How To Lead Employees In Uncertain Times

We’re smack in the middle of a global pandemic. Yes, there are reasons to be optimistic, but on any given day you’re likely flooded with a number of hard emotions.

Exhaustion, grief, and overwhelm are our constant companions. Anxiety and fear are never far these days.

You may not be sure how to endure these emotions. And, you probably don’t know how to help your employees handle them either.

As the head of the ship, you don’t have the option to do nothing.

Your staff is feeling the same emotions you are and it’s your job to help them navigate it all.

I won’t sugarcoat it: dealing with emotions in the workplace is messy. But, ignoring it will result in lost productivity, low morale, increased conflict and poor results.

The good news? Taking action to address the myriad of emotions during these uncertain times can be done in a way that brings your team together and makes you more effective in the future.

The following are five practical ways you can guide your employees through dark times, being a beacon of light in an unsure situation. That’s what leadership is all about!


1. Create Virtual Focus Groups

You might call this a coffee hour or a weekly support group. The idea is that your employees have a time where the boss is listening and 100% attentive on what they are going through.

Setting aside time that is solely devoted to your employees sharing how they’re truly doing sends two messages. One, that you genuinely care about their well-being. Two, it’s okay, to be honest about how everyone is *really* doing.

The goal of these groups is to provide needed space for your staff, not to fix their issues. Plan for these groups to meet as often as necessary through these unusual times, giving them an opportunity to speak freely and hear of their co-worker’s experience.

A word of caution:  It is important to address issues after groups have met.  If you implement focus groups and don’t follow through with action based on feedback from your employees, you will lose credibility and morale will further plummet. Your employees need your follow-through to put action behind your words.


2. Be Vulnerable

Trust is built when employees see their leaders sharing in a transparent way about their own struggles. That doesn’t mean you fall apart and look to your employees to take care of you. It does mean showing your humanity.

For example, sharing how you’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with sleepless nights or the loss of a loved one makes you human and a more relatable leader.


3. Genuinely Listen

We all know the tendency to half-listen. We think we know what the other person is saying while at the same time formulating a response in our minds while others are talking.

When you listen to understand, be fully present. Even on a virtual call, turn off your phone, close computer tabs, and give your employees your undivided attention.  Listening with curiosity through your tone of voice and the questions you ask will go a long way in showing you genuinely care how your employees are doing.


4. Cast a Vision of Hope and Resilience

Many years ago I read Diane Coutu’s Harvard Business Review article about how resilience works. That article has stayed with me over the years and been especially meaningful during this past year.

Coutu describes three characteristics of resilient people: One, accept reality. Two, create meaning out of adversity, and three, improvise.

Your employees want to know the future is going to be better than the present. Even if you don’t know how you’ll get there, it’s important you maintain hope while keeping these three characteristics top of mind.


5. Model self-care and well being

As part of being vulnerable, share how you’re taking care of yourself to deal with your emotions and stress. Whether it’s prayer, mediation, exercise, eating healthy, or something else, share ways you are making conscious choices to pay attention to your own well-being…especially when you don’t feel like it.

A Chief Nursing Officer recently told me, “I want my employees to see me going in and out of the mediation room created at the hospital since the pandemic began. If I’m asking them to use the room from breaks from patient care to take care of themselves, I’ve got to do it myself too. Going in and out of the mediation room isn’t a show, it really helps.”


The time we’re living in is going down in the history books. One day you will be telling your children, grandchildren, and future employees what it was like living (and leading) through the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and political strife.

Never underestimate the influence you have to help your employees navigate this storm by simply listening and letting them know you care.

When you address the myriad of emotions your employees are going through, over time (there are no quick fixes) you will bring your team together and come through this crisis stronger.

And years from now, you’ll look back without regrets.


Managing difficult emotions in the workplace is not a “one and done”. Keeping a pulse on how your employees are doing is an ongoing responsibility. As a therapist and workplace conflict expert, I’m here to help you implement consistent and meaningful practices that will help your staff maintain focus, good health, and productivity through these uncertain times.


Schedule a time with me HERE to talk about which practices will be the most impactful for your unique team.

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