My View: How business leaders can inspire a downsized team amid Covid-19

Leading during the Covid-19 Crisis

7 ways leaders can help downsized teams maintain productivity and morale during the COVID-19 crisis 

Being a great leader during times of economic growth and prosperity is one thing. Leading during a global health and economic crisis when you must lay off employees while attempting to safeguard the morale and productivity of those who remain is quite another. Here are seven ways resilient leaders and managers can steer their organization through crisis and maintain the confidence and commitment of a downsized team.


Remain visible, honest and clear. Executives who have directed layoffs should inform remaining employees about the situation as quickly as possible. Effective leaders explain why the decision was required and acknowledge the impact on staff. They provide an opportunity for employees to express their feelings, and they inquire about their concerns. They also steer attention away from fear and uncertainty by addressing rumours and describing clear, achievable, short-term goals that focus on where the organization is going and a vision for getting there.  As early victories are particularly important in difficult times, it’s beneficial to emphasize results hoped for this month rather than next year.


Create an environment of psychological safety.  When we’re overwhelmed, it is difficult to bring our best to the world, and there is a tendency to overuse our strengths. An assertive person, for example, may become bossy – behaviour that will filter down the chain. It’s up to leaders to ensure direct reports are aware of how their actions impact others and are able to manage overwhelmed feelings versus bringing them into individual and team interactions. Make sure managers understand that, now more than ever, employees need to feel safe, included and heard, and creating a sense of psychological safety is the linchpin.


Provide opportunities for employees to take constructive action. Since feelings of helplessness deplete morale, it’s helpful to involve employees in problem solving and decision making, when possible.  Online surveys can be used to solicit ideas and feedback. As change strategies are being developed, keep employees engaged by keeping them apprised of the status of their ideas and requests.


Cultivate ‘perceived closeness’.  The good news is it doesn’t matter whether you’re managing from down the hall, across the country or the other end of a Zoom call. The quality of the relationships managers cultivate with their team is much more important than physical proximity.  Training managers to lead their teams with clarity, empathy and authenticity will equip them to move their team forward from any distance.


Communicate often to build buy-in. Engaging employees in conversation demonstrates respect, which helps them feel more secure and builds morale. Astute leaders know how to create opportunities for discussion. They consult staff members regarding what types of communication they prefer and then communicate regularly through these vehicles to maintain a dialogue. Emails, webcasts and other types of electronic media are ideal for keeping everyone up to date on expectations and progress.


Recognize successes. Even in the worst of times, helping people feel valued strengthens morale. This means sharing wins and success stories and recognizing and thanking employees for their contributions: meeting a goal, securing customers, etc. Perceptive leaders use a variety of activities such as companywide recognition, simple rewards and congratulatory notes to spread positive feelings.


Don’t forget fun. Play, novelty, humour and laughter reduce tension and stress. Even if your employees are sheltered in place, thoughtful online activities —talent showcases, random awards, amusing contests — can unite people and generate creative energy.


There’s nothing like job losses to undermine confidence in leadership. When cutbacks and layoffs are deemed necessary, strong leadership strategies will help steer employees past fear and doubt and organizations toward future success.


Published in the Phoenix Business Journal -June 2020

Barbara Morris is the CEO and founder of Elevate Organizations, a consultancy specializing in cultural transformation, leadership development and talent optimization. Elevate Organizations has offices in Toronto and Austin, and clients in North America, the UK, Europe and India.


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