Guiding Your Staff Through Difficult Times


Guiding Your Staff Through Difficult Times

June 9, 2020 | Education

If you’re reading this, you’re probably exhausted.

You’re navigating a global pandemic that requires near-constant pivoting of your business’s plans and expectations, on top of worrying about the health of your loved ones and community.

You’re also facing the reckoning of another deadly but more insidious crisis—racial injustice. You have to think about the wellbeing of your staff at the same time as feeling the pain of our shared grief and outrage over the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

It’s always a challenge to lead your staff through hard times—like layoffs, restructuring, or a lawsuit—but our present moment feels particularly punishing and exacting.

Your employees might be organizing or participating in marches, crying in between Zoom meetings, isolating away from family, or nervously scrolling news until 4 am every night. And you might be, too.

How can you keep your teams together amidst all of the pain, confusion, and chaos?

Go back to your values

When you created your company, you spent time carefully crafting your values and ethos. They’re a part of why your employees chose to work for you. Go back and interrogate those words. Was your company borne out of the need for more innovation and boldness in your industry? That might mean that your employees are craving a different reaction from you than if you built a company around kindness and continuous learning. What would a values-led response look like from you at this moment?

Create a space for listening

In her viral Medium article, “Maintaining Professionalism in the Age of Black Death is…a Lot,” Shenequa Golding shares:

“I don’t know who decided that being professional was loosely defined as being divorced of total humanity, but whoever did they’ve aided, unintentionally maybe, in a unique form of suffocation.”

How can you make space for your team’s humanity without prying or crossing boundaries? Set up one-to-one meetings that start with an earnest “How are you doing?”, create a Google Form for anonymous online comments for people who might not feel comfortable sharing publicly, and be real, reachable, and vulnerable.

Also, be sure to know about all of the mental health resources available on your company insurance plans, and consider appending it with other programs if it’s not enough to meet the needs of your staff.

Take care of you

Stress takes its toll on our ability to function. Make sleep a priority, impose guidelines around social media consumption, and try to inject pieces of joy into your day as much as is possible right now. Since the pandemic began, lots of free techniques and coping tools have been made available online, and if you’re facing this moment as a Black woman, there are some tailored mental health resources available to you.

Be appropriately transparent about how the business is doing

Demonstrate trust and engagement by being appropriately candid about how your business is doing. In times of crisis, employees fill the vacuum of silence with worst-case-scenario thinking. When they know more about how the company as a whole is doing, they tend to think and innovate like leaders. Complete transparency is called open-book management, and, while it takes a lot of work and education to get right, it can help bring staff together.

How can you begin the process of transparency? The Small Giants Community has a guide.

Keep internal communications organized

For many organizations facing coronavirus, teams have had pay cuts, been furloughed, or are in the process of rehiring staff. If you share big news with just a few members of your organization, by the end of the day the rest of your team will get the version with no detail plus commentary. Have a tight communication plan for any news that affects the pay, benefits, or hours of staff at your company. Your internal communications should always include a long-term plan for resolution to the crisis you’re facing.

Provide additional support to very stressed employees

We all react differently to stress. Some of your employees might have a strong response to these ongoing crises and need a little bit of extra coaching through this time. Either personally or through their managers, make sure they have a simple, clear path forward in their work, clear anything non-urgent, and add a bit of padding to their deadlines. Make sure you have alternate plans for crucial projects if people have to take time away from work.

Be flexible

Micromanagement is always heinous, but now is a particularly bad time to be controlling and rigid. If you don’t already, allow your staff to work non-traditional hours, use their sick-leave to tend to their mental health, and give them latitude about the way they accomplish goals. Make peace with the fact that this year isn’t going to end exactly how you imagined it would, and things aren’t going to get done the way you thought they would.

Allow your staff to step up

While everyone is feeling stressed, you may find that you see the best in your people. Allow them to lift up your company with creative business solutions, empathetic listening, mutual support, and ideas for bringing people together. These solutions can come from the most unexpected places, so make sure everyone feels empowered to contribute towards your goals.

Lead by example

Saying that you’re there to listen but never being available, or saying that you don’t accept discrimination and sweeping complaints under the carpet won’t meet the needs we’re facing. Model the type of behavior you’d like to see from your teams. Demonstrate honesty, humanity, and organization, and you’ll be amazed at how people will step up to meet you at that level.

Implement the practice of nonviolent communication

Your team’s ability to communicate clearly and constructively is how you’ll continue to thrive beyond COVID-19, and carry this time forward into meaningful and transformative action. Nonviolent communication puts an emphasis on awareness, responsibility, and empathy. It encourages you to think about how you would want to hear difficult news, use open questions, and manage conflict strategically. If you haven’t come across nonviolent communication principles before, First Round has a great summary.


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