The United States recently passed the terrible milestone of 110,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Here in Iowa, the daily number of deaths is slowly trending downward. Even so, as recently as June 2nd, 21 Iowans died of the disease, which is the second highest daily total we have seen over the entire course of the pandemic (source: KCCI.com/Johns Hopkins University CSSE). As much as we would love to get back to normal, realistically that is still a ways off.
Meanwhile, millions more Americans than usual are working from home in an effort to slow the spread and “flatten the curve.” Kids are home rather than at school or daycare, which compounds the stress for at-home employees. Smaller children need meals and diapers changed. Older children have needed regular guidance and prompting to utilize online school resources. And they all need direction/attention so as not to slowly go out of their minds. Additionally, some at-home employees may be taking on duties to help older relatives, such as bringing them groceries or medicine. Finally, some may know people who have been sick with the virus or have been sick themselves. There is monotony, worry, social isolation, and too many curve balls to count.
As a result, people are under strain and overwhelmed. A recent Monster.com survey found over half of at-home employees reported feeling burned out. And in a clear sign of the times, the popular antidepressant, Zoloft, is now in short supply due to the uptick in demand. We are in the opposite of normal.
From an economic standpoint, employers are rightly concerned about the devastating impact of the pandemic. Thus, business leaders may be inclined to ask their employees to meet or exceed their normal levels of productivity. However, rather than pushing or prodding, this is a time for tolerance and patience. These times meet the very definition of crisis. Working from home is messy and complicated and it’s happening day after day after day. There are limits to what a person can accomplish under these unusual, challenging circumstances.
If you have an employee who is struggling to complete his or her tasks either at home or on-site, please don’t rush to judgement. You know not the full picture of what they may be going through. A better and more fruitful approach is to use empathy and understanding. Open the channels of communication to get a better handle on the situation. Remember, as a manager, how you treat your employees now will be an important part of the narrative for how they view you and your organization in the future. If they are asked, “How did your boss treat you during the pandemic?” You want them to respond, “My boss was awesome; patient and empathetic.”
That is how you weather the storm. That is how you hold on to great employees and put your organization in the best possible position to bounce back when “normal” is no longer just a dream, but is once again a reality.