Lately I’ve been stressed with a mixture of first world problems, Black people problems, COVID concerns – you name it. There still seems to be the open-ended question if or not Black Lives Matter and I’m fearful for my GenZ and Millennial nephews out in the world trying to survive something akin to hunting season. I’m worried about the future or our democracy, my own personal freedom, and now with the passing of the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I’m concern about the liberties and freedoms of the women that I know and love, as well as myself. All of which could impact how I show up to work, my staff, and the community that we serve. All that aside, I got up, this morning, got ready for work, and logged onto the all-staff meeting with my best Zoom smile.
But this was not your typical all-staff meeting where the leader without so much as a “good morning” immediately launches into the “what have you done for me lately” portion of the meeting. No, The Executive Director opened first and foremost with a smile, followed by a wellness check of her staff. Why? Because clearly this was a leader that knows that simply recognizing stress in the workplace can go a long way in making your employees feel seen and heard. She didn’t ignore, but she acknowledged what was happening in world of pandemics and politics during one of the most impactful periods of social unrest since the civil right movement.
The leader made what was most certainly the source of anxiety and concern for most of her staff a part of the business initiative to be discussed rather than isolated as something personal, to be dealt with on your own time. With empathy and compassion, she provided some coping resources and a safe space to feel and be supported for a largely remote staff, some of which are working in isolation. In a world where caring for the people responsible for the success of your organization is considered Muda, (Lean speak for waste), it was refreshing to see it as part of the agenda.
With the reality of living in the midst of a pandemic and chaos of national proportions, without the ability to take proper respite from it due to unprecedented travel and health risk and being essentially geographically sequestered, it’s safe to say life is complicated. Add to the mix 13,000,000 neighbors, family members, colleagues, and friends unemployed and the uncertain future for many other jobs and businesses as we approach election and holiday season, and it gets even more complex.
Your employees may not have asked for it, and likely don’t expect it, but they are likely in need of extra support. When times are tough and your employees are on edge, managers need to understand that stress can manifest itself in performance and how employee “shows up.” Dedicating time to connect more informally with your employees either individually or as a group to find out what each needs stay engaged, focused and motivated can be a good investment of your time both in establishing trust as a leader, and maintaining productivity for your organization. For leaders that struggle with the concept of people first, I recommend you explore the possibilities with the following 3 tips supporting your organizing through stressful periods:
1. Recognize your employees for their hard work
The best thing to do first is to acknowledge the stress factors as well as workloads. Hard work that continues to go unnoticed will only compound the stress. In addition to calling out the stress and making it making resources available to mitigate it, be sure to show gratitude and appreciation for the contributions of your employees.
2. Don’t just check-in, check-up. Transform 1:1’s. with questions like:
• What have you done that you’re proud of since we last spoke?
• What’s been your biggest source of frustration here or otherwise?
• Is there anything that I can do more or less of to make your work life a little less stressful?
Their answers will give you an accurate read on what’s going well, what they enjoy, and what might be adding to their stress at work.
3. Leverage your internal partnerships
In times of stress and uncertainty, many leaders attempt take on the task of managing it themselves. In reality, partnering with your Human Resources and Organizational Development teams to devise and implement solutions to support the organization and its employees is key. Establish a relationship of trust and a partnership to ensure that your human capital is always engaged and emotionally fit for duty.
Eliminating stress in your workplace is indeed a lofty goal. But, as a leader, if you show your team that you trust them and you care about their wellbeing, you are off to a great start.
William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Virginia Mason, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He has a proven track record for building employee satisfaction through building leadership competencies and strong collaborative HR partnerships with leadership teams that focus on the staff retention and fostering cultures of engagement. William regularly shared his insights and experience though for a number of Talent publications including Fistful of Talent, Career Crossroads (CXRWorks), and The HR Gazette and believes that an organization’s human capital is their most valuable asset.