5 tips for managing employees’ stress during disruption

Apr 21, 2020

As a supervisor or manager, you play a key role in reducing the stress of your team members in times of disruption. Here are five things you can do to help your employees through an unexpected change such as teleworking during the coronavirus pandemic.

Self-care first

Just as the flight attendant tells you to put on our own oxygen mask first before helping others, you should deal with your own stress and anxiety before you help your team cope with change. Stay healthy, get enough sleep, and take stress-relieving breaks throughout the day. Be flexible with your own schedule if you have suddenly become a teacher or caregiver. Remember that you are going through this unexpected change, too! Take the time to start your day with a quick mental health check of your own. How am I feeling today? Is there anything I need to do to get through today with less stress?

Share details about how your organization is responding

Even if your team isn't usually interested in information about your organization's finances, administrative operations and strategic planning, now is the time to provide this type of information, even if they aren't asking! Provide news that indicates potential job security, but also be honest if your organization is struggling. Now is not the time to “protect” employees from the truth. Being an honest, accountable, transparent leader that your employees can trust will reduce their stress.

Acknowledge the elephant in the room and ask how everyone is doing

This is not the time for “business as usual” and placing your total focus on getting the work done. It brings to mind the scene from the movie Titanic when there is chaos all around while a worker restocks the bar. Acknowledge the chaos. Employees need to talk about how they are feeling. Use part of your regular team check-ins to hear how your employees are coping, and if you don't already have regular check-ins, start having them. When employees hear that others are going through the difficulty and uncertainty with them, it brings new perspective. Some employees might actually look at the challenges as an opportunity instead of a challenge. Finally, don't underestimate the importance of talking about the good things that are going on in your employee's lives and adding a little humor to the situation. In times of stress, acknowledging small positives can be big wins.

Help employees understand there will be inefficiencies

Employees will likely be wondering if you think they are actually working while they are at home. Let them know you understand they can't work at their full capacity and effectiveness in their new work environment. To help them feel less overwhelmed during this uncertain time, help them focus and prioritize their work. During a time of stress and upheaval, it will be easy for employees to only see the downside and negative effects. Help them identify opportunities and the potential to do things in ways they couldn't before.

Celebrate successes – even the small ones

As a manager or supervisor, it's your job to lead others through turbulent times. It will probably feel a little like being a gymnast on a balance beam. Your experience and training as a leader has hopefully made you flexible to bend and adjust with the changing circumstances. You will need to focus on a distant point (the future) to help you and your team keep your balance. You will need to adjust course and react to each employee's individual needs, like each individual skill on the beam requires a different execution plan. And when you stick the dismount … celebrate! Simply making it to the end of the week should be as much cause for celebration as completing a tough task. But don't forget the other achievements, such as a child's excitement over a first visit from the tooth fairy, a chalk art masterpiece and time to play board games. Or chances to connect with nature, old friends and distant family members. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “This too shall pass.” And coming out the other side of a disruption can actually leave you and your team stronger and more connected if you manage stress through it.