How to maintain stable relationships in your team during a crisis

April 5, 2023
6 min

How to maintain stable relationships in your team during a crisis

Over the past few years, the roles and responsibilities of top executives at companies have changed dramatically. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, executives focused on innovation in their companies, market penetration, and revenue growth. And while everyone is used to the pandemic, the new crises have not been long in coming, and they still have to work hard to control costs and maintain a working atmosphere in the team.

The atmosphere in the workplace has a direct impact on the performance and financial results of the company. Pandemic, war, economic crisis—in such difficult times, it is crucial to reduce the stress level of employees and create comfortable (as much as possible) conditions for work. In this article, we have collected important tips about what you should and should not do, how a manager should behave, and how to support employees during a crisis.

What your employees are worried about

Most of the fears and anxieties of employees during the crisis are related to the economic situation of the business, problems with sales markets, and other factors that can indirectly affect everyone. To put it simply, it is important for people to be paid their salaries on time and in full, and, of course, not to be fired.

Some may fear that the atmosphere in the team will be disrupted by layoffs. If there is a polarization in the team’s opinions about the situation, this too can harm productivity. Your employees may feel outnumbered by their opinion. That’s a lot of stress. It’s especially hard if management holds a different viewpoint. Some people see the collective as a second family, and the importance of this increases for them. For people who separate the work context from the personal one, polarization is easier. They tend not to mix the two parts of life and distance themselves.

Enthusiastic people who love their work very much also have concerns about the business’s survival in the new environment. There is a fear that the company will not just shrink and cut costs but will leave the market. On top of that, some employees may have a gap between their expectations of the corporate culture and reality. Therefore, competent communication with employees is necessary. Especially strong lack of support is felt in companies with a developed corporate culture, where the team is positioned as a team. Such employees have higher expectations of support than in companies where such rhetoric has never been present. If there is no dialogue, people will feel abandoned.

Your role

Experts say: to relieve anxiety, you must be as open and honest as possible with employees about the situation in the company. It is necessary to clearly and regularly communicate to the team what is happening, what actions you’re taking to survive difficult times, and what the role of employees is in this.

When the situation is clear, less energy is spent on speculation, and more is spent on overcoming it. The first thing to do is to answer questions about layoffs and salaries. If there are answers to these questions, and especially if they are rather positive, it is necessary to talk about them. It is important to show that life in the company goes on, and the key clients stay.

It is very important to maintain the frequency of communication—even if there is nothing new in the newsletter or at the meetings, the very feeling that the management constantly remembers about their employees, that there is something stable in life, reduces uncertainty. But in building up the communication, it is not necessary to exaggerate the colors.

If it is not yet known exactly whether a bad event will occur, it is not worth communicating about this threat prematurely. It is an unnecessary cause for concern. A bad event that is certain to happen does not have a charge of anxiety but rather arouses certain feelings—anger and sadness. People understand that it is inevitable, and it is necessary to take action.

Every team has opinion leaders-people everyone listens to. With proper observation, these leaders are easy to identify in work processes. You can also identify informal leaders through employee or HR surveys.

It is worth understanding the informal leader’s influence on the teams—positive or destructive. In the first case, the employee should be encouraged and supported, and in the second—to talk to him, find out the cause of discontent and work it out.

If you have people on your team who destructively influence others, such as spreading panic, you should do something about it. Perhaps they need targeted help—financial or psychological. The main thing is not to create an “infiltrator” that “spreads positivity.” They will behave unnaturally, and their credibility will deteriorate.

Taboo: what is it good for?

You shouldn’t forbid the discussion of stressful topics in the team. Experts believe that there is no point: if employees do not discuss disturbing information in front of you, they will talk about it during lunchtime, in the bar, outside the office, or in an informal setting.

If you don’t know what’s going on in the team, you won’t be able to influence the mood within it, and therefore you won’t be able to prevent it from disintegrating. So it is necessary not to hide from negativity but to work with it to prevent panic.

An oppressive ban on anything bad can also cause reciprocal resistance and thus steal a working resource. Instead of banning something, you can ask not to do it in some framework, for example, on official company resources or during working hours.

It is important to explain why you are asking for it. Because otherwise, it worsens the relationship, emotionally shakes people, and distracts them from their work. Tell the employees that we are all human, but we gather here with some goals, which should remain a priority. For these goals, we can be more tolerant and take care of ourselves and our colleagues. Because even if you’re not involved in an argument, but it happens around you, it triggers an emotional response.

Not reading the news during the workday is another good recommendation for employees. There is a concept in behavioral psychotherapy called stimulus control. A person who quits smoking has the hardest time when they encounter a stimulus—coming into a company where everyone smokes, seeing a pack of cigarettes, etc. That’s why it’s so important to get the stimulus out of sight—in our case, disturbing news. Doom-scrolling makes people feel worse at work and home—they don’t sleep well and lose their appetite.

Psychological help for employees

If the company has the opportunity, you can hold psychological meetings or team building so that people are not left alone with their emotions. Some companies compensate employees with consultations with psychologists in special services. Whether the staff will accept it depends on the organization’s values. There are many companies in which it is customary to keep a formal attitude and not show one’s emotions.

In modern companies, especially in IT startups, the idea of psychotherapy is well accepted, and there are often psychologists on staff. It is possible to hold additional groups with invited experts in such companies. They must have experience in conflictology because the group can quickly become confrontational with each other. In addition, people must trust the psychologist, knowing that everything they say will remain confidential and not be passed on to the supervisor. If a supervisor is present at the session, this is also a good option—it will show a high degree of openness and awareness.

Assign employees new responsibilities

This is a great time to give your employees new tasks—such as managerial tasks. It would seem that employees’ minds are occupied with entirely different issues during a crisis. But practice shows that this idea has several positive effects:

employees can take their minds off stressful topics; they may feel more confident; you show that each employee is valuable to you, and you are not going to fire them; relieve other employees who have more work to do by introducing different crisis initiatives.

Crises are going to happen in our lives anyway. But if you can withstand them, it will make you stronger—perhaps your business can even succeed and emerge from the crisis victorious. But remember, to achieve this, you always have to start with your team.

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