Over the past several months, have you had any trouble sleeping? Have you had a poor appetite, or maybe overindulged? Are you having more frequent headaches or stomach aches? Are you increasing your alcohol or drug use? How about your temper: are you losing it more often? Do you feel any chronic conditions worsening? If so, you’re not alone.
A 2020 survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that these symptoms are showing up every day for the people you lead and love. What’s astonishing to me is how widespread the impact of the coronavirus is on the teams you’re leading. In March, 32% of people said they were having one or more of those symptoms. By mid-July, 53% of respondents agreed. That was a 66% increase in stress-related symptoms in just four months—and who knows how much those numbers increased since July. I can only assume things are worse after five more months living through a pandemic.
This is a dramatic decline in overall health, and I’ll bet you’re also experiencing some of these same symptoms. I know I am. Lack of sleep, low appetite or overeating, headaches and stomach aches, alcohol and drug use, difficulty controlling your temper – these are all chronic conditions that are getting worse. It’s happening everywhere right now, and the tech industry is not immune.
As a leader in tech, you need to know what your people are experiencing right now. The people you lead and love are hurting, and more than likely, it’s affecting their ability to perform at their best. Thankfully, there are three things you can do right now to help improve your team’s mental health.
1. Cameras Off Now and Then
This principle is so simple it’s easy to miss, but it has a profound impact on mental health. Be clear on when the camera needs to be on and when the camera can be off during your virtual meetings. Almost overnight, everyone went to Zoom, and all of a sudden we had to be on camera all the time to make up for not being in the room together. The reality is people have been working remotely for a long time and you didn’t always have to use video. You could take a walk and get some fresh air. You might throw in a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher while on an all-hands call. You could get a quick snuggle from your dog or pour your kid a cup of milk. You had the freedom to get some stuff done in the background that didn’t take away from the job, which helped with peace of mind and stress and overwhelm.
My message to leaders today is to think about when the camera needs to be on, and when it can be voluntary. Your people need the break, especially now. You set the tone as the leader. You set the expectations. Take a look at the cadence of your meetings, how often you’re meeting, and make thoughtful decisions about whether cameras need to be on, off, or voluntary. Give the gift of off-camera or camera-voluntary meetings whenever you can. I promise, this will go a long way toward improving morale and improving the mental health of your team members.
2. Revisit Priorities
As a leader in your organization, I know you have to start the year out strong. I know there’s a lot of budget planning for the year. I know that head count and resource planning is always critical. Right now, it’s essential that you’re crystal clear on the non-negotiables, and also where there’s wiggle room. Decide what is absolutely essential, and clearly communicate those priorities. Just as importantly, decide what you can let slide for now, and communicate those details as well. External factors are weighing heavily on your team, things you have no control over—but it is in your power to alleviate some of their work stress. Do it. Take a look at the priorities that you pass down into your organization, and then empower your VPs, directors, and frontline managers to actually take action on what’s most important and also on what to put on hold.
Not everything is important right now. Your team members, those that you lead and love, they’re going to do whatever they can to get everything done for you and your customers, even to the detriment of their own mental health. It’s because they want to do a good job—and because there’s a lot of fear right now about job security. Nobody wants to look lazy, uncommitted, or like the weakest link. Your employees are not going to take the lead and begin suggesting projects to set aside. No one’s going to raise their hand and say, “Hey, can we not do this today?” You need to step into that leadership role and make it crystal clear what is essential, and what can be let go.
3. Be a Benefits Champion
Familiarize yourself with the benefits your company offers. Now more than ever, your team needs to know what support their company can give them. Do you have an employee wellness program? Do you cover counseling or therapy? Offer an employee wellness app? What about matching certain employee charitable donations? Whatever benefits your company has available for your team, learn about them. Become an expert in them. When the opportunity arises, you can actually be a steward of information and not leave this to your HR partners to do on their own. Your HR team is under a lot of pressure to start the year out with all the necessary people operations, with the hybrid workplace and COVID, with performance management and systems, not to mention all the nuances in the world of people and policy right now. They’re overwhelmed just like everyone else. Be the leader in your organization. Familiarize yourself with the benefits available, and champion them at the right times, for the right reasons.
If the benefits available are on the skimpy side, you could go the extra mile—and take advantage of the proven stress-reducing benefits of group community service—by leading your team in a volunteer service project. Helping those less fortunate than ourselves is always a grounding experience, a healthy perspective reset, and a reminder to be thankful for what we have. You can use the pandemic stress your team is under, channeling it into a stress-relieving, mood-boosting group project. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, organize a food drive for a local food bank, do yard work for an elderly at-risk person…the needs and the opportunities are endless.
We all know that working during this pandemic has been more stressful—we don’t need a study to tell us. The good news is a recent study from Ohio State University shows that “servant leadership,” leadership that prioritizes employees’ needs and happiness, is able to mitigate employee anxiety. It’s no surprise that decreased anxiety results in higher productivity. The business world has known for a long time that less-stressed employees are happier and healthier with higher-functioning immune systems. They take fewer sick days, and they perform their tasks with better quality and efficiency.
Doing what you can to help manage their stress is more important than ever, so don’t wait. Start today. If you do these three things I’ve recommended, you will have a more engaged workforce, a more loyal workforce, and a healthier workforce that can breathe a sigh of relief and run the marathon that is working during COVID.
Try these three easy strategies. Your employees will thank you. Their loved ones will thank you. Your customers will thank you. We’re in this together. I’m rooting for you, and I know these three tips can make a difference for you today!
Bonus TipI know your team members aren’t the only ones whose mental health could use a shot in the arm. The life of a tech exec is challenging even in the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, disengaged, uninspired, or like all your motivation has just vanished, I get it. I have been exactly where you are. I was a Silicon Valley tech exec for over 20 years. I figured out how to reboot my life—both at work and at home—and I can help you do the same thing. Let’s connect at http://rebootwithlisa.com/, and get you refreshed, recharged, and rebooted.