burnout,  communication

The COVID Effect

CDC image: COVID-19

It is a trite understatement to proclaim that we are all experiencing frustration and fatigue from COVID-19. Yet it is true. In the early days, it seemed temporary. As days devolved into weeks and weeks into months, our response needs some adjustment. This article is an attempt to cut through some of the noise to arrive at some practical advice for organizational leaders on how to cope – personally and as a team.

Restoring normalcy - and sanity

I recently asked a group of nonprofit executives for their best advice on dealing with the stress, the organizational impact, and the staff relations issues resulting from the pandemic. Their responses were creative and thoughtful, so I am sharing some below (along with a few of my own sprinkled in).

  • Ask for clear priorities from your boss and set clear priorities for your employees.
  • Allow yourself to feel the trauma of the situation. Give yourself grace.
  • Arrange or participate in “watercooler” time with coworkers or your network.
  • Develop filters for how you will make decisions (and remember that those filters may change over time).
  • Step away from time to time. Take a day off and give the same to your staff.
  • Create boundaries, like not scheduling meetings during your normal commute time.
  • Another boundary: Limit the number of zoom calls you agree to during the day and schedule time between them.
  • Prioritize the basics. Exercise, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, meditate. And by all means, seek professional mental health support if needed.

Flexibility and Candor

For your Team, be as flexible as possible. Think creatively to respond to employees’ individual needs. An perhaps most important, choose candor over charisma. People want authentic dialogue and transparency, especially in times of uncertainty. Never be afraid to let your team know that you don’t have all the answers. Remember that you and your staff need to take care of yourself. Whether your jam is exercise, nature walks, crafting, or cooking, we need to find activities that help us stay centered, sane, and ready to face the challenges that are ahead.

  • Take team outings (preferably outdoors) and plan fun activities to relieve the stress.
  • Put together care packages and deliver them to staff working from home.
  • Onboarding is particularly tough right now. One way to orient new staff is to share funny (but positive) stories about your organization and team. And be sure to share those unwritten norms that exist in every work setting.
  • Give staff a day off to engage in some service activity meaningful to them: Poll worker; BLM work, etc.
  • Don’t email at night, weekends, but if you must – schedule them through your email program to arrive at a more reasonable hour.
  • Use the Zoom breakout room feature in staff meetings – and make those breakouts fun. Set up remote collaboration opportunities where there is no agenda, but people can work together remotely.
  • Remember that even during these trying times, innovation can still happen – be open to it and pay attention to when it is happening or when an unanticipated opportunity arises.
  • Reset your expectations – for yourself and your team.

And a word about those at high risk. Many may not feel comfortable returning to the workplace yet. Flexibility is important for them, but so is inclusion.  Remember to involve them, no matter where they are working, even if it means continuing virtual meetings for remote and office-based workers alike. Professor Barbara Z. Larson of Northeastern University recommends that companies set up a camera and monitor in a busy commons area to create a so-called “hotwall” where work-from-home staff can “drop by” to visit with their in-office colleagues.

Just like grief, employees are going through various stages, too. If an employee is refusing to wear a mask, for example, they may be in denial. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be required to wear masks, but it helps to understand – and give voice to – the stress and trauma they are feeling. If they complain loudly about the new normal, perhaps they are in the anger stage of grief. Meet them where they are as they cycle back and forth through the stages of grief to help them find a sixth stage – meaning.

The fact is, the pandemic is here for the foreseeable future. We either cave to the added responsibility and stress or we deal with it constructively. Our employees are depending on us.


Check out our other posts on dealing with stress and uncertainty:

Five tips for communicating in uncertain times

Help your Team Overcome Burnout

Are You Experiencing Mission Fatigue?

Finally, if your team needs help during these unprecedented times, let Leadership Bridges conduct a team-building/stress-reducing session for your team.  Email us for more information.