Handling the Stress of a Pandemic: Teamwork that Works During Chaos

Work groups and teams come together for many reasons which can vary by purpose, duration or vision. The saying “more heads are better than one” aptly summarizes one of the benefits of working on a team. Other benefits include innovation, creativity, shared workload and moral support.

The current pandemic has thrown stress and chaos into our team relations, impacting how we work and communicate with each other. To better understand how teams can help support each other, let’s think first about the changes we’ve experienced over the last several months and added stress we face when working together.

The pandemic has increased stress, anxiety and uncertainty. In a recent CCC magazine article, we wrote about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) characteristics of our workplaces.  Recent research indicates that stress levels are increasing (not surprising) especially for working parents and caregivers who found themselves needing to support family members this past Spring. We are likely to see a similar pattern in Fall 2020 as well.  Stress often triggers bad habits (e.g. less sleep, infrequent exercise, bad food choices, etc.) and poor communication. It can also impact our ability to focus, prioritize and find purpose in our work. Right now, some of the major factors causing employees stress are:

  • Daily routines that feel disrupted and distracted
  • Health concerns
  • Potential layoffs or job losses
  • Interrupted earnings or health-care benefits
  • Rising expenses and debt
  • A threatened outlook for retirement or career planning.

As both a leader and teammate, we want to remember that stress and anxiety are felt by many people. By increasing our awareness of the difficulties people face, we can help our teams to communicate and work more productively.  We recommend the following three techniques to increase the effectiveness of your work groups and teams.

  1. Increase thoughtful and empathetic communication.  By communicating with purpose/meaning we can target our message to help others rather than ignite their anxiety. Examples of thoughtful communication messages include:
  • We care about you and your families.
  • We are here to help each other.
  • We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, and we will keep everyone informed of new developments and decisions.
  • We are in this together, and we are working hard to lessen the impacts.
  • We are committed to communicating regularly to keep everyone updated.
  • Take time for self-care practices for yourself and for your family.
  • Bring consistency to work patterns and tasks when possible. Simple routines and familiar work expectations help create a sense of belonging and safety. While we know times are changing and false promises are not helpful, there are some ways we can continue to be helpful and consistent within our teams and work groups. For example:
  • Follow typical schedules and expectations for getting work done.
  • Keep in mind using purposeful/meaningful communication as discussed above.
  • Focus on familiar tasks to build confidence and courage (that confidence can raise self-esteem needed to try new tasks).
  • Make expectations practical, simple and solution oriented.
  • Lastly, if a strategy works to improve your team relations, repeat it!

In sum, teams function best when natural rhythms and routines are in place. Keep surprises to a minimum.

  • Use visioning strategies to envision what positive team relations look like for your work group. This may entail reinforcing your organization’s mission or purpose, having a detailed discussion about changes in your business market or brainstorming the best ways to engage the families who rely on your services. Visioning strategies can be particularly powerful to bring everyone together by focusing on a unified or agreed upon goal. Understanding the vision can also be extremely rewarding to help each team member or employee understand their personal role in fulfilling the expectations for the team. A few pointers for creating your vision include:
  • Ask all team members for their opinions.
    • Foster creativity and innovation by listening to learn.
    • Be sure each member sees how their job contributes to team success.
    • Communicate your intent and expectations clearly.

The next several months will not be easy as we continue to find virtual workplace solutions, enforce social distancing and worry about the uncertainty that lies ahead. As leaders and teammates, we can help to mitigate unnecessary stress and anxiety by helping our teams to put the ‘work’ back in teamwork.

Dr. Michael Cherry, Dr. Sheila Boysen, & Dr. Lesley Page

Lewis University

Resources:

Kottler, J.A. & Englar-Carlson, M. (2020). Learning group leadership. Cognella Publishing, USA.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2018/08/06/four-ways-to-re-energize-a-stressed-out-burnt-out-team/#5c001ff47fd0

https://www.riskandresiliencehub.com/how-to-contain-the-chaos-and-empower-your-employees-during-a-crisis/

https://www.constructionbusinessowner.com/popular-now/how-help-your-employees-cope-stress-covid-19

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