Your Role as Healer-in-Chief

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all been in the same storm but different boats. The cause of the pandemic remains consistent for all of us, but the impact on our lives has been different. Some have been on the front lines caring for patients with COVID-19; some have been juggling working from home and guiding children through remote schooling; many of us have lost someone or something – a relative, friend, co-worker, job, health, control, sense of wellbeing, and more. As a result, the majority of us are grieving losses – just in time for many to head back into the office. As leaders and managers, we may be grieving a loss in our business’s bottom line and be anxious to get back to normal. But, as anxious as you are to push normalcy and a plan to recover lost income, now is just not the time. Now is the time to focus on a new role – healer-in-chief.

This new role requires a mind shift. Rather than asking for employees’ ideas on how to boost the bottom line and get back to normal, we need to be making an extra effort to ask how they’re doing and what we can do to help them. This mind shift isn’t restricted to work-life – it can also be applied as you relate to family and friends in your personal life.

The first step is recognizing and meeting people where they are – to help us do that, I love these three key groups from “Helping Your Team Heal,” by the Harvard Business Review:

  • Worried Well: These employees are healthy and have not experienced sickness in their immediate family. They may be missing key milestones (graduations, weddings), normal work life (in person, not remote), and concern for the future. If they are optimists, they are hoping for the best. If they are less optimistic, they may be feeling the sky is falling.
  • The Affected: These employees were sick themselves or are close to someone who was impacted by COVID. This group needs validation and accommodation.
  • The Bereaved: These employees have lost a loved one and are grieving a death. Most will be far from acceptance at this point.

Once you understand people’s point of view, you can better understand how to approach them and what kind of support they may need. While the approach may differ, there are guidelines for handling life as healer-in-chief:

  • Acknowledge the facts.
  • Acknowledge the uncertainties of the present and the future.
  • Acknowledge employees’ feelings.
  • Be authentic.
  • Go first.
  • Employees hear bad (and good) news first.
  • Create a culture of mutual support.
  • Be intentional about creating meaning at work. (My blog post on creating a sense of shared purpose can help with this.)

These guidelines come from “The Pandemic Conversations That Leaders Need to Have Now,” written by a faculty member at Harvard Business School and his research associates. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re looking for more in-depth information on this topic.

One final note – we are all human. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Honesty and vulnerability combined will get you far as you navigate the seemingly awkward conversations with co-workers, family, and friends. While our boats may be different, we can all feel the storm.