Burnout is a natural response to a pandemic, or to any other serious disruption of normal life. Coping with burnout takes a toll on people personally, and it can make team members less effective at work, too. Motivating your coworkers during a tough time requires some extra sensitivity.
Acknowledge the difficulties
While it may be tempting to put on a brave face and pretend nothing’s gone wrong, denial risks alienating your coworkers. Admit when you’re having a hard day. Let your coworkers know that it’s safe to share frustrations and challenges, and lend a sympathetic ear when a team member vents to you. People are more motivated to make an effort when there’s open and honest communication among their colleagues.
Your coworkers may be struggling with a lack of childcare, limited transportation, or disrupted schedules. Try to be understanding if their personal lives take a toll on their work performance. Be patient if a coworker seems more distracted than usual or has to make a personal phone call on the job. If you can find ways to help out, such as staying a few extra minutes to cover for a coworker who’s running late, that’s even better. Your colleagues will feel motivated to work hard if they know that their team members support them.
Praise is a powerful motivator, and that holds true during a pandemic just as much as in ordinary times. Let your coworkers know that you appreciate their hard work. Thank them when they help you with a task or when they do something to make your job a little easier.
Set a positive example
If you can stay calm and focused in the face of frustrations, your coworkers will likely admire your equanimity and try to live up to your example. Strive to excel at your job, and accept challenging situations. For instance, if you need to speak to yet another guest who’s not complying with your property’s face mask policy, don’t grumble about it to your coworkers or yell at the guest. Instead, assume the same polite demeanor you normally would when informing a guest of a rule, and adhere to your usual standards of service.
Offer specific feedback
Of course, it’s always helpful to give specific feedback, but it becomes especially crucial during a difficult period when everybody is already overwhelmed. Vague criticisms may leave coworkers feeling lost or unsure of how to get back on the right track. For example, if a coworker mistakenly sets up the communal water cooler in the lobby, don’t just tell them the lobby looks wrong and they made a mistake. Instead, say, “Please put the water cooler in storage and put the water bottles on the table instead.”
Ask for input
People often feel unmotivated when things are out of their control, and during a crisis, there’s a lot going on that people can’t predict or influence. That could result in a helpless mood among your team members. Show your coworkers that they can still make a difference by asking for their input or advice. Try to put their suggestions into action whenever possible; that gives people a sense of achievement and encourages them to look for additional ways to improve performance.
Give constructive criticism privately
Everyone is already on edge, so now is not the time to publicly shame an underperforming coworker. Not only would that approach demoralize the person who’s being called out, but it could also make your whole team conclude that their workplace has become a Survivor-style fight for their jobs. If you take issue with someone else’s work, talk to them privately or discreetly ask a manager to intervene.
Talk about happy memories—and better times ahead
One of the most challenges aspects of a crisis is that it upends everyone’s plans. Many things you and your coworkers hoped to accomplish this year have probably been put on hold. When that happens, it’s easy to lose sight of long-term dreams and to feel that the present situation is going to last forever. To give your team a sense of hope, remind them that circumstances always change and that things will eventually get better. Invite your coworkers to reminisce about fun events, and share your thoughts about what you’ll do when normal life returns.