COVID-19 has impacted us on an individual, social and global level. Organizations and businesses have also been impacted and have not been able to sidestep “change”. Some organizations will have to contend with disastrous negative consequences, the minority might even see positive results, and some will sit in between. However, all leaders of teams, in any context, will have to lead and assist their employees who are not only emotionally impacted by change in their personal lives, which may show up at work, but also by organizational change.
Be a Change Agent
As a manager or supervisor, you are the “Change Agent”, the person who acts as a catalyst and assumes the responsibility for managing change. Your role is even more important in light of the continually advancing changes that COVID-19 brings with it. Employees will have varying reactions to change; however, it would be reasonable to say that this time in particular is an especially emotionally unsettling time for employees. The following strategies will assist in leading employees through this difficult time, but heed the advice yourself as well if needed.
The Cycle of Change
William Bridges, a change management consultant and author, developed a model which focuses on transition, not change. The distinction is this: change is something that happens TO people and can happen very quickly; whereas transition is INTERNAL to the person and can take longer for the person to adjust depending on a number of variables. The three-phase model includes stage 1 - “Endings”, stage 2 - “Neutral Zone”, and stage 3 - “New Beginnings”.
Ending, Losing and Letting Go
Endings are where we disengage from the old. It involves: loss, grief, shock, numbness, denial, anger, hurt, unease, resistance, blaming, complaining, feeling sick, doubt, and stress. You can support your employees by: Giving them the time and space to come to terms with the situation and its repercussions for them. Being transparent and providing as much information as possible on a regular basis that reinforces why the change is important (in reaction to external change). Encouraging questions and ensuring there are plenty of avenues for issues, feelings and concerns to be discussed.
The Neutral Zone is where we have come to terms with the notion that change is occurring but we have yet to connect fully, or understand the new normal. It involves feelings of: indecision, chaos, unknown, anxiety, fear, and, confusion.
You can support your employees by:
Providing as much information as possible on a regular basis.
Keeping them focused on short-term objectives and goals, while at the same time helping them to see the bigger picture.
Quickly addressing rumours.
Keeping them up to speed with time frames for when and how the change will take place.
Involving them as much as they want to be involved and can be involved.
New Beginnings is where we begin to understand and connect to the new. It involves energy, creativeness, renewed purpose, renewed direction, growth, and cooperation.
You can support your employees by:
Rewarding and reinforcing their successes.
Reviewing and reflecting on strengths and skills they demonstrated through the change process. Analyzing the change process and highlighting strategies for further change.
General Communication Tips to Help your Employees Deal with Crisis
Be human and transparent that you too have similar feelings (“we are all in this together”).
Normalize that a range of emotions in the change process is to be expected. Listen and understand the emotion presented in the moment (as the presented emotion is not always what the true emotion is at a deeper internal level). Encourage the employee to discuss their true feelings and what might be triggering them.
Communicate directly, honestly and calmly.
Don’t ask an employee to snap out of it or pull themselves together. Denying their feelings may only drive them deeper into negative feelings.
Help the individual to find ways to manage their feelings to organize their thinking patterns. People with an unbalanced emotional state have trouble processing and analyzing thoughts/feelings.
Encourage and model self-care.
Suggest proactive stress management techniques as well: a dedicated time to talk about issues at team meetings and remind the group that you want everyone to feel “safe” in sharing their feelings; or begin team meetings with a deep breathing technique.
Encourage employees to reach out for individual counselling support.
Distribute EAP brochures and phone numbers for easy access.
Additional Strategies for Leaders
Remind your employees to stay away from an overload of social media, to be wary of “fake news”, and offer resources which are credible.
Disseminate information to all stakeholders on a consistent basis and be transparent in your message. Gene Klann, author of the book “Crisis Leadership” suggests the “3Rs: Review, repeat, reinforce”.
Stay assertive, grounded, and time directed, to have others follow your example.
Don’t let people get lost in the negative and stay positive.
Be visible and available, show genuine concern for people, and appeal to employees’ sense of principles and morality which are important to them as individuals, i.e., courage, community, etc.
Be willing to access support for yourself if you need it. Being in a leadership role can be onerous and it is easy to overlook how you are feeling when you are focused on others. Your employees need you physically and emotionally well, and self-care is equally important for leaders as well.
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