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Welcome to JoyPowered Workspace Podcast, where we talk about putting the humanity back into HR. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and author of “JoyPowered.” I’m here today with Susan White, a national HR consultant. Today’s topic is healthy office communications. I recently read an article from Harvard Business Review called “Three Small Things Every Person Can Do to Reduce Stress in their Office.” I really enjoyed the article by Dory Clark, but it also made me think at kind of a higher level of not just reducing stress, but leading to just more overall healthy communication, which certainly leads to less stress. So we’ll talk about a few other things but I thought I would just start with Dory’s three items. Her first one, she said “stop being vague. It creates worry and stress.” Personally, I always think about expectations. I like her comment about stop being vague. I think so many times we make assumptions about what other people are thinking or expecting. And we don’t set correct expectations. Any thoughts on that, Susan?
You know, I think we all read a lot about, you know, transparency, and we want to be transparent in the workplace, and you kind of scratch your head. So what do you mean by that? I think being transparent is saying what you mean, meaning what you say. And I think that’s something that we all need to work on in the workplace. Employees do want to know, what are you thinking? What are the objectives for the team? What is not working? One of my favorite expressions is when a leader will say to employees, listen, we’ve got a lot of things happening. There’s some things I cannot tell you, because I’m not either allowed to because it could impact you know, share price, or because it hasn’t settled yet or because of whatever reason, and I’m good with that. If I know, you know, you can certainly see that there’s a lot of activity going on. They can’t tell me the details, but as soon as they can, they will tell us. So my favorite expression is, you know, I’ll tell you what I can when I can.
Right, even though it’s a very simple thing, I think when people say whether you say it live or say it in an email, I need this back as soon as possible. Or work on this when you have time. Very common simple expressions that many of us use every day. Yet, we know that as soon as possible. And when you have time has a very different connotations for people and what that means, right? Does as soon as possible mean this afternoon, does it mean this week? Doesn’t mean this month? I mean what’s, what’s your expectation? When do you really need me to work on this?
At your convenience… in the next hour? Yeah, yeah,
Yeah. Even too, things like good job, right. Well, good job on what? What was it specifically that you like? what went well? What didn’t go so well? Dory’s second small thing was to triage your responses. So she reported that the average professional sends or receives 122 messages a day. And she suggest that you be sure to respond to those with specific time sensitive request. So kind of not just going through all of them, but looking for the ones that really need a quicker response. And she suggests that you spend at least 15 minutes a day tagging or responding to this time sensitive ones. I tell you, I had to laugh on that one. Susan. Personally, my thought was that we should all spend more time tagging or including time sensitive emails when we send them ourselves, right?
That’s right. I’ll answer those fast, right?
But that doesn’t help if our whole organization learns to do that. Then all of a sudden, all of your emails are time sensitive and need to be responded to right away.
I think we can get a lot better at emails just as workers in the world. And I think about how many emails I get that are FYIs. And I have to wonder… did I really need to know that? You know, there’s a lot of just nice to knows, and it kind of makes you a little numb. I think when you’re getting several hundred emails a day, the people who send you these FYIs or these progress reports that you don’t need to know, you don’t always give them the attention maybe that they deserve
Right. I know for me too. I’m guilty of wanting to get through my emails quickly. And so my responses many times are very short and very quick because I’m trying to get back with them as soon as I can, but I don’t always elaborate, which leads back to item number one, which was stopped being vague.
Have you ever heard the expression TLDR? Though there’s a technology company in California, and this may happen other places, but this is the only place that I actually seen it. It’s where as a common practice, if you send a long email, if that’s your practice to send it out, that you can’t be surprised if someone responds in the subject line to you. TLDR which stands for too long, didn’t read.
I love that. You know, interesting comment, though, about the subject line. I used to work with someone who she received because of her role in the company, she received an inordinate amount of emails, and she was consistently training people on providing good specific information in the subject line. And I thought that was really helpful. I have admit, I don’t always do it. But I do think about it sometimes when I’m sending out emails that I’m looking to send to catch people’s attention, or so they’ll know immediately what it is I’m talking about. Am I responding to a question they had? Am I sharing an answer? Am I asking my own question? Do I have an action item for them? Makes it very much easier for the reader when there’s a very clear subject line.
I appreciate that too. Yeah, I also appreciate when people don’t reply all unless I really need to know their response to a request.
Right, that one is really tough. I seem to be on lots of email chains were lots of people hit reply all. Her item number three was stop watching the kettle boil and her examples of that related to really micromanaging, to over monitoring people, to being a perfectionist. And she suggests, and I very much believe too, that people thrive when given autonomy. Now, typically that only works if we’re good at number one, which is stop being vague, right? If we can give people clear direction or clear expectations on what needs to happen, then let them take it and let them figure out how to accomplish it best.
You know, that’s how I want to be managed. So I would hope that’s how most people want to be managed.
Right. Just some other thoughts. So those were Dory’s recommendations on reducing stress generally and overall healthy office communications. A couple things I thought of we’ve talked before on this podcast about Strengths Finder, about understanding how you work best, but also how others work best too, so that we can meet their needs. easier. Are they someone who likes a lot of detail? Are they someone who likes lots of communication? Are we someone who likes lots of communication? Do we need time to think things through? What’s our style and what’s the style of other team members so we can help to better meet expectations?
I think that’s a great use of Strengths Finder. I often think about team meetings or team huddles. JoDee, how often do you recommend people get together as a team?
It’s a tough question, right. I think most people sort of cringe at the thought of having more meetings, because I believe that most meetings are not effective. We spend a lot of time at meetings rehashing things we’ve already talked about, or repeating things that we already know, or spending too much time on topics that we don’t care about, and not another time talking about critical concepts that we need to have. One of my favorite authors, Patrick Lencioni has a book called “Death by Meeting.” And he actually surprised me. I didn’t know the first time I read the book that this is where it was going. But he recommends daily meetings. Oh my lord, even to say that out loud kind of makes me cringe too. But his concept is, it can really create healthy office communications, if you have quick, short, stand up meetings every day on a regular basis. Now, I’m not sure that always make sense in an atmosphere Purple Ink, where many of us work remotely. That doesn’t certainly make sense.
I love to stand up though. I’ve been part of groups where we did have a daily huddle. And it was first thing in the morning, who’s on first, who’s on second, what’s our big goal for today? So I have seen it work.
I think the key to that too, is to think about who’s in the meeting, right? Team meeting doesn’t have to mean 50 people in our office, right? Maybe it’s the four people in the accounting department or the 10 people in the HR department, you know it, it doesn’t have to be everyone who’s hearing things about things that they don’t need to hear about every day. But who is the group that it might be helpful for to have a quick stand up meeting every day?
I think that’s great. Early in my career, this organization no longer exists, but we were big believers in the Saratoga Institute. They do a lot of HR metrics and measurement. So we were following different types of practices they had. One of them was when you set a meeting, you figure out what is the salary and the OPC cost of every single person who’s going to be at that meeting. If it’s a one hour meeting, we would know that’s going to cost us $1,947. And we would be so crisp, because we would have on the agenda, how much time everything was going to be and what the total cost of that meeting was based on the manpower in the room, and I gotta be honest, it was early in my career, I’d look around the room thinking these people must be earning a lot of money because if this is costing $1900, I think I want to make about $7 here. But it really did instill a discipline about in that meeting, let’s make sure that we are conscious of the time and are we going to get an ROI on it?
I love it. Love it. Great idea. And just to recap there, too, I’m not suggesting that everyone does have a daily stand up meeting. I think the key is to have effective meetings, whenever that might be. So I love your approach to thinking about how much is it costing us to have this meeting, whether it’s every day, whether it’s once a week, whether it’s once a month, but I do think going back to some of those earlier topics about setting clear expectations about being open and honest with people about what’s happening and about their performance certainly creates overall healthier communications in your office.
I agree. And I would just mention that I love an agenda for a meeting, even if no one had time to prepare it before the meeting. So let’s start off the meeting with what are the things we have to accomplish before we leave here today? It just keeps everybody focused. Otherwise, it’s so easy to go down a tangent that you don’t want to be on.
There’s also a book out there called “The Platinum Rule.” You know, many times we hear about the concept of the golden rule, and doing unto others as they would have done to you. But in the book, the Platinum rule, they talk about taking the golden rule to a higher level. So Platinum is better than gold. How could we turn that rule around and say, Do unto others
as they want to be done unto?
As they want to be done unto! By following the golden rule, which I always consider to be playing nice in the sandbox, right? You’d be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. But when we’re really working with someone on a regular basis, and we think about How we want to be treated, we can’t assume that other people want to be treated like we want to be treated. Again, going back to the examples of communication styles or recognition is a good one, I may want public recognition. One of my peers might not want to be publicly recognized. So we need to understand how they want to be treated differently than how we want to be treated.
Sure, just give me cash and I’ll be happy. Yeah.
And that’s important too, right? Funny, but it’s true. Some people are motivated by different things. And then the last one I had, I don’t know if you have some more Susan, but I always tell people It took me 50 years to figure this one out. And that’s taking a break. Not that I never took a break in 50 years, but when I turned 50 I got my first dog, and I was working from home at the time and I realized that I needed to take the dog out for a walk a few times a day. And it was a total change in my working style. I was not someone who sure I chit chatted and took breaks that way but I had never in my working career, taken a break literally to go outside and take a walk, whether it was raining or snowing or hot, or cold. And I really found that to be an eye opening experience for me and it’s valuable to me at any time. But certainly when you’re under stress, or you have a lot on your plate or there’s you know, 122 emails coming at you. And the last thing you think you need is to take a break right and to go outside but when you have a little puppy with his big eyes and drooling up at you to say I need to go outside, it’s a good motivator to get out and clear your head and, and get some fresh air and think about some things differently.
I think that’s great. You know, I have a few things that I normally go to when I’m feeling work stress. One of them is, when I feel my really worst, I’m sitting in the chair and I’m thinking what I’m going to do next, how am I going to handle this? I get up and I stand away from the chair. And I think about that poor person who’s got that job sitting in that chair. That’s a really tough job. I try to like distance myself from it, and try to look at it objectively, not thinking about me in that role, but thinking about as a third person, that person, me, is in a really difficult spot. What are some things that she could do to work through it? I don’t know. It’s kind of helps me try to look at it more objectively.
I love the physicalness of that right of literally standing up and walking away and looking at the chair. I think that’s very powerful.
I love it a lot. Another thing that I think I like to do is I think about when something seems overwhelming, like this is just a huge project or a huge initiative. And I think about the whole, and then I start putting it into chunks, I have to chunk it up into smaller bite sized pieces. And think about okay, I can attack this piece today. I can’t do you know, 8, 9 and 10. But I can really start working on 1, 2, and 3. And I find it very soothing. Because if I get one thing done, I feel better, now there’s only 99 more things to do. So I’m a big chunker.
You know, Susan, I do a lot of training on time management and that is one of the number one tips I provide to people only because it took me a long time to figure that out. I don’t know if you learned that early in your career, but I can remember for years thinking for example, if I had a project that I estimated would take me eight hours, I would wait until I thought I had 8 free hours. It didn’t dawn on me for a long time, which seems so silly now, but to think of that 8 hour project as eight, one hour projects or for two hour projects or whatever that might look like for you, but it was very revolutionary to me to break up a project into segments and get it done that way.
I think I was overwhelmed at an early age. So I figured that out early. What I didn’t figure out and I still have to kind of press myself to do that. If I have seven or eight different really important things to get done, is I try to run to the roar. What is the thing that worries me the most? What is the thing that seems most looming, what’s most difficult, and every single time that I run to the roar, and I do the one that’s going to be the hardest, it is so liberating. It feels so great when I get it through, but the other six or seven things, I just I have a delight doing them.
Good for you. You know, I think that time management specifically is probably A good topic for us to do a whole podcast on but thinking about your time management, but also the time management skills and practices of your people can really help to create better, healthier communications within the Office of thinking, How do I work, what’s my work style? And how do I get things done? And how can I help other people get theirs done, too?
I think that’s a great prescription for distressing, is really getting control. When you feel like you’ve got control over what you’re doing through time management, you’re not going to be as anxious or stressed.
Right, right. All right, we did have some listener voicemail, one in particular that I thought related to this healthy office communications topic. Let’s go to that per lesson.
Hi, I’m calling with an HR question. I believe it’s one anyways, I work in retail and I’m management. And I have a peer who’s also management and he has a very bad body odor issue. And I’m not sure how to address that. I know that my fight leader is aware of this. And I think it’s a very awkward topic to broach. And I was wondering if you had any advice on how to handle body odor in the workplace.
Thanks for calling. And I think this is a somewhat common issue or even, maybe not always specific to bad body odor, but sometimes it’s too bad breath or just other personal hygiene issues that we might notice about other people. And I think it goes back exactly to some of the thoughts we just gave earlier about setting expectations about stop being vague, I think. Sometimes I’ve heard people say, oh, You know, put a bar soap on their desk or a bottle of Scope, and I just cringe. We just need to be honest with people. We need to be honest with them in a way that’s showing that we care about them and we want to help them be better. If they have bad body odor, it’s very likely, even though we think it’s obvious, and we might even be talking to other people about how obvious it is an understanding that they may not realize it. They may not realize that other people can tell whether they can tell or not. They may not think other people can tell. And I know I’ve had several conversations with people on this issue over the years, but my very first time I addressed this with someone, he had a medical condition that was creating this and he had been treated for it in the past and didn’t realize it had come back. He truly was unaware, and was so thankful and appreciative that I had had that conversation with him. And so I always think of that, that I as I love this question, because it always takes me back of thinking about how I was able to help this man, where my concern was that I would feel awkward, right and right yet I was still allowing him to be awkward with other people if I didn’t address.
You know, I had a number of situations where I had to help either talk to employees who had some type of a hygiene issue, or guide managers on how to have that conversation. Obviously, who enjoys doing this? Nobody, certainly not me. I do think it’s better for the manager to do it because it’s If you bring it to HR, that employees embarrassment becomes even more magnified, because they know that their manager has spoken to HR, there’s more people talking about them. So all of you who are listening, who manage people, and you’re facing this, I encourage you to take the person aside and be kind, be thoughtful, but put it on the table. And it may be a medical issue. And if so, you know, we can give all the support in the world to go to their doctor and talk it through. But if it isn’t, you just need to set that expectation, that very specific expectation that, you know, we need you to come into work and you do need to be clean and fresh. And this has to get fixed and offer any support you can.
Right. I’ll never forget and it’s probably been over 25 years ago when I had my very first training on the concept of providing feedback or feed forward information to others. And our instructors said how dare you have Information about a person that could help them be better and you not share it with them? And that has always stuck with me because, again, and this example of body odor if they don’t realize it, and of course, you may think I’m naive about this, maybe they do know it. Maybe they’re going to the gym and coming into work and they don’t care, right? But you’re still helping them understand that it’s a concern, right, it can help them be better by sharing information with them. And we’re the selfish ones, right? If we don’t share it with them.
I love that perspective. And for this listener, I do think it’s a manager who needs to talk to her colleague. I don’t think it’s her. Now if the manager won’t, then I think it’s your personal call. The kind thing to do would be to do it.
Totally agree. Okay, moving on to our in the news section. There has been so much news lately in the paper, on TV, in articles about sexual harassment. And it seems that it’s happening not just in the workplace, but in politics. It’s happening on network television. It’s happening in small companies and global companies. And I just wanted to take a moment to encourage you, regardless of your role, whether you’re an employee, a leader or a business owner, to reconsider your policies, your reporting, guidelines, your education and knowledge on this topic as an employee, even just to encourage other people to report these issues when they’re happening. When sexual harassment occurs, it can be devastating and humiliating to the individual, of course, which is most important, but also deadly to a company’s reputation. It can create a lack of respect and trust from employees, customers. It can cause turnover. I mean, we could go on and on about all of the impacts of what can happen when this happened when this occurs, so consider what you are doing, regardless of your role to prevent harassment and handle it when it happens. And certainly let us know if we can help.
You know, JoDee, I see a lot of companies who do take it very seriously. Their training, their education, usually after an incident, you know, don’t wait till after the incident. And then I guess the other thing that I see is where they feel like it’s once and done Oh, yeah, we’ve tried all of our employees on sensitivity about harassment, but it has to be ever present. It needs to be a living, breathing, philosophy and belief. So don’t let your eye off the ball on this important topic.
So thank you to our listeners today. If you have missed any of our podcasts, you can go to iTunes and download our complete series just search JoyPowered – all one word. If you have questions on any HR topic or feedback on our podcasts, you can contact us via our JoyPowered Facebook account, or on Twitter @joypowered. You can also email us at JoyPowered@gmail.com or now we’d love for you to leave us a voicemail that we can play on the show at 317-688-1613. We love listener questions and feedback. So please tune in next time. Thank you.