Managers already had their hands full, and then COVID-19 struck. Now, leaders must help employees navigate economic and financial uncertainties while maintaining workplace efficiency. It’s a tough assignment, especially when partial shutdowns, temporary furloughs, and physical office closures are more common occurrences than finding toilet paper at Target.
Fortunately, you don’t have to make up the answers as you go along. You can learn from leaders who have faced similar problems head-on and survived storms like the Great Recession. What those managers realized is that the only way to tackle known and unknown fear is with a pragmatic, compassionate approach.
Fear is a natural reaction to unpredictability; very little is more confusing than a world in which organizations swiftly let dozens of employees go or reduce everyone’s paychecks — sometimes without warning. Nevertheless, leaders who temper their own actions and reactions can strengthen group morale despite the constant shocking news.
Is self-control challenging? Yes, but giving in to your own worries can have serious ramifications when you’re heading a team. Employees pick up on managers’ variations in voice and body language. Even a kind-hearted statement can sound ominous if it’s said in a wavering tone.
This puts the onus on managers to check their burdens at the door; otherwise, they risk projecting their anxieties onto others. As corporate heads, they need to remain calm, especially in times when fresh thinking is imperative for survival. It’s difficult but possible, even when layoffs loom.
Handling Shutdowns With Grace
Every supervisor dreads making cuts, so do it only once. It’s best to make a deeper cut once rather than multiple small ones so that you can reassure standing employees about their positions.
If you’re unsure whether you’ll have to make more, give employees a window to relax. Consider saying, “We will revisit our budget on June 1 to determine whether we need to make additional cuts.” This keeps the remaining employees from fixating on fear. Commit to financial updates every week or two so that everyone can see where the company stands.
Of course, this doesn’t mean employees who survived the initial cuts will be motivated. They’ll need your help to stay engaged. Let them know your company takes their well-being seriously by updating hygiene protocols and sick leave measures. Consider relaxing other rules, too, such as policies around absenteeism, paid time off, or even work attire.
These responses show employees that they’re important. Such measures can also improve your reputation, which will be helpful for future hiring, retaining, and recruiting. One-quarter of people would resign from a position if their employers treated them disrespectfully, and one-third would quit if they felt like cogs in a wheel, according to Limeade’s research (Source: Limeade Employee Care Report, 2020). Your company’s existence beyond the coronavirus depends on the teamwork you forge during the pandemic.
Your crisis messaging and leadership choices could turn your workers into loyal advocates even in the face of layoffs.
Follow these additional steps to take the edge off of fear related to personnel cuts and COVID-19:
1. Show unparalleled compassion.
Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson released a video expressing his deep feelings for his company’s associates and the public. Almost immediately, he received praise because his tough dialogue came from a place of empathy. If you’ve been practicing emotional intelligence, now is the time to rely on it.
How can you show you care? Create and distribute a video or heartfelt letter. Challenge yourself to put together a message that will promote a sense of mutual respect. Be real, hold onto your humanity, and fuel hope.
2. Hold concise meetings on tough subjects.
Need to tell your team that you’re reducing their pay or laying off a percentage of your workforce? Make your speech short and to the point. Lay out all the information and don’t prolong the experience.
By being brief but forthright, you’ll update everyone without needing to relay the message multiple times. Don’t drag on what will likely be a painful discussion. It’s better to allow everyone to leave so that they can regroup, make phone calls, and figure out what to do next.
Read More: How to Keep Employees Engaged When Everyone’s Stressed and Working From Home3. Make use of written and verbal communications.
After telling everyone about an upcoming corporate decision, double down by sending out appropriate follow-up emails. In your written communications, you can add hyperlinks to educational websites and attachments with helpful documents. If you’re writing a tough message, consider that your audience is not only your employees, but also their spouses and family members.
You can’t overshare during the coronavirus outbreak; be as communicative as you can. At the same time, develop good listening skills. You’ll naturally become a wiser leader when you listen more than you talk.
4. Allow employees to process information.
After you announce a series of cuts, you may receive initial feedback. But don’t be surprised if you suddenly receive a flurry of emails or texts. People need time to process what they’ve heard. Sometimes it takes a day or two for them to come up with questions.
Be ready for concerns and inquiries after you tell your team that you’re shutting some departments down, reducing certain workers’ time commitments, or changing operational flow. Go over your human resources policies and have responses ready.
5. Initiate follow-up conversations.
Checking in with all employees frequently during this uncomfortable period tightens your bonds and reduces miscommunication. Consider initiating daily five-minute Slack chats or whole team teleconferences every morning.
Staying in touch keeps fear at bay because workers won’t have to use their imaginations to figure out what’s happening. Instead of panicking, they’ll know exactly how to find you and what’s on the agenda. They’ll also realize that you won’t belittle their apprehension if they express concerns.
The coronavirus pandemic came without a playbook. But a little innovation, patience, and understanding will help you and your team beat back the accompanying fear.
Krister Ungerböck is the founder of the global Talk SHIFT movement. He’s a sought-after keynote speaker, award-winning CEO, and author. He’s been featured in national publications such as NPR, Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur for his fresh perspective on leadership, business growth, emotional intelligence, and employee engagement. Talk SHIFTs are simple, powerful, and practical changes to our words that can transform frustrating relationships at work and at home. Talk SHIFTs apply best practices from marital relationship research to improve work relationships and utilize business world methods to create great families.