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The Emotional State of Workers in Canada

As we head toward the end of the third wave, leaders must give their teams a sense of progress

For the past seven months, my company, Third Factor, has been asking leaders “where is your team at?” from an emotional standpoint. To help them answer that question, we turned to a seminal piece of research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that shows the emotional ups and downs that accompany a crisis. 

The research shows that when a crisis hits, people’s emotional state rises to a heroic phase that culminates in a period of community cohesion. Researchers call this the honeymoon phase. This is followed by a descent into a much longer period of disillusionment. Eventually we move into a period of reconstruction, where emotions return to pre-disaster levels.

Since October, we’ve asked approximately 1,600 leaders to gauge where their team is at in this journey—the heroic or honeymoon phase, disillusionment or reconstruction. The vast majority told us that their teams were in disillusionment or reconstruction. The heroic/honeymoon phases were largely over by the time we hit October—seven months into the global pandemic. But with disillusionment and reconstruction, we see two diverging stories in the data. 

Let’s look at disillusionment 

The trend in percentage of leaders who tell us their teams are disillusioned is clear. It has grown steadily over time from just under 40 per cent in October to above 55 per cent in April (watch the video above for more). 

When we look at the percentage of leaders who tell us their teams are “through disillusionment and moving to reconstruction”, it’s a different story. Initially, we saw an upward trend heading toward February, with half of leaders saying their people were still in disillusionment and half saying they had turned the corner to reconstruction.  

But we’ve seen that upward swing deteriorate significantly over the past two months, to a point where there is now the biggest gap in our data set between those who say their teams are “in the troughs” and stuck in disillusionment, and those who feel they have turned the corner. Reconstruction is back toward the all-time low we saw in October (of under 30 per cent).

This is no surprise. With the onset of the third wave, worsening conditions and ongoing lockdowns, we would expect to see a deterioration in emotional state. What’s a bit surprising from my perspective, is not just an increase in disillusionment, but also an eroding sense that we have turned the corner.

Moving forward

These insights set up a clear imperative for leaders. Yes, we are disillusioned now, but we are building toward something. How can leaders get us there sooner?

First, they must give their teams a sense of progress. Reconstruction is rooted in the feeling of moving ahead. People who believe they are going forward enjoy an emotional high that motivates them to do better and become more effective.

Second, leaders should build stronger relationships with their teams. The reason is simple: When going through tough times, people do things for people, not for things or companies. It’s the emotional connection we have with others that can fight the tide of disillusionment.

Third, leaders should help everyone on their team understand why the work they do every day matters. How do individuals contribute through their work? And how does that help them grow and connect them with teammates?

As we head out of the third wave (and the pandemic), the ability to shorten the valley of disillusionment and bring people to reconstruction quicker will be a key challenge of leadership. Now is the time to get started.

Dane Jensen
  is an expert on strategy and leadership. As CEO of Toronto-based  Third Factor, he advises CEOs and senior leaders in both sports and business. He is author of  The Power of Pressure: Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution  (HarperCollins, 2021).