When COVID-19 entered our collective consciousness and began to shape our daily lives, I started asking guests on the Leadership Lab podcast about what leaders can do to best support their people during uncertain times.
The overwhelming response: “check-in regularly with your people.”
The concept of conducting one-on-one meetings isn’t new. For some of you, it has been a regular practice for years. In 2016, Harvard Business Review published an article by Rebecca Knight, entitled “How to Make Your One-on-Ones with Employees More Productive.” Knight references books and studies that have pointed to the importance of regular check-ins between leaders and employees for years. You can dig further back in history and find plenty written in the leadership literature about the topic.
So why am I writing about a topic that has been written about for years?
It’s very likely that COVID-19 may be:
- Making it harder for some to stick to the check-in routine they have had in the past
- Creating a convenient excuse for not conducting one-on-ones
- Causing some leaders to feel that one-on-ones aren’t a priority right now
There are two concerns specific to COVID-19 that make one-on-ones more important than ever: isolation and disengagement.
Many employees feel isolated. Within weeks of the start of COVID-19 work from home mandates, some staggering numbers began to make their way into publication. In April, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) addressed this concern, “single-person households are the second-most-common type of U.S. household…In many urban centers, roughly 40 percent of households are single-occupant. The trend to live alone raises concerns among mental health experts. Studies have found that it is linked to depression, lower quality of life, and health problems.” They continue by explaining that the problem is compounded by those who already felt isolated before COVID-19. “Millennials, who make up the largest segment of the workforce, are the loneliest generation. Three in ten Millennials always or often feel lonely…At work, 66 percent of Millennials found it hard to make friends, compared to less than 23 percent of Baby Boomers.”
Some of your people may not feel as connected as they once were to you and your team. As a result, they may have started to pull away. Perhaps you’re even feeling some of that pulling away yourself. You might think to yourself, “we’re in a weird time and expectations are certainly not what they once were. I’m sure when things get back to normal, we will be fine”. However, that feeling, for some, may lead to the eventual separation from the organization. They might not be looking for a job right now as they perceive the job market to be tough and they are happy to have a port in the storm. But, when the seas calm, the sun reemerges, and COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, they will be actively exploring new opportunities.
There are more arguments that I can make for regular check-ins, but I think you get the point. Your people may feel isolated and disengaged. Fortunately, things can turn around and you can help to make that happen. Now is the time for you to double-down on one-on-ones. They need to know that they can count on you to be a consistent voice, an empathetic listener, a results-oriented role model, and a leader that they will happily choose to follow.
One last thing – I encourage you to think not only about conducting these sessions with your team members but also to commit to doing them well. In her HBR article, Knight talks about the importance of certain behaviors in conducting effective one-on-ones. These include techniques such as blocking time, identifying discussion points, focusing on the employee, and problem solving together. I’ve added to her suggestions and created a “Check-in Checklist” that you can put to use to make your one-on-ones better. You can find the tool in this newsletter. I invite you to use it and share it.
Make it a great day! – Patrick
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.