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7 Steps to Convert Team Member Anxiety into Productivity
By Vickie Bouffard 

Post COVID19 – in the new normal, employees will still have high levels of anxiety. Anxiety among your team can stop productivity in its tracks and paralyze production. When your team is concerned about losing their employment, for whatever reason, it creates unparalleled levels of distraction. How do you, as a leader, convert this anxiety into productivity? How do you help team members feel safe, focus their attention, and channel their anxious energy into productivity? Be aware that the future success of your team is dependent upon your leadership ability to help convert their apprehension into productivity as we move into the new normal. The successful strategies below provided a “productivity roadmap” that helped me lead multiple teams through tenuous mergers, acquisitions, and significant industry layoffs. 

The Daily Huddle is Key! 
Schedule a daily huddle with your team every morning. This consistent meeting platform should be the first 30 minutes of your day, and don’t skip it ever. This meeting can be held in person or virtually. Here is why and how you will use it: 

1. Check-in with Your Team 
How cohesive is your team feeling? How are they feeling as individuals? Where is their head today? What’s on their mind? You need to know how your team is doing, so you can help each member manage and cope with fearful thoughts and worries. Your immediate goal is to assure your team that their well-being is first and foremost. Assure by telling them they are valued, cared for, and appreciated. As a leader, you cannot be afraid of your team’s emotions. When these anxious emotions arise, take a proactive step up to help convert them to more positive and productive emotions. 

2. Set a Goal for the Day 
Channel that anxious energy into something productive – what action can they take? Dale Carnegie said 98% of what we worry about never happens. Shift their thoughts by keeping your vision top of mind. Move them into action – any action – because all engagement is good. Stagnation will create more anxiety. 

3. Understand What Your Team is Anxious About 
Identify what the root cause of their anxiety is. For example: In a call center, agents look at how they are near one another and fear exposure to COVID-19. How can you create more space? Can workers continue to work from home? 

4. Meet People Where They Are 
Acknowledge where people are emotionally! Meet team members where they are and gently pull them up and out of their fear. Depending on the person, it could be words of encouragement, words of inspiration, or just listening to their ideas to get themselves settled down. Team members need your support daily, so don’t think doing it once is good enough. Leadership is a daily process! Acknowledgment shows that you are listening, you value them, you’ve heard them, and you accept their fear. Accepting their fear doesn’t mean you have to be fearful. It means you get it. 

5. Communicate and Be Transparent 
Share what you know with your team. What can you tell them? Did you get approved for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan or not? If not, what is the next plan? Leaving them out creates more anxiety, as they are likely to imagine the worst possible scenario. What can you tell your team that shows you are working on solutions? Be truthful, transparent, and show empathy. They will respect you more. 

6. Be Vulnerable 
Brené Brown, in her book “Dare to Lead,” talks about being vulnerable. Share your fears and anxiety – this will make you human and not just a manager trying to squeeze production out of them. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Share your fear, and then your action plan. “I’m scared if I don’t find a tenant for my new rental unit, I worry …how will I pay the mortgage if I don’t?” This weekend I am calling everyone I know to get referrals.” Share your action plan. Your team will then see and hear productive action, strength, and courage, not fear, worry, and stress. 

7. Keep Your Eye on the Ball 
Meeting daily, you can keep your team’s head in the game by keeping them focused. Sporting teams huddle to talk about the next plays. Where do you want your team to focus? What is the initial vision? What is the goal for today? Let’s hit the ball out of the park! Go, Team Go! 

 TIPS: 

Observe your team members who may need extra support. Their work performance going sideways may not be indicative of their real performance. It could be anxiety taking over their thoughts. Help them re-focus. 

Meet with your team every day regardless of how you feel. Remember, you may just need to be there to listen. You won’t have all the answers, but you can tune in, be empathetic, and inspire them to greatness. 

Is it Possible to Channel People’s Anxiety into Productivity? 
A resounding yes! I recently led a team that was dead last in production, and the company was laying off hundreds of people. I didn’t know any of the team members, I didn’t know anything about the team, and I didn’t even know they were dead last! I used the Daily Huddle to get to know them as a team and as individuals. I checked in with them daily. I listened to their fears, concerns, and questions – yes, questions I couldn’t answer. I channeled and focused their attention on “It’s Time to Shine.” Let’s get laid off but go out shining! With a daily plan, checkpoints, and celebrations throughout the day, they moved from anxiety to productivity. 

I didn’t have all the answers, but I did have empathy, encouragement, and inspiration. I held a space for greatness, and they walked into the winners circle 6 weeks later to claim 3rd place (out of 30 teams) in production! Together we improved team performance by 86% – all during the looming fear of layoffs.  

Be creative, bring the donuts or bagels, but not every day. When Hostess re-introduced Twinkies, I couldn’t resist bringing them in. My team had so much fun telling childhood stories. 

 If all you do is acknowledge their anxiety, it could be all they need. Just to know you care, you are listening, and you feel their fear can make all the difference. 

Huddle time is connection time, team-building time, vision sharing time, planning time, anxiety channeling time. Make time and watch your team soar!

Go, Team Go, Let's Run to the Finish Line! 
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