean taking a whole week off — it can be as simple as taking a couple hours off during the afternoon or going on a long lunch break. For example, one of my colleagues said they like to de-stress by going on long runs, so I have encouraged them to put their Out of Office message on and go for a run at a time that makes most sense to them. It’s about finding those little moments to recharge and encourage others to own those little moments. 

What is your favorite way to destress outside of work? 

Being silly and playing with my kids. I find activities like doing art projects with my family very therapeutic. In fact, recently I found myself working on an art project alone long after my kids had abandoned it! Being a mom to a three-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son can be stressful, of course, but embracing family time is also how I destress. 

What is your No. 1 piece of advice for leading through periods of crisis and uncertainty?

Focus on taking care of yourself so you can make sure your team is taking care of themselves. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you aren’t going to be able to show up as the best leader you can be. 

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