6 Steps to Gain Trust and Respect from Stressed Out Staff
Morgan Delack

It’s no secret that teachers and support staff are feeling burned out. When it comes to administrative decisions, this overwhelmed group can also feel overlooked. Building stronger bonds between administration and staff starts with effective internal communications. But how do you gain trust and respect from staff when they are anxious and overwhelmed? 

In this blog, we’ll dive into six key steps school communicators should consider to build stronger relationships with staff and craft more effective messages during times of change. 

  1. Know where staff are on the stress continuum
  2. Build relationships
  3. Consider the five elements of emotional intelligence before communicating
  4. Don’t be tone deaf -- adapt your messages to show empathy and care
  5. Elevate staff with kudos and public praise
  6. Consider a “Be Well” initiative for staff

Let’s dive in! 

1. Know where staff are on the stress continuum

The stress continuum was developed by the U.S. Armed Forces to evaluate how sailors and Marines coped and performed during combat situations. It has since been adapted and used by medical professionals and mental health experts in a wide variety of settings. 

The continuum ranges from “excelling” to “in crisis,” showing how people react to being under stress. In the green zone, people tend to be cheerful and high performing. As they react to stressful situations, things quickly shift to the red zone where anxiety reaches an all-time high. 

Stress Continuum Model

As school communicators, it’s important to know where staff are on the continuum. Not only does stress impact the way people feel, but also how they are able to absorb information. Seemingly well-intended messages from school administration can be reacted to with anger, resentment and distrust when staff are in crisis mode. 

So where do you go from here? Step two is where it all begins: by building relationships. 

2. Build relationships

Building relationships is the key to gaining trust and respect from staff, and making sure your messages are received with empathy and understanding. 

As the school or district communicator, building relationships is not just about making connections personally or individually. It’s also important for you to establish ways that staff can get to know each other, too. 

It can seem daunting to know where to begin to build those bonds, especially if your school or district is large. What it all boils down to is being a friend and establishing yourself as trusted counsel to staff across your school and district.

As communicators, you have an abundance of ways to form those connections digitally.  Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Start a personal Twitter account if you don’t have one already, and follow your staff members. Retweeting or replying to their Tweets is a small but meaningful gesture that can build significant rapport between you and your colleagues. 
  • Establish a “colleague connection” area in your staff newsletter to share kudos, congratulations and best wishes. 
  • Create a staff member of the week campaign on social media 
  • Find ways to laugh together! Another staff newsletter addition that has been well-received for Glenview District 34 is a “most embarrassing work moments” section- hilarious! 
  • Plan a school or district-wide outing, outside of the typical retirement or end-of-year celebrations. In a post-COVID world, consider events like professional sports games or outdoor music venues. Staff will appreciate the gesture and enjoy getting to know everyone on a more personal level. 

3. Consider the five elements of emotional intelligence before communicating

Once you’ve built connections and community, the next step is understanding how to carefully craft your message using the five elements of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is defined as understanding and recognizing our own emotions, and in turn, doing the same with the emotions of others. This is especially important when communicating in times of change. When emotions run high, our brains function differently, directly impacting the way we make decisions and interpret information. 

The five elements of emotional intelligence are:

  1. Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions.
  2. Self-regulation: the ability to regulate and manage your own emotions. 
  3. Motivation: the desire to fulfill goals beyond external rewards. 
  4. Empathy: understanding how others are feeling. 
  5. Social skills: being able to interact well with others. 

It can be helpful to consider these elements in the form of questions. 

  • Am I aware of how my feelings about this situation may be different from others?
  • How can I be sensitive to someone else’s reality, especially if it is different from my own?
  • What is my motivation for saying or doing something at this moment? 
  • Is communication on this topic really necessary? 

During tumultuous times, seemingly well-intended messages could be interpreted the wrong way, leading to anger, fear or resentment among your staff. Ask yourself the questions above before sending communications to stay ahead of any potential misunderstandings that could arise from your messages. 

4. Don’t be tone deaf! Adapt your messages to show empathy and care

There are many phrases commonly used as a way to start an email, letter or conversation. During times of change, some of these seemingly innocent phrases could come across as insensitive, depending on where a person is on the stress continuum.

For example, saying “I hope this message finds you well” when someone is in a full-on emotional crisis lacks empathy and care for their situation. Although it can be a challenge to find the right words to start an email or conversation, there are some ways to modify your language choices to show a greater level of understanding and care for your staff.

Alternative ways to start your message could include: 

  • “First and foremost, I want you to know that your personal wellbeing is important to me. Thank you for everything you are doing.”  
  • “I want to first tell you how impressed I was with [insert recent example].”
  • “I’d love your feedback and expertise on…”

Always be sure to make sure the tone of your opening statement matches the tone of the rest of the message, being mindful of your audience and their potential reaction.

For some writing inspiration, check out Eanes ISD Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard’s messages to staff, parents and students. His unique storytelling approach is inspiring and resonates deeply with the Eanes community.

5. Elevate staff with kudos and public praise

There’s no question that giving public praise and recognition to staff is a sure way to boost morale and build trust. According to Forbes, almost 90 percent of employees who received thanks or recognition from a supervisor or administrative figure report high levels of trust at work.

There are plenty of creative ways to do this from social media campaigns, to microsites to more simple efforts. 

For example, Moore Norman Technology Center launched a creative staff recognition campaign using Finalsite Composer called 20 Days of Goodness. The communications team recognized employees by publishing celebrations, personal recipes and photos. The recognition campaign was held around the holidays and set up to resemble an advent calendar, with one new recognition being published every day. The campaign was well-received by staff as well as the larger school community! 

The Moore Norman Way mental health resource hub screenshot

6. Consider a “Be Well” initiative for staff

Self-care is so important all the time, but especially during times of change. Districts are often launching wellness programs and services for students, but what about staff? A recent workplace survey by Deloitte showed 91 percent of respondents said feeling stressed out negatively impacted the quality of their work. Self-care is needed for employees, too.

Glenview District 34 launched a #BeWell34 initiative before the pandemic. The program started out small, focusing on things like nutrition and exercise. When COVID-19 hit, things shifted more toward mental health and well-being. 

screenshot from Glenview's #BeWell34 section of the website

The District created a microsite using Finalsite Composer that includes an abundance of tools and tips for staff to utilize, all while choosing the path that aligns with their current mood or situation.  In addition to unique videos series like Monday Morning Mindfulness, the site also includes a wellness calendar and mental health and crisis support contacts

Tools and Tips for Staff example screenshot

Director of Communications and Strategic Planning Cathy Kedjidjian says #BeWell34 is more than a buzz-word, it has become a meaningful part of the culture of the district’s culture.

Key Takeaway

Staff are feeling stressed out, burnt out and overwhelmed more than ever before. Gaining their trust and respect is rooted in effective internal communications. Adjust your strategy by incorporating these six steps: 

  • Know where staff are on the stress continuum
  • Build relationships
  • Consider the five elements of emotional intelligence before communicating
  • Don’t be tone deaf —-- adapt your messages to show empathy and care
  • Elevate staff with kudos and public praise
  • Consider a “Be well” initiative for staff

Request Your Free Website Report Card

Morgan Delack Headshot

Morgan Delack is Finalsite's Director of Communications, leading the marketing team's public school content, branding initiatives and professional development events. Morgan's background is a mixture of public school communications and television journalism, having worked in both industries for several years. She was named among NSPRA's 35 under 35 and has earned two Emmy Awards for her work in broadcasting. Morgan lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids.

There are no news posts to display

Keep Reading...

Get a Free 15-Minute Website Consultation!

Give us 15 minutes of your time and we'll give you expert feedback on your school, district or university website — no strings attached.