How to Help Employees Deal With Frustration During COVID-19

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Apr 17, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Change isn’t easy for most people. So many of the things that were part of our days – especially the things we looked forward to – are no longer possible. Our lives are different now. COVID-19 has upset our “normal.” And now, we’re frustrated.

Frustration can be hard to put into words. It’s a complicated mix of anger, disappointment, irritation, and aggravation. Despite being hard to explain, understanding the root cause is pretty simple. For example, you may be frustrated about a vacation you planned for and booked that now won’t happen. The lack of privacy in a house now quarantined with family. Waiting in line at the grocery store just to discover that the store’s shelves have little or no choice. It may be that the person you were hoping to meet, the promotion you were up for, or that life-changing client presentation you were scheduled to deliver is now postponed or canceled.

This is an important lesson: everyone gets frustrated, and right now, the number of people frustrated is probably pretty high. As someone who is tuned in to employee engagement, attitude and performance, I urge anyone managing any employee to watch for and help them manage frustration wisely, mindfully and compassionately is critical at this exact moment.

Consider this: the more frustrated and on edge your employees are, the more distracted they are from focusing on their work and providing your service response to your customers. Additionally, left unattended, frustration can grow into more significant feelings like bitterness, rage, and hopelessness. Frustration doesn’t go away by itself. It takes time, intentional support, and a bit of skill.

Helping your employees move past or manage their frustrations requires them to be able to see where it comes from, and with greater awareness, do one of two things: change what they can change (if they have control over what is creating the frustration), or work toward a mindset shift (if they do not have control over what is creating the frustration).

Here’s how.

Identify what’s working and what’s not working

If you’re not already doing this, set up a time to connect with each of your employees to hear how things are going. Use these connections to encourage them to start assessing the root cause(s) of their frustrations. Walk them through the “What’s Working / What’s Not Working” exercise.

To start, draw a line down the middle of a blank piece of paper. On the top of the left column, write What’s Working. On the top of the right column, write What’s Not Working. Since this specific exercise focuses on frustration, complete the right side first by listing the things that are frustrating (the right column, What’s Not Working). Encourage them to list the frustrations they’re experiencing right now. I bet the list is long. After all, we, as humans, are more fixated on what’s not working than on what is working. It is part of the way our brain keeps us safe. When things aren’t working, there may be danger, and our brains watch for danger – real or perceived, emotional or physical.

Allow your employee some time to reflect on this list, identifying which frustrations they have control over. For those items, help them build an action list to start to make changes to the things they have the ability to change. Then, review the remaining items on that initial list of frustrations. This should be the list of things that frustrate your employee, but they have no control over. This is where the left side of the page comes into play: learning how to see the good.

Stop and notice

When anyone is caught up in frustrations, it’s hard to see the good. It requires an intentional stop and notice moment. So, stop. Encourage your employees to just stop what they’re doing. Stop working. Stop stressing. Stop yelling. Stop reacting. Encourage them to do something to step away, to allow them to reset their brains. It could be something as simple as taking a breath or going for a walk. A stop is an intentional interruption in their routine. Once they’ve done this, they’ve prepared themself to make a mindset shift.

This is where noticing comes into play. For the left column, have your employees write down everything they’re noticing is working at this moment. It could be that the family is all home and safe. It could be that they have food in the fridge and on the shelves. It could be that their internet is working and, therefore, so is Netflix or some other streaming service of their preference. It could be that they are working from home and still have a salary. It could be that they have time to think when their days were previously so busy, and they never had the extra time. Help them create their list. You will see that when given some real attention, everyone has so many things that are working (translation: good things are happening).

Seeing the good helps you balance out the list of frustrating things you cannot control because when you see the two lists together, your view of where you are at this exact moment can improve.

This is how to create a mindset shift. It isn’t easy, but with work, it can happen. Your employees’ moods, days, and performance will change.

COVID-19 may be causing the frustrations today, but there will always be something else that life sends that frustrates you and your employees. The more distracted, distressed, and frustrated employees are, the more their work and engagement suffer. Though it is not your job to make things right for them, it is, however, part of your responsibility to create the most dynamic employee experience possible, as it influences their productivity, performance, and retention.

Make it your intention to be aware of what they are dealing with and be prepared to provide tools, guidance, and support to help them successfully deal with it as a person, not just an employee. This is how you build loyalty that will survive the biggest challenges.

So help your employees successfully deal with frustration by stopping, noticing, and addressing what they can change. For the things they can’t, help them learn to balance their frustrations with their blessings.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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