Which brings me to this point: We have a New Normal. Massive unemployment as people lose their jobs. People with jobs working at home for the first time. Managers managing from home for the first time. Fear, worry, and concern are part of our daily lives. There are some areas where research literature can inform, but most of the literature does not exactly, or directly, generalize to work in this time of crisis. We have a new environment.
In 1936 Kurt Lewin, the father of social psychology, described human behavior as B = f (L) where L is Lifespace. He elaborated this to B = f (P, E) where P is person and E is environment. P includes all that makes us different (e.g., attitudes, personality, motivations, capabilities, and so forth). E includes both the physical and social environment. Behavior is a function of the many aspects of the person, the environment, and their interaction. In this pandemic the environment has greatly changed and we are trying to adjust. Just think about the ways your life, your thoughts, your behaviors are now different from just last year.
In an interview conducted by Ayleen Barbel Fattal, Nathan Hiller (Florida International University) stated:
We can’t expect people to be able to think well and execute complex work tasks if they’re in a heightened state of anxiety about their family’s safety and if they are worried about their company going bankrupt or have watched their family-members lose their jobs. . . You can’t concentrate. You aren’t very productive. . . none of us will be at the top of our game when it comes to work.
The environment and its impact on us are inescapable. As I write this, there are many people awaiting the coronavirus test, people lying in hospital beds in tents, people suffering, people dying. Working in trying, dangerous conditions they never foresaw are our frontline nurses, physicians, and other health care providers. Research during other outbreaks has shown the devastating impact of stress (i.e., PTSD) on crisis health care professionals and their heightened need for support.
In a recent New York Times, David Gelles talked with eight CEOs about working from home during this pandemic. “Nobody prepares for this,” said Chuck Robbins (Cisco), “None of this technology was designed to support the entire world working from home” (Business section, p. 4). Other CEOs talked about the mental health challenges, the fatigue, even burnout. Giovanni Caforio (Bristol Myers Squibb): “Right now we all have to make trade-offs.”
There is much research on working remotely, working in virtual teams, but not research on suddenly having to work at home with no training during a pandemic. Here are three keys for managers from Nathan Hiller and Valentina Bruk-Lee:
- Be empathetic. Ask, listen, try to understand, acknowledge [feelings].
- Communicate clearly, truthfully, and frequently.
- Use video technology. Better to hear and see.
To these I would add, “don’t micromanage.” Be very flexible with work hours, that is, focus on work being done, not when it is done to the extent possible.
Most of the environmental factors weighing on employees weigh also on managers. Parents, grandparents, children at risk. Loneliness. Lack of non-digital social interaction. If you lead managers, do not expect them to be at their best. Work with them just as they need to work with their direct reports.
Be strong. Stay safe.
Fattal, A. B. (2020, March 23). How to effectively manage a team during a pandemic while everyone works from home. FIU News. https://news.fiu.edu/2020/how-to-effectively-manage-a-team-during-a-pandemic-while-everyone-works-from-home
Gelles, D. (2020, March 29). When a home becomes headquarters. New York Times, Business Section, 4.
Image, "Lurking Virus" by Syaibatul Hamdi. Obtained from https://pixabay.com/photos/epidemic-coronavirus-lurking-virus-4952933/ Free to use.
© John Ballard, PhD, 2020. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “deals with principles and practices that are timeless . . . Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Ron Riggio, Book Review, Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Now also available as an audiobook and paperback.