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Three strategies to lead teams through pandemic stress

December 11, 2020 at 1:24 PM

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COVID-19 has placed an exceptional strain on the workforce. A recent survey by MindEdge Learning and the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) revealed that 75% of HR Managers have experienced an increase in employee burnout due to COVID-19-related stress. As mentioned in my last blog, this is not surprising, given that many employees are spending over half of their day on connected devices, working remotely amidst constant uncertainty.

Employers today have a duty of care to help employees navigate these stressful times. While benefits and perks can certainly help buoy morale, employers actually have a much deeper and often over-looked opportunity: teaching and modeling effective stress management. To help your employees master mindset in the midst of uncertainty, here are three strategies to share with your teams for building resilience:

1. Look backward for insight on moving forward

Despite our best intentions, often we respond with negativity to difficult situations.  Sometimes we hesitate to choose optimism because we fear not being take seriously.

In moments like these, it can help to look back at situations in our lives to learn how we can more effectively deal with stress.  One of those situations for me was when my husband received his first duty station in the US Air Force to Biloxi, Mississippi. We packed up our worldly belongings, bought our first little home, and even got a puppy! We had been there for all of three months when Hurricane Katrina hit. In the span of just three days, we lost our puppy, our house, and our community. I remember feeling lost.  Uncertainty gave rise to a sense of angst and hopelessness.

When I think back to that experience in Biloxi, I wish I had known the positive psychology research I know now. For instance, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, only 10 percent of our happiness is determined by life circumstances; the other 90 percent of happiness is attributable to our genes and our perception of the world, which is why so many people in the same room or the same company or even the same neighborhood can view those places in extraordinarily different ways.

I often wonder: how would my life and the others on the Gulf Coast have been different if I had known that only 10-percent of our long-term happiness was predicted by the external world?  That the destruction from Hurricane Katrina was not permanent and pervasive, although it felt like it at the time? That post-traumatic growth was possible and could make me stronger?  Sometimes, I don’t think we fully appreciate that we have the capacity to change.

Helping your employees learn to effectively deal with stress will help them flourish personally and professionally. As we recover from COVID, companies are taking a more active role in championing initiatives to cultivate employee well-being. Learn more about how happiness at work impacts your organization in this infographic. 


2. Challenge yourself to rethink stress

Consider all of the external factors that shape your workplace environment right now. Of course, COVID-19, but perhaps also customers or vendors who are difficult to work with. How much will you let these outside factors define how much happiness you experience within your organization?

To rethink stress, first it helps to understand how we process it. Often, we think about stress as a threat to our system, which leads to deleterious side effects – backaches, stomachaches, insomnia, irritability – all reactions which are related to cortisol spikes in our nervous system. If we allow emotion to process stress, we use the Amygdala, which is responsible for the emotional, but not always logical, ‘fight or flight’ response.

However, if we can begin to think of stress as a challenge rather than a threat, we can shift the area of our brain which processes that stress to our Pre-Frontal Cortex - our logic center – and decrease the impact of stress on our nervous system by up to 23%.

3. Strive for the growth zone

Consider that this time is an opportunity for reset. The question is not how we as leaders can help our teams adjust to the new normal, but rather how we can help them to make the present better than ever before through learning and growth.


Think about who you choose to be during COVID-19 and encourage your team members to do the same. Resolve collectively to move from the Fear Zone (panic-buying toilet paper and spending hours aimlessly browsing the internet), through to the Learning Zone (letting go of control, seeking opportunities to make better use of time), on into to the Growth Zone (thinking about how you can help others, expressing gratitude, planning for what comes next) living with a clear picture of how you want to be in this moment and in the future.

A quote from Spencer Gillman, the Senor Director of Marketing at Wiley Education Services struck me the other day. “A combination of lack of human engagement, feeling of unrest and the virus leads me to want to accomplish something in my down time - for me it's renovating our new house, but for others maybe it is developing yourself or taking time to learn something new.”

The Ancient Greek definition of happiness is ‘joy we feel striving after our potential.’ This definition plays nicely at the moment, because striving after our potential decreases stress and increases happiness.

Online education is certainly a brilliant strategy to help us reach our potential, as continuous learning enables us to learn new skills, constantly better ourselves and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Your behavior matters

Helping your teams to rethink stress will enable your organization to flourish in the here and now. Your organization has the capacity to emerge more creative, compassionate, and innovative from this crisis.

Ultimately, people can change, but it comes down to mindset. Behavior matters. So, make the conscious decision that you and your teams will not come out of the pandemic merely trying to ‘get by,’ but rather actively pursuing opportunities for growth and thriving to emerge as positive outliers.

How to overcome


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The Wiley Beyond difference -

If you are looking for online education for your teams, visit our website to learn more about how we can partner with your organization. Wiley Beyond helps you retain your best people, attract career-minded talent, and boost your brand. We believe that education should be more than a benefit and we’re proving that by transforming tuition reimbursement and aligning talent strategy with business strategy. Learn more.

Amy Blankson

Written by Amy Blankson

Amy Blankson is the CEO Of Fearless Positivity, Co-Founder of the Digital Wellness Institute, and bestselling author of The Future of Happiness. A graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Management, she’s the only person to receive a Point of Light award from two US Presidents. She is also a member of the UN Global Happiness Council, a Fellow of the World Innovation Organization, a featured professor in Oprah’s happiness e-course, and a regular contributor to Forbes. Her current work focuses on how to cultivate happiness and well-being in the digital era.