“How did I not see this coming?” a client asked as they shared that a high-performing employee resigned because the pandemic stress had become “too much.” “Missing what’s right there” and “hitting the pandemic wall” are phrases that keep coming up in conversations with clients as further regulations, restrictions, lockdowns and uncertainty have impacted everyone’s mental health and well-being. Here’s the thing: Humans are wired for connection. It’s an automatic reflex given that we are social creatures. When this core need isn’t met, our happiness levels fall and it becomes more difficult to thrive. Meanwhile, back in the workplace, despite all of this, teams are still expected to deliver.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus led to “isolation and unemployment or underemployment, further increasing the risk for mental health problems.” A lack of interaction and spontaneous connection also (unsurprisingly) created disconnected workplaces. Since the human brain functions better when it’s connecting, this disconnection is getting in the way of innovative thinking, which happens through the synergy people create when they build on each other’s ideas. I believe many teams simply cannot realize the same results as they did before Covid-19.
So, the million-dollar question becomes: How do you, as a leader, both be mindful of the fact that many of your people are struggling and still meet your targets in spite of this? It starts with four straightforward strategies to build trust with your team, even when working virtually to support them toward achieving results.
1. Check in so they don’t check out.
“How’s everyone doing today?” It’s such a simple, everyday question, yet when paired with a pause and authentic listening at the start of calls or meetings, it can change everything. It allows you to gauge how everyone is doing. Follow up with more frequent one-on-ones with team members to find out where they are on a personal level and how you can help. This way, you are more likely to pick up on issues before they become a crisis. It also helps build a more confident, engaged and cared-for team.
2. Acknowledge simple truths.
Recognize it’s a trying time for everyone, yourself included. If you’re having a tough day, let your team know. Normalizing this language and conversation makes it easier for people to support each other. You are in a position to create an environment where people feel safe to share not only when things are good, but also when they aren’t OK, when they’ve failed or missed the mark and what concerns they have.
By role-modeling vulnerability, you increase your team’s trust in you. You open the door for them to share. Then, you and your team can check in about where and what kind of support is needed.
3. Remember that trust breeds trust.
Since the start of the pandemic, one of my clients said several of her employees now produce their best work between 6 and 9 a.m. before their kids get up. This time frame allows them to work a schedule that supports their home environment without compromising their ability to focus on their job. What matters is the results they produce, at whatever time works best for them. After all, many people are working more hours since working from home.
Trust that your team will deliver despite the upheaval we’ve all been through, and know that while the next transition may create blips on the radar, things will resettle once more. This past year has proven this more than once. Remind your people that you trust them, even when they get something wrong. You trust they are learning, growing and looking for the answers. Know that over time, those who aren’t trustworthy will reveal themselves. As Ernest Hemingway is often credited with saying, “The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.”
3. Slow down to speed up.
You’ve got results you need to deliver, but take a breath. Remember you are not alone. You've got a team to lean on. The more you involve your team in figuring out how to get to the solutions, the more successful you will be. This often means slowing down to align your team, ensuring people’s internal batteries are charged and recognizing that we are all going through a global trauma.
Think of it this way: When your phone’s battery reaches 25%, core features are often shut off until it is fully recharged. It's the same for the brain. If your brain (your team) is operating on a quickly draining battery, the ability to produce is reduced. Having your team engage in resilience-building activities encourages a culture of optimal production. Activities can be a mental health day, adjusted working hours, even non-work conversations for human-to-human connection.
Rather than pushing through exhaustion, mental fatigue or even personal disconnection, the slowdown allows us to pause, rest and then move forward with a renewed sense of energy. So, check the “batteries” of your team.
The pandemic will not last forever. Let’s make sure we all get to the other side. Watch for signs of burnout, such as cynicism, an inability to concentrate or recurring sickness (not Covid-19-related). Notice where adjustments may be needed to best support and produce. This can include:
- Providing resource information within your organization, such as Employee Assistant Programs to your team
- Reassessing what’s a realistic goal for the next month
- Scheduling team check-in calls and/or one-on-ones
A client reminded me that while we may all have been in the same storm that was this pandemic, we were all in different boats. Allow your people to be successful in their own boat to ensure that they can produce what you need when you need them to. By checking in with each other, looking out for each other’s well-being and making a point to create connection, we will get through this, And you will even get to deliver results. Mark my words!