Being online allows us to connect with team members virtually. On the surface, simply showing up, being pleasant, responsive and respectful may seem like enough. However, fatigue in online interactions can quickly set in, impacting the overall health and well-being of your workforce. How can learning and development (L&D) help their organizations effectively manage digital relationships to prevent this burnout?

A recent article by Korn Ferry on adjusting to the new normal of digital relationships found that a second wave of burnout is setting in. Online yoga classes and mindfulness trainings aren’t enough. These social activities actually increase stress. Instead, people crave genuine intimacy and connection.

Intimacy implies the most fulfilling, affirming and gratifying social exchanges. Many studies show that this is possible with self-disclosure, social support and active listening. However, these methods of connecting are rarely sufficient. Therefore, L&D should explore perspectives that boost remote employees’ ability to connect online. One framework for individualizing responses relates to “brain styles” – or biotypes.

Rumination Biotype

L&D can help leaders understand that different brain styles benefit from different interventions. For example, the “rumination” biotype is characterized by responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on distress. You will encounter this when people repeatedly talk about the uncertainty of COVID-19, the outcome of the elections or social tensions.

This group has altered connectivity of the “self” network in the brain, making it difficult to imagine positive outcomes for the future. When working with teams who have people like this, I help them understand and address barriers to “possibility thinking.” For example, using an assessment tool called the possibility index, I help people identify whether their ability to imagine positive outcomes is obstructed by burnout, feeling lost, stuck in habit, or depressed or anxious. Then, they focus on one big obstruction and overcoming it.

Anhedonia Biotype

The “anhedonia” brain style is characterized by a relative failure of experiencing pleasure from activities once enjoyed. These people do not activate the brain’s reward center with positive feedback or reminders. As a result, they feel disengaged and disconnected. To this end, social interactions may not help, and they withdraw socially.

For this biotype, inclusion without forcing interactions makes sense. Focusing on planned events and enhancing positive emotions associated with anticipating and experiencing them may help.  L&D should plan events to look forward to and incorporate deliberate contemplation afterward. This is called “positive affect stimulation and sustainment.”

Threat Dysregulation Biostyle

Then, there is the threat dysregulation” brain style. Some people have a bias toward attending to threatening stimuli in their environment. Neurobiologically, this tendency could result from heightened reactivity within the brain’s threat networks, making it difficult to control emotions.

It may seem like people within this biotype seek affirmation, and they do. But this can be counterproductive, as it does not release the brain’s attentional “flashlight” from negative happenings. Instead, you can facilitate intimacy by gently asking questions that release attention from worry.

For L&D to successfully manage the switch to “digital,” the following guidelines can help:

  • Identify which biotypes describes the teams and individuals in your organization.
  • Focus on possibility interventions for the ruminative style, on positive events for the anhedonic style and distraction for the threat dysregulation style.
  • For mixed styles, develop a program that addresses each.
  • Ensure that this biostyle approach is applied flexibly.
  • Encourage teams to be sensitive to one another’s biostyles.
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