Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

Leadership in the Time of a Pandemic

Article submitted by guest author Kay P. Whitmore

Supporting your employees in a time when we are significantly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak requires different leadership skills.  As a leader, you are in unique position to provide support and offer resources to help manage stress and foster resilience.  You have an important role in providing guidance and direction to support team members and positive outcomes. As our national and organizational response unfolds, your own sense of calm, focus, and self-assurance will play a significant role in easing the stress of your team members.  Your role in helping employees to address their questions and needs and support them in understanding new policies and protocols cannot be underestimated.  In many ways, our managers are a critically important point of contact in these difficult times.  At the same time, it is especially important for managers to take care of themselves and seek support when needed so they are available to their teams and others. 

The workplace is often a place where people turn to others for help when they are dealing with problems. Unfortunately, our current circumstances have impacted so much of what we value at work.  Below are some of the many work-related factors that can add to stress during a pandemic, including:

  • Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a different workload
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform one’s job
  • Feeling guilty about not contributing enough to work or not being on the frontline
  • Uncertainty about the future of the workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools
  • Dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

Knowing so many factors may impact an employee’s ability to cope with their circumstances, it is important that you recognize what stress looks like.  Some of the signs may include the following, but know that anything that seems out of the ordinary be a sign your employee is experiencing difficulty. 

  • Irritation or anger
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Change in appearance
  • Missing work, meetings

Stress reactions can fluctuate quite significantly.  An employee may have good days and days that are more difficult.  It’s helpful for you to share that these reactions are to be expected and that you can work together to move forward.

Experiencing an extended health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can have positive as well as negative effects. For instance, it can lead to deeper connections with others. It can inspire greater authenticity, a shift in values, the realizations that one is stronger by enduring through complex, threatening circumstances. You can support employees through this process by demonstrating your interest in what they might be discovering about their changes in life and work.

As a manager in these and other challenging times there are many ways you can support your employees, build resilience and manage job stress.

  • Communicate with your coworkers, supervisors, and employees about job stress
  • Identify things that cause stress and work together to identify solutions
  • Encourage time off including breaks and vacation days
  • Encourage use of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if your company has one, and/or other mental health resources
  • Help employees to identify things they do not have control over and ways to manage the circumstances they are in with available resources.  Help employees to avoid spending too much time trying to predict the future and worry about what might happen
  • Promote consistent daily routines when possible — ideally one that is similar to their schedule before the pandemic
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule
  • Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise, or check in with colleagues, coworkers, family, and friends
  • Spend time outdoors, either being physically active or relaxing
  • Set a regular time to end your work for the day, if possible
  • Practice mindfulness.  Use or enroll in Headspace, Calm or other mindfulness programs. 
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting
  • Find ways to connect your people to others on your team and in the organization to talk with people they trust about their concerns
  • Encourage volunteering and acts of service.  Helping others improves one’s sense of control, belonging, and self-esteem
  • Remind employees that there are no set rules for working through something like this. Promote patience and an openness to exploring new ways to work and manage daily life.
  • Check in regularly. Increase positive encouragement, reinforcement, and gratitude for employees’ contributions.

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