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If you could pick one word to describe the last few months, what would it be? Uncertain, stressful, relaxing (!), ever-changing, slower, certainly unprecedented. While any and all of these may still apply to you, here’s another word we’d like to bring into our conversations about work, families, and communities: resilient. We always have the opportunity to choose how to respond, learn, and grow together. 

But what does that look like in real life? No one can deny that as soon as we adapt to a “new normal” here in Vermont, circumstances change in a dizzying flash, and we all need to quickly adjust – hence the rollercoaster! But there is a bright spot: We have an unparalleled opportunity to come together through adversity, boosting each other’s and our community’s morale. Here are some proven tips and resources that you can start using today.  

Ideas for Everyone. You don’t need to be the town manager or a supervisor to take a leadership role within your workplace (however changed that workplace may be!).  

  • Hard times are good times for showing up. Really. Holding space for people speaks volumes. (See this article from GoodTherapy®, a mental health resource.) Learn how to sit with what is. Allow yourself and the other person to acknowledge the depth and range of emotion each of you is feeling. 
  • Take the pressure off in your personal life. Think of your mental and emotional energy like you would a cell phone battery. When it’s running low, you switch it to airplane mode or avoid extraneous use of anything but the essentials.  
  • Emphasize and model the importance of self-care. (Invest EAP’s online COVID-19 guidebook has many examples of how to do this.) 

Supervisors and Managers. Leading in a time of crisis is very serious work. It’s important to not lose sight of your human side or your workplace’s values right now. Instead, channel them into opportunities to deepen trust and commitment within your employees, and you’ll improve workplace culture over the long term. 

  • Show genuine appreciation. Start an employee recognition or rewards program if you haven’t already done so. Sending each staff member a handwritten thank-you note or a small gift sent to their homes (a unique cloth mask made by a Vermont artist or a packet of local organic seeds) will lift their spirits! 
  • Host meetings without an agenda. Many of you are managing staff that need to transition into regular office hours, or maybe they’re essential workers and have had to balance particular stress these last few months. Creating just a little space within the work week to check in with each other as people could lighten someone’s emotional load. 
  • Ask them! Many people are their own experts. Give your staff or colleagues a chance to talk about what they need, or what’s working for them and what isn’t, through a workplace survey or an informal questionnaire. (You can find helpful templates and guidance in InvestEAP’s COVID-19 guidebook.) 
  • Be as flexible as possible. Empower them with flexibility and choice where it is safe and legal to do so. Keep in mind: We can’t fix this, but we can make some things a bit easier. Remind employees about resources available to them. Encourage flexible schedules to take advantage of their employee benefits and community supports. 
  • Fun and quirky: Videoconferencing does not need to be dull, as the Nerds Chalk website demonstrates! Host a show-and-tell, where each person has to bring or show something from their home that has really helped them through the pandemic. Trivia matches over a lunch hour (Vermont history quizzes, anyone?!) and funny contests (weirdest hat!) can all work equally well in person and on Zoom.  
  • Practice active, regular, and honest communication. (See the COVID-19 guidebook’s Communicating in a Crisis webpage.) Silence will come across as cold or uncertain; it’s better to say something as simple as “Here’s what we know right now, and we’ll keep you informed as things develop.” 

Conversation starters

  • Expressing empathy can be learned. Research professor and author Brené Brown’s video titled Brené Brown on Empathy has over 14 million views and speaks directly to the power of true vulnerability.  
  • “Would you like to talk? It doesn't have to be right now, but I am available when you want to.” 
  • “What’s the best thing in your life right now?” 
  • “What’s the one thing you’d change right now if you could?” 
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been acting a little differently. Do you want to tell me about it? I won’t respond; I’ll just listen.” 
  • How to Start (and Continue!) a Conversation About Mental Health. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s "I care about you" webpage explains how. 

Ultimately, the question to ask ourselves isn’t how can we avoid difficulty and stress right now – that is almost impossible to do. The question is: How do we face it together and even become stronger for it? 

Genevieve Habeck
Director of Education & Community Outreach
Invest EAP Centers for Wellbeing
www.investeap.org