Does anyone have a “Users Guide to Leading During a Pandemic?” How about one for after a pandemic? Neither do I. If you are stuck and unsure how to move forward, it’s time for some new beliefs.
This past year has certainly seen accelerated change as we navigated the challenges of a pandemic and civil unrest. What I do know is that in six months, things will be different, and it will be different another six months after that. Today’s decisions may not fit in a year, just as plans made in March 2020 did not always fit. However, we have learned that people can adapt and perform differently, and they will go beyond their job descriptions and roles to do what needs to be done. The challenge is how do we go forward without sacrificing the wellbeing of our employees and ignoring what we have learned.
Just as we have learned to wear masks and work from home, as leaders we need to adapt our workforce by paying attention to two areas: Human Needs and Preventing Burnout.
Meeting the Human Needs
Effective managers have supported the human needs of their teams in ways that were rarely considered prior to 2020. In addition to managing the work, leaders who were empathetic, trusting, and communicating built loyalty and the culture of the organization. Intentional, caring leaders often saw perseverance and extra effort from their teams. The need for flexibility, understanding, and support will continue without regard to the pandemic or a return to the office. In a world where so many things were beyond our control, coaching employees, especially those working remotely, has proven to be the most effective route to high performance. This is a different approach from the traditional management style of directing, or just being the boss. Successful organizations will continue to focus on the person, not the work.
Recognizing the stress and anxiety present in our lives, successful companies have focused on the wellbeing and mental health of employees. The emergency response that we have seen this past year is unlikely to be sustainable. A recent Gallup article noted that negative emotions like worry and anger have increased substantially in the past year. There are several steps you can take to combat these negative feelings and burnout among your team.
As mentioned above, checking in and listening to employees’ concerns about their jobs lets the employee know that they are valued and respected. Some team members will prefer talking to a peer rather than a manager, so encourage teamwork and communication among team members. Foster a culture of respect where each team member feels safe contributing. Encourage creativity and innovation. Employees who feel that their job has a purpose are far less likely to experience burnout. As a leader, reinforce how each person contributes to the mission of the organization. Allow each person to capitalize on their strengths and recognize their value to the team.
As a leader, pay attention to your own wellbeing and needs. No doubt, you have also put in extra time and effort to manage your team, your health, and your household. It’s OK, and necessary to schedule some downtime for yourself. Reach out to peers and friends – take a walk outside! You cannot support your team if you are burned out yourself.
Numbers do not tell the whole story of how well your organization is doing. Is making 10,000 widgets an hour with a 70% turnover rate among employees really success? Putting the focus on your people, their strengths, and their well being will ultimately lead to effective and sustainable growth, regardless of where we are physically located, or what our role is in the organization. Your team has solid, valuable skills and they want to be successful. It is your job to support and direct them, listening to their needs, concerns, and ideas. The reward will be a strong organization, and less stress for you as the manager or business owner.
Author: Sandy Merritt, Business Coach in Louisville, KY