On the hills of her residence, Edith Crawley shed a million tears. For six seasons of Downton Abbey, Lady Edith struggled with her place in her family and what her future would hold. She tried to jump on any opportunity and walk through any open door with consistency. Edith struggled to find solid ground to walk on and a sense of appropriate predictability for her life. And her family, particularly her sister Mary, made it more complicated for her by providing commentary instead of help.
Underestimating uncertainty is not a wise decision. As managers and supervisors, be smart about how you engage with your team. Let’s lay the groundwork first. This is not a call to be a therapist. The mental health struggles faced by so many across the globe, heightened by the pandemic, are not to be addressed frivolously. Yes, it’s good to ask how someone is doing, really doing. It’s good to foster an environment of transparency, respect and healthy communication. These are right and good standards in the workplace. But don’t confuse that with professional resources for mental health.
According to a recent study from Gartner, employee misconduct rises as much as 33% in the workplace during times of uncertainty. Think about that. That’s 1/3 of your staff that engage in some level of misconduct at work. To be clear, let’s not think we’re talking about felony crime (although, it’s included). Don’t expect to see computers and desk chairs being brought out the back door into a white box truck to be sold on Craigslist (ok, that was a little too specific and likely an indicting characterization). Most of what happens in misconduct is communicative – sharing company secrets/property with outsiders, engaging in harassment/physical conflict with teammates, stealing time (lateness, early outs) and the like.
It’s in these areas that managers and supervisors should have direct impact. Cultivating an environment for workplace psychological safety means upholding company values. And truly, these are the times where values need to be active rather than idyllic. Are we acting as an organization with integrity? Embracing collaboration? Fostering innovation?
One healthy approach is to sit (virtually, of course) with other managers and walk through the organization’s values. Ask the hard questions of one another regarding the application of these values within departmental procedures and communications. Decide on a uniform approach to such matters. A united, consistent front will aide in providing certainty in an uncertain world. Staff will appreciate knowing how work works.
Be encouraged, too, that consistency does not mean complacency. If that’s been your experience, you’re doing it all wrong. Consistency fosters comfort, true, but that environment should include comfort in creativity. Consistency in an application towards innovation, for instance, doesn’t diminish creativity but rather envelopes it in safety and in a smart approach to risk. As a management team, tweak (or maybe overhaul) how employee contribution works and how it’s fostered. A tool for psychological safety is consistent application. Embrace it here.
Of course, be thoughtful about your organization’s EAP or your local city/county service offerings for those staff in need of more. Work with human resources to bring those individuals the resources needed. The CDC has a page of resources and links in light of COVID19 and its impact on the mental state of people (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/stress-coping/index.html); none of it needs to be kept in the dark, but it does need to be handleEdithd by professionals. Use these resources.
The way in which certainty can open the door for possibilities is when hope appears. As managers and people leaders, think of yourself as a Hope-Bringer. You do not need to have all the answers but the willingness to consistently bring resources to bear and to base decisions on the known values of the organization. Even Edith found consistency in the end. There is hope.
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