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Being an Empathetic Manager in Times of Stress

Stress is always a part of business. It can help teams and individuals achieve great things when managed well. Alternatively, growing pains, company cutbacks, make or break deadlines and pandemics can overwhelm even the most seasoned of teams. So, how do you engage and uplift your team in times of pressure? Start simple! Here are our favorite ways to approach challenging times with empathy.

Look at Employees as Individuals, and then as a Team Unit

Remember that your team is made up of unique individuals with their own combination of stresses. Have an open discussion with each team member to learn about their pressures, and how you can best support them. This could mean adjusting their schedule to fit their lives better, the addition of new technology or systems to aid them, or even adjusting their workload to best suit their capacity at the present moment. Patience and understanding during stressful times will be the key to handling them effectively with your team still intact. Make weekly one-on-one meetings a priority and be sure to schedule each one well in advance so your team can plan around them.

Once you’ve met with everyone individually, evaluate them as a group. You may already know what adjustments (if any) need to be made for the individual, but how does everyone’s workload seem from an aggregate viewpoint? Are there some tasks that can shift from one person to another to ease productivity bottlenecks?

Focus on Team Communication

Communication is often the first thing to break down during stressful times. Prioritize open team communication by reminding everyone what your company mission and values are, and how to embody them. Define what indicators people can use to speak up and how to share thoughts and ideas kindly and professionally. This will be important when ideas differ. Don’t forget to promote praise among your team! This can boost morale and motivate people to deliver their best work. Regularly host team bonding activities that offer a variety of ways people can interact with each other, and be sure all team members feel included in the activity.

Offer Flexibility and Collaboration

Patience and flexibility are pivotal to making it through intense work without burning out along the way. If someone on your team is struggling to keep up, schedule time to talk. If their work product is suffering, check-in. You already have a base knowledge of what they’re dealing with daily, so lead with compassion. Some people take longer to get the hang of things during upheaval and sometimes they are able to maintain the pace only to have it fall apart the longer the stress goes on. No one is the same, especially during prolonged stress, so keep that in mind. Ask how you can help. If they don’t have an immediate answer, offer your suggestions, but keep the conversation open and collaborative. Ideally, you want them to tell you what’s hindering them from completing their work and exactly what would be helpful for them.

Respond to Internal Stressors

Every business has goals to reach and deadlines to meet. Those don’t go away because of external stresses, so it’s a manager’s job to balance expectations with their workforce’s ability to produce. If your company is already a fast-paced environment, you’re more likely to experience rapid burnout on your team during high tension seasons. Inability to focus or produce quality work, disinterest, and struggling to juggle priorities are just a few signs to watch out for. If your team member is showing signs of burnout, don’t wait to see what happens – proactively offer help. Encourage your team to turn their computers off at the close of the day. Suggest daily walks and healthy habits.

Clear your team’s schedule of any unnecessary meetings. Too many meetings can cause fatigue, especially if done over video chat. In the beginning, you may need to have your team focus on one primary objective each day. This can be adjusted over time as things get back to normal. Consider designating a “no meeting” day each week, for example, Friday. Your team could use it for planning tasks for the next week, catch up on any tasks from the current week, or spend some time strategizing for future projects or productivity goals.

All of these items, when balanced well, can be a reliable system your team can trust throughout the year and will carry them through times of higher stress with ease.

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Vada Zedlar - VanderHouwen

Vada Zedlar

Vice President of Account Management