Most of us are on week two of the pandemic response. For many of us, that means we are working from home. For others who are in essential services, you are continuing to leave home for work each day. Both have their unique and very real challenges and stressors. If you are leading a team on-site or remotely, it is important to take at least a few minutes each day or at the top of a team meeting to check in on everyone’s current state of emotional well-being. Depending on your leadership style, that might feel new or uncomfortable. Here are some simple ideas to start well-being check-ins.
Set a time and parameters.
How long, how often, and when to do a check-in will be unique to your team. It can depend your team’s size, structure, and culture. What it is important is that it is intentional and has a set beginning and ending. You are giving space for emotions to be acknowledged. Because emotional topics under stressful conditions can boil over and consume an entire meeting, parameters are important. State up front that the check-in will last for 10 minutes (or however long you choose). If more time is needed, a separate meeting, check-in, or one-on-one can be scheduled.
Make it easy to respond.
Not everyone wants to share the details of how they are feeling in an open meeting. This is especially true if vulnerability is new for your team. It can also be overwhelming to ask how someone is handling the crisis overall. It can change from minute to minute. A check-in should be how each person is feeling right now in the moment. A 1-10 scale can be a simple start:
“I care about how everyone is doing today. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being ‘I feel calm and in control’ to 10 being ‘I feel like the bottom is about to drop out’), how are you feeling today, in this moment?“
Be the first one to share. Being a leader in openness and vulnerability gives others permission to share authentically.
Tea-kettle, Barn-raiser, Elephant.
This is a group practice that I adapted from the book Rituals for Work by Kursat Ozenc and Margaret Hagan. When talking about challenges, and especially difficult emotions, it is helpful if the person sharing can label what they need in the moment. They can do that by saying “Tea-kettle”, “barn-raiser”, or “elephant,” as an introduction to what they are about to share. These phrases signal to the rest of the group that it is time to have a more candid conversation.
Tea-kettle: This is a flag for someone who just needs to vent. There is no solution they are looking for, they simply need to release some emotional “steam” like a tea-kettle. This should be safe and met without judgment as long as the tea-kettling does not include blaming, attacking, or gossiping
Barn-raising: This is a call for all-hands-on-deck help. Barns used to be built with the help of the entire community. This is someone saying, “I’ve been wrestling with this problem and getting nowhere. I need some help from the collective group.” There might be time in the meeting to address the problem, or it might require follow-up later. Either way, the person who needs barn-raising should feel like they have the support of the group.
Elephant: In Ozenc and Hagan’s book, they describe the Elephant as the word that “should call people out to talk about the big things that people are worried about, but they’re not talking about. It could be impending change, a big piece of bad news, or something embarrassing” or otherwise difficult to mention.
Normalizing difficult emotions during a time of crisis creates psychological safety within a team. While it might feel like having dedicated time to talk about how people are handling the stress of the pandemic is taking time away from work, it will allow your people to be able to approach their “real work” with clearer, more calm minds.