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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Practical Leadership Tips for Enhancing Staff Behavioral Health During a Crisis

Ensuring that you have responsive workforce during a crisis requires consideration of the behavioral health of your staff. Effective behavioral health management is accomplished through what is offered to staff and well as what is modeled by their leaders.


Communicate calmly, often, and clearly

Despite the stress, fear, and anxiety that may be associated with a crisis, it is important for staff to know how to be successful. Messages are best delivered in way that staff can hear and interpret them.

  • Express empathy, caring, honesty and openness
  • Take 2 or 3 deep breaths before writing emails or speaking with staff
  • Establish frequent and regular times when you staff can expect to hear updates from you
  • Place the tasks in a larger context; explain why it is important
  • Clearly define the objective and the deadline
    • You and your staff should understand what success or task completion looks like
  • Be open to and create opportunities for feedback from staff
  • Follow-up to ensure tasks are complete

Establish and maintain clear boundaries between work and rest

During a crisis, particularly prolonged crises, it is important to create time when you and your staff are not expected to respond, unless the situation absolutely demands immediate action. Staff will take cues from their leaders’ behaviors, even if they are inconsistent with established policies or stated expectations. Some ways to foster down time:

  • Establish expected work hours/shifts
  • Avoid sending emails/calling individuals outside of established hours
  • Avoid responding to emails outside of the hours when you are working

Engaging in self-care

Modeling self-care is critical for staff. What you do is often far more impactful that just what you say. Engaging in self-care and allowing your staff to see you engage in self-care, promotes those behaviors in your staff, even if the self-care activity is for a brief period of time.

  • Take time to engage in physical activity (moderate intensity [e.g., brisk walk], 30 minutes).
  • Engage in valued activities (e.g., talk to friends, spend time with family, spiritual/religious time)
  • Engage in relaxing behaviors (e.g., listen to music, read, watch a movie/show, be mindful)
  • Write stressful and anxious thoughts down in a journal or notepad. Doing something with thoughts can decrease intensity and frequency of the thoughts.
  • Eat regularly and choose healthy snacks (e.g., fruits, vegetables, nuts). Stay hydrated.
  • Sleep. Allow for at least 5.5 hours of sleep. Maximize the opportunity to sleep (e.g., keep the space dark and free from distractions). If you do not fall asleep if 15 mins or less, get out of bed, do something boring (e.g., read a magazine), get back in bed when sleepy. Repeat as needed.


  • This page last reviewed: March 23, 2020