At this time, more than ever before, it is critical managers recognize that employees are people. In addition to being direct reports, they are caregivers for children, parents, or partners and are likely feeling vulnerable and uncertain these days.
As managers, we should go out of our way to check in more often and with greater empathy. This is a time to use critical skills like active listening and change management to help your teams navigate ambiguity. But most of all, this is a time to check in on your team because we all need some extra attention and care right now. Below are some recommendations for thoughtful conversations.
What do I say?
Even if you are nervous about checking in during these uncertain times, it is the right thing to do. Just start with “hello, how are you?” The rest will follow. A few other examples of wording and questions to ask are here:
- I’m checking in with everyone on our team individually because I know this is a hard time for everyone. How are you doing with everything going on?
- How are you feeling [today/this morning/this afternoon]?
- How are others in your family doing?
- Is there anything in particular that has been more difficult/troubling to you that you’d like to talk about? I’m happy to listen.
- How are you feeling about juggling different parts of your life or demands on you this week?
- I’ve been feeling like [the days blend together, I’m struggling to balance demands on me, the team is far apart and it is hard to stay connected…], not sure if you are feeling some of the same things?
- I wanted to check in to see how you are doing and understand how I may connect with you and support you during this time in a way that feels helpful and welcome to you?
- I realized that although we speak in some way daily, I haven’t taken a moment to ask how you are doing and I would love to know. How are you? Would you like to set aside a few minutes for a call to connect in this way? I don’t want to add any more to your plate, so you let me know how you are doing and what would be most helpful for you.
How can I ensure my employees have a support network around them without asking questions related to their personal lives, how do I navigate that?
It is acceptable and recommended to ask if someone has been able to find support from others in this time. However, there is a line between checking in and digging around someone’s personal life. As a manager, you do not need to know who is providing them with support or what relationships exist in the person’s life. It is only your place to ensure they feel they have support or know where to find it if needed. Be sure you don’t make any assumptions or push your own lifestyle, cultural norms or choices on your employees.
What if someone says they aren’t feeling well physically?
Encourage them to isolate as best they can in their home and reach out to their doctor. Suggest that they follow local and CDC guidelines for testing and reporting illness. Reassure them they may take time off to recover and help them think through ways to cover their work while out.
What if someone shares they are experiencing loneliness, depression or anxiety?
- Listen with empathy
- Let people know that you care, they are not alone, and how they are feeling is understandable given our current circumstances
- Ask if there is anything you can do as their manager to help alleviate some of these feelings — offer help and support but remember that you are not solely responsible for resolving things that you cannot control
- Remind them of resources that are available, including those supported by your company
- Encourage them to reach out for support- this can include work supports (team members or other colleagues), social supports, family, therapy, online resources, or all of the above
- Ask if there is a cadence with which you can check-in with one another to meet their needs
How often should I check in?
Under normal circumstances, having 1:1s with employees weekly or every other week is a typical way to keep in touch and stay connected. This often is in addition to sitting near each other, running into each other in the hall, or being part of Slack conversations that are more casual. In this time when everyone is remote and faced with new challenges, employees may be feeling more isolated. It is important to check in more often. It is also important to create spaces for check-ins that aren’t work related. Using a few minutes of a 1:1 to check on your employee’s well-being before diving into a to do list is more important today than it usually is. Going even farther to reach out at an entirely separate time is highly recommended. It shows that you were thinking about them, concerned to know that they are doing well, and took time to connect. If you can’t answer today how the people are doing on your team, personally, then you probably haven’t checked in recently enough. Time to reach out!
Should I email, call or Slack?
With an entire company being remote, and a constant stream of communication over email, instant messaging, social media and video, we should be mindful of the ways in which we communicate so they feel meaningful. We all experience communication differently and as leaders we need to be mindful of that. Think about Slacking, texting, calling, or emailing your team simply just to ask how they are doing. Ask your direct reports what is most meaningful and comfortable for them, individually. It’s the thought and the effort that count.
How do I convey a sense of safety to share concerns and be vulnerable?
Demonstrate vulnerability yourself. Create a safe space by sharing how this may be affecting you, in order to create a space where your team members feel comfortable sharing the way they have been feeling. This time is hard on all of us in different ways. Tell stories from your own experiences- talk about a neighbor you are worried about who is working every day to make ends meet, about a friend who lost a job, about your elderly relative far away or how hard it has been with your kids at home. Create a space for listening as well. It’s important to allow people to speak and open up in their own way. Don’t force anything. You may have to check in a few times over a few weeks before someone is comfortable sharing more with you. That’s ok. By making an effort, you’ve paved the way for a dialogue.
Besides having extra check-ins, how else can I support my team?
- Keep lines of communication open. Be available throughout the day, remember you are not as accessible as you used to be during these times, and be mindful of your response time via Slack, email, text etc.
- Reset/Clarify expectations. Your team wants to know what is expected of them during this difficult time. For some, their role may have pivoted. Help hone in on true priorities.
- Be mindful of your tone. Being over critical during this time can over stress your team and exacerbate what they may be experiencing personally. Remain balanced and fair in your feedback.
- Give recognition. Right now, we are surrounded by negative things coming at us from all different mediums. Recognizing a job well done from time to time, big or small, could go a long way.
- Respect personal time and allow employees the flexibility they need. Ensure people on your team aren’t burning out while juggling work, lives, health and safety.
- Demonstrate empathy — here are a few articles that give a realistic view of how many parents and people living alone are feeling today. Also read articles from Quartet’s Clinical Director and tips from a Quartet Engineer.
What if I need more support myself?
This is a hard time for managers, too. Reach out to your own manager of human resources team to get the support you need, and remember to support one another at this time. Recognize the work and dedication you are putting into your role right now. This is a meaningful time to be a leader.
Reaching out to your employees to check in regularly just to see how they are doing is an important part of leading a team today. Providing comfort, guidance, reassurance, and a friendly voice will show your employees you care about them as people. People need people and that’s how we will all get through this — together.