Have you ever felt sad and, at the same time, felt that you “shouldn’t” be feeling that way? Have you been told by countless people that you should not feel sad? Does that make you feel bad?
Sadness is a critical human emotion triggered by events in our lives, such as when things have turned out badly, we don’t get what we want or need, we don’t get what we’ve worked for or we have lost someone we love.
Feeling sad can be painful, leaving us tired, run-down, reducing us sometimes to tears. But it also serves an important purpose. Once you have experienced sadness, you will work hard not to feel sad. Sadness is vital to maintaining our relationships and yet, it is also not a culturally desirable emotion. Right through life, we are surrounded by television advertisements of happy people, enjoying life, while sad people are often portrayed as ill or in need of medication.
When we feel bad about feeling sad, we often have internalized these social expectations to feel sad only briefly and to value joy and therefore be happy. However, as human beings, we cannot just “choose” only the emotions we want to have. It simply does not work that way. Feeling all our feelings, painful or not, keeps us grounded in the present moment. Today we are experiencing a global pandemic of proportions which has never experienced by any of us before. It is, therefore, normal to be to be anxious during a pandemic. In fact, anxiety keeps us safe. It motivates us to wear a mask and maintain social distance out of concern of getting the infection or falling sick. Anxiety is a very normal response to a very abnormal situation.
“In the Thomas Cook Group, instead of pushing our employees to only feel positive, we encourage employees to accept whatever genuine feelings come up, sit with them, and then let them pass on their own.”
We encourage our employees to talk about how they feel and reach out to their supervisors or peers to discuss their feelings. These conversations take place either on a telephone call or on MS Teams meetings. We believe that avoiding expressing how you feel will only prolong the discomfort. Putting feelings into words tends to reduce the intensity of emotions such as sadness, anger, and pain.
The Human Resources team understands that every employee is different. One employee may not cope with things the same way that others do. Our team deals with employees by gauging the situation and when appropriate, offering gentle nudges or suggestions. We choose to support employees by listening over offering unsolicited advice. We recognise that sometimes employees may be happy and sad at the same time. In cases where we have had to part ways with an employee, the person can be sad about losing his/her job during the pandemic and be hopeful about finding a new job in the future.
We encourage employees during times of emotional distress, not engage in new tasks that they think will make them feel better, rather we suggest that they expand on things that they already are good at and familiar with. We encourage them to leverage their “strengths” and stick with what they know and are good at until they feel better. Doing things to make you feel better requires less effort and protects the person from setting unrealistic expectations.
A large part of our workforce has been asked to work from home. Some employees depending on their role are required to come to work despite heightened health risks. Both situations cause levels of stress and anxiety and some employees are struggling to cope. These are different times, and everybody is feeling their way through them. It is important to think creatively about supporting employees wherever they are.
At the Thomas Cook Group, the HR team hosts virtual manager meetups that help and support leaders with tips and tricks for managing through this change. We encourage managers to communicate with their teams very frequently and conduct a quick round of check-ins from participants at the beginning of every virtual meeting to see what’s on people’s minds, personally and professionally. We have organised ‘Coffee & Conversation’ meetings which provide informal video interaction with leaders that are empathetic and where leaders talk personally about challenges that they have faced. The Q & A sessions help leaders understand employees are going through and offer suggestions.
We all know that work will never be the same, we have discovered some ways in which things are different and we still need to understand all the ways in which it will be different. What all of us need to focus on is reinventing ourselves and how we do business in the new environment.