How to keep morale high when facing adversity

Mar 26, 2020 | 5 minutes read | COVID-19 Resources

As a leader, your employees will be looking to you for guidance during this difficult time. We’re all navigating through this uncharted territory to some degree, and you may be searching for answers on how to motivate and reassure your employees during a time of uncertainty as it relates to job security. We sat down with Wave’s Chief People Officer, Ashira Gobrin, to get her take on a few strategies you can implement to help boost morale.

Strategy 1: Focus on the facts and explain decisions transparently

During a state of emergency, it’s important to keep your calm, provide consistent communication, and aim to create a sense of security among all of the uncertainty. As a leader it is your responsibility to do what is right for your employees, your customers, and your community. Your employees need to know that you’re on top of the situation and will be guiding the organization through this.

Here are three main takeaways of how to frame your communication strategy:

  1. Use only information that is fact-based and helpful. Do your best to block out the panic-ridden media frenzy. Make sure to separate public health, government and WHO updates from emotional communications
  2. Don’t stop communicating. You need to have a continuous communication approach, even just to check-in with people and provide updates. The sense of calm you create in the beginning will subside over time and lead to renewed feelings of anxiety–so be sure to keep the conversation going
  3. People will become overwhelmed with the rapidly changing information, coupled with the fact that it becomes more challenging to process information under conditions of stress. Inevitably, panic will set in. The best thing you can do is to be informed and help people make sense of what’s going on and put it into perspective

A few ways you can put this into action:

  1. Send emails with clear information on a regular basis. Provide all the necessary information, explain the logic behind your decisions and define what some of the more scary terms mean. Eg: Declaring a state of emergency means the government has access to special emergency funds and can release it with less bureaucracy
  2. Set up virtual check-ins with your direct reports to maintain a level of connectedness throughout this
  3. Encourage your leadership or management team to be present and show lots of support for all employees

Strategy 2: Change your title to Chief Empathy Officer

It’s time to move your empathy meter up to the highest notch. Make sure you do not underestimate the effects of anxiety. Acknowledging employees' fears and reinforcing that the source of panic will eventually subside goes a long way. It’s important to give your employees a level of autonomy over their own decisions. They will undoubtedly have unique working situations; showing you trust them and respond with flexibility and support will be the strongest message.

Some of the many ways you can show empathy:

  1. Host virtual AMA’s (Ask Me Anything) to help answer questions and to create an open forum for those who are feeling unsettled
  2. Create a safe space for employees who may not want to be overwhelmed by a constant slew of updates. For example, creating separate, opt-in channels on Slack for COVID-19 news and other channels for spreading positive news helps offer your employees peace of mind
  3. Clear time in your schedule for non-work related conversations. To maintain a sense of normality, carve out time to talk to your coworkers as you would on a regular day at the office. These casual conversations will help you and others clear their head and escape from their stressful situations.

Strategy 3: Help plan for the present and the future

The most common reason for anxiety at a time like this is the unknown. It is true, we don’t know exactly when we will get back to normal, which is why it’s important to plan accordingly. It is your job to help your employees navigate through this. Helping your employees plan logistically on getting set up at home can help lessen feelings of stress.

How to help your employees plan:

  1. Help them work on a schedule to manage their day. Many employees are faced with the task of juggling kids, work, and chores all at once, so offering your expertise on time management can prove beneficial
  2. Share helpful resources as you come across them. Resources on how to keep your kids entertained, or how to properly set up a home office. Not everyone will have time to seek this information out
  3. Empathy! Yes, I know I sound like a broken record, but showing your employees that you care is so very important. In a time of social distancing, feeling cared for in any capacity is imperative.

Strategy 4: Create Visible Leadership

Now is not the time to hide behind your computer screens and go about your day. Employees look to their leaders in a time of uncertainty, and being present is not a choice - it’s a necessity. This will show your employees that while something serious is going on, their leaders are not taking it lightly and that they have their best interests at heart.

Signs of visible leadership:

  1. Hit pause on anything that can wait. Your effort should be channeled into what’s important right now–managing the situation. As it continues to evolve, so should your plan
  2. Show a healthy balance of optimism and realism. Despite everything that’s going on, there is still a lot of positivity in the world, and you must bring that to light to help elevate your employees' spirits
  3. Put a face to your words. Enabling video is a simple, yet major step in showing your presence to employees. Giving off positive vibes and a hearty smile could help some employees get through a difficult time

Strategy 5: Give more attention to the groups that need it most 

Every single one of your employees is going through their own unique situation. However, there are certainly similarities among them where you’ll be able to provide support to a large group. Try pinpointing the most common stress points, whether it be parents struggling to manage their little kids at home, or those who are alone and feeling more isolated than ever. Once you know this, you can tackle a solution.

Examples of common groups, and how you can help:

  1. Parents with small kids are not used to having to balance their work and home life at the same time. Creating a support group of parents within your company to share resources to keep kids busy and tips on how to manage can make a difference.
  2. Those who live alone, who are used to coming into work everyday and being surrounded by colleagues may feel extremely isolated. Creating engaging activities via video call, or simply creating an open social channel to discuss anything can make them feel less alone.
  3. Extend your ability to help out not only your employees, but also their families. Many of your employees may have elderly parents or ill family members, and being conscious of this is important. It is worth going above and beyond and seeing how you can help out these family members in a time of need.

Strategy 6: Remind employees to care for themselves

With everything that is going on, it’s easy for people to forget to take the necessary time to care for themselves. Try reminding your employees that their well-being is the number one priority right now. You can help them care for themselves with simple reminders of things that they would usually do on any normal day.

Some gentle reminders:

  1. Offer creative ways to burn off nervous energy through different forms of exercise, like taking a walk, joining a virtual bootcamp, or downloading an exercise app. Oxygen to your brain helps to alleviate the negative thoughts
  2. Reinforce the importance of sleep and doing things to relax your body, which will in turn relax your mind. Take a soothing bath, sip a caffeine free tea, or try meditating before going to sleep. Apps like Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier, are all offer evening practices
  3. If you feel comfortable, try reaching out to your personal network to source answers to questions you don’t have the answers to help provide your employees with useful advice from other professionals (health-care professionals, therapists, social workers, etc.).

We’re all learning how to navigate through these new set of challenges. If there were any topics you would like us to cover, please tweet us and we’ll do our best to answer them.

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