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3 Tips to Help Leaders Take Care of Their People

We’re all looking forward to a brighter 2021, but we still have a few months to go before we’re there. For many, the combination of work, social, family, and political stressors can make these days feel heavy. 

For most leaders, a big question on our minds is “how on earth do we keep this ship moving forward?”– particularly now that “Pandemic Panic” has shifted to “Pandemic Burnout.” By focusing so heavily on the idea of “moving forward,” many organizations are becoming tactical and task-focused and losing sight of the individual. We’ve perhaps forgotten that our organizations are no longer made up of full-time employees, but of full-time working parents and full-time homeschool teachers, too. I’ve come to realize that the human connections with, and support from, managers and colleagues are more important now than ever.

At Planful we embrace a “People First” mentality, and as Planful’s leader of People & Culture, I’ve been recommending a few simple steps our managers can take to help their teams cope. These recommendations probably sound familiar, as they stem from the values that most of us carry with us in our day-to-day lives. However, during times of stress it’s extra important to bring them to the forefront.

So, what are we at Planful doing to make the situation better for our people? What’s been working? Here are a few tips I’ve shared with our leaders that I hope will help you and your people, too. 

1. Be Human

Recently I was on a call with a colleague, and I could sense a familiar tension in her voice; I’ve heard that same strain in many voices since mid-March. Before diving into the work, I asked her how she, her kids and her family were doing. To my complete surprise, she burst into tears. This gesture that felt small to me felt huge to her- she was touched that her well-being felt like my priority.

This experience got me thinking; are managers asking their teams these questions? More importantly, are they asking them and meaning it? It’s impossible to identify the signs of stress and burnout if you don’t know the people on your team. 

At Planful, we run team surveys each quarter to understand company-wide attitudes and get a pulse on employee wellbeing. In Q2, the main concern for nearly everyone was the pandemic. In Q3, it was stress and burnout, which is understandable given what we’re all going through. So taking the time to simply ask “How are you doing?” or “As your manager, how can I better support you?’ has never been more important. But it has to be authentic; it’s authenticity that increasingly separates amazing managers from the rest.

In other words, it’s being human. 

2. Get Ahead of the Stress

Working with your people is the best way to discover what they need, and discussing professional development is a great place to start. Being stressed in a role you love is manageable, but being stressed in a role you aren’t thrilled about is much more difficult. It’s a manager’s responsibility to both recognize stress and find a way around it. 

Our managers carve out specific blocks of time with each member of their team to discuss everything except their jobs: training, personal needs, work schedules, etc. This builds relationships and offers an early warning system so there is more time to figure out solutions. It also gives people the opportunity to share their concerns and ask questions. 

A common example these days is the stress of caring for other family members, worrying about at-risk parents, or adding “online educator” to the long list of roles. Most people won’t volunteer that information, so give them the opportunity to share any conflicts or concerns. It may be something as simple as moving a meeting by 30 minutes that could make a person’s day massively easier. 

3. Focus on Wellness

We’re lucky to have a CEO who is an advocate for wellness and work-life balance. I mentioned this in a previous post as one of the reasons why our company values are taken so seriously; our CEO, Grant, lives these values and reinforces them in every interaction. 

One of Grant’s main concerns is employee wellness across their physical and mental health. We consciously make decisions with “wellness first” organization. We’ve added mental health benefits, increased the frequency of our company-wide meetings to reduce uncertainty, and we continue to encourage people to disconnect and take time off. We also celebrate the wins, no matter how small, to add happiness and excitement wherever we can.

Our approach to wellness extends to executives and managers, too, and we encourage them to be open and vulnerable with their teams. At the risk of sounding like a hopeless romantic, I’ve become a big fan of the “Love Language’” trend. “Love Languages” describe the specific way in which an individual expresses love and hopes to receive love in return. While these are typically used to describe romantic relationships, they can also be translated to the workplace. I encourage managers to do a bit of investigating to see if they can figure out what “language” each member of their team speaks. Does someone need extra words of affirmation right now? Who needs a bit more of your time? Understanding individual needs and “speaking their language” is crucial to making sure everyone on your team feels appreciated and supported in these trying times.

Being Positively Planful

This advice I’ve provided is probably very familiar; everything is akin to the various “golden rules” we all learned as kids. Be nice, be honest, and care for your fellow person. 

The stresses of work and life have always been present. In 2020, these stresses have been magnified. It’s easy to forget the bigger picture goals and retreat into a tactical focus, checking off to-dos, and forgetting about important things like long-term health, aspirations, and what makes you happy. 

So, make sure you take care of your team and take care of yourself. Celebrate the wins, no matter how small. Be vulnerable, and be human.

And if this all seems like a lot and you’re not sure where to start, you can begin by asking someone you work with one simple question; “How are you doing?”

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