It’s fitting that the issue of unity has become so prevalent in recent weeks. Yes, most of the calls to coalesce are in reference to the state of our union. But the topic has made me introspective about other unions—the ones that so greatly impact us personally and professionally.
In many ways the rush of daily life has slowed. We’re missing the after-work and weekend social events, the spirited conversations around large conference tables, the gathering at your office’s equivalent of a water cooler.
In some cases it might be that you’re simply too busy trying to survive the economic impact of the pandemic on your business to take a moment to breathe and ask your co-workers how they’re doing. Healthcare organizations also have contributed to the trend of allowing employees to work from home. It’s estimated two-thirds of Americans are now working remotely as a result of COVID. It’s also interesting to note that before the pandemic, employees often cited remote working as a perk.
Now the isolation forced upon many of us is taking a mental and emotional toll. Free will makes a difference.
Between 22% and 35% of U.S. employees are experiencing symptoms of depression, according to newly published research. That could come from a variety of reasons; pressures at home; concerns about getting ill, or economic instability. Those are the things we as leaders can’t always influence.
But we can and should lend a ear when someone needs and asks for it.
It is only then that we can see the signs that are so much easier to hide during video conferencing. Face to face, it’s easy to notice the raised eyebrow that a skeptic brings to an idea or the slumped shoulders of the co-worker presenting the concept.
So how does this relate to unity, you might ask?
The everyday task of balancing work responsibilities with simply surviving a global crisis has made it harder to steal away for moments to just “check in.” Gone are the opportunities to walk over to someone’s desk to see whether you misread the tone of that email or if that raised eyebrow during the Zoom call was not in reaction to your idea but the toddler who’s precariously reaching for a book on a high shelf.
Today, it’s more likely that those interpretations go unaddressed, making your colleagues feel disconnected and potentially resentful, possibly damaging the unity you once had as a team.
In April, Harvard Business Review surveyed 275 managers about how they were coping with working remotely during COVID. Most reported “low motivation, overwhelming workloads, and fading interpersonal connections.”
Advice on how to combat these problems includes identifying a team’s purpose, its culture and cohesion. The goal is to quickly flag any major problems and address issues before they become toxic to the team dynamic, because of the importance of cohesion to achieving goals.
The calls for unity in our nation come from seeing the ugliness of what division and lack of leadership brings. Think of all of the times that people on both sides of the political spectrum have accused the other of not understanding their motivation or experience without having someone bring those issues to the table to find common ground.
As leaders responsible for employees who are disproportionately affected by the stress of the pandemic, you should take heed of how your teams are operating and how your culture is being affected by the stress of living through this pandemic. Acknowledge that each person’s experience is different and find ways to make sure teammates feel heard and understood because high-performing teams are made up of diverse personalities and skill sets. It’s only by making sure that each pillar stands strong that you can build a sturdy organization.