I saw a meme that said, ‘Can you tell me where the reset button is for 2020, as I’d like to start it again?’ 2020 has been tough on many levels. As someone who used to head up an HR team, I have felt for my fellow professionals. Not only have they had to deal with the legal issues which lockdown and furloughing have brought, some now face having to make people redundant because of the recession.
This puts more pressure on the typical outcomes expected of HR such as managing employee engagement, productivity, and retaining top talent. Add to this list the new challenges of remote working. Employees can feel disconnected and the usual touch points which occur naturally in the workplace, have disappeared.
People are exhausted. COVID has meant that we’re not taking our usual week in Costa del Sol to rest and recuperate. It’s not quite the same holidaying at home when home has been where we work. I found myself popping into my home office and steam cleaning the tiles during half term. We should have been in Crete.
COVID has been like the perfect storm, in which a rare combination of circumstances has been slowly eroding individual and cultural resilience. So, what is it? The Cambridge Dictionary definition of resilience is:
‘The ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened’
I think most would agree that COVID fits within ‘something difficult or bad’. So what can be done from a leadership / HR perspective?
Spot the Signs
The first step in any change is to raise awareness of what’s happening right now. Spotting early signs of disengagement, underperformance or stress is more challenging in the current circumstances. Additionally, the workload has increased. HR professionals and leaders are either keeping their business afloat or for some who are in boom times, (because of the pandemic), keeping abreast of the to do’s.
- Everyone will have their own unique experience and way of handling the pandemic. As a coach I’m meeting people wherever they are at, which means suspending judgement. I’m finding my clients need time to be heard to feel connected; even if that’s via Teams.
Listening in to my network, some leaders and HR professionals are experiencing stress and anxiety themselves, which is difficult when you are supposed to be a shining beacon of what good / handling it, looks like. Others are seeing it as an exciting challenge. It really does depend upon a person’s resilience and upbringing.
For example, one leader said on a rare day in the office, ‘All I care about are the numbers.’ His team member had been called in to discuss his performance, (not such a positive touchpoint). The leader was also in the spotlight because his department hadn’t hit budget over the last quarter.
In response, the gentleman broke down in tears and said that his wife had asked him for a divorce. Lockdown had triggered relationship difficulties. For some families being cooped up with their partner for prolonged periods of time and having to deal with homeschooling has become too much. According to the Telegraph, ‘Divorce enquiries are up 42 per cent since coronavirus restrictions started.’
The leader had missed their usual 1-2-1’s. They’d got out of the habit because work routines changed. He’d taken his eye off the ball and focused on the numbers, instead of getting the numbers through an engaged team.
- Save your already stretched ‘bandwidth’ by using an HR system to monitor employee engagement and get prompts to carry out your 1-2-1’s.
- Reflect on which good habits pre-corona need to be reinstated, that involve making connections with your team.
- Identify alternative ways of connecting with your team, such as singing happy birthday via zoom to a team member, (this is one of my client’s ideas).
Raise Emotional Intelligence (EI)
Having a robust Performance Management infrastructure and good HR software in place can help to spot the signs of disengagement or stress in your team, but you also need to have good emotional intelligence. If you’re wondering what it is, here’s a definition:
‘The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.’
John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey
As we know IQ tends to be stable, however, the good news is that EI is a set of skills that can be developed.
If you’re still sceptical, there’s an interesting finding. According to Travis Bradbury, Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, people with average IQ’s outperform those with the highest IQ’s 70% of the time and 90% of top performers have high EI.
EI profiles provide individuals with a developmental route map to unlock potential and translate it into effective performance. A qualified coach can help with creating lasting positive behavioural changes, ultimately enhancing leadership skills. Gaps in Emotional Intelligence can be caused by a combination of under or over doing an EI trait. The profile itself is an eye-opener and a conversation starter and training provides a safe environment to practice EI skills. The other benefit is that it allows leaders to build resilience culturally as a leadership team so that they can then be the ‘lighthouse in the storm’ to their employees.
- The EI traits which would be most beneficial to help tune into whether an employee was engaged or stressed and to build resilience would include:
- Emotion Perception. This is being able to perceive your own emotions as well as others and involves ‘reading’ non-verbal cues, i.e. the things that are not being said. As an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) trainer, I find it really useful to draw on this theory.
- Emotion Management. This is about being able to manage the states of mind of others. It’s like when a toddler has a tantrum, the parent will do certain things to change their child’s state. Again, NLP literature and training can help with this.
- I really could go on and on about the other traits which are relevant, because you could argue they all are during the pandemic. However, the other ones that jump out include: Emotion Regulation, Stress Management, Empathy, Relationships and Optimism.
In summary, I hate to repeat a now overused phrase, but these are unprecedented times. If you’re a leader or head of HR, you are human and not alone. You have to put your oxygen mask on first, in order to be able to lead a culture of resilience. Find someone to offload onto, or get yourself a coach, (I’m obviously biased 😉).
Written by Estelle Read
Estelle is an Executive Coach, Trainer and Author at Beee. She is an expert on building and leading a culture of resilience , enhancing Emotional Intelligence and she also runs a private Facebook group providing HR leaders with free advice and support on wellbeing and strategy. Keep an eye out for her upcoming book Inner Brilliance, Outer Shine.