Ask Amy — Practical Advice for Supervisors: How Can I Support My Employees in this New Normal?

Thursday, April 16, 2020 

A Message from Amy Bosley, Vice President, Organizational Development and Human Resources

As the urgency of responding to the pandemic begins to fade into a sense of a “new normal, not normal,” you might find yourself beginning to think about what else you need to do and think about for your department and in order to support your team. To assist you, I’ve invited our change expert, Director of Organizational Design and Development Katie Tagye, to be our guest columnist.

By Katie Tagye, Director of Organizational Design and Development

One of the things that may already be on your radar is the well-being of your employees. As you consider this, perhaps neuroscientist David Rock’s SCARF model, one that can be applied to situations where people are working and collaborating together, could help you to think about different aspects of support.

SCARF is an acronym where each letter corresponds to one of five domains which work together to activate the “primary reward’ or “primary threat” areas of our brains: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. Status refers to how we interpret our importance to others. Certainty is how easily we are able to predict what will happen. Autonomy is our perceived sense of control in our environment. Relatedness speaks to the sense of belonging to social groups. And fairness is connected to how fairly we perceive we are treated in an interaction.

As supervisors, we want to support employees so that we can minimize their feelings of threat and maximize their experience of rewards related to our work. Managing just one aspect of SCARF can help influence whether an employee is headed toward threat or reward. The more an employee can move away from “threat” and toward “reward,” the more he or she will be able to make solid decisions about their work.

Let’s think through a couple of parts of the model where supervisors have the most influence:

Certainty

While so much is ambiguous, there are many things that are certain. Think about these things. What isn’t going to change, what information can you share and/or when will you have updates? You do not have to have all of the answers; you can think about this in small ways.

For example, what certainty can you set around meetings? “We will have a Zoom meeting every Friday at 9:30 a.m. In these meetings, I will share updates I’ve been given during the week. Each of us will share progress we’ve made and a challenge we want help with for the following week.” This small amount of certainty helps your teams plan, know what to expect and know what is expected of them.

In what ways do you need to increase your own certainty? How can you make sure that you are seeking the information you need, asking the questions you have and watching for the trap of filling in information gaps with stories?

Autonomy

Remote work can impact an individual’s autonomy both positively and negatively. How have you set up your team to make decisions about when they should get work done, in how they manage their schedule and how they manage priorities? How might you reduce red tape in order to empower your team to make decisions and complete work without needing approval?

How might you increase your own autonomy? What do you need from your leaders to feel empowered? What are the ways that you might adjust your own schedule to increase your productivity and work-life harmony?

Relatedness

As humans, we need connection with others, and we need to feel as though we are psychologically safe within our work teams. As a supervisor, how can you create opportunities for engagement? How can you continue the positive “water cooler” kinds of experiences that we have when we are in a physical location together? How might you tap into your ability to empathize and help your employees feel heard and connected?

Remember that emotions are contagious. Make sure that you are meeting your own needs to be connected and that you have taken care of any negative emotions you are experiencing before you engage with your employees.

As things begin to settle and we move away from making immediate, urgent decisions, the needs that your employees will have regarding their threat and reward system may adjust. The ways to help employees feel certain, to have autonomy, and to feel connected may also adjust. Look for clues that your employees need more support in one or more area and give yourself the time you need to think about how to deliberately support individual team members.

Ask Amy” is designed to provide supervisors with guidance to successfully navigate opportunities and challenges in your daily work, as you create a culture for employee success within your teams

If you would like to ask a question, simply email me with “Ask Amy” in the subject line. Submissions will be included anonymously in the Supervisor Segment and The Grove, and will be addressed monthly as they are received.

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