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Emotional Intelligence During the Pandemic: 7 Tips for Smart Leaders

Updated: May 17, 2022

The last is yet to be seen of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the crisis has been more popular for its human toll and economic implications, it’s also had a huge impact on the mental health of workers across different industries. Many employees have been suddenly thrust into the barely familiar world of remote working. Others have had to continue reporting to work despite the imminent health and safety risks.

As the pandemic rages on, employees are choosing not to return to work but to work from home instead. Many employees believe that returning to work would significantly disrupt their work-life balance, and companies must rethink their workforce work environment in order to remain competitive in this COVID world.

According to a survey by MarketWatch, the pandemic is stressing 70% of US workers to the max. For these employees, this could be a huge hit to their mental health and productivity. More than ever, managers and employers need to show empathy and emotional intelligence to help employees overcome their pressure, anxiety, and stress burdens. This is both an ethical obligation and a bottom-line issue. Here are 7 tips to help!

1. Understand that individuals have unique challenges

The first step to being an emotionally intelligent leader is being aware that team members have unique personal and professional challenges. This means that there will hardly be a one-size-fits-all solution for these challenges and that what worked once may not work now.

Leaders should engage team members in conversations on their challenges as well as changes or shifts in operations that might have helped them as well as what they may find helpful or not. This is key to building emotionally intelligent teams, 64% of which according to HR Executive, offer:

  • A higher degree of employee empowerment;

  • Clear decision rights as well as impressive incentives and risk tolerance.

2. Practice active listening

Our recent piece on ‘engaging remote employees during the coronavirus’ began with an emphasis on communication. That piece also reiterated the need for two-way communication which of course involves listening and response. Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t just wait for their turn to talk. Rather, they practice active listening which of course helps promote empathy and compassion.

3. Connect with your team on a personal level

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, one of the benefits for smaller employers is the opportunity to add a personal touch to employee wellbeing initiatives.

Leaders who manage teams can use this opportunity to connect with their employees on a personal level. This can help leaders get a better understanding of what motivates, stresses, and inspires individual employees or team members. In the age of the coronavirus, this will be important to building or managing strong, loyal, and more productive teams.

4. Speak and act like a human

Effective leadership will be key to driving business transformation and continuity in the face of crisis. Being an emotionally intelligent leader, however, is about successfully projecting leadership and humanity at a time like this, when employees are already feeling stressed.

In the midst of this pandemic, leaders must transcend the empathy divide.

To demonstrate authentic empathy and compassion, leaders may need to reject conventional approaches or practices that portray them as indifferent or removed from the people who hold the key to the organization's crisis outcome.

5. Develop ways to help employees manage stress

Cheryl Serra, writing for SHRM says COVID-19-related employee stress is a matter of when, and not if. But then again, about 69% of employees already say that the coronavirus pandemic has caused them the greatest stress so far throughout their professional careers.

Emotionally intelligent leaders have to be aware of this and more importantly, need to take action to help employees manage and reduce their stress burdens. This can include:

  • Showing genuine support and empathy.

  • Discouraging multitasking so team members can focus on one thing at a time.

  • Helping employees resolve internal workplace conflicts and disagreements so these don’t end up causing more stress and disruption, etc.

  • Encourage team members to relax and recharge by taking breaks and focusing on non-work activities.

6. Own your mistakes (and learn from them)

Everyone (leaders and team members) are prone to mistakes. The capacity to own up to mistakes, take responsibility, and absorb critical lessons distinguishes emotionally intelligent leaders from the rest of the pack.

Emotionally competent leaders don't waste their time lamenting about how they might have done things differently. At times like this, when several decisions must be made in split seconds, mistakes in judgment are possible. In situations like these, wise leaders would monitor the scenario and assess what went wrong, not to complain or assign blame, but to prevent a recurrence.

7. Ask for help when you need it!

Asking for help won’t make you weak, and emotionally intelligent leaders capitalize on this to help strengthen a culture of openness, self-worth, and collaboration among their teams.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know to seek help when they need it. Aside from not being shy about seeking input from team members on key issues, they also surround themselves with other high emotional IQ leaders from whence they can also draw help and inspiration regularly.

Many employers are mostly worried about getting employees safely back to work.

However, after people return to work, it's equally critical to understand the role of emotional intelligence in leading through a crisis once workers are back at their jobs. New and experienced leaders have to take the time to master and perfect their emotional intelligence skills.

While this is not an ‘overnight’ thing, the good news is that with continuous practice, a receptive mind, and a compassionate heart, employers as well as team leaders and managers will be able to build emotionally-intelligent teams, over time.

This article was written by Fawn Hentrel, Managing Partner.

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