Will I be out of work soon? Is my company going to survive? How can I upskill so I remain relevant in five years? These are probably just some worries preoccupying people’s minds as they do their jobs. Trying to keep this constant churn of anxiety at bay is no good way to live or work, much less work productively. How can managers and leaders help their workforce regain footing in unsettling times? Here are eight action steps.
Create a safe space for employees to express their concerns. This could be through open forums, one-on-one discussions or anonymous suggestion boxes. Show empathy by trying to understand and validate people’s fears fully. Listening intently will help you comprehend people’s situations more accurately and adjust your communication style and change management plans accordingly.
Simple Habits for Complex TimesStanford UP
If you listen wholeheartedly, you may share some of your employees’ concerns. Make sure to let them know if you do. Showing vulnerability is one of the best ways to help others to open up.
Being mindful and respectful of their anxieties is essential to get people a little more comfortable with what could otherwise be a scary shift.David Schonthal
In times of uncertainty, you can hardly overcommunicate. Explain the changes your company is implementing, the reasons behind them and the potential benefits. Model transparency by using clear, jargon-free language. When announcing major changes, give people time to digest the news. The human brain is biased toward the familiar, so people’s first reaction to hearing about big changes won’t likely be enthusiastic.
In The Human Element, Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal offer advice on how to counter inertia by making the unknown more familiar.
The Human ElementWiley
3. Offer Support
Offer support and resources to help people deal with stress and anxiety, such as by providing access to counseling or coaching services. You may also want to encourage and facilitate the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are voluntary employee groups formed around shared interests and challenges.
Mindfulness and meditation can enhance people’s ability to navigate through times of turmoil. Practiced regularly, these ancient practices foster resilience by promoting mental well-being and emotional stability. Consider creating a comfortable environment for employees to meditate and offering free access to a meditation app.
Finally, don’t neglect basic needs employees need to have met to deal with daily challenges. Regular, high-quality sleep is a non-negotiable aspect of mental health and resilience. Basecamp CEO Jason Fried, for example, has taken on a pioneering role in modeling sleep leadership. He limits meetings, ensures employees have undisturbed focus time during work hours and reminds people that sending emails during off-work hours is counterproductive. By making sleep a subject of discussion at work, employees at Basecamp have started to talk openly about their sleep quality and share best practices. Exercise is another powerful stress-buster, so think about ways to support employees to exercise regularly.
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4. Involve Employees
When faced with changes that are out of our control, we can become overwhelmed by an almost paralyzing sense of powerlessness. Giving people control over some aspects of their work and letting them know how they can contribute to the change process your company is implementing will go a long way in making people feel effective and valued.
As Richard Sutton explains in Stressproof, the main source of stress is often not work overload but the feeling of not being in control. The latter also makes people susceptible to burnout. If you feel your employees feel unrecognized for their efforts, you may consider hiring more managers to provide support and positive reinforcement. Another way of involving employees is by encouraging them to take on projects outside their formal job description. Internal talent marketplaces are a great way for employees to develop new skills, discover new talents and find new ways to follow their passion.
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The Burnout EpidemicHarvard Business Review Press Read Summary
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5. Highlight Opportunities
Many experts predict that while many jobs will disappear due to technology, many new job categories will be created. Automation has acquired a new role in knowledge work by performing tasks that were once the exclusive domain of human beings. Yet “intelligent automation” does not replace human workers. It supports and extends human intellectual talents.
With machines taking over mundane tasks, knowledge workers are freed up to spend time on more creative tasks that machines can’t yet replace.Bhaskar Ghosh et al.
Emphasize opportunities that come with the adoption of new technology and automation. Discuss how it can streamline processes, improve productivity and enable knowledge workers to focus on higher-value tasks. Help your team understand that embracing new technology can open doors to more challenging and fulfilling work, allowing them to contribute innovatively. Smart machines offer strengths and capabilities that differ from but are highly complementary to people’s talents, write Bhaskar Ghosh et al. in The Automation Advantage.
You may also want to share success stories of other teams or organizations that have successfully embraced new technology and achieved positive outcomes. Real-life examples can inspire your team and alleviate their concerns by demonstrating that integrating new technology can enhance their roles rather than making them redundant.
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6. Promote a Growth Mindset
You will need all hands on deck to apply new technology effectively and develop new business opportunities. Hence, you will want to foster a culture of continuous learning. Promote a growth mindset by helping people see themselves as constantly learning and evolving. Help people to de-couple their sense of identity from their narrow job role by thinking about novel ways in which they might apply their skills and talents. Of course, you will also want to provide resources, training programs and mentorship opportunities to help them upskill and stay relevant.
Create an environment that encourages experimentation and innovation. Let your team know that their ideas and feedback are valued. Provide opportunities for them to explore new technologies, test innovative solutions and share their learnings with the wider team. By empowering people to be part of the digital transformation process, you can alleviate their fears and foster a sense of ownership.
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As a company adapting to rapid technological change, a crucial skill you will want to foster is curiosity. Curiosity drives individuals to seek out new information, explore possibilities and ask questions. Being curious lets employees stay updated on emerging trends, new technologies and industry developments. A mindset of exploration and experimentation helps people generate new combinations of ideas and find previously elusive solutions to problems.
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How Creativity Rules the WorldHarperCollins Leadership Read Summary
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Unlocking CreativityWiley Read Summary
“Corporate Learning Is More Important than Ever”E-Learn Magazine Read Summary
7. Assure Job Security (When Possible)
Fear of job loss is a significant source of anxiety when new technologies are introduced. Yet many of these fears may be unwarranted. Be upfront about what people can expect. People whose jobs are on the line will do better if they know and can plan for an upcoming career or job transition (preferably with your support). Meanwhile, reassuring people whose jobs are not immediately threatened will help them sleep better.
Keep in mind that for most people, uncertainty is worse than bad news.
Make sure to acknowledge and reward team members who embrace new technology, adapt quickly and actively contribute to the digital transformation. Publicly recognize their efforts and highlight their positive impact – which helps reassure them and others that their contribution counts and will continue to do so in the future.
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8. Be a Model
As a leader, you will want to model the behavior you seek in your employees. Practice self-care. Embrace new technology and learn to work with new tools. Lead by example by learning new skills and taking on tasks outside your main job responsibilities.
Resist the impulse to take control in tense and stressful situations. Instead, support people by exercising transparency, demonstrating vulnerability, listening well and keeping your commitments. Most importantly, improve trust by reminding people of their shared purpose and by instilling a strong team spirit.