Every article, podcast and blog is saying the same thing: we need to practice self care. We need to take time to do things we enjoy, find ways to be active, be kind to ourselves, have realistic expectations for ourselves and loved ones, and so on.
It’s the right advice — but we all know it’s not that easy. Today, instead of offering you that same advice, I want to take it a step further: Leaders and managers have an obligation to make it possible for our employees to follow this advice instead.
Let’s be honest: this is a difficult conversation to have. On one hand, we empathize with our employees. We know they may be struggling emotionally, working in spaces not conducive to focus and performance, trying to manage feelings of isolation, jugging care of a family member, or bearing any other number of additional challenges right now. We all are! On the other hand, your fundraising goals are still ambitious, and your institution may even be reliant on philanthropy to keep its doors open and carry out its mission every day.
While it may feel like you have to make an either/or choice as a manager — show compassion or meet goals — the truth is that managers don’t have a choice. Most of us are struggling in some way. Our staff are feeling burned out and conflicted, and they need encouragement to be true to themselves. Effective managers will acknowledge that the only thing (and the right thing!) we can do is seek productive ways to support our employees.
What can that look like?
- Start with honest dialogue. If you’re not asking your employees how they’re doing, how they feel about their work during these circumstances, and how you can support them, start today. Take time to be vulnerable, and through role modeling, allow your staff to do the same.
- Know that what works for one employee may not for someone else. One person may need to catch up on work in off-hours, but not always be at the computer during typical work hours. Another may be struggling to draw boundaries, and therefore need to “turn it off” starting at 5 p.m. each day. Get to know the needs and preferences of each individual on your team, and honor and encourage those whenever possible.
- Check yourself. Do you say that you are empathetic to your employees and tell them to take care of themselves, but expect their work product/speed/etc. to stay exactly the same as before? If so, take a deep breath and realize that you need to honor your intent. Give permission for slowed responses to non-urgent matters, realize that a normally reliable employee may make more mistakes, and focus on each person’s outcomes, not worrying about whether they’re “putting in their hours.”
- Get creative. Find ways to allow each team member to carry more of the responsibilities they’re best able to do right now. If you have an employee who is struggling to make donor calls due to noise in the house, could you shift their work portfolio to minimize calls and allow them to pick up other work in the interim — writing assignments, portfolio projects for teammates, etc.?
- Take that creativity a step further. Encourage time off. Declare a Vitamin D afternoon (close the office early) or a coffee/tea/pajama-and-me morning (surprise your team with a late start Monday). Declare Zoom-free time zones, walking lunch breaks, shorter meetings, or virtual stretching sessions. Most importantly, recognize that unusual times call for a different and more creative approaches to leadership.
If you think you don’t have the ability to honor these ideas and make space for employees who are challenged right now, understand the consequences of not meeting your employees where they are.
Right now, some of your team members may not be as productive as they used to be. Your frontline staff may even raise less money. Working with our teams to foster their best talents is an important part of our work.
Good employees are worth keeping and investing in. They will reward your institution with high performance most of the time, if you honor their needs and meet those with concrete flexibility during this unprecedented time. Every manager has a powerful opportunity to be a source of sincere support and compassion right now. Doing so will help your employees, but it will also you: knowing that you’re a positive force for others is great self care for you, too.