As Financial markets collapse, death tolls rise and many people lose their jobs, it’s a time of enormous disruption all around the world.
Of course, the disorganisation, medical questions and financial turmoil, trigger an increase in distressing emotions and these can cause people to narrow their response to stress and limit their ability to respond adaptively and productively. These uncontrolled emotions can also impact people’s mental health and can leave people vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
As an employer, how can you help your people cope?
One important way is by understanding and deploying emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions--both in yourself and in other people.
Emotional intelligence can be particularly valuable during a time of crisis because it can protect people from narrowing their response to stress. It can help people avoid panic, think rationally and connect with other people productively.
So, here are three insights to help support your people and maintain your employer brand.
From a psychological point of view, maintaining a level of personal control over circumstances is a well-spring of mental health. When people feel impotent in the face of their circumstances such as Covid-19 it can drain motivation and cause them to become less productive. So, as people work from home, now is the opportunity to support their self-reliance and empower them.
The more people are involved in decision making, the more ownership they feel and the better they will work for you and exercise personal accountability. So, provide people with opportunities to contribute to decisions, based on what they think should be done. Take a consultative approach that builds their self-reliance. You can do this, by asking questions such as: “How do you think we should handle this?” “What would work best for you in your circumstances?” How can I help support you?”
Or if you need more control, you could suggest: “I was thinking we could either do ‘a’ or ‘b’ which would you do?”
Offering choice builds people’s sense of power and control over their lives — their autonomy.
It was the celebrated psychologist Abraham Maslow who defined Self-Actualisation as, “doing what you can do.” In this classic understatement Maslow identified that the most powerful motivation arises when people are engaged in meaningful work that matters to them.
For many people working from home can create multiple challenges, one of which is prioritizing the competing demands for attention. In the office, it’s easy to focus on the priorities at hand, but at home the need to support family members can compete with work commitments for attention and time. This conflict can be frustrating – often leading to disempowerment and guilt.
So now is the time to offer your people a shared sense of destiny and clearly describe why the business must change, where they’re going, and why what they do matters so much.
When people have a clear vision and understand their part in the mission, their motivation moves from being externally driven to internally powered. And it’s ‘Intrinsic motivation’ that helps sharpen focus, direct energy and maintain commitment thorough adversity.
Empathy is the capacity to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others, and although sounding simple enough, it’s actually very difficult to deploy as a skill.
Why? Simply because we tend to see and experience the world from our own perspective and through our own lenses.
Heinz Kohut, one of Europe’s most influential psychologists, suggested that at the psychological level people have two essential needs: to be understood and to be admired, but the most fundamental one is to be understood.
In other words, if you can communicate that you understand another person’s experience, including their situation, thoughts and importantly, their feelings, you will build a valuable connection with them and they will work well for you and enter into business with you.
So, as a leader you can help your people by taking a genuine interest in what they're going through. Take the time to ask them how they're dealing with their current situation, and importantly; how they’re feeling about everything that's going on.
Now, the key here is to suspend your own agenda i.e., what you’re trying to achieve and how you see things. Even resist the temptation to offer premature superficial reassurance, such as: “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” Instead, simply focus exclusively on exploring their experience further – “tell me more” or simply validating their experience – “..sorry to hear that, that does sound tough.”
Your goal is to demonstrate that you understand both how the person feels and why they feel that way.
Nothing builds trust and loyalty more quickly than when a person is convinced that you’re genuinely interested in their wellbeing and understand their unique experience. The upside is that it also leads to reciprocity in which employees are more likely to be open to understanding the challenges you’re facing as their manager.
Covid-19 is challenging business owners at so many levels. To maintain staff morale and wellbeing, as well as protect your employer brand, put your emotional intelligence to work – build emotional capital in your business now.
About the Author:
Martyn Newman, PhD is a clinical psychologist specialising in Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Mindfulness. Dr. Newman is the author of the best selling book Emotional Capitalists and newly released The Mindfulness Book, and is the cofounder of RocheMartin. He is also co-author of the Emotional Capital Report™ – the global benchmark for defining, measuring and developing EQ and leadership performance.