Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo recommends five ways managers can support their team members—and maintain productivity—during uncertain times.
Most people, when faced with uncertainty, feel "overwhelmed, upset, and anxious," Gallo writes—a mindset that, according to experts, can trigger an unhealthy cycle. "A symptom of distraction is more distraction. Then we feel more anxious," said Susan David, a founder of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital.
In addition, these feelings can become contagious in a team setting. "We subtly pick up on the emotions and start to feel or mimic them ourselves," David added.
To combat this, Rich Fernandez, CEO of SIY Leadership Institute, recommended implementing a "compassionate management" style, where managers "seek to understand how [they] can be of service and benefit to employees while balancing the need to keep them on task."
1. Process your emotions
In general, according to experts, managers will be better equipped to support their team if they acknowledge and address their own anxiety.
Gallo recommends first taking some time to understand your feelings. "You want to label your emotions. Put distance between yourself and them so that you can make a conscious decision about how to act in a way that's in line with your values"—even when the world feels like it is falling apart, David said.
2. Don't bottle your emotions
According to Gallo, "[p]retending that everything is fine, or just trying to go about work as if nothing is going on, can cause people to disengage or to feel resentful."
Instead, she recommends directly addressing the issue, acknowledging that others may be on edge and that things are uncertain. "At the same time, you should avoid brooding, where you get stuck in a negative spiral," she adds.
Meanwhile, managers should acknowledge how people are feeling, then "move on to talk about how you want to act as a team," David said. Managers can do this by asking, "How do we want to treat one another during these times?"
"It helps a team stay grounded when you reassert and reaffirm a shared sense of purpose," David added.
3. Encourage compassion
Gallo advises managers to encourage employees to have self-compassion and "acknowledge that stress is a normal, physiological response to feeling out of control or threatened."
"If you're feeling stressed, admit it, or talk about previous situations in which you've felt anxiety, so they know they're not alone," Gallo adds.
4. Learn what people need
To understand what employees need, Gallo says managers should "talk with employees one-on-one and let them describe what they're going through."
Further, managers should do some "perspective-taking by putting [themselves] in their shoes," Fernandez added. You want to "truly understand what they think and feel, even if you don't agree or feel the same thing." According to Gallo, "empathy forms the basis of trust so that you can move into problem-solving mode."
Ultimately, managers should not assume that every employee needs the same things. Fernandez suggested asking, "What would be most helpful at the moment?" Then saying, "Let's think about it together, because I want to help and make sure you can navigate the current challenges so you can be your best."
5. Model resilience
Sleep, exercise, and good nutrition have been proven to help with resilience. Managers should encourage their team members to take care of themselves, according to David.
For instance, if employees say they're taking their phones to bed to read the news, managers might share that they have been trying to leave theirs in a separate room.
"Of course, it's not a manager's place to dictate these behaviors, but it's OK to share what's worked for you," Gallo writes. (Gallo, Harvard Business Review, 3/31)
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