What Every Manager Should Be Asking Employees During the Pandemic

Patricia Sherlock

 

Before the Covid-19 virus swept through the country, industries were already facing unprecedented challenges from technological innovation to dramatic shifts in consumer buying behavior.  But amid this global pandemic, selling has never been more difficult. Mortgage managers, originators, and home loan prospects alike are operating in an environment of extreme uncertainty about what the future holds. Management teams have reacted by focusing their attention on the present instead of what will be needed to succeed in the future. In my opinion, this course of action could have negative repercussions industry-wide.

When the pandemic struck, mortgage banking did not suffer as other retail industries did because the Fed intervened and dropped interest rates to new lows. As a result, mortgage sales organizations have had a historic volume year and generated record personal income.

But, managers who concentrate on today’s refinance boom may be lulled into a false sense of security. As any experienced salesperson knows, success can turn on a dime if companies and their employees fail to adapt to changing conditions. Moving forward, marketplace volatility is not going to subside anytime soon.

While businesses are tasked with helping their customers, communities and partners prosper in a crisis, it is clear which management teams are really committed to delivering on this promise. Quality managers — from senior executives to first-line sales managers — are essential to establishing a vision, setting priorities,  and implementing them. In a crisis, more is demanded of managers. They are required to be leaders.

During times of crisis, real leaders are calm, positive, visible, and show up for their employees. They are also vulnerable and acknowledge the stress of uncertainty. Employees want to hear the truth and not platitudes. They want communication on where the company is headed; and they want their concerns addressed. Leaders realize that there is never a risk of over-communicating and they do not communicate their message by emails.

Helping Employees Navigate Beyond the Pandemic

Leaders understand in a crisis that each employee is unique. Some employees will struggle; others will be fine and act as if nothing has happened. The point is that employees will react differently and will need varying kinds of support dependent on the individual’s needs. Employee manuals or policies don’t help in these unprecedented times.

In an excellent Harvard Business Review article, “Helping Your Team Heal,” author David Kessler notes that what employees are feeling is similar to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s  five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Kessler states that as “people go back to work, or those who’ve stayed on the job through the crisis begin to interact with returning workers, many will still be grieving. Not everyone will be at the same stage at the same time. If people seem unusually angry, managers should give them space. Employees who question the pandemic statistics may be in denial. Most important is to allow people to feel these stages.”

Kessler observes that there are three employee groups managers will have to address once the pandemic has receded. They are:

  1. The worried well. These individuals haven’t experienced sickness, but they are concerned. The “worried well” may have deep anxiety about future personal losses.
  2. Affected. These employees were sick or had someone close to them who were sick.
  3. Bereaved. These employees may have lost a loved one due to the pandemic.

There is no question that there are formidable challenges ahead but according to Kessler, leaders can make a difference by asking employees two simple questions: “How are you doing today?” and “How can I support you?”

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