I’ve observed over the past few months the employees who work with me go through a variety of stages and emotions as we’ve reacted to the pandemic and working remotely. As a Manager asking my employees “how are you?” during challenging times is absolutely critical to establishing and building trust, showing empathy, and helping support employees so they can continue to perform in spite of all the challenges. However, we have to make it safe for one and other to answer the question honestly. 95% of the time when someone asks you “how are you doing” the answer is “Fine” “ok” “good enough” or some other generic response. We absolutely must create a safe space for others to be vulnerable with us (both as people and Managers) and share their experience and emotions. As I reflected over the past few months I noticed the following…
When we ask “how are you?” make it safe to give an honest answer!
Initially, the feelings were shock, uncertainty, fear, worry, and for some skepticism or disbelief. We responded with commitment and resilience when on a Friday many packed up their desks, relocated to their homes, and started serving customers first thing Monday morning. Due to our organization’s commitment to IT we had what was necessary to, for the most part, be successful working remotely immediately. Employees were comfortable (literally in comfy clothes), relaxed (home hair and no makeup), and content to be home with their families. Everything was new and no one knew really what to expect.
As time progressed, I observed many realize how resilient they were and become proud of the ability to ‘do it all’ – work from home, juggle kids, virtual learning, zoom happy hours, drive by birthdays, creative outlets at work, chatting on yammer. Our organization even had a virtual Employee Appreciation Day to celebrate our Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award and ESOP Share price reveal. We celebrated with fun events, yammer chats, contests, and awards – it was fun, and light, and it felt like we would make this work and could overcome the challenges. People were grateful for their jobs and the flexibility, they were confident in their capability to do the job remotely, and relieved to be safe at home with their families.
As summer began, many began taking vacations (primarily due to a requirement to spend time down or lose vacation time) and interaction with each other began to reduce. I believe people were enjoying these vacations – but they were unlikely to be the vacations they might have otherwise planned. Disappointment, over what should have been, could have been, or what was, set in for those who adjusted their plans. The remoteness became intolerable for many – the isolation and loneliness slowly took over. When restaurants, stores, summer camps etc. were finally open a return to ‘normal’ felt natural and many began venturing out. A brief reprieve occurred as the ‘curve was flattened’ and it seemed maybe freedom was possible and we could relax, be excited about going out, and enjoy other activities.
Overtime the optimism and energy began to wear off – employees stopped regularly chatting on yammer, the daily check-ins started to feel less friendly and more routine, cameras were turned off, and a whole new set of emotions started to emerge – sadness, anger, regret, concern, frustration. Some experienced people in their circles get sick or even die from the virus. Others have seen economic or social impacts on families and children. Everyone has felt the effects of the pandemic in one way or another and is trying to cope with a ‘new normal’ that no one really wants or enjoys.
Most recently, as the virus numbers have continued to rise (and in some places like St. Louis at alarming rates) and schools have announced their decisions to either be totally virtual or partially virtual – I think everyone is just reaching a new point of exhaustion. We are tired of being apart, angry at all the limitations in our lives, disappointed the virus wasn’t slowed, sad to be missing our families and friends, and having to make the least bad of all bad choices. I see people being beginning to show signs of how much all of this has worn them down making everyone more grumpy, impatient, defensive, irritated, frustrated, easily offended, and annoyed. I’ve also seen signs of sadness as employees are pessimistic, depressed, regretful, disappointed, and sometimes even paralyzed unable to do anything.I’ve seen an increase in anxiety and people being bewildered, confused, cautious, nervous, worried, and most of all just people are just extremely stressed.
We can’t eliminate or change the many different emotions everyone is feeling and has felt throughout this challenging period of time. What we absolutely MUST do is recognize the many underlying emotions contributing to our daily interactions and mental attitude each day as we work with one and other. When we ask “how are you?” – it absolutely has to be acceptable to say “I’m not good and here is why.” We absolutely don’t have to be “ok” all the time.
Being vulnerable and sharing our personal emotions and situation, acknowledging one and others personal experience emotions and situation, and supporting one and other no matter what – is not only critical but can also be extremely productive. When we know what people are dealing with and where they are coming from we can be more forgiving and understanding as we interact. When we share how we are feeling and what is happening it can bond a team and help team members to unburden by sharing their experience. I know with 100% confidence the team of employees I work with each day supports and cares about me personally and I support and care about them personally. When we connect and share – I see them generate tremendous performance results.
I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read this message – I encourage all of you (especially Managers and Leaders) to consider creating a safe space for those you interact with to share their experience. Acknowledge the whole person and support each other – you might be surprised by the positive result.
I look forward to comments!