Leaders: The Opportunity to Connect with Employees in Times of Uncertainty

Time: 6:41


Right now we’re dealing with the COVID virus and there’s so much negative news, negative information coming at us in a constant stream. There is nothing else on the network news. I can’t help but think that there must be some opportunities here for the leaders and owners of small to medium sized businesses.

Everybody reacts differently to uncertainty and we can relate these reactions to the brain’s natural way of trying to save us during danger. We have three groups – the fight, the flight and the freeze.

As a leader, you’re probably the fight type of person. When there is a problem, you go toward it. You’ll find opportunities, you’ll find solutions, you’ll charge ahead with an assertive approach. You’ll be the cheerleader shouting, “Yeah we’re in it together! We’re going to get through  this! This too shall pass! It’s going to be okay!”. And that’s fine for you if you’re like that. That’s  your attitude.

And if you have some employees who work for you with that same mindset it’s great for them. They’re happy with that. They’re content. They’re going to work at home, and they’re going to stay with the company once all of this passes because they knew it was going to go at some point.

Now when we get to the flight and the freeze people, it’s different. Let’s look at the flight people first. These are the ones who tend to run away from something because it’s frightening for them. They have a higher level, more of a medium to high level of stress versus your lower level, and they might not deal as well with it. They may start to associate negative emotions with your company. Your company has nothing to do with this virus, we know that, but from their emotional standpoint, they are going to think, “oh that’s the company I worked for when that virus was going around. It was terrible.” You have to be careful about understanding what are they thinking.

You have to deal with them a little bit differently than the fight people. Another consideration is,  once this does blow over, you might run the risk of them leaving the company because it  had such a negative effect on them (even though you had no control over it).

The freeze people are slightly different. They are the ones that stand still. They are overwhelmed. They’re high, high, high stress. They don’t know whether to step left, step right, or stay in the middle. They don’t know what to do. Do they stay? Do they leave?. They can’t think straight. They just can’t make decisions in times of stress.

They want some kind of assurance of what’s going to happen, not just in words but they’re feeling so highly stressed. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that when the virus situation does pass, they also leave like the flight people, or they might go on extended stress leave. For them it’s similar to PTSD.

The overall impact on your business is it’s going to affect your bottom line and your time…hiring new people, training and so on. As well, having people out on stress leave means more stress put on other employees until their return.

OK, so what do you do about this? First of all, if you are a leader you’re most likely a fighter, so the opportunity lies in learning empathy and compassion – trying to understand how the other types feel and realizing the toll on your company if you don’t employ empathy, understanding and patience. If you have never learned it before, now is the time.

You cannot deal with flight and freeze people the same way you deal with uncertainty as a fighter. If you lead the cheer going, “Hey let’s stick together this is going to work. Everything’s going to be fine. This too shall pass. Woo-hoo don’t worry about it – stay home with the kids and have a great time!”… it’s not going to work.

That’s not going to work with them because they’re going to feel you are being insincere and insensitive. They’ll think you are sweeping things under the carpet. You’re not taking their emotions and their reaction to uncertainty seriously.

Here’s one thing you can consider. Some people have started to do weekly online check-ins with their staff so they can be there for people who want to speak up and share some thoughts, share how they feel and they have this community of support, helping one another which is great. That’s a very positive move.

One other thing I would suggest you do and it depends on the size of your company is you set up a calendar (there are all kinds of online calendar apps out there) where people can sign in at certain times to speak with you directly and share their thoughts, share their emotions, just with you, totally confidential of course. This is great for the employees who are uncomfortable speaking up on an open call.

That allows you to really get a good grip on how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, what their deepest fears are, and even though you can’t change what’s going on right now with this virus, you can at least listen to them, give them your undivided attention. You can ask them if there’s something you can do to release some of this pressure or to improve how they’re feeling, and if there’s something within your power to do that, do it.

If you think they might need some professional help, you can at least step up with HR and help them find the resources they need to cope through this particular time we’re in.

How are you dealing with these days of uncertainty? I would love to have your comments and feedback.

See you soon.

#covid #opportunites #challengingtimes

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