“Will half of people be working remotely by 2020?” That was the title of a prescient article written in 2014. Another report stated that between 2005 and 2018 remote work increased 173%. Still, no one could have predicted what the business world is experiencing right now.
When it comes to the current work from home (WFH) reality, many are enjoying the change. However, working remotely, especially when sudden and required, comes with challenges. For example, one report noted that face-to-face requests are 34 times more successful than email. And while many employees are saving on commute time, they are missing in-person interactions and the sense of belonging that comes from social connection.
While we long for normalcy after this earth-shaking event, the trend toward working remotely is likely to continue to some degree or another. A 2019 survey revealed that about 75% of workers consider flexible working to be “the new normal.” That was in 2019! Now, more than ever, leaders need evolving strategies for leading remotely.
Our DecisionWise research of more than 40 million employee survey responses has shown that “connection,” which we define as “a sense of belonging to something beyond yourself,” is one of the five keys of employee engagement. In fact, it is the key found to have the greatest impact on the overall employee experience(as well as engagement outside of work—in community, family, social groups, etc.).
So, that raises the question: assuming we will see a greater push towards a WFH population, how do we continue to ensure connection? Based on our research into engagement, we have found that a few baseline items must be met.
Ensure Baseline Communication
Leading remotely for high performance certainly includes enabling healthy communication. Communication goes beyond simply issuing an email memo from the top of the organization. Communication also serves a social purpose, especially when leading remotely. In other words, communication propels connection and collaboration but also is needed for basic efficiency. When face-to-face interaction is limited, communication can suffer. Below are three suggestions to help keep information flowing for remote teams:
1. Encourage Proactive Upstream Communication
Reduced communication, especially in terms of frequency, means that understanding who is contributing to which initiative can be challenging. What’s more, leaders who want to understand how employees are doing now lack the time to reach across the wider “digital hallway.” Similarly, employees may feel that their individual efforts go unnoticed. They may also wish to share findings from the front line but lack the structure to do so.
Encourage your team to proactively communicate with you and their team. In addition to social updates (well-being check-ins), help them report relevant and timely operational information on progress, roadblocks, and weekly lessons learned. There are technology tools that can help. For example, DecisionWise created the Manager Weekly Check-in Tool. It’s a free tool based on the 5-15 framework developed by Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard. Technology can be a valuable tool in upstream communication, but whether the solution involves technology is less important than the idea that information (and, therefore, trust) is a two-way flow.
2. Cultivate Organic Information Sharing
Basic communication often flows organically—up, down, and across the organization. Colleagues encounter each other in the hall or stop after a meeting to collaborate on projects. These interactions are generally unplanned and unintentional, although extremely valuable on many fronts. Many of those informal interactions are now suddenly non-existent in a remote setup. Without these natural interactions, employees may hold onto questions and concerns or delay sharing ideas until the next structured encounter—or not bring them up at all.
In order to mitigate this loss of organic information sharing from direct reports, managers must make these previously unintentional interactions intentional. For example, we know of some leaders who hold “virtual open-door hours,” which involve optional call-in times, held on a regular basis. These managers leave a conference or video line open so that team members can easily hop on and share their feelings.
There is also something to be said for peer-to-peer touchpoints –– one author called it “serendipitous collaboration.” Recently, a colleague scheduled a short remote call with me to catch up on projects and maintain social connection. We shared ideas, benefited from connecting, and then went back to the day’s tasks. There are simple ways to reach out to colleagues in a spirit of “What are you working on? How can I help?” We often discover the solutions to our own issues just by talking them through with another person. This is not to say that we should drastically increase the count of weekly meetings. It is simply that a little effort to touch base can go a long way.
3. Lower the Social Cost of Speaking Up
“Does everyone agree?” We often hear this phrase just before the close of a meeting. This approach for building consensus and getting the best ideas may work when everyone is physically present and contextual clues and body language are easy to identify. When leading remote teams, however, louder voices will likely dominate those who exhibit a stronger preference for introversion. Additionally, managers can lose track of who hasn’t contributed to a conversation because team members aren’t within their customary line of sight. Without a prompt, some employees simply won’t risk “taking over the screen” and speaking up.
The concept of psychological safety play into all of this. Our current DecisionWise benchmark database suggests that one-third (34%) of employees indicate that they are “hesitant to speak up for fear of negative consequences.” That, in itself, is a problem. Compound this concept with the idea that online meetings tend to reduce interaction, and you can see the problem. Managers must be intentional in lowering the social cost of speaking up and be mindful that remote communication may naturally stack the deck against openly contributing to meetings.
To lower the social cost of speaking up over digital media, managers might encourage individuals to post comments in simultaneous text chats. Online voting and polling tools offer anonymous solutions for those who prefer a low-key approach. Keep in mind that more time for silence may be needed after asking a question to a remote audience than would otherwise be the case.
Encourage Energizing Connection
Leading remotely doesn’t just mean efficient information sharing. With basic communication in place, leaders can interact with teams in a way that drives a sense of belonging to something beyond one’s self. That sense of connection leads to greater engagement in the workplace. In fact, a Decisionwise analysis revealed the positive correlation between connection, as defined above, and employee engagement to be .83 (which, in layman’s terms, means that there is a strong relationship between feeling I belong to the organization and my overall engagement). This also means that employees who experience a sense of connection are far more likely to be productive, innovative, and remain with the organization. Here are three aspects of belonging and engagement to consider for leading remotely.
1. Maintain Regular Recognition
Without regular face-to-face interactions, and while in the throes of the current pandemic, employee recognition is more likely to slip. For remote teams, and especially those operating at high speeds, the communication that does take place is often limited to issues surrounding the work itself. Just as organic communication decreases in remote environments, so does the habit of recognizing the work and efforts of others.
Letting recognition slip can slow things down. One classic study showed a strong link between recognition and motivation, claiming it to be the second-highest intrinsic motivator for employees. Recognition is important from supervisor to direct report but may be of more value when coming from peers. Recognition is also closely tied to those core feelings of belonging and engagement mentioned above. Consider how a phone call only to offer recognition might help an employee feel engaged.
2. Manage Workload and Engagement
“Meaning” and “Impact” are two additional keys to engagement, as found by our engagement research and recent book, Engagement MAGIC (spoiler alert: these keys spell “MAGIC”– Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection). Engagement will drop when teams don’t feel their work has purpose or impact, or when there simply isn’t much to do. On the other hand, many employees report feeling over-stressed and near burnout.
Recently, a colleague shared the story of a client who, in an overwhelmed state, abruptly phoned his supervisor to say, “I quit!” Although the client ultimately chose to remain, the pressure had built up and exposed the underlying issue: severe stress, to the point of burnout. Such are the current circumstances of many who are silently suffering. Current pandemic concerns are hitting employees in their personal, non-work roles as well. In addition to wearing us out, such stress can lead to reduced effectiveness in our decision-making functions (when we need them most)! Being afraid of stress is not the answer, but managing severe stress is vital.
So, we have a bit of a conundrum to be aware of; too little meaningful work means disengagement, but too much can mean burnout. Being aware of that line between challenge (the “G” or “Growth” key in MAGIC) and stress is a critical skill for today’s leader, particularly with the inability to physically interact with employees multiple times a day.
Here’s Where to Start
While there are things we can do ourselves, in order to positively affect this aspect of engagement, supervisors play a decisive role. The right help begins with awareness of each team member’s current state. Compassionate awareness will lead to empowerment, delegation, reshuffling of tasks–whatever helps achieve rebalancing. Sometimes simply listening is the answer. When burdens cannot be lightened and tasks simply must be done reminders of the meaning of our work can help us find the wherewithal to press on.
But managers do face barriers to even being aware. Consider (1) the common fallacy that a supervisor’s most important contribution is his or her individual contribution (rather than working through the team); and (2) the remote status of teams, which can breed fewer one-on-one meetings and far less attention paid to overall engagement and workload. These and other forces can draw managers away from the people and mentoring dimension of their roles. Nevertheless, deliberate work to compassionately be aware of the workload and emotional states of employees will lead to a state of engagement and flow, not to mention longevity.
3. Trust Versus Command and Control
Finally, amidst the chaos of the present COVID-19 pandemic (and even before), some are asking whether old-school directive leadership models are more relevant than ever. We have heard this question arise in circumstances of confusion as teams adjust to new environments. Many current employees face completely novel issues; many are yearning for direction.
Leaders should consider providing more explicit instruction while facilitating quick decision-making to move things forward. Nevertheless, a command-like approach has potential long-term consequences. After all, who likes to be controlled? If employees perceive managers as mistrusting, they will likely not feel that they belong and consequently not fully engage in their work. On the other hand, our research tells us that trust and autonomy (the “A” in MAGIC) energize employees to use more of their discretionary thinking to accomplish their work.
Keep in mind, however, that autonomy fails without clear boundaries and expectations (on both sides). We refer to this as Expectation Alignment. Autonomy is not anarchy. Trust is not simply laissez-faire. Both trust and autonomy come via clear expectations. The goal is to grant autonomy while requiring accountability. To strike this balance we have seen instances when the aforementioned Manager Weekly Check-in Tool has helped. Another group we know of relies on daily check-in and coordination calls with the whole team (for which the team has been grateful). Whatever the approach, make it routine and direct (vs. subtly checking on employees to see what they’re up to). An indirect approach can communicate I don’t trust you—we have seen this approach lately too.
With more frequent check-ins, supervisors may feel they are bordering on micromanagement, but if done with transparency and in order to empower your team with direction, increased structure need not be mistrust or micromanagement.
Besides getting results, leading remotely calls for fresh thinking around how to get those results. Such thinking will include how to mitigate new barriers to communication. Remember that communication is also for spurring engagement and that managers will greatly benefit their teams as they cultivate belonging and connection. We have found repeatedly in our research that connection unlocks engagement, and thus increased innovation, organizational citizenship, and productivity. We are confident that success in our current circumstances will be achieved by the everyday work of individuals, working remotely, but empowered by their managers to solve our current challenges.
Has living in a COVID-19 world left you or your team with emotional exhaustion, a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, or a sense of ineffectiveness?
Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 Time: 3:00 pm Eastern / 12:00pm Pacific Presenters: Matt Wride, President; Dave Long, VP of Assessment Services; and Christian Nielson, VP of Consulting Services Cost: Free
As the world economy begins the process of reopening, the question arises:
How can we strengthen the employee experience while simultaneously bringing back a significant part of the workforce?
In this webinar, we’ll share practical ideas and tips to ensure a smooth transition, as well as best practices for implementing surveys to make sure your employees’ concerns are heard and everyone feels safe in these trying times.
In today’s environment, many organizations are
simply focused on survival: “How do we keep our doors open for the next six
months?” And, rightly so. According to a
more than 30% of small businesses are at risk of closing if the status quo
persists for more than two months.
But, while most organizations are thinking, “how do we survive and come out of this?” it may pay off to also start thinking “how do we thrive once we come out of this?”
Surviving by Thinking Thriving
Investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald
lost two-thirds of its employees in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the
World Trade Center. Whole divisions were devastated. Out of 960 employees in
New York, 658 were killed — no employee in Cantor’s offices at the time
That devastating event could have cost the company everything, shutting down the business for good. But what happened on September 11th, and the company’s reaction to that day transformed the company forever.
CEO Howard Lutnick vowed to distribute 25
percent of the company’s profits over the next five years to help the 658
families affected by the attack and ended up giving more than $180 million to
those families. Lutnick himself received the highest honor granted by the U.S. Navy
to nonmilitary personnel, the Department of the Navy’s Distinguished Public
The company had to think not only on how to
survive physically and financially, but how to thrive if they were to honor
their financial commitments to their employees and clients.
“We all had to commit to doing
something different,” Lutnick said. “It changed our outlook about what was important about
Few are thinking ‘thrive’… but need to be
It has been interesting as we have worked with organizations over the past 45 days to help them best use their employee resources to paddle through troubled waters. We find most conversations immediately beginning with “we just need to survive the next few months, then we can focus on (fill in the blank).” In times of crisis, the natural reaction is to focus on survival. But successful organizations aren’t solely focused on “how we survive.” They also focus on “how we thrive,” despite going through turbulent times. Organizations that are able to not only survive but have plans in place to thrive coming out of the crisis, are often catapulted well past competition that merely have plans in place to survive.
A Thrive Plan
In times of crisis, an organization should
develop two parallel plans—a Survive Plan and a Thrive Plan. Most organizations
are well into their survive plans, but few have thoughts about the second.
A Thrive Plan has three primary components:
It takes advantage of underutilized resources to prepare for the future. These resources could be people who are not as busy yet are still needed through the crisis and beyond. Resources might also include underutilized equipment, assembly lines, know-how, unique skills, relationships, or processes. The list may be endless but will be unique to your organization.
It involves employees, not just the senior team. Often times, with the C-suite laser-focused on survival, it takes a different perspective to identify innovative solutions. As employees are closest to the work, they are often in a position to identify solutions to problems that may not be seen by the top of the organization. Critical during this time is taking the pulse of employees in order to understand what they see (and how they feel).
It asks questions before it proposes solutions. Here are some questions to consider:
What glaring holes in our organization has this crisis exposed?
What resources can we channel elsewhere in order to address the current situation (survive) or prepare for the future (thrive)?
Which products or services have we been unable to fully develop in the past, but might now have some time and resources to address during this slower time?
How can we give our customers something that will help them through this time? What may help solidify this important relationship in the future?
What is our organization uniquely positioned to offer that no other can (and how could that be useful after the crisis)?
Today, Cantor Fitzgeralds and its affiliates operate in more than 60 offices in 20 countries and have more than 8,500 employees. But that kind of success doesn’t happen through merely surviving. And although one of the most important things a company can do is to survive, thinking “thrive” is what distinguishes between those that merely make it through and those that leave better and stronger.
On this episode of the Engaging People Podcast, we’re joined by VP of Consulting, Christian Nielson, and Senior Consultants, Charles Rogel and Spencer Taylor.
Recently, our consultants have been spending more time advising our clients on their employee listening strategy during a crisis. Many organizations haven’t surveyed during these circumstances and need extra guidance on the following:
Should we proceed with the survey?
Should we add COVID-19 related questions to our current survey design?
Should we switch to a different type of survey?
How will this survey during a crisis affect our trending progress, year after year?
How can I convince our executive team to seek employee feedback right now?
Our team goes into depth on these questions and more in an effort to help you engage employees with two-way communication.
Listen to more of this insightful conversation on best practices for surveying during a crisis.
In this video message, DecisionWise President, Matthew Wride, talks about the importance of employee feedback during a crisis and the DecisionWise pledge to help your business listen, understand, and act, even during tough times.
Hello, my name is Matt Wride, and I am the President of DecisionWise. Before I get to my main message, I want to touch briefly on the COVID-19 pandemic. If feels like we are making some progress. This is encouraging, and I hope you are well and safe.
Despite the stress and heavy disruptions to our way of life, I am struck by the good I witness each day. For example, just a few days ago I waved to a man standing in overalls to walk through the drive-through lane ahead of me. As I waited, I wondered why he was walking through the drive-through lane, but I figured that in a COVID-19 world, he probably had a good reason. So, I nodded and smiled. When it was my turn at the window, the worker told me that the man in overalls had already paid for my lunch. I smiled as I watched this Driver saunter over to a big, loaded Kenworth. Now, I understood why he couldn’t get his vehicle to fit through the drive-through lane. So, here I was – I didn’t need his help, but he gave it anyway. So, to this unknown Driver, I flash my four ways.
This simple story illustrates why we will rise from COVID-19 better and stronger, because the vast number of employees are good people, and they are doing their best in challenging times and circumstances. It’s easy to forget them amidst the stress, the draining cash balances, and slumping sales reports. We can’t. We mustn’t. We must acknowledge them, and the best way to do this is to listen to their feelings.
At DecisionWise we survey employees. You might raise an eyebrow and say, “Of course they are going to tell me to survey my employees.” You’re right. We are. We know that budgets are tight, and we know that employee surveys seem unnecessary when we are focused on keeping jobs. We get it. We promise to work with you to identify the essential services you need to stay on budget and continue working towards achieving your organizational goals.
Humans aren’t resources. They aren’t widgets to be tracked on a spreadsheet. They are people who represent an organization’s pathway to success. Now, more than ever, we need to engage with our workers, so they will engage in their jobs. We are trying to keep their hearts, hands, minds, and spirit with us. We need them so that we can meet the challenges that lay ahead.
At DecisionWise, we have adopted the phrase “The Obstacle is the Way,” as our COVID-19 metaphor. We know that if our clients are to overcome their obstacles, it will be through the hard work and engaged efforts of their employees – those good people, just like the Driver that paid for my lunch!
Please reach out to us. We have experienced consultants ready to assist, and we will do what we can to craft a employee listening program within the budget you give us.
About a year ago I received one of my favorite perks. It was peak season for us – my workload was heavy, and support was limited. This meant late nights in the office with the stress that so commonly follows.
As my supervisor and I were talking about what could be done to address my stress, I brought up exercise. I hadn’t been going to the gym regularly for the past few months. Most nights, by the time I left the office, I was too tired to complete a fulfilling workout, and I’ve never been a 5 AM workout warrior (and don’t want the massive caffeine addiction it takes to become one). So, I asked my supervisor if I could take off late afternoons, get in a workout, and return later to finish my work. That was a little culturally unusual for our team, but he agreed without hesitation.
Within days of switching to a more flexible schedule, my stress levels decreased significantly despite no change to workload and even later nights. It cost my company nothing, only awareness and an open-minded supervisor.
What Survey Data Tells Us About Stress in Your Organization
Many organizations struggle to help their employees manage stress. Our research has found that an individual’s level of stress in their job is one of the top five most frequently reported areas that needs attention from executive teams. Our firm, DecisionWise, has amassed more than 50 million employee survey responses from more than 70 countries throughout the world. Each year, we consistently find that perceptions of stress and workload generally rank within the lowest 10 employee survey items for most organizations.
Surprising? Probably not, when you consider for many, your job may actually be “killing you.” According to Jeffrey Peffer, PhD of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, some workplace conditions may contribute to premature death. The impact of these stressors may actually be “as harmful as secondhand smoke,” according to Pfeffer’s research.
Our DecisionWise survey findings seem to support the fact that workplace stress is out of hand, particularly given the current economic and health concerns inherent in the pandemic situation we are facing today. Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, only 65% of Employee Experience survey respondents provided favorable ratings to the statement, “The level of stress in my job is manageable.” This closely aligns with responses to “The amount of work I am expected to do is reasonable,” which scores 67%. For context, a typical engagement survey’s overall score is 73% favorable.
Why Do Leaders Struggle to Help Their Teams Manage Stress?
The challenge for most leaders is that stress is subjective – it varies greatly across roles, cultures, and personality types. Many of the factors that contribute to an employee’s stress levels fall out outside of an organization’s influence. But there are several things a manager can do to help minimize employees’ stress levels.
My aim is to help you understand the science behind stress, and arm you with tactics for addressing it in your teams. To accomplish this, I’ve selected four stress theories from the disciplines of physiology and psychology. I have also included specific recommendations related to each theory.
Four Theories to Help You Evaluate Stress
1. Homeostatic/Medical: Stress is a physiological response to ensure safety.
The term “fight-or-flight” was originally coined by Walter B. Cannon as a way of describing the body’s natural response to environmental demands that threaten our safety and homeostasis. Stress is a natural response that helps us quickly address or avoid a threat so that our health and safety remain secure i. These threats can be physical, such as safety hazards or a dangerous work facility. They could also be psychological threats, such as harassment, fear of retribution, or discrimination. Each of these can trigger the fight-or-flight response in the workplace.
Tips for Managers
Ensure worker physical safety through adherence to safety policies.
Be mindful of potential psychological safety issues. Address harassment and discrimination issues quickly and thoroughly.
Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by ensuring employees on your team feel respected, valued, heard, and feel they have equal opportunities for growth regardless of their age, ethnicity, or gender.
Worker safety, discrimination, and diversity are topics that extend beyond the scope of this article. If you’d like to deepen your understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, here’s a well-researched article to get you started: Are Your Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Only Skin Deep?
2. Cognitive Appraisal: Stress is a result of our perceptions.
Introduced by Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman in the 1980s, this theory emphasizes people’s perceptions of stressors. How we perceive stressors can alter the amount of stress we feel. This means that stress can be managed by either addressing the stressor or the emotions and perceptions of the stressorii. What’s stressful to some may not be stressful to others. A few items that impact the degree of stress we feel include:
a) Personality: Different personality types might perceive certain tasks to be more stressful than others. For example, employees with high preferences for introversion may find tasks such as client interactions to be more stressful than employees with extroverted preferences. Employees with low levels of neuroticism are less likely to experience stress compared to others. Neuroticism and extroversion are two personality traits assessed by the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (or NEO PI-R).
b) Culture Culture significantly impacts employees’ perceptions of stress. One study found that American employees are more likely to experience stress from a lack of job control and team coordination. In comparison, Chinese employees are more likely to experience stress from job evaluations and work mistakesiii. Either way, an employee’s cultural background has a clear impact on stress.
Tips for Managers
First, listen to your team. Try to understand their stressors.
Identify the major causes of stress for your employees, whether as a group or individually.
Identify when (time of the month, quarter, or year) stress will be worst. Consider such factors as “peak season.”
Write your ideas down and review them in your next team meeting. Ask for further insights.
Talk to your Learning and Development or HR department if you would like to obtain a deeper understanding of the personality profiles of your team.
Second, address the problem.
How can you adjust tasks across your team to minimize stress?
How can you share the load with other teams in the organization? Are there ways to address processes that will improve efficiency and therefore decrease workload and stress? If so, implement them, or talk to your manager about getting the appropriate approval needed for changes.
For predictable periods of increased workload, investigate staffing and outsourcing options. Can you bring on seasonal interns, work with a temp agency, or outsource entire projects?
Third, address emotion.
You may not be able to control the cyclical nature of the demands on your team, but you can lift spirits by grabbing pizza for dinner (on the company’s dime) to occasionally make the burden of staying late lighter. Not only does it provide a much-needed meal and break, the gesture also says, “hey, we get it, and want you to know we are right there with you.”
If circumstances allow, arrange for flexible schedules, or let employees work from home occasionally during periods of extreme workload. This doesn’t address the quantity of their work, but extra autonomy may help them feel more relaxed.
When things are slow, invite employees to go home early. If they feel measured by how long they’re tied to their chairs, they’ll hold you accountable for violating that social contract when they’re forced to put in extra hours.
Be emotionally intelligent in your approach. Don’t prolong employees’ stay at the office through “stress-relieving activities.” Avoid creating the perception that the team is getting pizza in exchange for an extra 10 hours of work this week (unless your workers are all teenage boys, who might just consider the deal a “win.”) Instead, tie this treat to the gratitude you feel toward your team.
Psychologist Robert L. Kahn’s ideas of stress focused on the importance of roles and expectations. When people’s skills and abilities match what’s expected of them, stress is minimized. Ambiguous expectations or expectations that conflict with people’s skills and abilities in social roles lead to stressiv.
Tips for Managers
Work with HR or recruiters to make sure that job listings for your team are accurate and represent the skills needed on your team. Clearly describe which skills can be developed on the job, and which aptitudes are prerequisite to success on your team. Better yet, instead of letting HR try and find the talent you need, become an active participant and lead the charge.
Clearly define job roles and expectations. Provide stories and examples of exemplary performance when possible.
Recognize employees for successful performance in key areas.
Schedule regular time to train employees who are lacking skills in key areas.
Consider what skills your team members have that aren’t being used in their job roles. Are there other opportunities for them to use those skills, e.g. on cross-functional teams or committees?
Consider the clarity of expectations where performance issues exist. If expectations are unclear, redefine them. Avoid holding employees accountable to unclear expectations.
Before extending invitations for new roles, do your best to set employees up for success by helping them understand the inherent challenges that come along with the role.
4. Psychoanalytical: Stress is a result of a gap between who we are and who we want to be.
The psychologist Harry Levinson applied concepts of Freudian psychology to stress, and believed that stress is the result from misalignment between our ego-ideal (who we’d like to be) and our self-image (who we believe we are now)v. Our careers are instrumental in helping us progress toward our ideal self. If employees struggle to see how their job connects to their aspirations and long-term goals, they will likely feel stressed and disengaged.
Tips for Managers
Know your employees on a personal level: their values, interests, and who they aspire to be.
Help employees connect the dots between their work and what they aspire to be. If their current job role doesn’t clearly align with their future aspirations, show them how it will help them achieve success later in life. For example, their current job might fund an education that will allow them to pursue their true passion after graduation.
Help employees understand the vision, goals, and values of the organization. Show them how their work helps accomplish that vision.
Highlight the progress you’ve seen employees make. This might not be apparent to them.
Stress During a Crisis
During the time of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economies worldwide. Economy-altering crises such as pandemics, stock market crashes, or political unrest can create uncertainty, threaten employees’ sense of job security, and lead to high levels of stress. Work and money are the most mentioned sources of stress for Americans. According to the 2019 Stress in America report by the American Psychological Association:
When asked about their personal stressors, around six in ten adults identify work (64%) and money (60%) as significant sources of stress, making them the most commonly mentioned personal stressors. Adults citing the economy as a significant source of stress declined slightly from 2018 (48%) to 2019 (46%), though the proportions in both years represent a large decrease from the highest level reported, when nearly seven in ten adults (69%) identified the economy as a significant stressor in 2008vi.
Note that stress levels were 23 points higher following the financial crisis of 2008 than during the economic boom of 2019. Here are a few tips on how to mitigate stress as much as possible amid a crisis.
Tips for Managers
Keep your employees informed. This is one case where the adage “no news is good news” couldn’t be more wrong. In the absence of information, employees will spin their own stories. Control the story by proactively sharing pertinent details with employees regarding the steps that are being taken to ensure job security.
If your organization is helping the world through the crisis in any way, emphasize and share that message with your team. Employees will hopefully see themselves as part of the solution to the crisis rather than a victim of it.
Listen to your team. Find out what is going on behind-the-scenes, which you may not be aware of. Ask them how they’re doing. The chance to share your own concerns may help them. Help them understand that you are here to support them.
As mentioned previously, stress is a common factor inherent in most organizations, regardless of size or industry. If this is an issue for you, you’re not alone. However, you as a manager hold the power to shape the experience of your employees.
iCannon, W. B. (1932) The Wisdom of the Body. Norton.
iiLazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984) Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. Springer Pub. Co.
iiiLiu, C., Spector, P.E. and Shi, L. (2007), Cross‐national job stress: a quantitative and qualitative study. J. Organiz. Behav., 28, 209-239.
ivKahn, R. L., Wolfe, D. M., Quinn, R. P., Snoek, J. D., & Rosenthal, R. A. (1964). Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. John Wiley & Sons.
vLevinson, H. (1978). A Psychoanalytic View of Occupational Stress. Occupational Mental Health, 2, 2-13.
viAmerican Psychological Association (2019). Stress in America: Stress and Current Events. Stress in America™ Survey.
For this episode, we’re joined by Joseph Dicianno, Ph.D., MBA, who is the Manager of Talent Management and Organizational Development at UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). We discuss concepts from his upcoming book, “Caring Leadership,” about ways that leaders can show more compassion and demonstrate they sincerely care about the individuals they work with.
“Saying you can empathize with somebody isn’t enough in the leadership world. I think there’s a greater opportunity to close that gap and to help leaders understand how to turn that empathy into action.”
Listen to more of this insightful conversation on caring as a leader.