Can I borrow your imagination for a second?
Pretend that you are driving through an intersection and you have the right of way. Out of nowhere, a driver runs through the red light and their car hits yours, on the passenger side.
Assume that you are physically okay – TG for seat belts and airbags. Insurance will cover the cost of the damage and you have no out-of-pocket costs.
Is this ordeal over for you? i.e. Will you go back to normal?
If you have experienced in real-life, you know the answer: “No!” There is always an emotional trauma (a.k.a. mental damage) whenever someone is involved in a major accident or incident.
After the Pandemic Ebbs
Once people return to our workplaces and our businesses reopen, will everything go back to normal? Despite everyone’s best intentions, the answer is, “NO!”
Locally, nationally, and globally we all got T-boned by COVID 19! And the trauma of this ‘accident’ will linger for a long time; I estimate two to three years. I believe that most people will experience an emotional discombobulation because of the stressful aspects of it. In your health, finances, security, and relationships.
Leader-You Will Face Specific Challenges
What does this universal trauma mean for the leader of a team or organization?
I will assume that once you receive the ‘all clear’ in whatever form that looks like – you will return to your workplace with a sense of urgency. You will want to create normalcy. You need employees to focus on their work, their duties, their customers. You need employees to put emphasis on generating sales, getting customers to return, make products, deliver services, cut costs, record transactions, etal. And you of course, need to get back to the job of managing people, resources, budgets, and priorities.
If you and other leaders fail to address the trauma of COVID 19 and the wide ranging 2020 Recession, it will be nearly impossible to get a sense of normalcy!
I foresee many workplace and team issues. Bonds of trust will be broken. Employees would rather talk about what happened to them, than do their work. Many will remain fearful (traumatized). Coworkers will become less communicative. Employees will want to avoid face-to-face meetings. Some will even refuse to return to their workplace.
I am committed to helping you lead successfully, therefore I give you a plan and several tactics that will assist you in getting your team productive again.
First, here is some vital information on what you will be facing, and the warning signs you need to pay attention to.
Employees (and You) Will Work though Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler are the recognized experts on overcoming grief. In this case, grief has nothing to do with a loved one dying from COVID 19. Each of us will experience a ‘death’ of the life we were used to and that ended in March 2020. We will all need to grieve.
The world seems meaningless and overwhelming and life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and disbelief.
Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Underneath anger is pain and natural feelings of abandonment.
We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want to go back in time or remain in the past. We try to negotiate our way out of the hurt.
After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Grief enters on a deeper unimaginable level and it feels as though it will last forever.
We can get to a stage of accepting the current reality as permanent. We may not like it but eventually, accept it. It is the new norm.
Warning Signs of the Trauma
Keep an eye and ear out for employees, bosses, and family members that act in unexpected ways.
- Anger especially in inconsequential issues
- Constant anxiety and its physical manifestations
- Being easily distracted or inability to concentrate
- Becoming overly protected, even bordering on obsessiveness
- Excessive fatigue, needing to nap, zoning out
- Reduction in personal accountability or professionalism
- Time wasted on hashing the past, more than normal
- Excessive emotionalism (when compared to past behaviors)
The experts who deal with trauma have actions that they use to help their patients / clients. This is how professionals suggest that you deal with the painful emotions of traumatic stress.
Give yourself time to heal and to mourn any losses you have experienced.
Do not try to force the healing process. Be patient with the pace of recovery.
Be prepared for difficult and volatile emotions.
Work With it, Not Through It
Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling without judgment or guilt. Learn to reconnect with uncomfortable emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.
I found a great article if you want to dig deeper: How to Cope with Traumatic Events like Coronavirus.
To keep the blues away, be sure to invest in yourself. My friend Michael Patrick offers easy to accomplish self-investment tasks.
10½ Leadership Tactics for Easing the COVID 19 Trauma
Since this will be an organization-wide problem, your leadership group needs a plan. To prove that you are a leader worth following, I suggest that you lead the effort. To get you started, I offer a list of tactics that will go into your plan for addressing and easing the trauma. I suggest you implement these tactics ASAP.
- Send out a message of hope.
- Share your version of a future vision that encompasses that hope and desired future state.
- Create a safe space so employees have a place to express emotions quietly.
- Give people leeway to express their emotions.
- Offer referrals to mental health professionals, that you have vetted.
- Keep an eye on EVERY employee and counsel those who are showing the signs of grief or trauma.
- As the professionals suggest, be patient and show understanding.
- Be flexible and yet firm.
- Rely on humor and fun to get past the bumps in the road.
- Turn off the newsfeed at work and on both commutes. (Remember the adage ‘bad news sells papers’? Today it is bad news fosters clicks and attracts eyeballs.)
10½. Be the leader that your employees need you to be.
In the End
Finding acceptance is usually simply having more good days than bad ones. Your grief is as unique as you are. Depression and anger are the appropriate responses to a great loss and to trauma. To not experience sadness and be emotional after trauma would be unusual.
“This too shall pass” and we have a pile of S – – T to dig through to get there.