Your employees are not ok right now

Let’s be honest. Your employees are not ok. In fact, YOU are not ok. The world has changed in radical and unexpected ways. I guarantee that every single one of your employees personally knows someone who has 1) had COVID-19 or 2) has lost their job. Many know someone who has died as a result of the coronavirus.

And, they are probably very worried about their own jobs.

Leading employees is hard enough. Doing so in a time like the present makes it even harder. Here are 7 things leaders can do right now to start leading their teams more effectively.

In what seemed like a few days the world as we knew it completed changed. Many parts of the economy simply ground to a halt. Travel almost completely ceased. Entire work forces moved (almost overnight) to a work-from-home model. Many people lost their jobs.

In many ways, the changes your employees are seeing are bigger and more widespread than other world crises in recent history. The threat of a very real and unpleasant death from the virus has crippled large portions of the population that openly admit they are scared the bug.

Moreover, the resulting near total shutdown of national and local economies has devastated many companies and industries. Unemployment is approaching Great Depression level numbers and is far deeper than the Great Recession or even the Post 9/11 economy. This only adds the fear people are already experiencing.

Source: Calculated Risk Blog

This is different. And your team is definitely not ok.

Leaders separate themselves from managers during crises. This is a time for leadership. Great leaders are always willing to adapt their leadership style and techniques to the unique situations they are facing. They are constantly evolving and evaluating new methods to inspire, motivate, and lead their teams.

Leaders: it’s time to adapt. Here’s how.

  1. Up your empathy
  2. Be as flexible as possible
  3. Inject humor
  4. Remain sensitive
  5. Be honest
  6. Be human
  7. Self care

Let’s examine each of these leadership elements and uncover how they can help you lead an unsettled workforce in a time of uncertainty.

Up your empathy

Alfred Adler said, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”

Now is the time for an extra dose of empathy with your employees. Actively consider the likely situation your employees are now in. Is their spouse home with them? Kids too? Are they trying to juggle 3 simultaneous Zoom calls on a crummy Internet line? Did one spouse lose their job? Does a family member have COVID?

Empathy doesn’t come natural for everyone. It comes even harder for some leaders. But, empathy is a critical part of the leadership needed in a time like the present.

Be intentional about asking your employees how things are going. Dig a little deeper than pleasant formalities. Then consider what it would be like if you had to face the situation they are going through.

Then adjust your response as if it were happening to you. Empathy forms the foundation on which the leadership needed right now is built.

Be as flexible as possible

If you can, give your team as much flexibility as possible. Chances are they are juggling a chaotic schedule. Maybe they and their spouse have conference calls at the same time as their kid’s Zoom meeting for school.

Obviously, not all jobs support such flexibility, but wherever possible, let your employees know you are more interested in outcomes (what they do) than whether they worked an 8 hour continuous shift.

Inject humor

Humor is one of the best methods to releasing stress. As a leader, it’s ok to inject some humor into your team. If you are not funny, that’s ok. Allow others to do it then.

Maybe this takes the form of a funny coronavirus meme contest, or perhaps it’s a silly game you play on Friday’s during a virtual happy hour. It will lighten the mental load on your staff and even create some space for your team to re-motivate itself.

Remain sensitive

While humor is fine, be sensitive to the fact that you can almost guarantee that your employees know someone who’s died from COVID or who has lost their job.

Jokes and humor are fine, but stay tuned to your team and identify when it’s time NOT to be funny.

Be honest

People are losing their jobs. Unemployment has skyrocketed. There’s a terribly likely chance you, as a leader, will be letting people go on your team. To the extent you can, be transparent and honest.

If the company’s hurting, say so. This will help with the grief process. It will also start to give employees a chance to prepare.

This isn’t a time for corporate shenanigans and closed door meetings. Sure, some of that will be necessary (HR rules, etc), but do your best to shoot them straight. Treat them professionally and stay above board with them. They will remember and appreciate this.

If and when it’s time to let staff go, be caring, understanding, honest and professional. Treat them as humans.

Be human

Don’t be an uncaring leader. Be human. Authenticity resonates with people. It’s ok to be frustrated with this situation. You can let that show with your team. Not at them, but in front of them. It humanizes you.

Leader’s don’t have to John Wayne everything anymore. If you are discouraged, let your team know that.

The difference is, as a leader, you must then recover from those bouts of discouragement. You have to be willing to acknowledge that frustration, discouragement, that humanity inside of you, then lead.

That means keeping yourself and your team focused on the mission. It means motivating your team to the extent you can and under the circumstances. You have a job to do and it still must be done.

But in the process of doing that job, it’s ok to show your team you are indeed a human.

Self care

Don’t forget to care for yourself. You might be worried about losing your job. The stress and fear might grip you at times just like it does your staff.

Leaders don’t have some sort of special immunity from these sorts of things. Acknowledge that. Then care for yourself.

Give yourself time to grieve if necessary. Time to exercise. Don’t get stuck in a cycle where you try to carry all of your team’s burdens while also carrying yours.

Seek help, if needed. A friend. A counselor, a mentor. If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for your team.

The economic devastation may take many months, perhaps even years to recover from. Furthermore, it could be many, many months before a vaccine is available.

Your teams will not be ok for a long time. You need to acknowledge that. And then you need to lead.

Note: this post was first published on

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