At a time when lines between work and personal life are increasingly blurred and employee experience is in focus, one of the most challenging — and important — tasks of team leaders is guiding their team members through hard times.

Gone are the days when work and life events were siloed. The past two years have demonstrated how non-work-related events can have a significant impact on an employee's productivity, and it is within a team leader's role to ensure every employee is set up for success.

Recognizing Potential Issues 

Best practices say the most effective and respected managers care about more than the work their employees accomplish; they also care about their employees as individuals. Checking in with them and connecting on a personal level is critical to keeping abreast of any potential developing situation.

An employee's performance can be affected by events which fall into three broad buckets:

  1. Personal Events: Traumatic experiences such as a divorce, death in the family, serious illness, etc. can have a devastating effect on an employee's mental state.
  2. Work-Related Events: Work situations such as losing out on a promotion, a bad evaluation, a disagreement with a colleague, etc. can have a personal effect on employees.
  3. World Events: External circumstances like a natural disaster, a war and a pandemic all can have a massive impact on employee morale and, thus, on performance.

Research has shown that the productivity of employees in a negative mood can decrease by 10%. This means dealing with these emotions is essential to an organization's bottom line. "A happy and cared for worker is a successful and productive worker," said Sara Bandurian, operations supervisor for New Orleans-based digital marketing agency Online Optimism.

So, how can managers help employees through these challenging times?

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Communication Is Key

One of the essential elements of offering support to employees going through tough times is to communicate often. Regularly communicating with each member of the team allows managers to assess the current needs of employees and determine how to best offer support, whether financially, logistically or otherwise.

Tina Podmazina, PR manager at Kyiv-based software development company Redwerk, said her company had to develop quick support structures for employees after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"We have two offices in Kyiv and Zaporizhia, so many of us were awakened by sounds of missiles striking our homeland. Most of my colleagues had to move to safer places just overnight," she said, adding that the company makes it a point to support employees logistically and financially. "Twice a day, we check on our chat [to see] if everyone is safe and their location at the moment," she said. "This also helps us keep in touch and feel united." 

Learning Opportunities

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Meet Regularly

It helps to communicate regularly with team members, whether they are in the office or working remotely. Managers should make a point to listen to how their employees are feeling and identify areas where they may need additional support.

"Controversial topics drain our energy, impair our focus and negatively affect our well-being," said Talking Talent CEO Teresa Hopke. "When you check in on your team in the wake of an event, encourage them to use paid time off or wellness days, if offered. Let them know it is okay to take care of themselves as needed. And, if your organization provides coaching sessions or EAP services, remind employees to take advantage of that built-in support. More than anything, people need to know that you care and are ready to support them."

In a remote workplace, managers should ensure they hold these meetings on camera, where there is a natural exchange and flow of conversation. This also allows leaders to pick up on body language clues they would have otherwise missed.

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Establish Boundaries to Improve Communications

One of the critical things for effective people leadership is to show empathy. Yet, empathy doesn't mean letting go of all boundaries. In fact, establishing boundaries can help "empower better conversations" between employee and manager said Range COO Jen Dennard. Managers need to ensure they keep their emotions in check when dealing with difficult situations. By letting the problem get too emotional, leaders can undermine the feelings of the employee and cause them more emotional distress.

Leaders should also make sure they are practicing what they preach and looking after themselves. Being the emotional crutch for a team can be just as exhausting as experiencing the event itself. Therefore, effective leaders need to recognize when they, too, need support, whether that is through company-sponsored tools and services or just talking to another individual.