LB5205 People in Organisations
Helping Your Team Heal (by David Kessler)
One night some time ago I was in a movie theatre in Los Angeles when an earthquake struck. It was a rather long one, with several aftershocks. I remember distinctly that people in the theatre seemed to fall naturally into one of three groups: Some panicked and moved chaotically, unsure what to do or where to go. Some remained calm and moved to the emergency exits, just as the preshow announcement had suggested they should. And some hardly moved at all. Instead, they implored others to calm down and go back to watching the movie.
I’ve been thinking about that night since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. This crisis is a shock different from an earthquake, to be sure, but it’s still a shock, and I’ve seen friends, family members, and workers at the companies I consult with experience reactions similar to those in the theatre. Some have struggled to cope. Some have done what they can with the guidance they have. And some want others to calm down and continue with business as usual
As companies navigate a slow return to ordinary life and work routines, they must understand and acknowledge that employees will need varying kinds of support. This is not a time to check the policy manual or to robotically “copy all” with messages about thoughts and prayers. This is a time to help each individual with his or her particular grief. Putting that name—grief—on it has proved to be a powerful way to help anxious colleagues make progress toward normalcy. In late March, as the situation in the United States escalated rapidly, I was interviewed by HBR about grief and the pandemic. We addressed the collective anxiety over the loss of control, the radical change in how we were living, the anticipatory grief we felt as we imagined future job losses and possibly the death of loved ones. The interview struck a deep chord as it was shared across the world. It spurred countless notes of gratitude from doctors, nurses, other essential workers, and people from all walks of life. The reaction was a reminder that what people need first to deal with this trauma is to name what they feel so that they can start to manage it.
Grief is well understood, so we know of ways to deal with it. The five stages of grief are built on the incredible work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who died in 2004. They are adapted from her landmark work in the late 1960s on the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. Together she and I applied them to grief. It is imperative to recognize that these stages are not linear; they don’t happen in predictable time frames; you may experience all or only some of them. They are not a map of grief but, rather, a reference guide so that when you do have one of these feelings, you can identify it and manage it. As people go back to work, or as those who’ve stayed on the job through the crisis begin to interact with returning workers, many will still be grieving. Not everyone will be at the same stage at the same time. Employees, leaders, managers, and organizations need to recognize this. If people seem unusually angry, we should give them space and exercise patience. They are grieving. Someone who questions the pandemic statistics may be in denial—and grieving.
Be aware of three groups: the worried well, the affected, and the bereaved.
Most important is to allow people to feel these stages. A peculiarity of modern life is that we have feelings about our feelings. We may feel sadness and then tell ourselves we shouldn’t be sad—that others have suffered more. We do this with many emotions. Ultimately it doesn’t work. Allowing yourself to experience the stages of grief—to let feelings move through you—is how you get to that fifth stage: acceptance. There, unsurprisingly, is where the power is. In acceptance we regain control, because we are no longer fighting the truth. This awful thing has happened. Now what?
Finding the Right Interventions
I’ve talked to many companies during this pandemic, including some very large ones. My primary message to them is: Avoid blanket policies; don’t think that all employees need the same support. And recognize that we grieve other losses as well as the loss of health or life.
And recognize that we grieve other losses as well as the loss of health or life. Leaders should think about three groups of people all working together. First are the worried well. They’re healthy. They haven’t experienced sickness around them, but they are concerned. They may still be grieving losses of work, of normalcy, of opportunities and events. Work projects they were passionate about. Weddings. Holiday gatherings. Vacations and trips. Students are losing activities that fulfill them; seniors are grieving the loss of the capstones to their academic careers: graduations, proms, and other ceremonies. Those are legitimate losses that create grief. The worried well are also experiencing anticipatory grief—deep anxiety in which the mind imagines future losses, of all the above and more, and the effect on loved ones. Within this group are minimizers and maximizers. Minimizers cope by denying the severity of the situation or hoping deeply, nervously, for the best. Maximizers imagine the sky is falling. The truth lies somewhere between the two points of view. Work helps each group balance their minds.
Answer all four (4) of the following questions in relation to your analysis of the exam CASE STUDY
1. How might workers’ individual communication-style influence their response to the impacts of COVID-19 in the workplace? How can leaders use their knowledge of communication theory to effectively respond to the varying styles of individuals within the team?
2. What is emotional intelligence? What is the value of understanding emotional intelligence during periods of disruption such as with COVID-19, especially when normal ways of working are impacted? How can workers and managers leverage emotional intelligence to more effectively navigate their experiences and those of their colleagues and/or workers during a major workplace disruption, such as COVID-19?
3. Lussier (2017) describes seven bases of power. Choose one of these, define it and describe how it can be used to effectively build relationships during times of organisational and community crisis.
4. What are the 5 levels within Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’? How would motivation in the workplace be impacted by COVID-19 and what could a leader do to drive performance during such a disruption?