After the Pandemic: 12 Challenges for Managers

As with many workplace issues, managers and supervisors occupy a place on the front lines of each workplace. They are responsible for directing and supervising day-to-day work and may be the only ones to lay eyes on employees. Managing remotely has created many challenges and there will be new challenges when employees return to the workplace. At this point, how to address those may involve more questions than answers.

Since most of us have not experienced a pandemic, what we know about managing them comes from research into past traumatic events. Some patterns of behavior and impact are common to epidemics such as SARS, H1N1, and various flu epidemics. We also learned something about return to work issues post-9/11. History has shown that businesses need to anticipate workforce problems as people return to work. Here are 12 challenges that managers and supervisors may face in the future.

  1. The returning workforce may be traumatized from the months of self-quarantine, illness, and fear of death. Some workers prioritize work differently from an existential perspective. Some have more resiliency than others.
  2. It is likely that when the return to work orders are given, not all employees will be on board. Some will continue to feel anxious and unsafe at work while others may simply refuse to come in.
  3. We know from history that trauma which occurs in a pandemic can activate behavioral issues or exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Managers will need to monitor their employees’ emotional wellbeing and consult with HR professionals and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) about what changes they are witnessing.
  4. In addition to mental health issues, some employees may return to work with significant financial concerns due to a change in family income or a period of furlough. Some will benefit from referrals to the EAP for financial consultation.
  5. Employees may be worried about the financial health of the organization and start looking around at their employment options. Managers should be prepared to discuss this.
  6. From a career mobility standpoint, employees may feel confined in their current role after seeing massive layoffs and furloughs.
  7. Employees may be helping their children to adjust to a new way of living. Employees who were alone and suffered from isolation may be needy. Employees who lost family members will be grieving and may still be waiting for a formal service.
  8. Incidents of domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse often increase during traumatic events. Managers should be alert to these potential issues.
  9. Employees who struggle with addiction issues may have relapses before during or after traumatic events. Depression, hopelessness and protracted grief responses may lead to thoughts of suicide. Managers should watch for signs and address them immediately.
  10. Sometimes traumatic events lead to blaming and xenophobic reactions. Managers need to be alert to any disparagement or stigmatization that might be present in the workplace.
  11. During this pandemic, many people discovered that it was difficult to live without the usual structure and routines of their work and home lives. Managers and supervisors can help put work structures back in place while also recognizing that flexibility is needed. Emotional recovery from this pandemic will vary from person to person.
  12. We know that pandemics have waves of seeming recovery and managers will need to help employees weather these storms. Similar to experiencing a bad day during recovery from depression, a step back into social isolation or physical distancing may feel like a devastating turn of events.

Pandemics leave a very long psychological footprint. Although managers are key in the recovery process, managers are people too. Every manager or supervisor returning to work may also have been traumatized by the course of the pandemic or feel psychologically vulnerable. How will his or her needs be met?  Will they have the resiliency to be able to offer structure and support to others?

Organizations need to consider these issues and get help for managers and supervisors. Can senior leaders and HR professionals offer discussion forums about return to work issues? Is your EAP well equipped to offer group support to managers and supervisors during the early return to work period? As we face these challenging and uncertain times, engaging the EAP for both managers and employees will be critical.

How Managers Can Help During Times of Uncertainty

We continue to experience turbulent times, politically, socially, and economically, which are now further complicated by fears of a pandemic. What can managers do during these uncertain times?

A good first step for a manager is to look around his or her workgroup to see how people are doing. Does anyone look particularly “down” Are there employees who are struggling with work-life challenges such as child care, eldercare, or financial worries? Is there someone who’s been more affected by these disturbing times than others? Has someone experienced personal tragedy or loss this year on top of the uncertainties in the world?

Although employees usually hope to escape their problems when they come to work, it is impossible to leave them totally behind. As a manager, taking a minute to really look at someone and ask how they are doing can make a big difference in that person’s life. Everyone has to find his or her own words, but saying something like this can be exceptionally meaningful for a struggling employee.

A few talking points:

  • “I understand things have been difficult recently and I’m wondering how you are doing?”
  • “Is there anything I could do to help during this time?”
  • “Do you have people in your life who are supporting you?”

Depending on the responses, you might wonder whether the employee knows about the support services offered by the Employee Assistance Program, or EAP.

  • “Are you aware that we have a confidential counseling program?”
  • “Could I get you some information about the Employee Assistance Program?”
  • “It sounds like you have a lot on your plate and I’m wondering if the EAP could help you with any part of it?”
  • “The EAP is free and confidential. I won’t even know whether you’ve used it or not.”

Providing employees with work-life flexibility can be extremely beneficial. Managers can help with the social pressure that their group members might feel about working in the office versus working from home. Being clear about work-from-home policies, and supporting employees who use them, while ensuring overall team performance does not suffer, can give employees additional flexibility to respond to new developments.

Information flow is of paramount importance during uncertain times. News, sometimes minute-to-minute developments, can cause worry for many. As events unfold, managers should have mechanisms (i.e., conference calls, meetings, etc.) for disseminating the latest information. They should continue to convey official, relevant messages both from their organization’s leadership to team members, as well as back from team members to leadership. More information flow is better than less.

Managers are in a unique position to provide calm leadership and recognize when someone is struggling. EAPs can provide services to comfort team members and save lives, simply because a manager noticed employees in trouble and encouraged them to access the EAP.

Despair can take many shapes and sizes. Is there anyone you are worried about today?

Why “Big Picture” Career Discussions are Important

Career planning is very important, yet often overlooked by managers. Like it or not, employees are actively considering all of their career options, within and beyond your company and your team. The absence of career discussions that take into account where the employee sees themselves in the next year or the next five years contribute to decreased employee engagement and increased attrition.

Generally, employees consider these career questions :

  •   Am I in the right organization? For now and for the future?
  •   What new skills or experiences do I need for the next step?
  •   How does my manager see my future?
  •   How committed is my manager to helping me?

Before the discussion think about the following:

  •   What do I see as this person’s ultimate potential?
  •   What do I think the employee needs to do to get there?
  •   What do I feel are the employee’s key strengths?
  •   What do I know about this employee’s immediate key developmental needs?
  •   What do I see as the employee’s next assignment?

How to help employees prepare for career discussions

Prior to having career discussions with employees, suggest they prepare for the discussion by thinking about their aspirations, goals and successes. This may help to alleviate the discomfort. Ask them to consider additional skills they want to develop, strengths and areas of improvement, and projects or activities that will provide an opportunity to stretch their skills and grow professionally.

How do I begin a career discussion?

For a productive and positive career discussion, managers should begin with open-ended questions such as: “How does your current work fit with your career goals?” or “Where do you see yourself in your career a year from now or longer?”  Set aside time each year to have these discussions with everyone you manage. It is important for the conversation to be interactive, allowing employees to interject their thoughts throughout the discussion.

What if the person seems uncomfortable with my questions?

If you do sense some discomfort, you might acknowledge how challenging career discussions can be. Perhaps the individual is content in their role or isn’t ready to have a big picture career discussion. To get a sense of what motivates and engages them at work, you may want to ask:

“What problems excite you?” or “What strengths can you build on?” or

“What types of work do you want to do less of or more of?”

What about an employee in the later stage of their career?

Keep in mind that just because someone is older doesn’t mean their next step is retirement. Nineteen percent of those 65 and older said they wanted to change jobs rather than retiring. Although you may want to know about an employee’s retirement plans, it is best to wait until he or she brings it up. No one should feel they are being pushed out.1

Many people want more flexibility as they near retirement so be prepared with those options. For example, work out a part-time arrangement with someone who has great institutional knowledge. Or consider a phased exit over a defined period, or a completely different role or job he or she would like to try. Whatever the arrangement, it needs to be the right choice for the individual and the organization. It is important to know the culture of your organization before offering options to an employee.

What if I am still nervous about having a career discussion?

The EAP is always standing by to help as a sounding board or to help with rehearsing a difficult conversation.

1 “More Senior Citizens Working Past Retirement Age,” Insurance Journal,


The 7 Traits of Highly Effective Managers

In the last blog post, we talked about how managers build good reputations and strong rapports with direct reports. Building trust by consistency in actions and words was one important step. They made investments in the growth and development of employees and created a safe environment for positive and corrective feedback. They continually worked on their own improvement, asking themselves tough questions about their own work style and blind spots.

Here are seven of the most common traits of an effective manager:

  1. Vision and Mission: Effective managers share a larger vision and mission. They help people see the connection between their day-to-day work and the bigger purpose of the organization.
  2. Emotional Intelligence: Effective managers have enough self-awareness to provide stability to direct reports. For example, a manager responds with appropriate emotional affect and is able to show empathy with ease.
  3. Accountability: Effective managers stay on top of projects and follow-up to ensure group success. By doing this, they model accountability and are able to develop their teams.
  4. Empathy: Effective managers notice when people are struggling and acknowledge it. This can range from sharing an awareness of day-to-day stress levels to responding appropriately to life-threatening illnesses or events in an employee’s personal life..
  5. Listening: Effective managers are excellent listeners and reflect back their understanding to avoid any miscommunication. They model good behavior for those who take up too much air time or speak without thinking.
  6. Continuous Learning: Effective managers openly search for new information or understanding. Their quest for knowledge is infectious and sets the tone for a positive environment where learning is ongoing.
  7. Coaching: Effective managers learn some coaching techniques and give regular feedback. In addition to providing specific feedback, these coaching skills help employees come to their own conclusions by suggesting, rather than dictating.

Managing isn’t for everyone. A promotion to manager may be a step up, but may not be the right one for you. If you’re already a manager, how many of the seven traits do you possess? Where and how can you improve?

The end goal is more satisfying work and discovering that employees want to work for you because of your reputation as a good manager.

The EAP and Work-Life program is standing by to help you to think through difficult situations. Call today for a confidential conversation.

Are You a Highly Effective Manager?

We’ve all heard the old adage, “People don’t leave jobs, people leave bosses.” A manager who isn’t consistent, bullies or has other negative traits can drive excellent employees to look elsewhere, even if they otherwise love their work.

During the interview process, it’s hard for candidates to recognize these unfavorable characteristics when everyone is on their best behavior. Employees can then feel blindsided once the honeymoon phase of a manager relationship fades.

So, how do managers build good reputations and strong rapport with their direct reports? They show an interest, they listen and are open to new ideas. They develop trust by actions not just words. They embrace the talents of their staff and make an investment in their growth and development. Good managers create a safe environment where positive and corrective feedback is the norm.

Good managers recognize that frequent communication across the organization and the recognition of teamwork is essential. Managers who are self-aware often take advantage of executive coaching, self-assessment tools and 360-degree feedback analysis. In the spirit of continuous improvement, they may ask themselves:

What aspects of my work-style are effective and where to I need to adjust?

What blind spots do I have that interfere with my ability to be me a better manager and leader for my organization?

What is my action plan to improve?

Managing isn’t for everyone. Watch for an upcoming blog post on “The 7 Traits of Highly Effective Managers” and use these posts to reflect on your own situation.


Use “Stay Interviews” to Retain Valued Employees

Most managers can quickly tell you the names of their most productive and valued employees, but few share that information with the individuals themselves. “Stay interviews” are annual or semi-annual meetings that focus on improving the retention of valued employees. These critical meetings set the stage for discovering what motivates a superstar or uncovering any reasons the person might leave. It is a proactive way to retain employees who may feel overlooked or undervalued, even when the exact opposite is true.

In a recent blog post, HR consultant Mary Lou Parrot suggests six questions to ask during a stay interview:

  1. What kind of feedback or recognition would you like about your performance that you aren’t currently receiving?
  2. What opportunities for self-improvement would you like to have that go beyond your current role?
  3. What kids of flexibility would be helpful to you in balancing your work and home life?
  4. What talents, interests, or skills do you have that we haven’t made the most of?
  5. What have you felt good about accomplishing in your time here?
  6. If you could change one thing about your job, team or company, what would it be?

Most employees will keep thoughts about these topics to themselves unless they believe someone cares. Stay interviews are a way to start a conversation and learn a lot about what motivates employees and how they are feeling. Even someone who is not a superstar may have self-improvement needs or hidden talents. Why not interview everyone?

Once you have the conversation, what do you do with the information? Try to avoid “instant cures” if you hear a lot of needs or get an earful of complaints. Write them down and express your appreciation for their candor. Let the person know that you take their job satisfaction and work-life balance seriously and set up a follow-up meeting in a relatively short time frame. The worst mistake a manager could make would be to ask the questions and do nothing in response.

Is a stay interview in your future?



Guidance for Managers During Turbulent Times

Unfortunately, 2018 is beginning much like 2017 ended. We continue with a climate of political and international unrest, natural disasters and violent shootings. The complaints of workplace sexual harassment have risen to an all-time high. Is this the new normal or an anomaly? Managers have an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of their employees.

Whatever 2018 brings, it’s a good opportunity to look around your workgroup to see how people are doing. Does anyone look particularly “down”? Are you aware of someone who’s been more affected by these disturbing times than others? Has someone in your group experienced personal tragedy or loss this year on top of the uncertainties in the world?

Although employees usually hope to escape their problems when they come to work, it is impossible to leave them totally behind. As a manager, taking a minute to really look at someone and ask how they are doing can make a big difference in that person’s life. Everyone has to find his or her own words, but saying something like this can be exceptionally meaningful for a struggling employee.

A few talking points:

  • “I know it’s been a difficult couple of months for you. I’m wondering how you are doing.”
  • “Is there anything I could do to help during this time?”
  • “Do you have people in your life who are supporting you?”

Depending on the responses, you might wonder whether the employee knows about the support services offered by the EAP.

  • “Are you aware that we have a confidential counseling program?”
  • “Could I get you some information about the Employee Assistance Program?”
  • “The EAP is free and confidential. I won’t even know whether you’ve used it or not.”
  • “It sounds like you have a lot on your plate and I’m wondering if the EAP could help you with any part of it?”

Managers are in a unique position to notice when someone is struggling. EAPs have been known to provide comfort and save lives, simply because a manager noticed an employee in trouble and encouraged them to access the EAP.

Despair can take many shapes and sizes. Is there anyone you are worried about today?

Complaints of Sexual Harassment

In early blog posts, I discussed how important it is for managers to be prepared for a sexual harassment complaint. In a second post, I talked about the negative impact that harassment can have on an individual. But never did I imagine the flood of complaints that would hit the media during late 2017.

Proactively, make sure you are aware of the protocol HR has put in place for reporting sexual harassment complaints. It’s important that you are familiar with your HR department’s policies and practices and the role and expectations of a manager should a complaint come directly to you.

If an employee comes to you to discuss a complaint of sexual harassment, make time to talk to the employee immediately. During that conversation, explain the company’s harassment policy, and also explain that you are NOT able to keep this information confidential and are required to notify HR or some other established entity that is part of the reporting process. Share the protocol with the employee and if possible and appropriate, immediately facilitate a connection to the correct resources. It’s important to extract yourself from the process and for the prescribed protocol to take over.

Things to remember:

The following are tips to assist you in the moments following an employee coming forward to you with a complaint. The HR process/protocol currently in place in your organization supersedes the following tips.

  • If an employee comes forth with a complaint, this becomes your top priority. Make the time and find a private place to talk with the employee.
  • Don’t promise the employee that the complaint will be kept confidential. Confidentiality is not possible because an investigation will have to be conducted. You can explain that the information will be shared only on a “need-to-know” basis.
  • Let the employee share his or her perspective without interruption and take notes..
  • In your conversation and in your notes, don’t speculate or embellish what you heard the employee say. Give your notes to HR as soon as possible.
  • Don’t ask judgmental questions. e.g. “Couldn’t you have just talked to your colleague instead of making a complaint?”
  • Don’t offer explanations or excuses for the conduct the employee is complaining about. You could be viewed as trivializing the complaint or questioning the employee’s honesty.
  • Always defer to HR or another designated entity if asked a question by the employee.
  • Other than HR, don’t talk to anyone else about the allegations. Do not tell the person who is being accused. You could undermine an investigation, and doing so could be used against you should litigation be filed later.

You may have a tough time believing that discrimination or harassment could be happening within your group. Keep an open mind and treat every person who comes forward with dignity and respect. Don’t make assumptions or come to any conclusions, let the company process play out.

As always, keep Human Resources informed and use your EAP for emotional support.


Why Managers Dread Giving Performance Feedback

Do you become anxious at the thought of giving performance feedback? If you are a manager and the answer is yes, you are in good company. Results of a recent Gallup poll of 2,000 managers found that 69 percent of managers have difficulty communicating in general, and 37 percent find it hard to give negative feedback to a subordinate. Why is it so hard?

Some of it has to do with personality style and history. If a manager is reserved or grew up in a family where communication was problematic, he/she may be more apt to struggle with difficult conversations. Work conversations can add another level of complexity to what may already be a challenging situation. Avoiding performance discussions may provide immediate relief, but makes it more difficult in the long run for both you and the employee.

Most employees want to have regular communication with their managers. They like knowing where they stand and getting feedback about their performance. No one likes to hear that they are disappointing others; however, employees would rather hear it now than find it out later.

How Managers Can Improve Communication:

  1. Start building a relationship by getting to know what motivates each person. Have a conversation with your direct reports and ask them their thoughts about receiving feedback. Share your philosophy about feedback and the positive aspect of it even when it’s intended to correct an aspect of performance.
  2. Set a regular time to check in with your direct reports and keep those appointments. Don’t save up constructive feedback because it may take on a life of its own. Create an agenda for frequent, short meetings and ask employees to come prepared with their discussion topics as well. These meetings are the foundation of effective communication.
  3. Learn how to blend positive and negative feedback so you are routinely giving some of each. Check in after a conversation has occurred to see what the employee heard and how he/she is feeling. Ask questions so that you can truly understand. Ask for feedback from your direct reports. Things like, what do they need more or less of from you. The key is to LISTEN.

It’s important to move forward with employee communication, even if it causes you discomfort. Studies have shown that employee engagement is higher when there is good communication within work groups. From an employee perspective, knowing where you stand with your manager reduces stress and makes work more enjoyable. Managers also find that when they improve communication with their employees, they also improve their own job satisfaction.

Do you need to set up a one-on-one today?



Do You Manage Flexible Work Options?

Many managers struggle with managing flexible work options like telecommuting, reduced work week, flexible work hours, working remotely, and temporary work. There are many aspects to consider even if your organization has a flexible culture and supporting policies.

It is the manager’s responsibility to know their organization’s policies about flexible work options and respond to requests accordingly. Managers are generally responsible for evaluating requests and monitoring the outcomes. When done well, flexible work arrangements can help to create a workplace of choice and support other critical employer best practices like employee engagement, hiring, and retention.

What are the benefits of flexible work arrangements?

Flexibility improves wellbeing and prevents burnout: Employees who have more control over their workdays can experience positive benefits to their mental well-being, including lowered stress, less burnout, and increased job satisfaction.

Increased Productivity: Employees are technology enabled at home and work and they have a good idea of how they can be most productive whether that means calling in for a meeting, finishing email in the evening or taking quiet time remotely to finish a project.

Engagement, hiring and retention: Flexibility can be a win-win for everyone, whether it is a temporary situation or one of a more permanent nature. Having a flexible work place recognizes diversity of needs and supports a family-friendly culture. It also acknowledges that everyone faces a crisis now and then…an elderly parent falls, a nanny quits, a family member becomes ill. People are at their best at work when they feel supported and acknowledged. These are critical components to embrace if you want to be an employer of choice.

What can managers do?

  1. Know the HR policies on flexible work options. Discuss the parameters with Human Resources.
  2. Familiarize yourself with how your EAP and Work Life program can help someone who has a child or eldercare issue. Sometimes people ask for time off before they even tried to solve the problem.
  3. Flex by example. Try not to overwork yourself. Try online meetings or working remotely and coach people on how to do this well.
  4. Talk to peers. Have conversations with other managers who may be more experienced with managing a flexible workforce.
  5. Have an open door. Unless you start relationships with your employees, you may not know what people need. People will open when they start to see you as someone who values diversity and is willing to work with others to find a good solution.
  6. Don’t make assumptions. Many people have invisible differences such as disabilities or family situations that are unknown to you. Offer each person an opportunity to talk and tell you what’s going on and what they need.
  7. Know that when people have personal demands such as eldercare or caregiving, there may be a stigma about asking for help. Try to recognize how hard this might be and thank the person for sharing it with you.
  8. Communication and setting performance expectations are key in making flexible work schedules successful for the employee and the company. If you have a 40 hour a week employee moving to 28 hours a week, you will need to consciously adjust deliverables, time lines, and perhaps scope of the role.

It’s up to each manager to balance the needs of the organization and the needs of employees. This is difficult work and can be very stressful. As a manager, in addition to working with your human resource professionals, you can also talk to one of our HR consultants in the EAP for brainstorming and support around these important issues.