I’ve been very reserved in talking about Coronavirus (COVID-19) because I didn’t want to unnecessarily add to the noise and panic that’s become so widespread recently. However, I do feel a strong sense of responsibility to provide you with support where I’m able to do so.
There are plenty of articles and sources available online with tips and advice for how to prepare and safeguard your business, employees, and customers from Coronavirus. From setting up remote work teams and extra sanitizing measures, to cancelling non-essential travel and more. However, I haven’t come across anyone discussing how to talk with your team members about Coronavirus and why it’s important to do so in the midst of all the chaos.
With that said, today’s post will focus on helping you navigate this unprecedented situation by providing you with recommendations for how to talk with your team about Coronavirus in a way that everyone feels heard, understood, and supported – so you can lead your team with more clarity and confidence through these uncertain times.
Why It’s Important to Talk About Coronavirus with Your Team
First, let’s start with why it’s important to talk about Coronavirus with your team. There are some people who might think it’s better to avoid talking about Coronavirus altogether. While there are others who spend too much time talking about all that’s going on and end up creating more panic and worry than necessary.
We need balance here, and as leaders, that’s something we can help provide.
With Coronavirus reaching a frenzied state of panic in the U.S., more and more people are rightly concerned about how it will impact their businesses/jobs, families, finances, and more. To avoid talking about this elephant in the room can be viewed by employees as their leaders being tone-deaf, which Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as, “having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste.”
In short, being tone-def means you’re out of touch. And when your employees believe you’re out of touch, they lose trust in you. Not a good situation to be in as a leader when we’re facing a global health crisis, such as this.
Now is the time to build greater levels of trust, respect, and camaraderie with your team. Which is why it’s so important to discuss the impacts of the Coronavirus openly and honestly with your team.
7 Tips for How to Talk with Your Team About Coronavirus
First and most importantly, as leaders, we have a responsibility to our teams to remain calm and steady in otherwise unsettling situations. This one is no different.
It doesn’t mean you’re not worried or feeling the effects of all that’s going on around you. But it does mean that you’re not adding to the panic and angst your team is already experiencing.
I recommend that all leaders seek support for their own concerns and worries outside of work and not from your team members. You can do this through reaching out to your family, peers, and business communities that you’re part of. The goal is that when you walk through the door (whether physical or virtual) to work, you should be a calming presence and resource for your team.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be open, transparent, and even vulnerable with your team, but you shouldn’t be adding to the worry, panic, and chaos. This will only make things spiral out of control faster and won’t be helpful for anyone.
Your team should be able to look to you for steady and sound guidance, and the only way to do this is to remain calm. They’re looking up to you for an example of how to interact in the workplace right now. Give them a good example to follow.
Extend Empathy + Hold Space
One of the worst things a leader can do in a time of such uncertainty and unrest is dismiss the feelings of their employees. Whether or not you feel the same way they do, doesn’t mean that their feelings aren’t valid or worthy of consideration.
If you choose to brush off their fears and concerns, you could create resentment in your team. However, by practicing and extending empathy, you’re nurturing a greater sense of trust and respect with your team members, who will be more willing to work for and with you as the coming weeks unfold.
One of the best ways you can support your team right now is to provide them with a safe space to share their thoughts, feelings, and fears openly. Your team members simply want to be heard and to know you care. When you provide the space for them to share, you’re giving them the opportunity to feel heard and supported, which helps them keep moving forward instead of getting stuck in a panic spiral.
Consider blocking out time each week where employees can meet with you (virtually, preferred) to ask questions, share concerns, and address fears. You’ll be amazed at what a short 10-minute conversation can do for morale and productivity, even in the midst of a stressful situation.
Expect Empathy Among Your Team Members
Continuing our conversation on empathy, it’s not only important that you as a leader extend empathy to your employees, but that you also set the expectation for them to be empathetic to one another, as well.
A post shared by a friend this week said, “A friendly reminder: people who will be high-risk patients if we get Coronavirus can hear you when you reassure everyone we’re the only ones who might die.”
We’ve all heard the statements by now of people saying, “Well it’s only the old and the immuno-comprimised who will die. Those of us who are young and healthy will be fine!” as if all’s well and there’s nothing to worry about. These are – quite frankly – incredibly insensitive and selfish. Not sorry.
We should be good humans to one another. We should extend compassion and empathy toward one another. We should not say hurtful things like this – and we should not permit our employees to do so either.
We have the cultures we allow in our businesses. Please choose yours wisely.
Address Coronavirus Head On
Coronavirus is on everyone’s minds right now and in everyone’s social media news feeds. We can’t escape it no matter where we turn. So there’s no need to avoid talking about it with your team members. In fact, it’s better to address it head on to assure your team that you’re taking matters seriously and that their safety and health are your number one priority.
Make sure to share the most up-to-date information with your team from reliable and trusted sources (see next tip below) and avoid engaging in speculation and conspiracy theories with your team. By creating an open environment where information is shared freely and all voices feel heard and understood (like in the previous tip), you will limit the potential for increased panic and fear amongst your team.
Rely on Trusted Sources
Social media has created quite the breeding ground for inaccurate and sensationalized information to spread – and spread quickly. It’s important as leaders that we look to reputable and trusted sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), for the most accurate and up-to-date information on the Coronavirus. It does no one any good to perpetuate information that isn’t accurate or helpful, so be careful what you share and limit the spread of misinformation as much as possible.
You should also encourage your team members to seek out information from the CDC and WHO, rather than rely on other sources. You can also invite them to bring any concerns to your attention, so that you can help them address their concerns directly, rather than spreading fear and panic amongst the team.
Engage Your Team in the Decision-Making Process
Every business operates differently, however, we can all come up with creative solutions that support our team members and their needs. The good news is, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own! Meet with your team members (either individually or as a group; again, virtually, if possible) and discuss what ideas they have to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy at work. By engaging your team in the decision-making process, you’re providing them with some sense of control in a situation that can feel very much out of our hands.
Get Down to Business
Although this can feel like a very tumultuous time and your business may be experiencing significant impacts due to the Coronavirus outbreak, we still have businesses to run and business must go on. Maybe it’s not business as usual, but there are things we can all be doing. It may feel insensitive to talk about business, but I assure you it is not. Everyone is being bombarded by Coronavirus right now and it can be a welcome break from the stress and worry to focus time, attention, and energy toward something we can control. It’s good for leaders – and it’s good for our team members. So don’t be afraid to get down to business with your team, after their fears and worries have been addressed and everyone feels supported.
I hope these tips are helpful to you as you navigate this unprecedented and worrying time. When in doubt, please simply take care of your team members first and foremost. Because when you do, everything else will fall into place and you’ll have an even stronger, resilient, and closely-bonded team on the other side of it all.