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Lisa Stewart-Brown

Program Manager, Mental Health and Wellbeing, Banfield Pet Hospital

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Mental Fitness: Leading Through a Crisis: Inform, Empower and Support

07/09/2020 06:00AM | 325 views

What happens in the workplace when everyone is experiencing a massive change to the daily operations because of a crisis?

  • There’s the stress of the crisis itself.
  • Then there’s the uncertainty of having to adapt to the crisis by changing everything about the way we do our jobs. 

From my perspective as alicensed clinical social workerand throughout a decade of bringing mental health into the workplace, there are three areas that are critical whether you’re leading an entire organization, a small team, or anything in between: information, empowerment and support.

Deliver clear information every day.

Communicate more than usual. If you’re in crisis mode, you’ve likely lost some of the structure you typically rely on within an organization. So we have to reestablish that structure and set some new boundaries. 

If you’re in the middle of an ongoing situation that is still unfolding, it can be helpful to temporarily pause any internal company communication that is not essential to the moment. This will help keep people’s inboxes and minds from becoming overwhelmed.  

Provide clear information every day. This can include the latest updates and information and links to reputable websites. If you have multiple locations in different regions, resources for each state can also be helpful as crisis response can vary by location.

On a more personal scale – you might be temporarily working in a new space, or even jumping in to help with someone else’s role. How do you set boundaries while still ensuring your team has the information they need to successfully be able to do their jobs? Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Empower individuals to make decisions.

To regain order out of the chaos of a crisis, it can be tempting for those at the top to set a new set of rules for the entire company. While certain standards need to be consistent throughout the organization, each location likely has its own unique needs.

On-site leaders need to be empowered to make decisions based on what they know about their associates, their clients and their location – while remaining true to the larger culture and organization.

Those decisions might include when to open or close their location, and how to best adapt services for their clients. Some hospitals might choose to open an hour early, while for others it’s actually better to stay open an hour past their normal operating time.

I was at one of our hospitals the other day, in the midst of crisis, and they were amazing. They were coping with these uncertainties and disruptions by adapting to this temporary normal. They treated clients and each other with the same respect, professionalism and kindness as they always have. That’s possible because they were empowered to adapt as needed. 

Make sure people know what support is available to them.

At Banfield, we’ve been working hard over the past several years to create a cultural of inclusion, empowerment, and health and wellbeing. 

We offer a variety of mental health resources for our associates, and during a crisis we make sure to make those services a prominent part of our communications – not just in our daily updates but also amplifying those messages across our social channels where our associates actively engage with us. 

It’s also important to consider the “non-official” methods of support. For example, check on each other regularly. In my last article I mentioned Banfield’s suicide prevention program called “ASK - Assess, Support, Know.” It’s a training we provide to help people develop the skills to be able to recognize signs of distress.

Lead by example, by making a point to have these genuine conversations as a way to check in with your peers. This can create a cascading effect, where those people then initiate similar conversations with the people they lead.  

How vulnerable should leaders be?

When we see our leaders being human, sharing their vulnerabilities, acting with compassion, that’s powerful. It increases our confidence in them, because we see them being transparent. We believe them. 

That doesn’t mean confess your deepest, darkest secrets. But it does mean: be real. 

The other day I admitted to colleagues that it was a tough day for me. They looked at me surprised that I would even say that. They thought, since I’m a mental health professional, that I would always keep up a front. But after I admitted my own struggles, I saw a few lean in and whisper, "Same here." 

Often what we really need from others is validation that what we’re feeling is real, others are feeling it too, and we’ll figure out how to get through these unprecedented difficult times together. 

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Lisa Stewart-Brown a Licensed Clinical Social Worker is the Program Manager for Mental Health and Wellbeing for Banfield Pet Hospital.

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