Leadership principles for the new world of work

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our world, we are all coping with a tremendous amount of disruption. This is especially true as it relates to our relationship with our work.

ARTICLE | 3m read
April 21, 2020

Now more than ever, it’s vital for managers to establish a sense of psychological safety and digital wellness, leading employees with transparency, trust, and empathy. By focusing on these qualities, you can provide the best possible employee experience during difficult times and build a high-performing, empathetic, and actively engaged remote workforce.

Why employees need psychological safety right now

Uncertainty is never good for business, but a sudden crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially tough on your employees’ mental health. Your staff has had to prepare to work remotely for the indefinite future, figure out how to handle child, elder, and pet care, and ensure their households are practicing the social distancing they need to stay safe. This is a huge amount of transition to handle in only a few weeks, and the pressure to perform and adapt under these stressful conditions had made employees everywhere feel vulnerable.

That in mind, it’s important for managers to do all they can to create psychological safety for their teams. One way this can be done is by encouraging employees to maintain digital wellness. Communicate that balance is important, and there’s no need to feel “always on” even though there’s no longer physical distance between work and home.

How trust and transparency help employees perform under pressure

Once you’ve established a sense of psychological safety and digital wellness, you have set your remote team up to keep working during an extended disruption. However, to help your employees do their best work as the situation evolves, you need them to trust you. The best way to keep their trust is to be transparent with your team. But during a fast-moving situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, managers will face work questions and challenges that do not have easy answers. How can you be transparent and maintain your employees’ trust when you don’t have all the information you need?

The answer is to communicate early and communicate often. Establish regular huddles for your team if you haven’t already, and make clear to your employees that they can ask questions about both their individual situation and the company as a whole. If you don’t have all the information someone needs, be transparent about what you don’t know. Do not speculate; set aside time to find the answer. Embrace the reality that much of your job during a crisis is ensuring effective communication rather than your usual responsibilities. ADP found that teams that trust their team leader are 12X more likely to be fully engaged in their work, so building and maintaining this trust is the best way to keep everyone productive under pressure.

Emphasize empathy and reduce friction for employees

As a leader in your organization, you are not immune to the stresses and challenges that COVID-19 has brought to your team. This in mind, it’s important that you don’t mistake your leadership responsibilities as a mandate to do everything yourself. More than half of U.S. workers experienced burnout before the crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic has not made that reality easier.

The best path forward is to encourage empathy by setting reasonable expectations and reducing as much friction as you can that may be getting in the way of employees maintaining digital wellness and work-life integration. Emphasize that everyone on your team can and should ask for help when they need it. Encourage employees to be patient and supportive with the parents on their team who have to manage childcare during remote work. Be transparent with your childless employees that they may need to take on bigger shares of project work, and reiterate that you recognize and appreciate their extra effort. Do all you can to make your team understand you are all in this challenge together, creating a culture of compassion for each other that will last long after this crisis has subsided.

Be the leader your team needs in a crisis

These are difficult times, and it’s likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects on how we work. This makes it important for you to lead your employees effectively to help them thrive in the new normal of business continuity. By establishing a sense of psychological safety, focusing on trust and transparency, and encouraging empathy among all your employees, you can be the leader your staff needs both during this disruption and in a happier future.

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