You probably know that moment when you feel the world stops. Perhaps you’ve experienced one in the context of a sudden illness, death or other life crisis, or as part of a wider, collective crisis. Right now, the coronavirus epidemic is revolutionising the world moment by moment. At the same time, the emotional climate of entire countries is changing from moment to moment, from confusion to fear, from uncertainty to determination, from compassion to hope. As new information comes in, new emotions are aroused, and as the emotional climate changes, so do the attitudes of the leaders of the states. Emotions fuel human action. Have you stopped to think – what emotions are currently driving your actions?
I’m sure that your workplace is also now considering how to deal with the interest rate virus and what to do about it. Business policies need to be put in place and guidelines given to staff and customers. But now more than ever, we also need to treat employees as human beings – as feeling and experiencing people who want to be heard and seen, who want to participate and feel that they matter. An organisation’s values are tested in difficult times. People remember how they were treated when they were in the midst of difficulties. In time, when things return to normal, organisations where people feel they have been treated well will recover more quickly and perform better. In the midst of difficulties, there can also be a new sense of belonging, deeper motivation and a greater sense of meaning.
After the 2001 terrorist attack in New York, workplaces differed greatly in how they responded to employees’ feelings and situations[i]. Some workplaces did not take them into account at all, but tried to carry on as quickly as possible as if nothing had happened. People were expected to come to work, sit in meetings and do their jobs as before, with no room for collective discussion and sharing of feelings.
In other workplaces, people were actively encouraged to talk about their experiences, share their shock and helped in many ways. For example, in one company, the CEO organised a meeting shortly after the attack to go through the names of the dead workers and also invited professional counsellors to help them deal with the shock. The company paid for air tickets to the head office for all the relatives of the deceased and the CEO personally visited to meet all the relatives. Employees were offered time off to organise things, but most wanted to stay at work to support each other in the midst of the tragedy. In another company, work was organised so that those who wanted to volunteer could do so. And the initiative didn’t always have to come from management – in some cases, workers themselves went to the homes of grieving colleagues to help with everyday tasks.
Organisations that take people’s feelings into account recover from adversity more effectively and quickly. They also have a stronger commitment to colleagues and the organisation as a whole. What do you think – if your employer and colleagues helped you in difficult times, would this have any impact on your commitment?
We’ve put together three tips to help your work community cope during and after the COVID-19 outbreak:
1. Release energy by facing emotions.
A worker with unspoken worries and questions running through his or her mind is unable to focus on the job effectively. On the contrary, suppressing emotions drains energy and reduces the ability to focus on the tasks at hand. Emotions are like messengers trying to tell us something. Once the emotional message has been heard, there is room for a new one. That’s why for many people, sharing their feelings and saying them out loud is so relieving and reassuring. At the same time, the experience of facing the emotional level is created – I am not alone in my feelings, others feel the same, we share these experiences together, my feelings are normal – this is what it is like to be human. Good emotional encounters strengthen cohesion and release energy.
If you are in a leadership position, the power of your example is strong. How do you feel under these circumstances? Do you ask people how they are doing now? How do you deal with your own emotions? When you share your feelings and thoughts with your team or staff, you show that human feelings matter, and you encourage others to share theirs too. By asking how people are feeling, you show that you care.
Take a steam at the beginning of all meetings – a moment to just share how you’re feeling right now. Once the top emotions have been shared and vented, there’s mental space to move on to the business at hand – what we need to get done now.
2. Make sure you are present, don’t leave people alone.
I recently had a conversation with a healthcare professional. He told me that there is a huge number of people calling the coronavirus helpline who have been prescribed home to work remotely, and who are now confused at home.
So remember that even teleworking brings out different emotions in different people. Some people are relieved, others feel lonely and insecure. Make sure that teleworking does not mean being left alone. Call people, have virtual meetings, make sure that people are still part of the work community even when working remotely. Is now the time to try virtual coffee? Or get into the habit of a virtual pulse of the day?
Personally, even before the coronavirus, I have already implemented a lot of personal virtual coaching. At the time, I strongly opposed the idea of virtual coaching, because it can’t be as good as physical presence. But I’ve had to turn my opinion around completely – presence can be very strong even in virtual meetings. Put everything else away, just focus on the other person. Tune in to hear how he feels. If the other seems absent, ask them to be present: “Can I have your undivided attention now?”
3. Enable participation and action.
When emotions are taken into account, people want to act and participate. The most frustrating thing of all is when you feel you can’t do anything. Work is good therapy – as long as it’s not a way of suppressing emotions. An exceptional situation forces you to clarify and reassess your work goals and priorities – what is most important in this situation? But at the same time, many people also have a greater desire to help and contribute. Now, Italians trapped in their homes during the tsunami are opening the windows of their apartment blocks and singing together. All over the world, people are volunteering to do the shopping and offer help to those quarantined at home. How does your workplace help others?
Build a sense of control and progress by setting both short and long-term goals. Short-term goals – even one day – create a sense of accomplishment and increased control, which are important in an otherwise uncertain situation. Long-term goals help to put things into perspective and they also increase the experience of meaningfulness – what can we focus on now in preparation for when things return to normal?
We hope these tips were a pleasure and useful for you and your workplace. Make sure that people in your team leave feeling heard, valued, well treated and that together we have been through trials and tribulations that have made us grow stronger. At its best, this feeling can lead to unprecedented levels of commitment and motivation that work wonders.
Regards, Jarkko and Emergy team
[i] Dutton, Frost, Worline, Lilius & Kanov (2002) Leading in times of trauma. Harvard Business Review.