COVID-19 Leadership Lessons: We’re All Exhausted. Now What?

Week 5 of COVID-19 Response, and the animal welfare world is collectively exhausted. How can we keep on keeping on? The HSUS’ Kim Alboum and The Association’s Katherine Shenar checked in with Lindsay Hamrick, HSUS Director of Policy, Companion Animals, and Hilary Hager, HSUS Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement, for some simple and powerful steps that managers can take to support staff (and themselves). You can watch the interview here, and read on for the condensed version.

Finding Balance During COVID-19 with Hilary Hager and Lindsay Hamrick

Acknowledge The Stress and Anxiety—and Press PAUSE

On a good day in the animal welfare world, we’re already grappling with compassion fatigue. The difference is that we’re usually able to step away from it—going home after work to friends and family, even taking a short break outside. “But that respite has been eliminated,” says Hager. “There’s an acute sense of dread ever present, and a low level of continuous agitation.”  

Pressing pause on the stress response is not easy, but we can come to the practice with some tools in our back pockets. What are your answers to these questions:

  • How can I be okay?
  • What can I control?
  • How can I feel better?

(Tip: There’s lots of research around breathwork, and the use of cyclical breathing to calm the nervous system. How about asking your staff yogi to share some simple techniques during your next virtual meeting?)

What Does ‘Working From Home’ Mean?

Got a staff working remotely for the first time? This transition to a new work culture creates new stress. “Whether you’re the CEO or a manager of one other team member,” says Hamrick, “this is the time to give very explicit directions about what working from home looks like.” Set clear work hours for your team, including the times they’re expected to be in front of their screen. Unless you tell them, they may think they have to sit at their desk for 8 hours straight, or be available during off-hours to answer any emails that come in. Share guidelines around breaks and use of social media during work hours, as well as the protocol for off-hour emergencies. 

Survey Your Staff

Your team may have questions and worries about working from home that you may not have thought of. Take time to ask for feedback. “Do a survey, and ask about any anxieties or concerns that working from home brings up,” says Hamrick.

Model The Behaviors You Want to See

So you’re going to ensure that each staff member identifies ways to self-soothe and sets aside time to do them every day — great!

Not so great — it won’t mean much if you don’t do the same. “Take time to do it, too,” says Hager, who acknowledges this may feel near-impossible. No excuse, she says. “Fake it until you make it if you have to!”

Additional Resources

Blog: COVID-19 Leadership Lessons: Together We Are All One
Blog: COVID-19 Coping Skills: Increasing Resilience


The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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