By Ryan Smith, Co-Founder and CEO, Qualtrics
Right now, the world needs leadership, and it has to start with people managers. Anxiety and stress have spiked, and they’re rising every day as new crises arise and as jobs disappear. As humans, we can get through change, but we struggle with uncertainty. All of today’s uncertainty is driving us toward a major mental health crisis along with the immediate COVID-19 crisis.
Data shows that workers are looking to their own employers and managers to lead even more than they are looking to governments and other organizations. As a leader, you have a more immediate and personal connection, and greater responsibility than you’ve ever had before – all while you’re sorting out your own world. Your communications are more relevant, and the actions you take, or choose not to take, can have an immediate impact on people’s lives.
So where do you start? The first question you should be asking everyone is: Are you okay? This has to be asked weekly and even daily, because the climate is changing that often. Every day feels like a week.
The first question you should be asking everyone is: Are you okay?
This is the first in a three-part post on leadership in the COVID-19 era. Since the start of this crisis, we’ve been working with our own employees and 8,000 other brands to get this right. And here’s what the data is showing us so far.
There are three main things you should be asking employees right now (especially those that are working remotely for the first time). They’re simple and they’re essential.
- First, are you okay?
- Second, do you have what you need?
- Third, how can we help you be and feel successful?
Asking these three questions and taking action from your findings will reduce anxiety, show the way forward, and help you and your teams navigate this new normal.
Address Uncertainty, Anxiety, and Stress
People will tell you from the pulse / check-ins where their anxiety and stress lie. You must address those issues head on. It will be different for every country and every region, and likely different every week. People can handle change, but most don’t do well with uncertainty. Our job as leaders is to communicate and take away uncertainty for our people the best we can.
Your teams are a week or two into this, many of them working remotely for the first time. In normal circumstances this shift takes getting used to. Add in a global pandemic, working from home, potentially with a spouse or partner, school closures, the economic stress of worrying about bills, uncertainty over long-term employment, and you have a recipe for anxiety and stress.
It’s a lot to handle.
People can handle change, but most don’t do well with uncertainty.
Our research shows that right now 54% of people in this new normal report higher stress levels since working from home. Some of the reasons people attribute to their increased stress include more difficulty communicating, pressure to work all the time, and unclear expectation. By asking first how employees are doing, you can empathize, gauge stress levels, and use their responses to help solve their immediate health, financial, and emotional needs.
Two major lessons we’re learning: You can’t communicate too much and people need social times with their teams to foster connection.
The first thing we are seeing across the board is the need to communicate. It helps resolve anxiety in a big way. Just when you feel like you’re overcommunicating … you probably need to dial it up 20% more.
Before you get to ask about effectiveness or productivity, you first have to show how much you care for them personally by asking if they are okay. At Qualtrics, we built a Remote Work Pulse for our employees to understand how they are doing on a daily or weekly basis.
If you feel like you are overcommunicating, you are probably doing the right amount of communicating.
Looking at our team, 65% percent of our global workforce had never worked from home for an extended period before. Overnight we had to confront a new way of working. Literally. This increased the need for communication and leadership.
As CEO, I didn’t think people wanted to hear from me. I thought they needed their direct managers or their department heads to take the lead. To my surprise, internal data taught me the exact opposite. People have questions about the larger environment; they want to know what the company is doing. I learned that if you feel like you are overcommunicating, you are probably doing the right amount of communicating.
Our internal employee pulse found that almost everyone (92%) said that communication from the company on COVID-19 had been helpful to them in understanding what they needed to do. The same number felt supported by their immediate supervisor in their efforts to adapt to the new normal.
Build Social Time with Your Teams
Data is also showing massive anxiety around working away from their teams. When asked about the hardest part of working from home, employees mention social isolation twice as much as any other challenge. Working remotely eliminates our ability to connect on a human level over the watercooler and casual small talk.
I’m telling individual team leaders that this is their most important job right now. Our teams have started hangout channels on Slack, scheduled video meetings just to talk, and I think they’re sending twice as many GIFs as they used to. You have to replicate connections they’ve lost. You have to build new ways to make those connections.
The hardest part of working from home? Employees mention social isolation twice as much as any other challenge.
During these times, I’m reminded of the famous saying, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Only after you’ve shown how much you care do you earn the right to ask what they need and how you can help them be productive.
Checking on the well-being of employees is the right thing to do. At Qualtrics, we use Remote Work Pulse to keep daily and weekly tabs on how our employees are doing. We’ve made it free for all organizations to do the same.
The three-part series continues tomorrow with our findings on, Do employees have what they need?