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How to keep up team morale during difficult times

Phew.  What a long year this week has been! Do you feel me?

Accountants we talked to this week are tired, with the weight of their clients hanging heavily on their shoulders.  You have a dual burden of aching and longing to help ALL the people coupled with the global anxiety of the world and your own families.

And you are worried you aren’t doing it right.

To quote Brene Brown, “I don’t know about you guys, but this is my first effing global pandemic.”  We all don’t know what we are doing. And that’s okay.

This is your time to rise accountants- but not a “soaring phoenix from the ashes” sort of rising.  It’s more of a “phoenix buried in the smoldering coals feeling burnt and vulnerable” sort of rising.  It’s time to draw the circle a bit closer and take care of what matters to you most- yourself, your family, your team, and your clients.

How can you keep up team morale when everything feels like a giant snow globe constantly being shaken up, settling, only to be shaken up again (sometimes in the very same hour)?

Be real.

As accountants, you are used to having your numbered ducks in nice orderly rows.  You like things to be accurate and predictable. You and your team thrive on making order out of chaos.

Things are different now.

Your ducks are now squirrels and nothing is predictable. You might be feeling anxious or worried or angry, or any number of feelings.  Share those feelings with your team. If you are overwhelmed or heavy, it’s okay to say so. Let them know it’s okay to not be okay 100% of the time.

Being real will encourage your team to be real too.

If your team has a leader that is willing to share how they are really feeling, they will have freedom to share how they are really feeling.  Creating an environment of psychological safety for your team is even more critical now than it has been in the past. (To be clear, this is something you need to always strive for in your business.)

Sometimes people are going to feel like they are crying for no reason.  That’s okay.

Sometimes people are going to be distracted.  That’s okay, too.

Sometimes people are going to have to take a day off because they are suddenly a full time homeschool teacher to 3 kids in 3 different grade levels.  This might have to be okay too.

Make sure to focus on gratitude.

One of our internal values at PF is positivity.  That doesn’t always mean we put on a happy face or “grin and bear it” when everything is really hard.  It does mean we are always looking for something to be thankful for. As Karen pointed out to me the other day, sometimes even searching for the positive thing is, in fact, the positive thing.

Encourage your team to find one thing they count as a blessing in their lives, even in all of this chaos.  If they are having a hard time coming up with something, help them get there. It could be something massive or something really small like, they took a nice long shower or had a good meal.

As accountants, you are naturally good problem solvers.  Think creatively and help your team members focus on something good.

If your team needs mental health support, give them resources and time to get help.

More than likely, if you are noticing signs of a mental health struggle, it exists for your team member too.  Reach out to them privately and have a conversation about what you see- not in a condemning way, but in a “I’m seeing this and it worries me” way.

Do not make this a Slack conversation.  Send them a Zoom invite and talk to them so they can see your face.  Even if it’s virtual and not in person (because it can’t be right now), it’s important that they can see your face and make a connection with you.

Now is a better time than any to smash the stigma of mental health and encourage your team to get the help they need.  Many mental health professionals are offering online sessions and your team member can find someone privately or through their health insurance.  If they can’t find someone, help them. If you have the means to provide them a little extra support financially so they can have a few sessions, do it.

Have your team explore their personal values and share them with everyone on a group Zoom call.

Your firm’s values are important and are likely helping you all band together these days.  An additional support for each of you is to determine what each team member’s personal values are using Brene Brown’s values list.  You can download it here.

1) Have each team member take time on their own to go through the list and pick out which words strike them as things that they value.

2) Continue to narrow down the list until they have 2 core values.

3) Spend your meeting time having each person share their 2 core values, the process by which they got to them, and what the values mean to them.

My core values are love and vulnerability.  For the rest of my team to know this means that during a time of crisis, those are going to be the two things I’m focused on the most.  It also means that they will likely be the two things I struggle with the most. How can I be vulnerable when everyone feels so heavy? How do I feel loved when so many people need to feel loved?

See what I mean?  It’s easy to see where a team member might struggle and combat that struggle with the positive side of the value.  For me that looks like team members asking me how I’m really doing or showing me love in a practical way (from a safe distance of course :))

Think of practical ways you can care for each of your team members.

Consider the core values your team has mentioned and use those to show them you care.  This is another opportunity to use your well-honed, out of the box, thinking skills to get creative with your team.

Maybe it means sending them and their whole family tacos. (Tacos are my love language and this definitely happened to me after sending a long message to my team about how overtired and overwhelmed and anxious I was feeling.  5 hours later, tacos for my whole family delivered to my doorstep. Thank you PF Team, Uber Eats, and Chipotle). Or maybe it means checking in on them via Marco Polo or Whatsapp.

You want to continually think about who/what you want your business to be when we get to the other side of this crisis.  Who better than a business that truly cares and knows how to love their employees well?

Whatever it is, go out of your way to care for the individual needs of your team to the best of your ability.

Take time to focus on feelings, but get work done too.

This week we scheduled a PF team meeting scheduled to talk through some elements of an internal project we are working on. We spent the first hour and half checking in on how we actually were.  We got to the end of checking in and were like, “Do we even try to accomplish what we set out to in this meeting or just reschedule?”

It would have been easy to just say, “We’re spent.  Let’s call it a day.” But if we had done that, it starts a habit of letting our feelings and fears overtake everything, therefore making us less productive always.

Instead, we decided to leave our computers, take a 5 minute break for whatever (my break of choice was a quick dance party with my children) and then come back and do work.  It’s amazing what that 5 minutes did to help us all reset and then get some really great work done.

You can do this with your longer online meetings too.  Even if it’s all work and no “feelings time.” After you’ve been on for so long people just need a little break.  Take 10 minutes and go outside (if you are able), stretch or do yoga, get a snack-you get the picture.

Use Slack channels for check-ins.

While it will be good for you to periodically have online sessions to check in on the team as a whole, with work to continue and clients to tend to, it’s not realistic you can do this every day.

We’ve created several different channels in Slack for client work, internal PF work, check-ins (where we put in our priorities for the day), random (where we include all the GIFS), and even have places where we can check in with how our emotions are on a particular day.

This helps each of us to be aware of what’s going on and to encourage one another while still getting work done.

Regardless of how you do it, now is the time to pay attention to your team and care for them well.

It goes without saying, this is an extremely difficult time for you as accountants and for the entire world.  We, the PF team, have been overwhelmed with joy and gratitude at seeing how each of you has risen to the challenge staring you in the face.

It’s our honor to serve alongside accountants worldwide, especially during a crisis situation.  Carry on dear ones. We can do hard things and we will do hard things. We look forward to the day when we look back on this time and remember all the incredible ways each one of you tended to your team and your clients.  Until then, please know we are here for whatever you need.

Jamie