How to keep up morale while keeping your distance

Tech talent leaders weigh in on how to keep employees engaged amid the stress of the pandemic

Job burnout has been a significant occupational hazard in recent years—most recently among Gen-Z workers in tech. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated it.

According to an August 2020 survey of 1,500 employees by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, 75% say they are experiencing burnout brought on by the pandemic. Their top reasons include a lack of separation between work and life, crushing workloads, and worries about job security.

These trends are themselves a significant worry for HR leaders. In this expert roundtable, we asked four enterprise leaders to share helpful strategies and insights.

[Read also: How HR can lead during this pandemic]

1. Take a breath

There are two essential ingredients to maintaining morale during this “new normal.” First is the need to think about the “whole person” as we work together and serve each other. Everyone is under stress of different types. Employees often have family or home-related issues, and some people are just worried. Right now, we all need to listen, have patience, and care for each other, so everyone feels safe, supported, and heard.

The second is to “take a breath.” There are so many distractions, new programs, risks, and uncertainties at work that we constantly feel barraged by surprises. It turns out we can ignore much of this information, so it’s important leaders and teammates encourage everyone to pace themselves.

Use a little humor, go for a walk (distanced of course), listen to some music, and try to focus on the most important things. If we all take time to “take a deep breath” several times a day, we’ll get through this uncertain time with a sense of growth and progress.

2. Find new ways to listen

At a time of great uncertainty, authentic leadership is more important than ever. Empathy and transparency have been critical tools to lead the workforce through the fear and the transition to remote work.

The most tactical lesson in this environment is that we can’t guess how employees are feeling and the ways that they might be struggling. We need strategies to continuously listen to them. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report, at a time when workforce shifts are happening at warp speed, only 1 out of 10 respondents are producing workforce insights in real time.

We want to be able to tell when a team or group is careening toward burnout, not just anecdotally but systematically. This gives us the opportunity to invest in well-being and morale in the places where it counts.

3. Let managers set the right tone

Managers set the tone for their teams, and their influence on culture and behavior is immeasurable. Companies must provide managers with tools, support, and flexibility to manage remote employees with empathy. Here are a few tactics to consider:

  • Give them the mandate to encourage teams to take time off, and be sure they are doing that. This will help avoid burnout and set an example for other team members.
  • Knowing that recognition is a morale booster, find ways for managers to reward and recognize employees, either using an online recognition tool, a company shout out, or even a token of appreciation delivered to their home.
  • Acknowledge that there is a lot of anxiety around job security right now. In the absence of information, employees can often jump to negative conclusions. Work with managers on communication skills and stress the need for an open, ongoing dialogue. The more inclusive managers can be of the individuals on their team, the better.

4. Create clarity by tapping into core values

The biggest lesson from the past five months is how important it is to leverage your organization’s values to solve problems. If you can’t use your core values to address the enormous challenges of remote work during a pandemic, it’s time to refresh them or create new values. Your business culture must evolve as the world does.

When employees are faced with emotional challenges and a business stops performing well financially, engagement can suffer. Create clarity around the organization’s strategy and then over-communicate that strategy. Everyone should know what your top objectives are and what role they play in achieving those. Purpose and alignment are the best antidotes for the stresses of challenging times.