Managing in Stressful times: The Aftermath of COVID-19

Managing in Stressful times: The Aftermath of COVID-19
March 13, 2021 Linda Murray

If you’re struggling to find a way of working with your team post-COVID, don’t be hard on yourself. Many leaders are feeling helpless and lacking confidence right now. The pandemic has taken a serious toll on our mental, physical and emotional health. Give yourself credit for understanding how your team members are feeling.

What’s really happening.

A US survey by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital found that 90 per cent of the people they surveyed had to experience emotional distress related to the pandemic. Similar to PTSD, reactions have been intense. Loss, grief, confusion, stress… All those strong and negative emotions have affected people even if they aren’t aware of it. While Australia hasn’t suffered to the same degree as the US, our people have still been deeply affected.

Have you ever taken a holiday only to come down with illness during your time off? Usually, that’s because you’ve been working too hard or subject yourself to too much stress. What’s happening right now to people everywhere, and it’s in response to the trauma of the pandemic.

From stress to trauma.

It has taken COVID-19 to push us from stress into trauma. We can function with a certain amount of stress, but trauma shuts us down in every sense. We revert to survival mode, threatened with the loss of our loved ones, our health, or our careers. The world looks vastly different and it’s a much more hazardous place.

Traumatised people behave differently. Their emotions are raw and on the surface. They do and say whatever they must so they can protect themselves and stay secure. That explains why your team could be struggling now, personally, and professionally. Even the most harmonious teams are on edge after the year we’ve had.

Traumatised teams need leadership.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress has released a wonderful guide called “Grief Leadership During COVID-19.” I think it’s something every leader should read.

When everything is changing and threatening their safety, your people will look for something safe and secure, and that is you. You are their rock to keep them safe. How can you do that?

Be seen.

Visibility is crucial. If the leader disappears, it’s only natural for their people to assume the worst. They’ve been abandoned. Remember how angry people were when Scott Morrison sent on holiday while the country burned? His presence wouldn’t have changed the fire situation, but it would have made the people feel safer, as though he was managing everything possible. It’s the same for your team. Even if you can’t change what’s happening, make sure they know you’re there.

Keep communicating.

You know what it’s like. In the absence of information, people make assumptions that spread and become ”fact,” and they are always negative. Fear does that to us: it directs our thinking to the worst-case scenario.

Share what you know and be honest about what you don’t. Regular communication offers a form of security. When people know what’s happening, and those rumours are kept at bay, they feel more in control of their lives.

Acknowledge the fear.

I think we need to show our people that fear and associated emotions are normal. We’re all feeling them to some degree. Being able to express themselves honestly takes the sting out of emotion. The feelings are legitimised. As a leader, acknowledging the feelings and empathising with them opens space for a constructive conversation to move them forward.

Focus on the positives.

This is about teaching your people to be resilient. While respecting how they feel, help them look for tools, people, and support to help them cope. Put self-care practices in place. Create occasions for your team to come together, even virtually, to celebrate progress. Work with the team to build a plan to achieve certain outcomes and follow it through. There’s nothing like the power of a small success to encourage the desire for more.

Look after yourself.

The old saying that you can’t pour tea from an empty pot is true. It’s not just your team that is feeling the effects of stress and trauma. You are, too. Be kind to yourself. It’s not selfish: your team needs a strong and healthy leader right now.

We’re going to survive the aftermath of COVID-19 but it’s going to take care and sensitivity to do so. And you know what? You don’t have to be perfect at any of this. Your willingness to try will be enough to put some of the confidence back into your team.

If you need to talk this through and find your first step forward, let’s chat. Be the strong and positive leader your people need right now.

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