Q&A with Social Sciences Associate Dean Dr. Sam Dutton
Turning uncertain times into professional development opportunities.
The only certainty these days is that things may be uncertain from one day to the next. People are impacted in all aspects of their lives, both personal and professional. We’ve seen creative considerations in life and business to try to minimize disruptions as much as possible in the midst of unexpected change.
As any business owner knows, when processes and procedures are interrupted for any reason, it can throw a proverbial wrench into a workflow and leave employees questioning what is going to happen next. This can have a negative impact on morale, and if it isn’t addressed in a timely and reassuring way, the damage to morale may not be undone.
COVID-19 has given employers the greatest morale challenge in memory. How can leadership mitigate this? Dr. Samantha Dutton, PhD, LCSW, associate dean, Social Sciences at University of Phoenix, shares her thoughts on maintaining healthy morale through continuity, applying her military experience as the basis for civilian labor initiatives.
Q: Military personnel are structured in a formal chain of command to respond in a nearly automated way. This helps make uncertainty more manageable. How would you apply these same ideals to a civilian workforce?
SD: The military has had many years of preparing responses to uncertainty. When on active duty, we practice what to do if (fill in the blank) happened. Uncertainty is unrealized opportunities and failures are successes. If you have been preparing your workforce to have the same goal(s) all along, then your employees will know what to do or what not to do to realize those goals.
If the goal is to make a widget but you can’t produce the widget during a crisis, what do you want your workforce to do? The goal is still to produce the widget, but now that this OPPORTUNITY has presented itself, what do you do? Perhaps you make modifications, thinking through what works and what doesn’t work.
Also, the workforce will take direction from the leader. It’s easy to be the leader when things are running smoothly. True leaders emerge in challenging circumstances. Good leaders calm the workforce, give direction, offer transparency and show they are human as well.
Employees are looking for leadership during a crisis, not management. They need to know that their leader is making decisions and those decisions are known.
— Dr. Samantha Dutton, PhD, LCSW
Associate Dean and BSSW Program Director at University of Phoenix
SD: Again, this goes back to leadership. They can make or break an organization. They must rise above the panic, even if they are panicked as well. Employees are looking for leadership during a crisis, not management. They need to know that their leader is making decisions and those decisions are known.
Within your work groups, there may be “just-in-time” leaders, or those that are checking in on the group, sending memes, keeping spirits up. Calming the others around you will help keep you calm as well. Everyone is still working on producing the widget.
Q: How much of the office morale is up to the employees and how much falls on the leaders?
SD: I would say that everyone has a role to play in keeping up morale—the leaders for giving direction and the employees for taking direction.
Q: We are living in a time of uncertainty where things can change or stifle at any given moment. What do you think of the current issues we’re experiencing daily?
SD: Times like this, I’m reminded of a do-as-I-do attitude. If everyone is panicked, then you’ll be panicked. If everyone is feeling hopeful, then you will feel hopeful. Much like a crowd mentality. It only takes one person to change the dynamic. The dynamic should come from the leader, whether in good times or not.
Also, being resilient is important. One can learn resiliency. Connection, flexibility, realistic plans, communication, problem-solving, managing strong feelings, self-confidence and purposeful meaning are resiliency factors. Developing these skills or behaviors will help build your own resiliency.
Always remember that having feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment are normal. What you do with those feelings is what you control. Use them to your advantage. Anger can spur change, frustration can spur helping others, disappointment can spur charting new goals. It’s all about finding what is good for you. You are in control of your thoughts and behaviors. It’s okay to have negative feelings – acknowledge them and put them to good use.
We can all help facilitate adaptive responses through slow, communicative, purposeful, and collaborative actions when frightful and uncertain times are upon us. Look to your managing leaders. If you are unable to find the calm within the storm from them, then turn to yourself – be the leader you wish to see.