This week I was eating lunch with one of our curriculum administrators in our beautiful headquarters café. At the table next to us was one of my direct reports with a few of her team members and across from us was another of my direct reports with her leaders. Part way through my lunch, I heard guffaws of laughter and realized it was in stereo coming from the two separate tables of folks on my team. And my heart swelled. I felt a moment of pure joy in their joy. As I tell my teammates to do with those special moments, I mentally wrapped up that feeling and put it in a box to be opened later when I need it again.
You see, I desperately needed to feel joy in that moment. The week had started with boatloads of unique work-related stress and I had admitted to a colleague-friend that I, the eternal optimist and typical exuder* of positivity, had been feeling blue. This friend said he had been feeling the same, which almost knocked me to my knees; he would not normally admit these feelings.
Let’s face it. We are living through an unprecedented (at least for the generations in our current workforce) period of sustained….what shall we call it….gloom. From the pandemic to global-impacting conflicts to economic uncertainty – these overwhelming stressors on top of normal life stressors, be they work-related or non-work-related, are putting our mental well-being at risk.
If, as leaders and advocates for our teammates, we don’t wrestle with this gloom, any employee-engagement-focused culture we have worked to develop will be for naught. Rightly so, our team members should expect a physically and mentally healthy work environment.
No matter the number of employees or members of the credit union, no matter the culture or brand of the credit union, and no matter how we are executing on our philosophy of people helping people, the one thing we all have in common is that we work with and serve other humans. These humans have needs, emotions, dreams, heartbreaks, and, sometimes, struggles with mental well-being.
In my position I often play the part of empathetic listener and, when appropriate, navigator for problem solving for individuals across the credit union. What I know is some are feeling burnout and are frustrated by a lack of empathy and understanding on the part of their supervisors. Their supervisors are feeling burnout too; after all, they have their own issues with which to deal along with those of their teams.
We have all met, and maybe even reported to, leaders who just don’t believe emotions or talk of mental well-being belong in the workplace. Maybe you have heard, “Leave your emotions at the door when you enter!” I am here to tell ya, that old way of believing must be retired! Compounding emotional strain, what I am calling the gloom, makes it apparent that people leaders must understand and support the emotional well-being of teammates. Creating an environment of belonging, one that fosters psychological safety, is an imperative if we are to succeed.
What does all this mean? We must get more comfortable with wrestling gloom, with feeling uncomfortable. We must get more comfortable listening with our heart first, seeking to meet people where they are. We must get more comfortable with words of support, backed up by tangible actions.
On that topic of taking action, here’s my short list:
- Embrace moments of joy: Be a role model for what it means to recognize and relish in joy. A simple suggestion – kick off a meeting with an icebreaker asking for others to share a recent moment of joy.
- Remember purpose: Regularly, and with authenticity, connect work to meaning and purpose. If your organization doesn’t already, consider providing volunteer time off and help people leaders design team time away in your community. This will give your teams a chance to connect with each other and the community in a meaningful and purposeful way.
- Be a friend: Gallup asks in the Q12 employee engagement survey if “you have a best friend at work.” Take the time to connect with coworkers at a deeper level, beyond daily tasks. Reach out when someone seems to be struggling and offer a helping hand.
- Ask THE question: With sincerity, and an open mind and heart, ask “How are you doing?” Practice being uncomfortable sitting with someone’s emotions and struggles, without judgment. Remember, don’t minimize someone else’s pain with a joke or a brush off.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don’t forget about yourself – how are you doing? Do you have 3 minutes to spare? Check out this video and ponder all the joy you will find in your days.
* exuder – not a real word; someone who exudes