Leaders cannot expect their team members to return to work as they left. Many people returning to work will be suffering from COVID PTSD. They will have experienced one or more of the following:
- Disconnection from work, projects, leaders, and peers.
- Health challenges.
- Anxiety/fear about financial situation.
- Loss of a loved one.
- Relationship issues.
- Trauma from dealing with children 24/7.
How leaders meet these challenges will determine how quickly their staff can move into the new normal. People can’t leave their stress behind, but they can be taught better tools to confront their situations.
Many of your team members will stuff emotions into their subconscious, compartmentalize, pull up their big girl panties or big boy boxers and pretend they are ready for the next step. While it is admirable to push forward and act, the stuffing of emotions will erupt at some point. The body can only retain so much emotional baggage until it comes out as depression, anxiety, anger, apathy, or overwhelm.
CEO’s would be wise to follow the lead of school administrators who offered classes and counseling after school shootings. Employees need the tools to move forward.
During the past six months, I’ve been interviewing leaders from for-profit and nonprofit organizations. While we were not directly discussing a pandemic, many of the leaders have overcome adversity learning the keys to moving themselves forward.
Captain James McCormick, USA (retired) earned a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars with a “V”, three Purple Hearts, and a host of other medals and accomplishments. According to James, one of his major accomplishments was the small number of men in his companies that did not suffer from PTSD. When I asked James about this, he told me that he allowed his men to feel.
In Baghdad, Iraq 2004 his small squadron of men saved hundreds of lives and protected critical military assets. Heavily under fire and suffering injuries, his men fought beside him and took on additional fire as they took three trips into the heavy fire to secure trucks.
After the battle was over, McCormick gathered his men and sat with them allowing them to talk about what had happened. He said, “First they laughed, which is what people do after being scared, then they cried. We sat and cried together until the tears stopped.”
Why did so few of his men suffer from PTSD? They got to express how they felt, be vulnerable and accepted for that vulnerability.
Many employees will feel that they can’t express what they survived or feel unique in their emotions. One of the first steps to getting team members back to work in the new normal is giving them the opportunity to feel without judgment.
Other tool and techniques should be cultivated and used throughout the next months, but the key is that failure to address home challenges is the invitation for greater problems in the future.