Marathon runners often speak of a ‘wall’ around the thirtieth kilometre. They feel overwhelmed by mental and physical fatigue; their pace slows down, and they wonder if they can go on. Tricks and tips to ‘break through the wall’ are frequently discussed, especially among first-time marathoners.

In the long, strange year that has been 2020, Australian workers are running a different kind of marathon with a wall of its own. The arrival of a pandemic (in the midst of other challenges) has forced the world to slow down considerably, and the stresses of a changing workplace are impossible to ignore.

Navigating the course

Specifically, the need to slow down and stay in one place has compelled employees and employers to review our understanding of lifestyle, mental fitness, ethos, and workplace dynamics. The compulsion to incorporate work-from-home as a safety measure has triggered changes in how we conceptualise the workplace, and how we manage our energy to navigate the course ahead.


The idea that these changes are temporary – that the workforce will readily go back to the way it was before COVID – does not seem very realistic. In-person meetings are here to stay, and countless professionals will be thrilled to resume working in the presence of colleagues – but remote work is also here to stay. It’s no longer a foregone conclusion that staffers should commute to the city five days a week, to say nothing of that conference in Frankfurt or Buenos Aires.


Building a healthy work culture


What happens when employees can often attend meetings in comfortable clothing, twenty minutes after a morning yoga session, without the stress of commuting? What happens when they’re encouraged to work asynchronously on a project? How does wellness feed into the performance of individuals and teams? How does it feed into quarterly statements?


Answers to those questions are surfacing in real-time. There are people whose performance and job satisfaction have clearly been helped by increased flexibility in the workplace. On the other hand, many people find it difficult to self-motivate, or to collaborate effectively in virtual environments. Professionals who have built a career around networking and personal interaction may have a harder time adjusting, especially when all manner of in-person interaction is restricted.


The specific ways in which we support and care for ourselves as individuals, and each other as colleagues, is part of what makes a progressive, cohesive work culture. In the wake of COVID, it’s hard to believe that any organisation can turn a blind eye to the relationship between wellness, performance, and talent management.



Breaking through the wall

To get across the finish line, marathon runners need a smart approach to diet, sleep, conditioning, and mental fitness. They need to pace themselves, and take advantage of support stations along the way. When they hit the infamous ‘wall,’ they need effective ways to process their emotions and break through to the other side.

Work in the age of COVID requires a similar strategy. Why? Because job performance cannot realistically be separated from questions of overall health, happiness, and stability in daily life – this is why the idea of ‘fit’ has gained prominence in the world of recruitment. A successful hiring initiative does not simply meet an organisational need; it meets the needs of candidates and existing team members by striving for comprehensive, long-term, organisational fitness.


As COVID had shown us, finding a good fit is not limited to recruitment. Organisations, like the individuals who comprise them, are navigating new terrain. As professionals, it may feel like we’re in a deep and difficult stretch of a COVID marathon; but a careful approach to managing our own individual energy, and the collective energy of teams, can help us break through the wall and find our stride.