The past year has been challenging for everyone. As someone who works with nonprofits, I have been impressed and moved by how these organizations have stepped up to serve their communities in new ways. They’ve managed to make a positive impact for others, even with severe constraints.
The most important resource any organization has is its staff. Many nonprofits, like their counterparts in businesses, were forced to furlough or lay off employees as revenue streams dried up during the pandemic. That means that the staff who remained were often doing the jobs of several people while also trying to identify new ways of serving that would help to keep people safer during the pandemic.
Taking care of staff is always critical, but today it is more important than ever.
Start with You
Flight attendants have it right: put on your oxygen mask first before taking care of others. In order to show up and lead through challenging times, you must take care of yourself first. That means nourishing nutrition, getting movement into your schedule, connecting with friends and family, and getting a healthy amount of sleep.
Not only will this benefit you, it will model good behaviors for your staff. If they see you taking a moment to breathe, or eat a healthy lunch, or take a ten-minute walk break, you’re giving them permission to take care of themselves too.
Set (and Reset) Priorities
You and your staff have been in “firefighting” mode for so long, that it may seem normal to go from one crisis to another. It’s not normal, however, and it will burn even your most dedicated staff to a crisp.
Regularly take time to reset with staff, and consider the following:
- Ask questions about the challenges they’re facing and listen carefully for the places where you can help them reprioritize. Make sure they understand what matters most right now.
- Work with them to identify a “stop doing for now” list. With fewer staff, some things will not get done. Instead of letting your staff try to decide what those things should be – or work themselves into the ground trying to get it all done – decide together what can wait.
- Lighten their load. Like you, your staff are balancing difficult work challenges, taking care of their families in new ways, and managing their anxiety about the health and safety of those they love. Where can you quickly and easily ease some of that pressure? Flexible work hours? Extra hours of paid time off? Adding a bit of fun back into work life to let people de-stress and re-energize?
Remember that it looks different from where you sit. The times have been quite stressful, therefore offer large amounts of grace. Assume good intentions. Remember that everyone is dealing with challenges to the best of their ability (including you). No one gets it right all the time in the best of circumstances, and we’re definitely not doing it all perfectly now.
Schedule time for staff to get out of the day-to-day routine to have strategic visionary and inspiring thoughts about the organization’s future. Tap into their creative and innovative skills. As you shift tasks and priorities, try to assign team members projects that tap into their passion and help them move beyond the present situation.
While the “emergency” might not be over, panic is only a good fuel for so long. By shifting our perspectives back to the mid- and long-term, we tap into the fuel that will energize and sustain us, helping staff at all levels feel more confident and hopeful in their work.
Caring For Your Most Valuable Resource
My last piece of advice is perhaps the simplest: don't always get down to business straightaway. In your meetings and daily interaction, take time to connect. Check-in on your team at all levels of the organization and ask how they are doing. We pay attention to what is important. By regularly checking in, we show our team that they matter.
We may not be able to change the situation now, or fix every issue they face, but we can support our people and create a work environment for them to feel connected, confident and cared for.
What has been your experience as a leader and/or as an employee during this time? What is an example of a time when a leader made you feel particularly valued? Share your story in the comments below, and inspire others!
Image from Ankita Gkd from Pixabay