Whether trying to get a child to focus on distance learning, worrying about family members getting sick or trying to locate hard-to-find items at the grocery store, COVID-19 affects how employees focus on work. Each situation is unique, but all employees need flexibility.
“Employees bring their whole selves to work, and a health crisis like COVID-19 makes the separation between work and home-life concerns practically impossible,” says Christie Struckman, VP Analyst, Gartner. “Leaders must act to create a psychologically safe workplace that addresses the emotional to promote a resilient workforce. Leading through the rational and irrational sides of crises requires different practices than normal.”
How can leaders create a psychologically safe workplace? Be as flexible and transparent as possible.
Be empathetic and be flexible
Employees are under immense stress; stress can make it difficult to focus on the job or be effective in decision making. The manager’s goal should be to focus on employees first and work second. Create a safe space for employee concerns and start each meeting with checking in on everyone. This is a humanitarian crisis first, and employees need different things than they normally would.
Be flexible about when work gets done. One employee might have a toddler and need to work early, late and during naptime, while another might need to care for a family member or switch off with a spouse to help with distance learning. Focus on the outcome, not the process.
Reexamine and separate the essential tasks from the nice-to-haves. This will give employees a little breathing room to handle family crises or just take a moment.
With over 10 million people in the U.S. filing for unemployment in the past two weeks, and volatile global stock markets, employees are nervous about job security. While organizations might not have a definitive answer about the future of the organization, the worst thing to do is to say nothing.
“In the absence of information, employees will by nature assume the worst,” says Struckman.
Combat this by providing as much transparency as possible, and by focusing employees on what they can control. Further, let them opt into working on projects where they feel they are offering the most value.
The goal should be to communicate, even if that means telling employees you don’t have all the answers yet. For example, employees might be concerned about performance management if they’re not able to focus on all of the previously established goals. Let them know expectations will shift.
Finally, as a leader, set a good example for your team. They will look to you for cues on how to work through this, so make sure you’re showing them it’s okay to focus on self-care and their family by taking care of yourself and your family.