It’s entirely reasonable for all of us to feel upset, overwhelmed and anxious, given that just weeks ago we were still going about our lives as usual. However, it’s down to managers and leaders to keep people together, while helping them deal with the thoughts and feelings that we’re all facing at the moment.
Employees who are concerned and anxious, won’t be motivated and productive. This article takes a look at how you can turn things around in the face of unprecedented circumstances.
What the science says
Human beings have fundamental neuroanatomy that exposes us to high-stress levels in times of difficulty. Unless we take steps to prevent it, this can be the beginning of a continual, unhealthy cycle. Essentially, this means distraction only leads to more distraction, which spikes further anxiety.
When these feelings are present within a business, they can be contagious and can hit productivity across the board. Especially when so many of us are self-isolating and working from home, and we’re unable to interact with team members as we usually would.
Compassionate management is the answer
The modern workforce doesn’t just appreciate a few sympathetic words and understanding when it’s warranted – they expect it.
Empathy is a great start, but we’re living through such unusual times at the moment, and words must be backed up with positive steps.
Compassionate management takes the idea of empathy and ramps it up a notch, by encouraging managers to take some time out to step into someone else’s shoes, to try to understand what’s going through their head. Although the pandemic has impacted everyone, no two people will be having the same experience.
This practice seeks to understand how you can benefit your employees while balancing the need to keep them on task.
Below we’ve listed a few methods for doing that.
1. Take care of yourself
You’ll be in a far better position to support your team’s emotional needs if you acknowledge and manage your own feelings of stress and anxiety from the outset.
Start by really trying to understand how and what you’re feeling. In other words, put a label on your feelings as you work through them. Once you’ve processed them, you can move forward as a figure of resilience.
Ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be; remember that if you aren’t able to work through your own thoughts and feelings, you’re in no position to do so for anyone else.
2. Own the uncertainty
Your employees are bound to be concerned for their financial future, the wellbeing of their family and the state of the economy when we do recover from this, and you mustn’t carry on as if nothing has happened.
This experience is very real, and it’s vital that it isn’t repressed, ignored or denied, even if your intention is to keep people on task. Bottling up your emotions, certainly won’t mean that your employees will do the same, and that’s a sure-fire way to spread discontent.
Instead, own the uncertainty. Yes, things may seem chaotic and strange at the moment, but you’ll work together as a team to continue to deliver what is expected, and hopefully have time to improve the business in a positive way in the end.
Some of your employees may be looking to their colleagues and wondering how they’re keeping everything together, while they lose sleep and are unable to function as normal.
Encourage them to do as you have done, to give themselves a break and work through their thoughts and feelings one by one. Stress is a normal, physiological reaction when feeling threatened and out of control.
It’s essential to help staff realize that what they’re feeling is normal, and stress is the catalyst that sends body and mind into panic mode. There’s no shame in admitting to them that you’re going through the same emotions and that your whole team needs to pull together to help each other through tough times.
4. Ask people if they need help
Talk to your employees on a one-to-one basis and ask them if they need help. It could be helping someone deal with the stresses of being in self-isolation, or perhaps another employee requires some help to purchase equipment for a home office.
As we’ve already mentioned, everyone will be experiencing this differently, so start by posing a simple question to yourself ‘how can I be most helpful at the moment?’
Perhaps, all someone needs is a little extra help eliminating distractions at home, so they can focus on getting done what is expected of them.
5. Focus on what is in your control
Research has shown that offering even small gestures can reduce stress and enhance performance. Perhaps childcare arrangements require someone to change their working hours, and in this case, you should encourage them to plan ahead of time to ensure they’re still working towards completing the goals you’ve set them.
Even when there are so many things that are currently out of your hands, it’s vital to ensure that you remain steadfast to your values as an employer. Now is the time to be considerate of each other, so it’s important to remind your employees what is in their control – delivering to your customers during this time.
6. Lead the way
Plenty of sleep, nutritious foods and exercise are absolutely crucial during this period, so it’s important to encourage your employees to take good care of themselves. For example, if you know one of your employees is naturally wound quite tightly, you might suggest that they take a media blackout for a little while each day.
Of course, it’s not your place to tell your employees exactly how to behave, but there’s no harm in offering advice, particularly when you’re following it yourself.
Every organization will be facing some kind of hardship at the moment, and with that in mind, communication is absolutely key.
Your employees are adults, and they expect leaders to tell them exactly what’s going on, and how their working behavior needs to adapt to ensure the company can come out the other side.
Don’t be vague, explain exactly where the company is at the moment, where you envision it will go, and what you need from your employees.
For example, perhaps you’ve had to furlough some of your employees. In this case, it’s imperative to be honest about why you’ve had to do this and what’s going to happen next. Honest, up-front communication is better than hearing second-hand news.
Once your employees understand what’s going on and what you need from them, you remove unnecessary distraction and keep everyone moving in the right direction.
8. Encourage interaction
If the speed of this pandemic caught you off guard, you certainly wouldn’t be the only one, and you won’t be the only one that was wasn’t prepared with adequate solutions.
It’s okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers. But you do have a talented team, who might have some ideas. This is precisely the right time to take advantage of their intellect. You might be surprised by the amount of input you receive, and by opening a dialogue, you’re giving your organization a wide range of options and allowing everyone to feel included.
Remember stress is a typical response in times of uncertainty; try to increase your employees’ sense of control and responsibility for their own work schedule.
It’s also important to encourage people to take care of themselves by sleeping, exercising, and eating correctly.
At the same time, no amount of encouragement will help if you’re unable to heed your own advice by looking out for your own mental and physical wellbeing. Remind everyone of their responsibilities to your customers to ensure the uncertainty doesn’t curtail the working schedule.