Honoring Your Team’s “Anniversary Reactions” (And Your Own!)

Coronavirus cases first appeared around the world in late 2019. For many readers of this email, however, the most direct impacts began in March 2020 – perhaps even a year ago this week. Changes that started with the hope of short-term impacts have, for most of us, continued to this day. Along the way, many of us have experienced deep loss of loved ones, jobs, or income, as well as profound life changes, and a new daily routine that none of us could have predicted.

As we approach this one-year mark, it’s worth bearing in mind the emotions that we may already be experiencing – what psychologists call an “Anniversary reaction.” For many of us, this may come in the form of detailed memories of what we did on the day we received news that our company was switching to a work-from-home status, or when we found out our kids’ schools would be closing. Sometimes these memories can come with overwhelming sadness and grief, and with so much taking place in the intervening 12 months, each person’s reaction will be unique. Some may take pride in new projects or innovative business developments that would not have happened prior to COVID. Some may be happier working from home in more isolation, or being able to spend more time with their children and/or significant other. Some members of your team may appear more shut down than usual, or cover up their emotions with jokes (unfortunately in their own discomfort, these may come out as tasteless jokes than offend others; something I have done on a few occasions). Some may just feel ‘over it’ with vaccines now becoming more widely available.

If not acknowledged in some way, these emotions can be, at minimum, distracting. On a deeper level, they can feel isolating. So how can we create an environment of authentic community for our teams and organizations? At Harvard University, the department I worked in for more than a decade is holding an online event for employees later this week to mark one year of working from home. I have heard of many other organizations holding similar gatherings. These events – ceremonies, in the traditional sense of marking an occasion – can be powerful acknowledgements of the range of emotions we’re all feeling. Whether or not your organization is holding a gathering like this, how could you honor your team’s emotions – and your own – this week?

This Week’s Tip:

For you:

  1. Make time to check in with yourself. Take some time to unplug and reflect on your year. This might come through a long walk, a purposeful conversation with someone you trust, journaling, or simply being still and thinking back over the last 12 months. Pay attention to the losses, the changes, the learnings, the successes, and the unexpected joy that you’ve experienced. Notice the emotions that come up as you reflect on these.
  2. Share these reflections with someone you trust, whether this is someone you work with, or someone from another part of your life.

For your team:

  1. Create a space to share team reflections on the year. This might be a gathering, or people’s reflections could be gathered using an online form which allows anonymity. If you choose to use an online format, do not use something that will pop-up on users’ screens with a new post (like Slack or an equivalent); these reflections may bring strong emotions and should be shared in an agreed-upon ‘safe space’ group setting.
  2. Make space for all experiences. Acknowledge each experience, whether it matches your own or not. Encourage sharing of what people have learned and how they have grown if that doesn’t come up naturally.
  3. Share resources where appropriate. Check in with your HR representative to discuss what is appropriate. Do not suggest to a colleague or employee that they seek professional help, but this may be a good time to use a group email to remind everyone of the resources that are available to them, or ask your HR representative to do so.

If you hold a gathering or an online space for reflections, let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear your experiences.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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