mentor and mentee
mentor and mentee

How to manage stress and keep your team engaged during a crisis

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When COVID-19 hit the United States in mid-March 2020, our life and work were no longer the same. In addition to understanding the impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the extension of the tax year 2019 deadline, many firms were forced to go 100 percent remote.

In addition to the way that our work interactions changed, team members were suddenly struggling with wearing many different hats — employee, educator, provider, preparer of hundreds of meals, and therapist — all at once. In those first few months, I spoke with several other accounting firms who expressed to me how overwhelmed their staff felt. Two firms even mentioned that they had several team members quit because the new dynamics were just too overwhelming.

Everyone is experiencing many different emotions, but when one of your team members is having these emotions, they may feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it. Now is the time to listen and watch out for one another, offering support to our employees and clients.

For an even-tempered person, there were times when I admit that it felt like my emotions were swinging on a pendulum. For a few days, I would feel strong and in control, and then like a switch, I would feel lethargic and apathetic. How could I inspire my team when I was struggling with feeling disconnected?

While being guarded, my leadership style is also one of vulnerability. I shared with my team how I was feeling, recognizing that COVID-19 has turned our world upside down! I never thought that I would be focused on the mental health of my staff and my clients, but it was my heart’s desire to meet their needs and treat them with respect.

One of my firm’s core values is to get your work done with excellence while valuing family time. There were occasions where we missed the mark several times by not replying to a client’s email quickly enough, or taking longer to prepare a tax return. It was far from perfect. Yet, when I would have one-on-one conversations with people on my team, I was able to connect in a deeper way, which is where I want my focus to be: to care for them as I would want to be cared for. I was also aware of the issue of being too caring and tolerating work practices that I shouldn’t have, resulting in an intentional balance of compassion and requiring excellence.

No one desires to be a part of an awkward or confrontational conversation when the work is below expectations. I recently learned a practical tip by stating the facts of what happened and share how it will impact them. For example, you could say, “I notice that you have missed deadlines this week, and it makes it look like you don’t care about your job. I’m curious about your thoughts.” Most people will realize the impact and adjust their ways.

Your team will be more engaged with you and your clients when there is a purpose in their work. Do you share your “why” with them? Do you know why they enjoy reconciling the bank account to the penny or putting together all the pieces of a tax return?

If I had to boil down how to manage stress in only one way, it would be to guard your thoughts. In the early months of sheltering in place, I focused on all of the things that were different – and caused anxiety. Then, I started focusing on the glass being half full, and looking at the blessings and opportunities around me.

I realized that I can choose to listen to myself say, “I am not good enough,” and fill my head with fear and doubt. Or, I can tell myself I am strong, grateful, and that I make a difference! One difficult, yet rewarding exercise, was to make a list of daily affirmations.

Find the solutions that work for you and your firm. Lead by example, and we’ll all get through this.

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