Op-ed: Strong leadership is key to success during a pandemic (Source: Houston Business Journal)

Sep 24, 2020

By Wayne Swafford

Everything in the workplace has shifted in the wake of Covid-19. With remote working and social distancing becoming the new norm, we are isolated from coworkers, friends and family. Our employees face increased pressure to perform a high volume of work under tight deadlines, while also taking care of their families and pets. Our daily routines have been disrupted causing physical, mental and financial stress.

According to recent research by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than two in five employees feel burned out, drained or exhausted from work.

Given this scenario, what can leaders of an organization do to show they care for their employees’ overall wellbeing? How can leaders encourage employees to demonstrate heightened social sensitivity, respect and understanding for each other, as well as with clients, customers and vendors, in their daily interactions?

Empathy and supportiveness: Empathizing with others is key to understanding employees’ perceptions of our changing work world. Every employee has a unique situation or challenge. Supervisors need to listen with an open mind and open heart and convey that they understand these individual challenges. Then, they should demonstrate flexibility to help employees work around these problems.

Positivity: Maintaining positivity is critical. Numerous research studies show that a positive attitude enhances problem-solving, reduces conflict, and increases cooperation and overall team performance. A leader’s message to employees during this crisis should be: “We don’t know what the new normal is going to look like. It’s going to take time and we will experience some pain. But if we communicate our needs and persevere together, we will get through this pandemic.”

Gratefulness: Displaying gratefulness helps leaders better connect with their colleagues and employees. Developing the mindset that employees are doing the best they can in this time of uncertainty will improve employees’ morale and productivity. In his research on gratitude, organizational psychologist Adam Grant reported that four in five employees are motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation.

Communication: With employees working remotely and face-to-face interaction limited, effective communication is more critical than ever before. In a 2020 special report on “Trust and the Coronavirus” by Edelman, 63% of employees asked for daily updates and 20% wanted communications several times a day during Covid-19. As such, leaders need to do their part to communicate with their employees promptly and clearly.

Patience: It’s critical that leaders take a deep breath and control their impulses. With increased pressure to perform under stressful conditions, it’s easier to have a knee-jerk reaction or respond in an inappropriate way to a certain situation. Leaders should be aware of the triggers that cause them to lose patience and strive to be calm and deliberate in their decisions and actions.

During uncertain times, employees look to leaders for guidance. Therefore, leaders should go first and set the tone. If leaders demonstrate the above behaviors consistently, employees will be motivated to follow suit.

Wayne Swafford is president at Houston-based Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN)