Everyone was impacted by the by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way. Everyone suffered a loss of some sort. This could be a loss of familiar routine, a sense of personal safety, time with loved ones, and of course, a family member who became sick or died. This collective trauma has led many to ask, “How can you support staff after a crisis?”
As COVID-19 continues to wane, it’s important that we reflect on the lessons learned during the pandemic. Here, we’ll examine steps that organizations can take to support their staff both during and after a crisis.
These strategies can help you create a workplace where staff feel safer — both physically and psychologically. This allows for greater employee buy-in and communication, ultimately leading to improved organizational culture, increased retention rates, and more.
6 steps to support staff during a crisis
1. Be honest
When employees do not have access to information or answers, they create their own reasons and conclusions. Without guidance or leadership, these conclusions can be based on inaccurate information, rumors, or their own fear and insecurities.
Ask yourself what your team is likely to conclude in the absence of good information. Part of being a leader means shaping the narrative. You cannot do that without clear and honest communication.
Be forthright and do not wait for your team to come to you. When you do not have the information requested, acknowledge that you don’t know and pledge to find out. Then get back to your team when you said you would. You don’t want team members to guess or assume that you are withholding information.
2. Be consistent
Employees have a lot to be uncertain about. We can’t control the world around us.
The antidote for uncertainty is consistency. You might not have all the answers or be able to share all you know, but you can reliably show up for your employees. Let team members know they can count on you as an engaged leader who understands their struggles.
3. Be unassuming
It’s a safe bet that everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, but not everyone has been affected in the same way. One employee might benefit from working in the office again, while another might find it challenging to work in the office.
If you do not ask, you will not know how change is impacting different individuals. The only safe assumption is that someone on your team is struggling in a way you do not understand and could not predict. If you manage a team with diverse cultural backgrounds, they may have perspectives and life experiences you have not readily considered.
Professors from Case Western Reserve University take this concept further by outlining how you can help team members communicate their needs by “coaching with compassion.” They use the acronym REACH to help managers remember to:
- R — Resonate with your employees, connecting with their experiences.
- E — Demonstrate empathy, feeling with your team and understanding their stressors because you have felt that way before.
- A — Cultivate awareness of yourself and others, reflecting on how elevated stress levels affect your leadership ability.
- C — Show compassion, which is like empathy but different because it involves a genuine desire to help your team (think empathy plus action).
- H — Rely on humor and hope to inspire and cultivate a sense of safety and belonging.
4. Be supportive
Focus on the improvements you can make and do your best to offer meaningful support. Listen to what your employees say but with the awareness that you cannot fix every problem.
Reflect on your company mission and vision statements. Do the same principles apply to how you support your employees? If not, you have an opportunity to ensure they do.
Balance this with the understanding that you cannot mitigate all the stresses your teams are facing. Sometimes the best support is to admit we are out of our league and refer to outside resources. As a leader, you can support your team’s use of and access to appropriate resources.
5. Be open to suggestions
Your employees were hired because they know their jobs and what resources they need to accomplish them. They also understand their struggles and what they need to mitigate them.
Being open to employee feedback is important to get an accurate view of the current environment. By listening, you might realize that your understanding of your team’s needs is outdated and no longer accurate, or perhaps is not fully developed.
The best boss I ever had demonstrated openness with great success. I and other team members knew that we could discuss any concerns or ideas with this boss and that our feedback would be appreciated and considered. This manage was also quick to ask our opinion on any matter affecting our department, regardless of someone’s title or perceived status in the company.
As a result of this willingness to learn from the team, lines of communication remained open. This leadership style created an environment that nurtured creative and collaborative problem solving.
In contrast, I recall another manager who refused to accept new ideas that did not align with his understanding or desired goals. As a result, many team members were reluctant to bring problems to his attention over fear of retribution or a desire to avoid confrontation.
Instead of asking employees for their insight, he dismissed their ideas. In doing so, he missed opportunities to better understand the department.
6. Model open communication
Asking for feedback not only helps you support your team, it also cultivates respect, fosters team building, and increases your ability to be an effective leader. Listening to your team will ensure that you are making decisions based on up-to-date information.
Lead by example and remind your employees that they can support one another through shifting expectations. Share how you are managing uncertainty to encourage employees to talk about their own self-care and mental health. Modeling positive behaviors gives your employees permission to implement those behaviors on their own.
There is a saying that shared pain is pain lessened. The same can be said of fear and uncertainty. Being honest, curious, consistent, unassuming, and supportive builds a culture that helps managers and employees weather whatever storm they’re facing.
Support staff after a crisis with trauma-informed supervision
If you find yourself asking, “How can I support staff after a crisis,” you’re not alone. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations are looking for better ways to support their employees. One of the best ways is to implement trauma-informed supervision.
Trauma-informed supervision is most effective when an organization works to incorporate the principles of trauma-informed care (TIC) into their organizational culture. These principles are:
- Safety: An individual must feel safe, calm, and secure in the environment, both physically and psychologically.
- Trustworthiness and transparency: Interactions are honest and without hidden agendas.
- Support: Support and mutual self-help can create a sense of safety and hope for staff.
- Collaboration and mutuality: Everyone on the team works together for the common good of the person served. Emphasis is placed on partnering with persons served and leveling the power differences that exist between providers and clients.
- Empowerment, voice, and choice: The individual’s strengths, gifts, and talents are recognized and built upon. Treatment is based on resilience and the belief that individuals who experience trauma can heal and recover. Persons served are supported in shared decision-making, choice, and goal setting.
- Cultural, historical, and gender issues: The provider recognizes the importance of culture in the individual’s experience of trauma and how they interpret and heal from it. Providers offer gender-responsive services, leverage the healing value of traditional cultural connections, acknowledge and address historical trauma, and are responsive to the racial, ethnic, and cultural needs of the individual served.
To begin implementing trauma-informed supervision at your organization, provide training on TIC to anyone who works as a people manager. This includes executives, administrators, and supervisors. In these trainings, seek to provide your people managers with the tools to properly communicate with and supervise staff who have experienced trauma or are exhibiting symptoms of traumatic stress. Providing a psychologically safe working environment can help to undo some of the harm done by crises.
Building Resilience: Empowering Your Clients and Your Staff
Relias’ research brief, Building Resilience: Empowering Your Clients and Your Staff, shares how people can, and do, recover from trauma. By building on existing strengths and applying new tools for coping, resilience is a skill that can be fostered.Learn more →