Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash.
It’s understandable to want to avoid the news at the moment, in fact many mental health charities recommend it as a method of self-care. Chances are though, even if you’ve managed this, the reality of what’s happening to the UK economy and jobs market won’t have escaped your attention. With 673,000 jobs lost between March and September this year (source: ONS/Independent) and more redundancies likely to take place when the Government’s Job Retention scheme ends, few people’s professional lives remain unaffected by Covid-19.
We all sympathise with those whose roles have been made redundant; you only have to scroll through LinkedIn to see people rallying to help valued and respected contacts who suddenly find themselves using the #opentowork hashtag, whether by putting them in touch with recruiters and HR teams or writing glowing endorsements. We hope, despite the bleak jobs market in so many industries, that they can turn the situation around and make a fresh start.
But what about those left behind in the wake of mass redundancy? The survivors. It’s easy to adopt the stance that they’re better off – they’re still in work, after all. Perhaps they are. But put yourself in their position and imagine that the person who (under normal circumstances) has sat beside you, shared the highs and lows, and knows just how you take your coffee has suddenly disappeared from Zoom calls. There’s no chance to wish them well with a card or a drink after work, it’s simply another harsh reality of the “new normal” Covid has imposed upon us.
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We’re familiar with the concept of a leader’s shadow – that the team will absorb and mirror the leader’s style – and this is never truer than during a crisis. These exceptional circumstances will, without doubt, leave the unsettled colleagues who remain watching their leader’s behaviour closely, looking for reassurance.
So what can you, as a leader, do in this situation?
1. Encourage sharing. As always, communication is key; invite the team to express how they’re feeling, remember Tuckman’s stages of development and accept that this period of adjourning/mourning is inevitable. If the team is left feeling fractured by a colleague’s redundancy, give them opportunities to talk about it – they may be feeling guilty that they still have a job or even be holding on to some resentment towards the company, and it’s your responsibility to support them as they work through these feelings.
2. Acknowledge uncertainty. Even though they’re still employed, your team members may nonetheless be concerned about the future security of their roles. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic there’s no magic wand you can wave to guarantee them job security, but you can still help them by being honest and recognising that keeping them in the loop will give them a realistic idea of how the organisation is performing under the circumstances.
3. Be you. Diplomacy is an essential leadership skill, but it’s crucial that your efforts to remain positive for the sake of morale don’t become toxic. Expect that motivation and engagement will fluctuate; your staff need to see that you too are human and are feeling the effects of what’s happening, and they will trust you more if you’re willing to show your own vulnerability.
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4. Provide the right tools. A role has been made redundant, but it’s likely that the workload attached to it still remains and will need to be absorbed by the rest of the team. Those who remain may need to adjust their expectations and take on new challenges, and as their leader you must provide the knowledge and resources so that they can do so. The “reforming” stage is bound to be tricky in this scenario but making sure team members are engaged with and equipped to carry out their revised roles will make life easier for everyone.
5. Celebrate. Success may mean something different now compared to a year ago, but it’s more important than ever to recognise that good things are still happening. Look at the simple things – is revenue up this month compared to last? Are your team members showing extra resourcefulness? Recognition of achievements, no matter how small, will be the lifeblood of a team trying to carry on when their working life looks so different.
6. Take care of yourself. Even the most resilient among us are finding that they’re drained by the professional challenges associated with the pandemic. You may not realise it, but it’s more important than ever to make sure you have enough fuel in your own tank. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself, and don’t be a hero - look to your own leader for Operational support if you need it.
Life is tough for everyone right now, there is no doubt about it. As a leader, this is likely to be one of the most challenging periods of your career. Hang in there, and take comfort from the knowledge that this too shall pass; it will likely leave you stronger and more experienced, with added appreciation for kindness and humanity.