Taking Care of Your Team and Yourself During the Pandemic

This is a guest post written by Jennie Yelvington, Program Manager for HR Organization and Professional Development.

There are many issues leaders need to be aware of in this unprecedented time in order to help themselves and the people they lead stay as steady and effective as possible.

Issue 1: Uncertainty
Most like to have a sense of control over their work and lives. Many may react to the vast number of unknowns we are currently facing with anxiety, foggy brain, irritability or fear. Leaders can help allieviate these feelings in the following ways:

  • Over-communicate. Have regular check-ins, forward relevant emails to your team (for example, many of the DDC announcements) and send your team emails summarizing non-confidential information from your leadership meetings.
  • Be honest. Tell employees what you don’t know. It is vitally important to share information, but often in times of rapid change, you honestly won’t have all the answers; reassure them that you will share information as soon as it is available.
  • Be transparent, clear and concise about challenges, then engage the team in problem-solving mitigation strategies.
  • Remind them of what isn’t changing. What aspects of the work and team are unchanged? Even broad statements like our commitment to safety, teaching and research will serve as reminders and can help guide people. Reassure them that this time of tremendous uncertainty will pass.
  • Encourage people to be kind and offer grace to each other. Expect the same of yourself. A bit of empathy goes a long way.
  • Celebrate victories. Did someone learn new technology? Meet an urgent deadline? Facilitate an important collaboration? Recognize and celebrate these victories, even the small ones.

Issue 2: Connection
Some people are completely isolated in their homes, others are working on-site but without coworkers and most are under high pressure with family and other demands. All can feel lonely and overwhelmed. The following tips encourage connection:

  • Remember everyone. Connect with everyone on your team regularly, along with essential stakeholders. This situation will end at some point, and re-entry will be smoother if everyone still feels like a vital part of the team.
  • Treat everyone with respect and set that expectation with your team. Sometimes it’s easier to be uncivil when communicating virtually, which makes it even more important to be explicit in your expectations and to model inclusive, respectful behavior.
  • Have some fun. Staff meetings may involve a specific agenda, but don’t forget to also check-in to see how people are doing, not just what they are doing. Try to send a funny (work-appropriate) meme via chat, share an uplifting story or offer a word of encouragement. Groups across MSU have started virtual coffee hours, networking opportunities and more to stay connected. What could you initiate with your team to stay connected?

Issue 3: Decision Making and Empowerment
It can be daunting to make decisions when there are so many unknowns, yet a lack of decision making can cause significant problems. The following guidance may help:

  • Let MSU’s mission, departmental goals and your principles guide you. We must do the best we can with the information we have and understand that a different decision may be necessary tomorrow if new information comes forward.
  • Trust your team to use their expertise to figure things out. It isn’t necessary to have every answer before starting something. Allow people to bring their energy to tackling problems and supporting each other. Check-in regularly, provide parameters and offer support.
  • Identify allies and constituents that you need to stay in touch with as you make decisions. Think systemically. Who else could be impacted by this? What unintended consequences could arise? Who else might contribute important information? More than ever, this situation has highlighted our interconnectedness. Don’t go it alone.

Issue 4: Perspective
While sugar-coating or denying reality is not helpful, you can acknowledge challenges and still stay positive. John Maxwell said, “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” Consider the following:

  • Talk about what is going well, not just the challenges.
  • Encourage people to utilize their strengths and help each other.
  • What opportunities are available for your team? Some could develop new skills, document or improve a process, create a new program, or take on a project they previously didn’t have time for. Others might have a chance to clarify priorities or boundaries or develop a habit of better self-care.
  • Acknowledge that there will be days with low productivity. We’ve never been through anything like this before, and we are all doing our best. Some days you might be highly productive, and on others, it might be a victory to do the bare minimum and get through the day.

We are all part of MSU. Being kind to ourselves and others is essential as we adapt to the current situation. Eventually, we will be back with lessons learned, and perhaps lasting changes as we move into the future. For now, connect with others, consider utilizing the MSU Employee Assistance Program for additional support, and reach out to Organization and Professional Development if we can help with skill-building, leadership challenges or team effectiveness. Most of all, take care of yourself, your team and your loved ones. You’ve got this.