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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice. With me is my co-host and dear friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, a large HR consulting firm.
Our topic today is thriving beyond a global pandemic. How can our businesses and staff members move through the emotions many have experienced – feeling unmotivated, grief due to the loss of loved ones, the emergence of new ongoing chronic conditions, loss or change of jobs, unexplained stress, re-entry anxiety, a shaken worldview, and more – all resulting in the last couple of years? How can we help ourselves and our employees choose to take the insights gained to be more grounded, resilient, and able to focus on what matters at work and in the world? In order to think through these issues, we’ve invited one of our very favorite guests – who’s one of our three-peaters, meaning that she’s been on two other episodes with us – Dr. Saundra Schrock. For those of you not familiar with Saundra and her work, let me reintroduce her. For over 30 years, Saundra Schrock held various executive positions within the financial services industry, retiring from JPMorgan Chase as Executive Vice President in charge of 3,000 branches. Today she’s the founder and CEO of Levelhead, an organization that offers a mindfulness based program designed for the workplace, delivered via a digital engagement platform. Saundra holds an MBA from Arizona State University and a doctorate in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Saundra is an avid and diligent researcher and the author of “Thriving in a Global Pandemic and Beyond.” Welcome, Saundra. Some people may be tired of talking and thinking about the pandemic. Why do you think it’s important to continue dialogue about it, especially as business and HR leaders?
You know what, I agree. People are tired of talking about it and want to put it behind us. But actually, that’s probably the opposite thing we need to do. Because most of researchers, including myself, find that the psychological impacts of the pandemic – our both collective and individual traumas – are going to be with us for some time in the future. We may not feel it immediately, but we’re gonna… it’s going to come out in many different ways.
In that research… I think we’ve all heard a lot about mental health with regards to the pandemic, but what have you really seen regarding the pandemic’s impact on our mental wellness?
Well, first of all, as I work with organizations, we begin to see… and frankly, it came from dialogue with the leaders of these organizations around… you can actually almost see it. They said, “You know what, I just feel blah. I’m just not as energized. I know I should be excited about the future, but I’m not really that excited about it.” You know? It’s like, “What’s wrong with me?”. You can almost see it on their on their face. And so as I started collecting and thinking on these kinds of things, and even in myself, we’ve all experienced these kinds of things. It’s the aftereffect. Some people – and actually a lot of the researchers – are beginning to call it something called “post-pandemic trauma,” and it’s landing people in a category along the mental health continuum called “languishing.” And I think that there’s beginning to be a recognition around some of the thought leaders in organization that mental health is not the absence of mental illness, or just mental disarray, so to speak. It actually runs on a continuum. And that if organizations begin to understand that employees are going to be running up and down that continuum, gives them the opportunity to think about how they can support them through this post-traumatic time.
As a business leader or an HR professional, what are some of the things that you might see surfacing in the workplace that might cause you to pause or think “we’ve got some impacts here that we should be supporting the individual”?
You know what, I think the number one thing is recognition that the pandemic was an individual… individual and collective kind of event, in that, for example, we all experienced it differently. And so you may know your employees as individuals. For example, when you see a little bit of a change of behavior, it might be something like somebody’s a little more snippy than they used to be, or they’re just not as energized at a meeting or they’re starting to miss deadlines. Instead of saying, “Gee, I wonder what’s wrong with that employee,” to be able to understand that this may be one of the outcomes of people working through what they’ve just experienced. While there’s not a one size fits all, there are some things organizations can do immediately, and I would strongly advise this. One is open a dialogue. Right? And you can do it gently and easily. I’ve done this with… I work with a larger county, one of the areas was the district attorney’s office, so we were trying to figure out what we could do to help them through a lot of the trauma that they individually had, plus all the people that they serve. And so we were having this dialogue around… and you could just see it in their face, it was a Zoom call, and I could see it in their faces, that they were just like this. They were, like, their hand on their chin and, like, listening to me. Now, I could take it personally and say “I must be a very boring person,” which I might have been, however, but the fact of the matter was, there was… they were just not excited about trying anything new or even having a conversation. So I stopped the conversation there and I said, “You know what, guys, I don’t know about you, are you starting to feel a little blah? I’m not excited about things. Can we just take a timeout and talk about it?” And it was funny, because the leader of that department jumped in there and said, “You know what, that’s kind of how I feel. You know, I didn’t feel like this yesterday, but I feel like this now,” and whatever. And it created this wonderful dialogue where people felt comfortable to say, you know, “I thought it was me, but it’s not.” And so number one is be able to open the dialogue. Right? And you can do that lots of different ways within an organization. You can do it individually, you can help leaders and supervisors have those conversations. You’re not trying to diagnose anything, you just want to have people be able to express what the issue is and to understand, number one, after that is that it was a collective trauma. But it was also an individual trauma. That single parent who has school-aged children experienced it different than the single person living alone. And it doesn’t mean that one was harder than the other. It just means that it’s different. You can make the argument that they had equal amount of trauma, it was just different. And I think the third thing is, once you open this dialogue… well, you all know that once you open the dialogue, you have to be prepared to do something about it. You can’t open this up and say, “Oh, wasn’t that fun, it felt like a complaint session,” or “Yeah, let’s all get down in our little pity pods and just roll around.” And we have to figure out a way to do it. And I think that’s where every solution is going to be slightly different, but they’re all going to have the same goal, which is to help employees build individual resilience.
So Saundra, one of the things I find most fascinating about all of this is when you talked about the collectiveness of it. Right? I think we can mostly all understand the individual pain and… not that we appreciate it always, but maybe understand it. But, you know, we have clients who who tell us some of their employees are really struggling with all of this – maybe they even lost a loved one due to COVID-19 – but yet, other employees who feel like the whole thing’s blown out of proportion. They don’t believe it. They think it’s been overhyped. How do we deal with that in a collective environment when there’s such strong opposing views around it?
You know what, it’s unfortunate, but I… it sounds like a simplistic answer, but it’s not… simple doesn’t mean easy, right? And the simple answer to this is to reinforce and help people hone their empathy and compassion skills. Right? And people think it’s a personality trait. And yeah, it is, to some degree. We all start with higher levels of empathy and understanding and emotional intelligence, but all of those things are skills, right? So I think if organizations can focus on not the issue of post-pandemic, but focus on those kinds of skills, then we’re willing to listen to each other, we’re willing to accept more, which starts with helping those managers and supervisors. They probably have some healing to do, as well. And one of the most healing things you can do is to feel empathy and compassion for others. It heals yourself. And it takes… doesn’t take a small amount of effort to make this happen, either, right? So it has to be done in a context where the organization is moving towards being that kind of organization. If it’s done as these one-off programs, which many people ask me to do, I don’t do them anymore. So if they want to come in and do a quick fix, if you want to do a little program, you want to roll out our digital program, fine. However, it’s not going to really get you what you’re looking for, because it has to be taken into whole context of the organization.
Yeah, great advice. How would you approach an organization that truly wants to build empathy and compassion as competencies? Where do you start? Like, how would you go about it?
That’s a great question. And most people don’t want to sit still for the planning process, right? They don’t want to sit still and go through the thinking and reflecting part of it. And so I will start with number one of reflecting on what it is you want to try to accomplish. And I would… I would begin as close to the top as you can get, right? You’re never going to get the very top, but if you can get some of the senior thought leaders in an organization… the example I gave you in a… in a county the other day that we’re working with, they have over… I think it’s over 30,000 employees or something like that. And we just got together, we knew we’re not going to get the city manager – I mean, the county manager – we’re not going to get that. But, well, we got the department heads that were interested together and said, “Let’s just talk about this. What are we trying to do here? What are you trying to do in your individual department?” So first of all, is to very practically get together thought leaders in your organization and just have an open dialogue about what’s going on. Once those… that dialogue is set up, then you can start thinking about what might be the issues. And then I would go with a collaboration with employees, right? Collaboration, not task force. We’ve all been through those things. But a collaboration where you involve employees to think about what is it that you really need, want, or see from the workplace, because if you don’t do this, what I’m also seeing is what I would call an “employee awakening.” [Laughs] There’s almost, like, a little bit of revolt in some places. Like, “Hey, I like that flexibility I had before. I like the fact that you treated me like an adult. And now you’re not going to treat me like an adult? What changed? What happened? I don’t want to go back to the way it was. The way it was was not very good.” And so if you don’t understand that’s where your employees are coming from, you’re going to end up with a very big problem on your hand. And I would also say that once you have that kind of employee collaboration, then you begin to assess where your biggest hot points are, right? Within… within an organization, what is the biggest one thing you can do that will make the biggest impact? One thing. And it might be a small thing. Might be a very, very small thing, but signal value that you can get from an organization. And that’s where, unfortunately, a lot of people want to just insert a program. And you have to really resist that for this journey of understanding.
I think that is such a good point, in thinking about people coming back to work, in that some people might think, “oh, the pandemic’s over,” but the aftereffects of this will play on for a while as people come back to the office or don’t come back to the office or are forced to come back to the office, and there gonna be a lot of feelings around that for a long time to come. How do we connect mindfulness to this, in helping us survive all of this?
Well, my own personal experience and decades of research indicates that the number one thing that an individual can develop to protect and improve their mental health is self-awareness through deep insight. Right? So once you’re able to slow the automatic processes down in your brain, that you can begin to recognize what’s going on inside of you. Once you can recognize what’s going on inside of you, then you can make a conscious decision about what you want to do about it. And that’s where mindfulness comes into. Right? Mindfulness is, you know… I probably have a more liberal definition than most people do, but I would say that mindfulness is an awareness of yourself and what’s going on outside so that you are truly in this moment, living your life. And so within that… that kind of philosophy, there’s some very basic things you can do to get there. And, you know, I’m not… I don’t complicate it. I don’t… honestly don’t think most people are ever going to do 30 minutes a day meditating. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. But that doesn’t mean they should give up. And I’ll just give you a little example… practical example personally. Like, late last year, I had a pretty severe case of COVID. I had been about as insulated as possible. I was up in Flagstaff, Arizona, I didn’t see anybody, didn’t do anything, but I broke my tooth, so I had to go into the dentist. Guess what? [Laughs] It was… ventilation obviously wasn’t that good, and so I came down with a case of COVID.
Now, thank goodness, I didn’t have to go the hospital, but it was a pretty difficult time, you know, for two and a half weeks. And so I would say there were… the thing that got me through that and gave me the strength to keep fighting were two practices that I used constantly. I kept being grateful. First, I could only come up with one thing every morning. When I would kind of open my eyes, I would come up with one thing that I was grateful for. I could take that breath, and my eyes were open. Something as simple as that. You know, some days I could… honestly could barely do that. The other thing, which is… actually is probably the one of the most basic and most powerful practices anybody could do. No one wants to hear it, because they go, “oh, that, it’s so simple, it can’t possibly work.” But what it becomes is a habit, right? It becomes a habit of living gratitude. I’m so grateful for this morning, so grateful to see the sun, I’m so grateful just to be here. The other thing, particularly around… even during the pandemic and post-pandemic, is to have in your heart a feeling of… of kindness, love, and healing. So what I would do, at the… you know, whenever I could, I could say… you know, I’d ask myself to… my body to heal, “please heal,” and send healing thoughts all through my body. I’d visualize it, then it would go to “I want to heal the people that are closest to me.” I’d send love and healing thoughts to all of them, and then I’d send it out to the world. This was a practice that would take, I don’t know, a minute, two minutes. But whenever I felt like I was at a low point, I would just do that. And you know what happened? The healing came back. And so they’re so simple, so easy to do. It just takes a willingness to accept these kinds of things can actually work.
I love it.
I just feel better hearing that. I don’t know. Makes you want to practice it, which I will. Saundra, is it possible to change our thinking and the way our brain works? With all the science that you’ve really put behind this, is it possible we can change our brain?
Absolutely, the brain can be rewired. We all know that. We’ve known that for a long time as it relates to physical kinds of things we can do. Through practice, we can physically change the wiring so that we can actually learn to play a sport, play a musical instrument. And you can actually see in the brain, when they do images of this, the reconnections that are done. What is the… probably in the last 10 or 15 years is that they demonstrated that thoughts and feelings repeatedly done can change the actual physical connections in your brain. So repeatedly feeling gratitude, love, kindness for others can actually rewire your brain to a default of being that way automatically. And particularly as it relates to stress and anxiety, is that through repeated practice of recognizing the signs that your anxiety is starting to rise, stress is starting to arise in your body, just saying, “Hmm, I think I’m starting to feel a little stressed,” to start recognizing that, you can actually slow the process down of how stress actually manifests in your body. And over time, as you do that, it creates a rewiring of your brain to slow down the stressor, the stress reaction overall, physically shown as well as to the end result mentally and emotionally. So… and it doesn’t take as much practice as you think. As a matter of fact, the research probably 15 years ago seemed to indicate – because they were studying monks, you know, all these neuroscientists that were studying mindfulness and the wiring of the brain. They were studying monks that had been meditating most of their days for 30 years, and their brains did look different. The problem was, no one was going to live a life like that, or, you know, most people won’t. As a matter of fact, then they started studying people that were long-term mindfulness practice… 30, 40 minutes a day practitioners, and they could see they actually changed their brains and all that stuff. So recently, what they’ve shown is that frequency – frequency of practice – even though the duration is shorter, can produce similar changes. So that whole research, when all that research started to emerge, that was about – coincidentally – about the time I started developing the kind of programs I do, which I target that. I target one to two to three, five minutes. Anything over five minutes, my clients tell me “too much.” [Laughs] The number one thing – and I used to take offense to this, I don’t anymore – but in all the… our programs, they would say, “Hey, what we liked most about your program is it was short.” [Laughs]
[Laughs] The good news is they’re short and effective.
And so now, I take it as a badge of honor. But the fact that they’re simple, right? So – and research shows that it doesn’t take complicated things to do. We want to overthink it just because we want to use our big frontal lobe to to help us figure out things. Right? But… but we really don’t need to. It absolutely can happen.
That’s very encouraging.
It is. And I love, you know, I just think our attention spans – mine included – are so much shorter now. So when we can… we can have some assignments or do some exercises that are short and effective, people are more inclined to do it. So Saundra, you talked earlier about identifying and/or responding to individuals or groups. How can employers take a proactive role in helping their employees with mental well-being?
You know, I think we talked a little bit about this before. It is an awareness about having different language in the kinds of things they’re doing. Right? So when you start talking to some leaders in organizations, they truly want things just to go back to the way it is, right? So using language of healing and understanding is, like, one of the number one things that I think people can do, is say – we’ve done this, you know, we did that… all that language, right? Where “we’re in this together.” You know, we’d go out… And you know, people got kind of tired of that, because it really wasn’t true. People weren’t acting on that. We weren’t really together on that. And so number one thing I would say to people, whenever you see other people, whether you’re in a group work session or you’re the supervisor or manager, start off with just a dialogue around “How’s everybody doing?” Now that sounds so sophomoric, but it’s just a basic, “How are we today? What is going on today?” and teaching people that one or two or three minutes at the beginning of anything really to interact and really listen and understand is the most powerful thing people can do. It’s anytime, not just now, but it’s especially important now.
Saundra, you recently released a book entitled “Thriving in a Global Pandemic and Beyond.” What caused you to write the book?
I started blogging about this. I think it was the middle of March of last year, and I started blogging every day, and I was starting to think about what this is going to mean and the magnitude of it. I don’t know about all of you, but I was in a little bit of disbelief, too. Can this really be happening to us? Is this how the world is going to end? [Laughs]
I mean, we all had, like, terrible, terrible thoughts, right? And so as I saw myself go down this little trail of seeing all the negative things, I go, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. What… we can’t let this happen. We’ve gotta all try to figure out ways that we can take care of ourselves.” And so as I was thinking about this, you know, I’ve spent the past five years writing and learning about practices that we can use in any environment to build individual resilience, you know, perhaps this would be a good time to do some writing on the topic around this pandemic, and something that was, you know, that hopefully we’ll never see again. Right? So that we can not lose this moment of what it meant and the opportunity to learn and grow from it. So I began writing the book, and I think it was April of that year, just started putting together the thoughts on it. And… and number one, I didn’t want it to be a book that people felt like they had to sit down and read from cover to cover and read a lot of research, because I know people… only nerds like me love to read research. Right? But I do know that people need and want to understand, Why should I do this? And they also want to be able to understand, if I’m experiencing this, What is it? Am I just a weirdo having these weird thoughts and things? Or is this something other people… And can I put a name on it? Because once you can name something, it will help you figure out how to manage it, as opposed to an unspecified feeling.
It’s not as scary. Yeah. Right.
Right. And that… to the point we talk about it within the organizations, it’s once we open this dialog, we start naming some of these things that are happening, it’s not so scary anymore.
And I find this in the university work I do a lot, so the… you know, because they’re kind of tuned to this, they’ll go, “Oh, that’s languishing. That’s what our students and faculty are doing. Okay, now we know what to do.” And so, back to the… back to the book. So I wrote it as a handbook. Right? And it’s… all books take…. It takes a lot longer. The writing was actually the easiest part, because I’m a fast writer. So the writing was fairly quickly… I would say I probably wrote it about 90 days, because when I sit down I write. But the editing and… and going through the process of formatting and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and all this stuff you do for a book, it was now getting to, we had vaccines starting to come out. Right? So there was hope and there was, like, “Wow!”. And so I wanted to make sure that the book also represented a handbook, not just during a pandemic or any sort of trauma, right? But it’s also beyond that. It’ll work anytime, whether you have something individually going on, or it’s something collective.
And Saundra, where can our listeners buy your book?
Well, you can get it all the usual places, right? Amazon. I published on BookBaby, which is a nice website, maybe people don’t know about it, but it has a lot of, like, books like mine on there. But also just something you can get it on our website, just click through on getlevelhead.com, and we have it prominently located there.
That’s great. Well, JoDee and I have had a chance both to read your book. And both of us have talked about it since then, how much we enjoy the… the practicality of it. I really do think it’s going to help individuals, and I think it’s going to help workplaces to really be more JoyPowered®. So it’s such a nice fit for what JoDee and I talk a lot about. Before we let you go, do you have one or two favorite on-the-go mindfulness practices that you would want to share with our listeners today?
You know what, I have so many of them. But I would tell you, perhaps because it’s summertime and it’s hot everywhere, is, let me… Water. All right? So water is not only good for nourishing our bodies and keeping us hydrated and all those wonderful things we know, but it’s also a powerful mindfulness exercise. So one of the things that I always do, I always have a bottle of water sitting right on my desk or in the car or wherever I am. And so every time I pick up that bottle of water, I take a sip and I actually imagine and I feel that water going down my throat, all the way through my body, through my stomach, going out into nourish and replenish the rest of it. Then I begin to visualize all the fires of whatever were emerging in my body, particularly if it’s some stress, anxiety, or whatever it is. I want to feel that water putting those embers out. And it’s so simple. I use it… I use it constantly, to do that. It’s… breathing, everybody says, “oh, take a breath.” Well, breathing is good. [Laughs]
[Laughs] You recommend it.
I like breathing.
But I would say that go-to for me for almost anything is liquid, particularly water.
Well, I bet JoDee and I both have our waters right next to us.
I am going to try it. I will try with each drink.
Well, it’s always a pleasure. I think our missions are aligned and we kind of see the workplace and we have a passion for helping people live the kind of lives they want to live, both inside and outside the workplace, so it’s always a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to be with you two.
Same here. Thank you for joining us.
We love it. Thank you, Saundra.
All right, thank you.
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Susan, our listener question today comes from someone who asked for help in her feedback survey response after listening to a prior JoyPowered® Workspace episode. Her question is, “What suggestions do you have to handle HR burnout?”
I appreciate this question, because I view HR as a high stress job. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. In many organizations, kind of as the keepers of the culture, we’re expected to always be positive, encouraging, patient, kind, sometimes the poster child of teamwork. And then let’s say on top of that, being the talent acquisition strategist, the holder of the keys to compensation, reward and recognition, an employee relations guru, a learning and development chief, etc, etc, etc. So I do have some ideas, JoDee, and I’d love your thoughts, as well, about how to avoid burnout. I’m going to say, number one, make sure you take all of your vacation and PTO time. I’ll tell you, when I worked in corporate America, I mapped out every day of vacation for the upcoming year between Christmas and New Year. I loved doing it. It was kind of therapeutic. Here’s where I’m going to be every single day of my vacation. And I’d come back to work and turn it in. They’re like, “Oh, my God, how do you know what you’re going to be doing in August?” I said, “Because I am looking forward to it.”
[Laughs] I love it. I’d also encourage you to exercise your right to disengage in the off-hours. I know it’s super hard to do, and believe me, I’m not always a good role model for this. But try to discipline yourself to use your out of office messages and let people know you aren’t checking, or maybe that you’re just checking once a day, or once over the weekend. In the absence of articulating your boundaries, you don’t have any.
That is so true. I think another thing you can do if you’re feeling burnout at work, stop and think why. You know, do a little root cause analysis. Is it that you have too much work? Are there people you could delegate to who might welcome the growth and the development? Or is it time to build a business case for your management that you need more people? Or are there things you’re still doing that maybe have a diminishing return on investment? If it’s that you feel you’re no longer learning, maybe it’s time to talk to your boss about growing or taking on more, or maybe it’s time to consider moving to a new organization with a more challenging role. Maybe you’ve hit the wall on what you can really learn where you are. And I guess the third thing, if you’re feeling burnout, maybe it’s because you’re just not feeling appreciated. If that’s the case, it’s definitely time to talk to your boss. And if it’s internal clients, maybe, that aren’t appreciating you, maybe it’s time to think about how you interact with people. Are there things that you’re doing for people that you can train them to do for themselves, or create processes where you can share the load with the client?
And one other idea is to think about ways you can upskill for the next role you want. Maybe… Do you want to go back to school? Getting SHRM or HRCI certified? Cross training with a colleague? Maybe looking at another certification program? So, looking for those other options of ways to grow and develop yourself.
We wish you well as you hopefully reinvigorate and get recharged. So JoDee, it’s time for in the news. There was an article in USA Today on May 27, 2021 by Charisse Jones about unconscious gender bias during job interviews. She cited a study that the interview platform Bright Hire conducted where they reviewed more than 2,000 actual job interviews. Let’s share what they found. First of all, when men interviewed women, they spoke 30% more words than when they interviewed men.
Interesting. When interviewing women, male interviewers dominated 60% of the conversation.
Number three, overall, men interviewers spoke 20 words per minute faster than female interviewers, and yet their interviews lasted 9% longer.
And number four, men interviewers averaged 31 minutes when they interviewed males, and only 26 minutes when they interviewed females.
Man, it makes you wonder if the females are getting that equal voice and being heard. Number five, female applicants spoke 6% fewer words when interviewed by a man than they did when the interview was conducted by a woman. Yikes. Yeah, these stats are enlightening and suggest that unconscious bias may be at play. I think we all have to challenge ourselves to understand where we have unconscious bias and do better. I think we all have a lot more work to do on this topic.
I totally agree.
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