The first step in tackling any problem is noticing that there is one. If you’re a leader, being present for your team and observing how they’re doing is fundamental for their wellbeing, productivity and taking care of your employer brand. These challenging circumstances put everyone under different types of strain and each individual deals with them differently, so knowing when and how to act is crucial to making things better.
Here, I’ll focus on recognising patterns of behaviour your employees might display in response to a crisis which can help you adjust your response. In particular, I’ll show the connection between the different stages of grief, how you can identify them and why they’re important to recognise when planning your messaging to those inside your organisation, and those outside.
The Kübler-Ross model
During times of grief and loss, people experience a range of emotions that surface shortly after. One model, put forward by psychiatrist Elizebeth Kübler-Ross, defines five stages that people go through when they’re grieving over loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages can be aptly applied to dealing with a crisis like we’re tackling now, as loss can come in many forms from loss of life to loss of routine, structure and human contact.
By looking at the symptoms that typically come with each of the five stages, you can be better prepared with your comms messaging to those within and outside of your organisation. Picking up on the cues of each stage will allow you to tailor your message appropriately to your audience and help them cope with their feelings about situations like this pandemic. It’s worth noting that the following five stages can happen in any order, but the symptoms for each are quite clear.
When reports about Covid-19 first broke out, many governments perhaps underestimated the impact it would have to health and their economy. However, when the threat of the virus became apparent many continued as normal, thinking: I’m healthy. I won’t get sick. Hearing news of increased infection rates and increasing deaths, can be overwhelming leaving many unable to process exactly what’s happening and often makes logical reasoning defunct.
Characteristics of this stage: Avoidance. Confusion. Elation. Shock. Fear.
After a while, reality sets in and the seriousness of the situation becomes apparent. There’s no denying the threats to health, jobs, finances and mental wellbeing. This threat shifts to anger - against the government, employers and even loved ones: Why didn’t they act sooner? Why aren’t they doing more? Tension and deep down frustrations begin to surface.
Characteristics of this stage: Frustration. Irritation. Anxiety.
Feelings of helplessness bring the need for control. Taking stock of a situation can involve negotiating aspects of a dilemma, perhaps it’s bargaining new working arrangements with employers or assistance with finances.
Characteristics of this stage: Struggling to find meaning. Reaching out to others. Telling one’s story.
Having to deal with a new life situation whether it’s working from home, being furloughed or having restrictions placed on your social interactions leaves time to reflect more, making it easier for loneliness to set in. Going over what’s going on without the social interaction you’re used to can lead many to feelings of sadness and depression.
Characteristics of this stage: Overwhelmed. Helplessness. Hostility. Flight.
This last stage is marked by a more positive outlook, where the realisation that the only way forward is to count one's blessings and start planning for the future ahead. No situation is ever permanent and there’s hope like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Characteristics of this stage: Exploring options. New plan in place. Moving on.
What you can do
Understanding that there are different stages that people go through when dealing with a situation like we’re currently in, can help you identify what stage employees are at mentally in processing their current circumstances. Knowing this can help you adjust what you say to individuals as there’s no one response that fits everyone and it will help them be more receptive to what you want to convey or achieve.
Understanding these stages will help you to adjust everything from how you motivate and engage your employees to how you interact with prospective candidates on social media. We’re all dealing with things we’ve never experienced before, which is why the Symphony Talent team have created some guides that can help steer your organisation through these uncharted waters and bolster your employer brand now and in the future.
Sign up to our free series of guides to find out how you can transform your employer brand and come through this crisis.
If you would like to talk to me about any or all of the points in this email, or have any questions about your employer brand, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com for more information and to arrange a chat.
That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief by Scott Berinato. March 23, 2020
COVID-19 and the Grief Process: What happens to our differences when our experience is shared? Mar 30, 2020
How to identify the stages of grief in COVID-19 messages by Julie Wright March 19, 2020