Dragging your team down with you: Ask Merly

I’m really freaking out about coping with the festive season this year. The restaurant is so busy already and it’s only getting busier, while we’re still really short staffed. My team are feeling the same and we’re kind of whipping ourselves into a bit of a frenzy of worry. I know that sharing concerns should make me feel supported, but it feels like the opposite – like we’re all dragging each other down. How do we get out of this cycle and hold on to some positivity that’s going to carry us through the tough bits? I don’t want to diminish the worries of my team, and I don’t want my own worries to be ignored either, but I can’t go on like this and the idea of going into Christmas without anything changing is totally crushing.

I really sympathise with your situation and many others experiencing something rather similar. Additional staff shortages and a frenzy of worry lingering in the air just adds an extra thick layer of difficulty to these challenging festive times. And what about YOU? This is a lot for anyone to take on personally, let alone for a team.


Here are some things to ponder:


Maybe it’s not the act of communicating itself that’s dragging everyone down but rather the way things are being communicated? When staff are going into an environment of low morale most days, anyone is prone to becoming unhappy, disengaged, stressed and more likely to embody this low morale as their own. I know how painfully uncomfortable it is to face staff when things are strained and there are things that can’t be changed overnight, or if at all (after all you can’t stop the festivities), but showing that you see how hard they are working, that you hear them and that you care about them is 100% better than avoidance.


You said that it feels like you’re dragging each other down but have you asked them what they are actually thinking or feeling? Perhaps part of the answer into how to the break the cycle of negativity is to ask your team. Of course, there are certain topics that are natural mood hoovers by default but what do they think would help to boost morale, what do they want to hear in meetings and when directly spoken to, how do they want to be supported? Whatever the solution may be just don’t stop getting on their level and talking to them. I know it can be really uncomfortable for both parties but in return you are more likely to receive cooperation, support and appreciation.  It may not feel like it but you are boosting morale just by being transparent with them. Your team may not like what they are hearing but they will respect your honesty and understanding of the situation. This will build up and maintain bonds rather than break them down.


You don’t have to be the only one boosting morale and support within your team. If possible, find ways to connect the team so they can build each other up. For example, during meetings, you could ask the team to speak up about fellow colleagues for little (and big) things such as acts of kindness, great teamwork and heroes of the day who helped someone get out of the s*** when they needed it the most. Everyone is prone to feeling vulnerable and negative during these crazy times, so remind staff to think about their managers and owners too.


Or perhaps members of the team would like to talk about any tasks that they have learned to do more efficiently and could help others in the team during these stressful times. Share this load by allowing other members of management to get creative at boosting morale in meetings, during service and on group chat /Whatsapp / internal comms (if you use them).


You may not have enough staff but you may have a little compromise to spare. Where you can, could you let a member of staff go home on time, swap a shift or come in a little later? Giving staff a little bit of headspace and rest here and there means that they feel a little better which could change the energy at work a little.


And short breaks mount up and make a big difference to someone’s day… I’m talking minutes, even as little as 10-15 minutes. Breaks are good for cognitive function, productivity and resetting a stressed state of mind. Even stepping out of an environment for a few mins can help to boost mood and energy levels. This goes for you too!


Now, enough about your team… I’m wondering about you. What do you need to keep going and prevent exploding or getting overwhelmed with negativity? Having a sense of boundaries does not mean that you don’t care for the business or team. I would suggest considering what you can delegate, who is responsible for what and how/ when do you wish to be reported to?


It’s exhausting trying to lift peoples’ morale for long periods of time, as well as your own. And trying to be positive for the sake of others when we’re feeling wobbly ourselves can be rather taxing and depressing. It’s important that you assert some kind of mental and physical barrier between yourself and work where you can. You may not have much opportunity to get away from work right now but something is better than nothing. And who supports you? I really hope you have someone you can download to; a senior member in the team / friends / family or a professional who you are able to speak honestly about how you’re doing. A rant doesn’t change things can make you feel a whole lot lighter so you power through another day! There’s only so much any of us can take.


The communication doesn’t have to be total doom and gloom but a mixed bag of a lot the things. These are all merely suggestions and I invite you to think of other ideas that could get the team to start empowering and support each other, so it falls less on your shoulders and gives you a little space to catch your breath.


Good luck x

Hi Counteralk community,


You know that we’ve got you right? When you’re dealing with those big issues, you want someone who really gets it. Merly is an ex-chef, therapist, stress reduction coach and founder of @me_myself_inmind, which provides workshops, one-to-one therapy and group therapy for you incredible, hard-working, hard-caring people in the hospitality industry. Their mission is built around educating others on stress reduction techniques, mental health awareness and the importance of learning coping skills, emotional resilience and self awareness. Maybe you are working right now, or maybe you are at home learning to adjust. Those skills are still sorely needed to boost our wellbeing whatever we are up to.


Each week Merly is on hand to answer some of our community’s problems. If you would like to submit a problem, please email askmerly@countertalk.co.uk. All questions are completely confidential and kept 100% anonymous, now and always.

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