Culture Change is a Complex Process
Make sense of it with actionable advice from experts on the front lines.
Make sense of it with actionable advice from experts on the front lines.
May 11, 2021
New York, NY – gothamCulture, founded in 2006 by U.S. Army Veteran Chris Cancialosi, is celebrating its 15th Anniversary this year. Cancialosi served in Iraq from 2003 to 2005 as a battalion operations officer and helicopter pilot. Cancialosi and the team of experts at gothamCulture work with senior leaders across industries and sectors to design and deploy organizational transformation processes creating and sustaining effective large-scale change. Since its inception, gothamCulture has evolved and adapted to the changing world of work over the past several years.
In 2019, in partnership with a long-standing federally focused training company, gothamCulture launched Gotham Government Services (GGS). GGS provides learning and performance improvement services to Federal clients such as the Veterans Benefits Administration, Army Futures Command, Department of Treasury, and Department of Energy.
In 2020, gothamCulture expanded its learning and development offerings for teams and senior leaders from fully customized learning solutions to off-the-shelf courses that can be delivered in-person or via live online.
In May 2021, gothamCulture will release its inaugural Annual Global State of Culture Report leveraging research and survey data translated into practical knowledge and tools that enable leaders to create positive organizational change.
Finally, in May 2021, gothamCulture launched a proprietary research-based performance model, and a suite of assessments for individuals, teams, and organizations. The Mosaic Performance Framework leverages decades of empirical research about what drives performance providing clients with on-time actionable insights.
gothamCulture is a certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business.
gothamCulture is a management consulting firm that draws on our associate’s comprehensive expertise and experience in the areas of culture, leadership, and people strategy to provide innovative solutions and client-service excellence. Our work is guided by our deeply held shared values, including a commitment to each other and our clients, unwavering integrity, the maniacal pursuit of excellence, relatable expertise, and authentic community. For more information, visit www.gothamculture.com.
Large global events tend to accelerate developing societal norms. In our case, the pandemic accelerated the norm of remote work. It did so in a jarring manner that required rapid adjustment, creativity, and leadership. However, in many cases, the adjustment to a virtual work environment was not meant to be permanent. Organizations are now facing the challenge of navigating the task of returning to an office environment (however that may look).
This return-to-office initiative requires special considerations in the realm of culture, people strategy, and leadership. Safety is obviously a top priority, and combining this with the logistics of returning to an in-person work environment can tend to dominate the planning process. However, leaders should complement this planning with a thoughtful people strategy to manage the cultural impact inherent to such a monumental shift back to the office. There will also be several unique elements to the “new normal” that must be factored into planning and the new people strategy.
Our new approach to work will likely entail a hybrid model that combines both in-person office work with remote work. Some teams may find themselves in the office every day, some may periodically come in, and some may never return to the office. A leadership challenge associated with this varied approach to work is ensuring fairness across the board. For example, two team members in the same role may be viewed differently for opportunities and promotions if one is remote and the other is frequently in the office. We’ve seen how well employees can function in a remote environment, but how do you control for the “in-person bias” when determining how to allocate promotions and opportunities? How can you mitigate the effects of remote workers being naturally excluded from those crucial informal collaborations that team members have in the office? These are just a few questions leaders should be considering when planning for the return to work. Failure to adequately account for these human factors can result in a degraded company culture, siloed work, and ultimately higher turnover.
But it’s not all doom and gloom!
There are certain ways to mitigate the risk these human factors pose to a company’s return to an in-person work environment (however that may look). For example, establishing a generous timeline is important to the process. Studies have shown how humans are notoriously bad at estimating timelines, and it’s important to incorporate a patience factor to reduce the friction and stress teams may feel when returning to the office. Establishing a flexible process is also important for companies that have several locations to consider in their plan. To be successful, this must also be coupled with empowering leadership at the lowest levels. Combining flexible return-to-office policies and procedures with supporting local leadership in building their own implementation plans can reduce turnover, bolster morale, and potentially uncover unique solutions that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
The transition back to an in-person work environment will look different for every organization. What is not different is how we should treat our people who have been through so much already. If you would like to learn more about managing your transition or incorporating human-centered design into your plan for a new normal, we’re here to help. This is our bread and butter, and we’re fired up about it. Contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
As COVID vaccines become increasingly available, the work world is beginning to think about the future. Most of that thinking revolves around questions rather than definitive answers at this point. What will work look like in the coming months? When might I need to go back to an office? What expectations will my employer have of me? What flexibility might exist?
Chris Cancialosi discusses these questions and tips for navigating the associated anxiety with guests Tracy Nathanson, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, relationship issues, life transitions, low self-esteem, career challenges, and stress management, Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works at Columbia University’s counseling center and maintains a private practice in NYC, and Dr. Michael J. Provitera, an executive leadership trainer and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Barry University in Florida.
Released: April 2, 2021
Return to Work Anxiety? You’re Not Alone – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript
Welcome to season 2 of the gothamCulture podcast. This season, we’ll be exploring a variety of interesting topics. But there’s one topic that seems to be top of mind for many folks nowadays, and that is the return to work. As COVID vaccines are making their way into arms, and as employers attempt to figure out what work looks like in the months to come, many people are feeling anxious about what that means for them. Now that they’ve completely adapted their lives for remote work, what if I can’t go back to the office full time? What if I don’t want to? Will my career growth be stymied as my colleagues who do go back to the office secure all the promotional opportunities? These are all legitimate questions, and many employers simply don’t have the answers at the moment. So now what?
Today I’m joined by three very special guests who are going to share their perspective on this important topic. Tracy Nathanson is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in depression, anxiety, relationship issues and stress management. She provides fresh ways to engage and talk therapy by taking your clients out of the office and getting them into fresh air, providing psychotherapy with the known health benefits and wellness benefits of being in the great outdoors, and Tracy is the founder of Pace of Mind Therapy.
Also, joining us today is Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, he is a licensed clinical psychologist from New York City who works at Columbia University’s Counseling Center and maintains a private practice in the city as well. He also serves as a consultant to businesses and organizations looking to strengthen diversity initiatives and working to improve mental health and well being of their employees. Finally, Dr. Michael Provitera, he’s an executive leadership trainer. He is also president of Motivational Leadership Training, where his focus is on improving organizational effectiveness and enhancing individual success.
During his career, he’s worked with over 1000 executives, and his executive leadership certification runs 18 hours and covers six factors of leadership. Thank you all for joining us. Tracy, why don’t we start with you? Tell me from your perspective, I mean, what is at the root of a lot of the anxiety that’s floating around for people in terms of what return to work might look like?
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
Well, first of all, I think it’s helpful to go and look at what the past year has been like for everyone. Everyone has had different experiences around COVID and quarantining. As we know, maybe 30 to 40% of adults in our country have experienced stress, anxiety, depression. So we’re starting with that baseline. People, in addition, this past year have had to adjust their schedules, their routines, there’s been a lot of unknowns, and they’re kind of been getting used to that and trying to have as much control of the routines and schedules as possible.
Now we’re throwing into this a return to work and a new transition, what is that going to look like for them? I’m hearing a lot of people feeling anxious about vaccine, no vaccine, what is the workplace going to require? Am I going to have agency and power to decide? Or is that going to be decided for me? So that alone is creating a lot of stress right now for people, what is that going to look like?
Absolutely. Thanks, Tracy. Ernesto, from your perspective, what do you have to add to that? Because I imagine that everyone’s unique, I mean, there’s a lot of different situations and people are grappling with this in different ways.
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
Yeah, I think as Tracy was saying, there is the sense of a collective trauma we all have experienced as a result of this pandemic, and we’re still experiencing, and things may be getting back to normal. But there is a lot of this anxiety and fear of what this normal is going to look like or new normal. Again, anxiety is just something that is an emotion that we all experience, and it’s a normal response to something that is a trauma. So, a lot of the things that I’m also seeing with clients or talking to people is about what will this look like in terms of just workplace setting, in terms of physical safety? If people still have to social distance, they have to wear masks. Is the vaccine going to be required or not?
I think a lot of these fears and anxieties can really have an impact on our physical health as well, and a lot of people may be coming back to work physically but may not feel grounded or centered. Because they may be worried about what is going to happen in the workplace, what kind of policies are going to be put in place, and if it’s going to be a uniform or universal policy. So there is a lot of fear and anxiety still, but also particularly for those people that maybe did contract COVID-19, and we still don’t know a lot of the effects of what this can have on people’s physical well-being and also emotional well-being.
So, what is that going to look like for people that maybe have contracted the virus and are experiencing some residual effects? If someone does get COVID-19 while they’re back at work, what does that mean for the rest of the people that are in place with their coworkers? So there is a lot of this anxiety that is normal. However, it does look differently for everyone and can have physical effects, physiological effects, and also impacts our mental health well-being.
Absolutely. Yeah, thank you for your perspective on that. Mike, you take this from a little bit of a different angle professionally as somebody who works with leaders and executives, what are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Michael J. Provitera:
That’s an excellent question. We’re looking at people that are apprehensive about going back to work, while they were always worried about how they’re going to even keep their jobs. That was the first … the first objective was, “Can I keep my job?” So they all rushed to the computer and learned how to use Zoom and became on camera shy like this, and then what happened was, everybody started to realize that they weren’t going to lose that job, and this remote setting’s not bad. Then we invented the hallway highway. So within 15 minutes, you could be showered and sitting in front of a screen like this.
Then people started to say this isn’t so bad, people are still worried about their job stuff. Many corporations and organizations are not making any drastic moves right now, they’re putting their arms around people, telling them that they love them, and that they’re not talking about letting go people even though before the pre pandemic, there was people on the chopping block, but it’s kind of reverse now. So, some people are actually having work that they’re going to continue staying home. They just say, “Your job is a remote type job.” So when people get back to the office, how are they going to feel? And that’s where the anxiety comes from, which is what we’re talking about now, people are saying, “Am I going to be able to go back to Manhattan? Is there going to be internet?”
Then when I say … for people say like on college campuses, you have to make this a unique approach where people want to go back, they feel they’re going to have beach volleyball, they’re going to be able to rub elbows with others. That’s the thing, because this thing that we’re doing right now, this electronic communication has been enhanced, because people were isolated. So we feel more intended to want to be online right now and talk. So we want to rub elbows, but we’re rubbing elbows electronically. We like it, it works, but we really want to be in front of somebody again, and in the near future we will be.
Absolutely. What I’m hearing from you all is that there are so many compounding stressors, and that it’s a chronic situation. Right? It’s not a stressor that happened in one point in time, it’s gone for a year. Ernesto, you brought this up, which I think is really interesting. It’s a collective trauma. Everyone has a frame of reference about this topic, and there’s very few things in life where everyone has a frame of reference, or a similar experience, although each person’s experience is unique. We’ve all gone through this in some form or fashion.
So, knowing that there are people in various phases of trying to move through this process in trauma, and in terms of their work life, which inevitably impacts their home life, what should people be thinking about or doing in order to help manage that anxiety? Mike, why don’t we start with you on this one?
Dr. Michael J. Provitera:
Thank you. Yes, that’s really a great question, because our whole mindset changed. In other words, for me to drive 40 minutes to the beach, all of a sudden now, do I really want to go? Do I want to spend the gas? Do I want to pay the tolls? I go out, I come back, we become accustomed to our lifestyle. The key is, a lot of us couldn’t go to gyms. I have an executive that built a gym in his garage, and I helped him. I work out at home. I can’t go to the gym, I have to make an appointment. So we have to get up, we have to walk around. It’s the intention that drives us.
So you have to say, “I intend to exercise today.” Not I’m going to exercise because you’ll find every ice cream in the refrigerator and every cookie in the cupboard. So you just say, “I intend to work out today.” And you just do it, just get up and go. It’s like the Asian mentality, is that, we intend to do something? We do it. So people are trying to break out of this new normal, which you can’t really say that anymore because it’s almost over. I’m writing about post pandemic recovery. We’re almost there. If you look at, like say a milestone, look at the cruise lines. If the cruise line jumps in June, we’re pretty much almost back to normal. If it doesn’t, then we’re still back into the remote thinking of when is it [inaudible 00:10:14] So, Disney opened. Now, is Disney going to open the cruise line?
So, these things that we’re thinking about, people taking off masks, masks not being mandatory. All of these things are psychologically making us change. So that physical ability that everyone’s talking about here, and being able to exercise and exercise our mind, think about mindfulness, meditate, we can’t stop doing what we always did just because of a pandemic, we have to reinvent ourselves and find new ways, novel ways of approaching life. I don’t want to promote myself, but I’ll just say, “I wrote a book with my daughters because it was about the pandemic, because they were feeling so much stress. That book has help them deal with their own stress.” Thanks for giving me the opportunity to go first on that one. That’s a tough one.
Yeah, I mean, these are really complex issues, and everyone’s got their own unique reality and experience here. I know that the question I’m asking is very broad. Ernesto, from your perspective, what should people be thinking about, and how might they help manage this anxiety that they might be feeling?
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
Yeah, I think a really wonderful question and important topic to consider. One of the pieces that I tend to think about when talking to people that are having these anxieties and worries is, increasing the awareness around just what anxiety is, and how it can manifest differently for everyone, knowing more about how it comes up for you, and also finding some practical skills to be able to manage the anxiety, whether it be mindfulness skills, like Mike had mentioned, but also rebuilding these new cognitive connections to work, having time to reflect on what has changed in the last year, getting organized, creating to do lists when you’re out work, to be able to help you stay organized as on track, setting up priorities, setting up different weekly goals.
But I think there needs to be a sense of reflecting on what has happened and what has changed, and also just looking at how we can come back and ease our way into the workforce, into the workplace, and also keeping it in mind, being mindful of our anxiety and how it’s manifesting within each of us so that we can find things that can help us reduce that anxiety or the intensity of it.
Absolutely. Tracy, I want to get your input on this, but something you said, Ernesto struck me, question for all of you to consider is, is it appropriate for people to position this reality as “back to normal,” or is it healthier, perhaps for us to acknowledge that what was in the past will no longer be necessarily and to begin to framing our mental process around the possibility of the new? So Tracy, I know I’m hitting you with two questions here, but I’d love your perspective on that.
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
Well, thank you, I think that’s a really good active reframe. Return to a new normal, this is going to be different, just like working during the pandemic was different. This is going to be a transition, it’s not going to happen overnight. Each workplace is going to be very different, some may be hybrid, some may be remote, some may require you to go in full time. So each one is going to be very different. I think healthy communication in the workplace is going to be incredibly and being transparent, and normalizing this level of anxiety and stress that everyone may be feeling. So that it’s okay if you’re not feeling well, talk to your boss, talk to your supervisor, to really be transparent and know that it is okay and that everyone’s going to be experiencing that at a different level.
Because I think that’s going to look different than before, and that type of communication of what’s going to work in the workplace. So I think that is going to be incredibly important. And as Ernesto said also, there are going to be people that have had COVID, we’re seeing some research now that may be one in every three people may have long lasting neurological or psychological effects that may be invisible, we may not see. So they may be going back to work, and then those who haven’t had COVID may have had a family loss, so they may be mourning or grieving. They may have experienced job uncertainty, they may have been isolated, feeling really lonely.
So there are going to be many kind of stresses and experiences that they have had that may be invisible, so to speak, that they are going to be bringing into the workplace, and we really do want to normalize that experience for them and really create an opportunity in this new workplace, I mean, environment for people to be able to talk about it, share these concerns with each other, with their supervisors, and feel okay with that.
Yeah, thank you for that perspective. What’s striking me as I’m listening to the three of you is, there are things that people can do in terms of reframing, in terms of actual tactics that they can use to help kind of, in my words, not yours, take some control of the situation. I’m curious, from your perspective, at what point should someone say, “Jeez, I’m really not dealing with this in a healthy way, I really need to go out and get some external support.” What are the warning signs that someone should really be tuned to? Ernesto, why don’t we ask you to kick this one off?
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
Yeah. Some of the warning signs could be just looking at our sleep and appetite. Those are usually some of the places that we begin to see some changes in our well being when we’re under a lot of stress or anxiety or not feeling well. Additionally, there’s also the sense of looking at how you’re feeling in terms of, are you feeling happy? Are you feeling anxious? Are you doing things you enjoy doing? Are you losing interest and motivation? When you begin to notice maybe a decline in some of these things that did bring you happiness, pleasure, or excitement, and they’re not there anymore, and you’re spending a lot more time just worrying, thinking about things that have happened, I think those could be considered warning signs that maybe it could be helpful to talk with a professional or seek outside support.
That could also come in the way of just making sure you’re talking to people in your life, friends and family. Social support is really important. I think perceived social support is particularly important, that we may receive support, but if we don’t perceive it as helpful, then it’s not really support. So I think in some ways, making sure that we’re reaching out to people, when we’re noticing that we’re just not feeling ourselves. Again, that could be more of these day to day things like sleep and appetite. Just kind of, if our minds are preoccupied, and not being able to stay in the present moment, or just a reduction in our happiness, in our mood, can be some warning signs.
Absolutely. Thank you for that, Ernesto. Mike, again, from your perspective, you come at this from a little bit of a different lens, working with executives, what are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Michael J. Provitera:
Well, there’s one way to think about this from my perspective, and that is, following what Tracy and Ernesto are mentioning, it’s like an emotional intelligence. So, people have to be self aware, and then there’s the psychological component, what’s their attitude? What’s their moods like? Are they staying up late? Are they sleeping less, because of this pandemic, watching movie? Whatever it is, entertainment, what are their beliefs and underlying beliefs of the recovery. You had mentioned about the new normal, there really is no new normal, it’s the future, it’s whatever happens.
Organizations maybe little bouncing balls and couches, and people may only go to the office in teams, and they may stay home, and they’re taking desks out of offices now, they’re changing real estate. Then there’s that self-regulation component. We talked about the psychological and then the physical components of the exercise, people are becoming more sedentary, or some people are getting into a regimen of exercise. Those things are very important. I do certain things every day, it’s like a COVID habit. But if I was going to challenge myself, they are not much. Running around the block is nothing, but my brother in law could run 12 miles in one time. Right? So everyone’s going to look at the world differently.
Then there’s that regulation, looking at how are you regulating yourself, are you exercising? Are you eating well? Then we have empathy, right? So once we get through emotional times, once we control our own empathy, then we could look at how we’re controlling our own emotional intelligence. Then that social skills comes into play. Being in this kind of environment, we’re at level playing fields. I have all the respect in the world for you, Chris, Tracy, and Ernesto, but think about if we’re in a meeting of 250, and the CEO has a little box just like I do. I respect him. I have respect for authority figures, but when I get to talk, I may be on the screen just like he is. Or she is.
So, we have this whole new way of thinking. This way of trying to break away from our own internal thoughts that are holding us back, what are we oppressing ourselves with? I have friends that say, “Well, you have your two daughters, I’m alone.” There’s other people that are saying, “I’m alone with somebody, I don’t want to be alone with.” Or there’s somebody who would say, “It’s hard for me to meet people. I just turned 21, and I can go out to the bars but there’s no bars to go to.” It’s just relaxing with yourself and understanding that this is a time for you to reflect, improve whatever you want to work on, and then channeling that energy into writing or taking up a guitar or whatever you wanted to do, art, channeling those energies into things that are productive.
So when the pandemic is over, you’ll come out with new muscles and new ways of thinking, and you could now look at the world in a new perspective, looking at what did you do during the pandemic, did you create anything? Well, this is what I created. I was talking a little bit about people taking a year off before going to graduate school. Well, then what are you doing? Are you volunteering? Are you helping others so that … that empathy to help. Coming from Tracy and Ernesto, and they’re in the business of helping, and you’re helping right now by running this podcast.
So, imagine the people that we help that help others and the trickling down effect, you try to help those above you, help those below you, and then hope that people want help. Because some people do not want help. Ask an 18 year old, if they want help, they’re going to say no, but when they come to you, you better roll up your sleeves and help. Thanks, thanks for giving me the chance [crosstalk 00:21:14]
Yeah, thank you for that perspective, I can say that, personally, I tried to make the most of my COVID experience, but I’m a really fortunate person that’d be privileged to live in an area where I’m not in a very densely populated area, I can go outside, but I did master the art of smoking a barbecue brisket over COVID. So I feel like I put that time to good use. Tracy, from your perspective, you’re working with clients all the time, and undoubtedly, COVID is a part of your work, because it’s such a part of everyone’s experience. What point should somebody really be saying, “Hey, I think I really need to reach out for some professional support here?”
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
That’s a really good question. Are we talking about that in terms of working, what the work life looks like, and trying to balance it and feeling that stress? Or the anticipation of going into the office? Or just in general? When you ask that question, I’m curious.
That’s a really good follow up question. When I had asked it, I was originally thinking in general, kind of what are the signs that someone could say, “Hey, I really need to think about this.” But if there’s a different way to approach that, I’m certainly open.
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
Well, so there are people and individuals who have been living alone, working remotely, feeling incredibly isolated. This has been a very challenging time for them. So when I work with them, we really do talk, as Ernesto spoke about assessing the quality of life. They’re eating, they’re sleeping, ruminating thoughts, what they’re thinking about, are they able to reach out to friends and family and talk to them, because that is very, very important. I keep going back to isolation and feeling lonely, because there are young adults who live alone, and then there are plenty that are living with their families too, and that is very stressful.
So this has been a very interesting time for us. But I think for those, as Ernesto had spoken about before, if they’re really seeing a change in their eating, and they’re sleeping, and enjoying pleasurable activities, they’re ruminating a lot, they’re really worrying, then that’s time, you talk to a professional to reach out to a family member or a friend, to share your concerns, to feel validated, to feel that you’re not alone, because it really isn’t a singular experience, it’s really is a collective trauma. It’s a collective loss, we have all experienced some type of loss, loss of our freedom, loss of our routines, of our schedules, of predictability.
I think moving forward in transitions, people can be very vulnerable. I think we’re going to still be grappling with that transition and what that looks like in terms of that predictability and not knowing for a while, that’s going to be very, very challenging for many people.
Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for that perspective. We’re going to take a quick break right now, when we come back, we’re going to flip the script a little bit. We’ve been focused on employees experience and people in general, I’d like to flip the script when we come back and talk about employers, and how our employers, number one, working through this, and number two, how can employers think about supporting and proactively supporting their employees through this transition? So we’ll be right back.
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Welcome back everybody, this is Chris Cancialosi, and I’m joined today by three fantastic panelists, Tracy Nathanson, Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa and Dr. Michael Provitera, we’ve been talking about the anxiety and the collective trauma that people have been going through over the last year with this COVID pandemic. As we’re getting shots in arms and people are beginning to look forward to what the future may hold, there is some level of anxiety beginning to creep into people’s realities around, what does work look like in the future? And what is my life going to be like, now that I’ve completely up ended my existence and recalibrated to the pandemic reality?
So, what I’d like to do at this point everyone is, flip the script just a bit and talk about employers and organizations, because employers are not immune to this reality. They are at some point in their journey, trying to figure out what will the future hold for work? Are they going to go back to an office full time? Are they going to … as some organizations are doing just say, “Hey, we are fully remote from here on out?” Or is there something in between?
All of these decisions or lack of decisions impact the people that work in their organizations, which can obviously lead to anxiety and stress. So, from an organizational perspective, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on what should employers be mindful of as they are, A, developing their plans, and B, communicating and interacting with their workforces? Ernesto, why don’t we start with you?
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
I think in terms of the employer side, it is a difficult challenge right now to think about what we’re going to be expecting or anticipating. But it can be helpful to just consider the effects that the pandemic has had on all of us and their employees. So thinking about the individual worker circumstances as they come back, thinking about flexibility in terms of schedules, in terms of mental health benefits, or other access to health services, even childcare services, just because we’re all returning back to work, does not mean that other things are open, like schools, hopefully they do stay open.
But I think considering individual needs for their employees, and making sure that their employees are feeling supported, that the employees also know what are the policies, who can they go to if the policy maybe does not apply uniformly to all of them? I think individual supervisors can be very helpful in this regard, in being go to individuals, of understanding policy and being able to advocate for their employees as well. But I think in some ways, it’s just making sure that employers are considering how best to support their employees and thinking about not only the productivity with work, but also the well-being of their employees that are back in the office.
Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for that. Tracy, from your perspective, what are your thoughts on that, and what can employers be doing, or what should they be thinking about?
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
I was also thinking about what that workday schedule is going to look like, and how important it will be to be able to take mental health breaks, to walk around a little bit, get outside, get some water, because adjusting to that work environment, again, in those hours, when had more flexibility working from home or remote locations, that may be very emotionally and physically exhausting. I think that’s going to be important to discuss that in the workplace and what that break is going to look like to be able to-
Yeah, so giving people the space and kind of permission to readapt because now going back to an office is abnormal for people in their life experience
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
Exactly, and we haven’t even talked about the commuting and what that transportation looks like, whether they’re taking public transportation, and the stress that goes with that and being around other people, or if you’re driving and again commuting. So that’s a whole other level, putting that into your day, and what is that going to look like? [crosstalk 00:30:09]
Absolutely. Yeah, and I certainly want to circle back on that. Mike, I want to hear your perspective on this before we jump to that, though. So, what should employers be keeping top of mind as they’re trying to figure this out?
Dr. Michael J. Provitera:
Well, executives in the C suite, they changed, they’re actually more authentic now. It used be, they start a meeting and everybody has their information, and they just thought, “Boom, here’s the meeting.” Now, they open up the meeting and say, “How is everybody doing? Are you feeling okay?” They hear dogs in the background, they hear people. When the pandemic first came, I was cooking, I showed a video, so they came into my kitchen, right? So, people are actually seeing things happening that they never had before. The corporations and the executives are accepting that, and they really care.
So, you’re looking at building better relationships with your bosses, with your colleagues, even though we’re remote. And how this is going to be in the future is what we’re thinking about, modeling this new communication, we may still have Zoom, we may still have work, we may have reduced work weeks, we may have people not going back like I mentioned, but they may want to go back and there’s people that do not want to go back, but they have to go back. So, we’re looking at this, treating each person the way they would like to be treated. So the golden rule is, I treat people the way I want to be treated. Well now, I think it was Tony Alexander, some pop psychologist said, “Treat people the way they want to be treated, the way they want to be treated is the Platinum Rule.”
Get into the flow, get in sync with people, find out where they are, and what they’re doing. I mean, people very rarely care. Now they have to, they have to care. Some people are working from home but their children are home, so they have to cook meals and be there with their children, but still work. So now they’re developing this new work style, where they’re opening up this emotional contact with people as, if you need help, if you want us to adjust something … we used to talk about the four day week, now we’re talking about the two day week, the no day week. Right? Then people that are home, it’s so funny, organization to seeing people work 12-hour days, you get up at nine o’clock, you might be working till 9:00 PM, maybe you took a four hour lunch, and organizations are accepting all of this.
This is the interesting point that we’re looking at going into the future, organizations are accepting you as you are, not as they would want you to be. That’s that flow, and security. As Tracy mentioned, security is so important. If I know I’m going to keep my job, I’m going to work 10 times harder, if I feel that I might lose my job, I may work 20 times harder, because I don’t want to lose it. But that’s the stress Dr. Ernesto is talking about, that Tracy is talking about. We’re feeling so much pressure on our back. We need to have convertible cause, put the convertible back and let all the monkeys fly off our back.
Thank you for that. So what I’m hearing from all of you is, it sounds like there is no one size fits all solution for employers, we as employers need to be taking into account individual needs and differences, which sounds like a great leadership challenge for direct supervisors, as opposed to a CEO trying to make a sheep dip solution for everyone-
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
Can I interject a second?
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
I was just going to ask a question about the boundaries and the roles that have been blurred during this time, and how do we reestablish that. If you see me and I’m working, and I’ve got the dog in the background, and this, how do we go back to the workplace now? People got to know us better, boundaries have been blurred, how do we reestablish that or we don’t or there’s a new kind of normal? I’m just curious about that.
Dr. Michael J. Provitera:
Well, I would say that, you have to develop a high self esteem. I hate to look at movies, but I do it all the time. Look at the Godfather. When the cat came across, Marlon Brando grabbed him and went like this, “Everybody got the cat was part of the scene, but it wasn’t.” All of a sudden a dog comes by, we pick up a dog. “Hey, meet Buddy.” So we have to have a higher self esteem, feel good about ourselves on the screen. The way we look, the way we feel, the way we communicate. This is all changed now.
Before pre pandemic, I wouldn’t want to go on the screen. I don’t know, now you have to. So, what Tracy’s talking about is, we’re accepting people, we’re getting to know people more. There’s positive things that are coming out of this pandemic, really positive. People are saying, “I love you.” I could say, “Chris, I love you for doing this.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Pre pandemic, people might say, “We shouldn’t be talking about love at work.” That’s an interesting perspective that we’re taking here.
It sounds like everyone’s going to need to do a little learning and a little realignment, because everything has been shaken up. Ernesto, what are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
Yes, I do definitely think about all the distractions that we all may have and have maybe adapted to, and how they may feel strange. I’ve gone back into an office, just to work and it just feels so different, even though I’m not with anyone, just myself. Just getting up and doing the routine that I was used to doing feels so different and strange, and that’s going to take some adjustment in terms of that piece, but also the boundaries.
Something else that was coming to mind about employers and organizations is considering, again, the pandemic, but also what has happened in the last year, and how there’s a lot of health disparities and the pandemic has shed some light into health disparities for Black and Brown individuals, and also for people in the LGBTQ community, how they have been disproportionately impacted by either job loss, coming sick with COVID, or maybe working in jobs where they’re considered essential workers.
I think that’s something that is important to consider for employers, especially as they bring back employees of diverse identities, and one, making sure that they are accounting for how these disparities and these impacts in the pandemic may also be impacting their employees, what are the messages being conveyed about the well being of employees that maybe are of color, or are part of the LGBTQ community, making sure that they are also being considered and that it may be different for some of these individuals, the stress may be higher for some of these communities.
Thank you for bringing that up, and that really leads to my next question around inclusion and equity. Everyone’s coming from a different background. Some people are already historically before COVID, dealing with stressors based on their personal situation that others are not dealing with, COVID only adds on top of that, stacks on that, from my perspective. I’m curious, how can employers be intentional about not only understanding that and acknowledging it, but really being able to proactively address some of that. I mean, there’s so many individuals situations. As an employer, what do we do? Ernesto, why don’t you kick us off since you brought that up?
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
Yeah, no problem. I think in some ways, it comes down to the organizational culture, and looking at just, what does diversity look like in the workplace in terms of people that are in managerial positions, supervisor positions? And seeing if there are opportunities for people that are not part of the majority to make it more diverse, additionally, making sure that there are benefits that are extended to individuals that may have different health care needs, and making sure that these are in insurance benefits, things like that.
I think there also could be some more emphasis on providing more workshops or presentations or other resources for individuals in the company to know more about, what are some of the unique stressors that some of these communities may be experiencing and how it translates into their identity at work, there is a professional identity and also personal identity. One of the unique things about, I think, stress is, there is a minority stress theory that just states that, “On top of everyday general stressors, people with minority identity experience additional and unique stressors to their minority identities.” So in some ways, it’s like a double whammy.
So just being aware that sometimes these things are different for individuals that are having minority identity can be useful for employers, and just thinking about how does that actually translate into our organizational culture? How are employees impacted similarly, but also differently, and what can we do to make sure we’re meeting their needs as well?
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
I think we want to destigmatize … I’m sorry. I think we want to destigmatize mental health and getting those resources and that access as well for that.
It feels like if there was ever a time for employers to be intentional and be thoughtful of the differences that people are bringing to the workplace with them, it feels like now is that time, with all of the social awareness and work going on in our communities over the last couple of years, on top of it COVID. Mike, you alluded to this earlier, it feels like the general culture in the United States, and it’s a huge sweeping overgeneralization is one of trying to be intentional and learn about the differences that people are bringing into work, and I’m sure some will be better positioned to actually serve as allies to their employees than others. But Mike, what’s your perspective on that?
Dr. Michael J. Provitera:
Well, I think it was Al Pacino that said in Any Given Sunday, “If we can’t work together as a team, we fail as individuals.” What organizations are doing for people of all different types of walks of life and making sure that they’re promoting them, that they’re accepting them, that they’re acknowledging them, we never want to disparage any kind of benefit or anything. So, whenever I talk to somebody, I’m always saying, “Your husband or your wife, or your significant other, or your partner, you throw them all in.” Because if I’m sitting somewhere and someone says something like that, I don’t want to get offended, and I don’t want to offend anyone.
So the executives in the world have been very careful of what they say, and they’re being very careful with what they do. So, they’re joining Big Brothers, and they’re going out to the community. Each one of us, every executive, every business manager, every business woman, everyone is trying their best to make sure and ensure that they’re giving back to the community in some way. We try to tell people not to carry any excess pressure on your back. There’s a story about a frog and a scorpion that came to the river at the same time, the scorpion said to the frog, “Listen, I see you’re about to cross the river, can I jump on your back and you deposit me on the other side?” The frog said, “No, you’re going to sting me.” Then scorpion says, “No, if I sting you, then I’ll drown, and you’ll drown, and I’ll die.”
So according to the story, the frog says, “Jump on.” They hop on, halfway across the pond that, the frog gets stung. He turns to the scorpion and says, “Wait a minute, why would you do this? Why would you sting me and die, we’re both going to drown and die.” After they came back the third time, scorpion says, “Because I’m a scorpion, and it’s my nature to sting frogs and kill them.” We have to get rid of anybody that’s negative in the workplace. It’s like a cancer. If somebody is a scorpion in the workplace, we have to not tolerate that behavior. Organizations and executives are now saying, “We’re not tolerating that.”
So we need to accept all diversity, accept everyone where they are, where they’re coming from, whatever zip code, whatever type of nationality, no more stigmatized ways of thinking, we have to eliminate that. That’s where the organizations are going in the future. The ones that are not, are going to fall short, and they’re going to lose people. I write about the no jerk policy. A lot of organizations say, “If you’re a jerk, we don’t want you anymore.” When did they ever say that? Well, they’re saying it now. So they hire people and they have a no jerk policy. Then if they find you’re a jerk, they get rid of you. They can literally say, “You failed, I know jerk policy, you’re a jerk, you’re gone.”
That’s one approach. On this topic, what comes to mind for me is, wow, this is really going to be a challenge for employers, because, A, many of them are not used to thinking about individual needs as much as their organizational needs, and number two, even if at their best, there are bound to making mistakes. So, what’s the secret to success here? What is the secret element that’s going to get us all through this in a productive and healthy way? Tracy.
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
I was just thinking about community, Mike, when you were talking about before, and people who live in communities, where they look after each other, care about each other, have each other’s backs, their sense of well-being, they feel really good. So, I think feeling in your work community that it really is community, and again, normalizing our feelings, really de stigmatizing mental health needs, sometimes we’re in a culture where people don’t want to reach out for help, but letting people know that that’s okay offering those resources, because there may be organizations now that really don’t have access to even to online behavioral health resources that are there, letting people know, making sure multi language that it’s available for diverse communities, and that that is available and that it is really …
So, having those conversations, but I like the feeling of community because during this time when I was working from home I was looking for whether it was through yoga or other things I did, that sense of community not feeling alone, feeling that we could share our issues and problems. I think when we go back into the workplace, that community is going to look different, and there is going to be that emotional mental health well-being, that’s going to be very important.
Ernesto, I’d like to give you the last word on this one. I mean, employers are going to be having challenging time, they’re going to make mistakes. What’s it going to take to get us through this?
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
Yeah, I think this is really an opportunity to be able to take all of these things, and while they may be challenging, there’s also opportunity for growth here. Reenvisioning, reimagining the way that we can all maybe come back and do things a little differently. I tend to look at this more from the perspective of, there’s a lot of opportunities here. It may be difficult and challenging, but we can all get through this together, and maybe try some things that are different, taking into account that this pandemic has really forced us into considering things that maybe we weren’t thinking about before in the workplace.
But especially think around just all these changes that, this is the time where we get to make some changes and bring in more people into the fold and making these decisions to build that community, that these decisions will not only impact the individual, but also the organization as a whole. So, it has benefits for everyone involved, and taking into account these individual differences, that actually will have very significant impact, positive impact on these workplaces and organizations overall.
Thank you for that. Thank you for that. I have one final question for you all, and it’s a question I ask all of my guests, regardless of topic. Mike, I’d love to kick this one off with you. What have I not asked you today that I should have?
Dr. Michael J. Provitera:
Well, I think that the one thing that we could have talked about more is this resistance to change. People do not want to change, they’re failing to embrace new ideas and new changes that will help them, help the community, help the society, help their organizations. When organizations are trying to develop this tacit knowledge that people have that they don’t want to talk about, or they don’t even know subconsciously they have it but they want to talk about. Then there’s that turf war where someone brings something up, they say, “Don’t bring that up.” Or they say something to the executives, and they think the executives do not act on it, but the executives did act on it, but they didn’t tell the people.
So there’s all these different issues that we face. The one thing that we have is that, people are always worried about their next career, instead of focusing on the career that they have now, we cannot create the future and worry about what’s going to happen until we cross that bridge when we get to it. We have to say hello to the goats until we get across the bridge. So, let’s not worry about our next career, let’s worry about a current career and our current organization, and how we could all get back to working to promote our organizations to be successful, so we all keep our jobs.
Then as we make these decisions that impact not only us, but everyone, then we make the right decisions. Because as executives, we’re making decisions not only for the corporation, or our employees, but the customer, the stakeholders, the grandma, whoever it is, their children, we have to make the right decisions, and we have to really think about that. Then the emotional component? Yes, we have to make sure we’re letting people know that we’re here to help you if you have a concern. Almost every organization has some way of getting help, and now it’s second nature to say, “My therapist gave me the advice that I should.” Which we wouldn’t say that in the past. It’s okay.
We’ve to think, if you need a tax advisor, you go to a tax expert. If you need stress reduction, you go to an expert, like Ernesto or Tracy, and you talk to them about it. And you say, “Look, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety right now.” Then people will know, they say, “We know you’re feeling anxiety, so is the rest of the world. We have to cope, we have to look at what we’re doing, how can we help ourselves and others and the people around us.”
Thank you, Mike. Tracy, what are your thoughts? What should I have asked you that we didn’t talk about today?
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
I’m thinking maybe about the vaccine and what that looks like for people and going back to work, and how stress-inducing that is for people. What the workplace requirements are going to look like, are they going to mandate it? Are they not going to mandate it, and if they don’t, am I going to be working next to someone who has it, who doesn’t have it? And the inequity in terms of the access to it, some people aren’t able to get it. Some people because of their beliefs, they don’t want to get it.
So there’s a lot going on around the vaccine and the return to workplace. So that’s maybe something that … as I think as the days and months go by, maybe we’ll get some more clarification, or wherever you work, that policy, you’ll have a better understanding. But everyone has a different relationship to the vaccine. So I think that’s really very stress-inducing for people and also their power of agency and being able to make that choice, and will that be taken away from them if their workplace requires them to do that?
Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:
How are they going to feel about that?
Yeah, no, thank you. I think that’s a really important point. Ernesto, final word, what should I have asked you that I didn’t?
Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:
Yeah, I think in some way we were talking about this, maybe that is directly but the rule I think of mental health in the future of work place [inaudible 00:50:00] organizations. I think particularly, we as clinicians have seen an increase in people reaching out for help during the pandemic, and how many of us are also feeling overwhelmed, because we’re also going through this in addition to everyone else, but also just the usefulness and making sure that we are including mental health professionals in these conversations and discussions, particularly as organizations are thinking about revamping and reworking and making changes, that there could be such an added benefit of just having me think of individuals to consult with or have these conversations with someone.
Just best practices or just throwing around ideas of what could be helpful for everyone, but just acknowledging that a lot of us in the mental health field are actively also working through this ourselves and trying to figure out how do we continue to have conversations around mental health, because it is important, and it is something that is impacting all of us.
Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks to all of you for your perspectives. This has been a fantastic discussion. I feel like we’ve just begun to scratch the surface, and there’s a lot of depth that we could dive into, and a lot of these different areas around equity and inclusion and around vaccine, and this is a moving target. So, Tracy, Ernesto, Michael, I really appreciate you spending time with us today. Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives.
If you’d like to learn more about our guests from today’s episode, be sure to check out the episode notes. If you enjoyed today’s episode, we welcome you to check out some of our other content, and be sure to take a moment to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the great conversations we have slated for season two.
Perhaps the most important skill a leader can have is to engage in timely, appropriate, and ultimately successful conversations with others.
So often things get in the way. It might be that we are uncomfortable with the other person or the subject is something that we have been avoiding. Sometimes it is just our own reluctance or what we project to be the resistance of the other individual. And it could well be that we have spent so much time coming up with our own script and arguments prior to engaging in conversation that we forget the goal of any interaction is connecting with another.
Whether it’s a coaching moment, a periodic review, or a status check on a project, the best approach for a leader is to create a container of communication and trust with another. We achieve that by focusing our effort on understanding the person and working to appreciate their viewpoint. We can do that by forfeiting our innate desire to respond to the other person with our own perspective or argument.
In other words, the best approach is to have the planned outcome to be that of merely learning about the other. That intent helps us join with someone. Initially, the vehicle to achieve that is completely one-sided, with a commitment on our part of not using that time to present our own thoughts or opinions. It may seem counterintuitive, perhaps because it is not commonly used in today’s conversations. Read More…
Organizational culture – that all-encompassing and always elusive aspect of organizational functioning that impacts and guides everything that happens or fails to happen within a group. It affects every aspect of our daily lives and interactions at work whether we are conscious of it or not. Whether we like the results or not. This omnipresence can make the topic of organizational culture a lot for people to try to wrap their heads around let alone change. If we think about the topic of organizational culture simply as “the way work gets done”, it can seem like a near impossibility that it can adapt and change.
Difficult, yes. Impossible, no. Any number of internal or external factors can shape the culture of an organization at varying rates. Catalysts such as mergers and acquisitions, adoption of new technologies, the transition of a key leader or leaders, new government regulations, or an unanticipated global pandemic can all force people to adopt new behaviors to adapt the way work gets done in order to survive and compete. Read More…
There are very few experiences in the world that everyone shares. What makes these situations so powerful is a shared experience that everyone can relate to. Although our individual experiences in these situations are unique, we share a powerful commonality centered around a key event.
These experiences are powerful for us both as individuals and as a community. They can reshape the way we look at the world and our place in it. They can make us rethink the way we get work done or the way we live our lives. And they can create quite a bit of uncertainty and even anxiety around what the future will look like.
As we have collectively adapted to the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all had to evolve our behaviors in life and at work to adapt and thrive. For those fortunate enough to have not lost their jobs, or worse, they undoubtedly had to make significant changes to the way they accomplished their work in order to stay productive and competitive in this new operating environment. It was tough. It took a lot to figure out how to be successful in this new work scenario. It made us learn to flex new muscles. But, in the end, we did it. And now this “new” way of working has even, dare I say, become comfortable. Read More…
The world of office work changed in March of 2020. The question is, did it change forever – and more precisely – for good? I have experienced a number of webinars and scanned more than a few articles in recent months that have declared the office as we know it as dead.
“It’s gone and will never return again,” is the gist of what I have heard.
I’ve been on the planet long enough to know that any declaration filled with such certainty is bound to be either wrong or only partially right, depending on your viewpoint.
To be sure, the workplaces we knew in early 2020 will likely not return as we knew them. But then again, the offices of 2010 never came back, did they? Nor did those of 2000, 1990, or 1980. Having the memory of the “ancient world” of offices pre-computer, I can tell you that none of us – including me – would recognize the world of typewriters, carbon paper, and even dictation machines that were part of the office years ago. A 200-baud fax machine was state-of-the-art back then!
To be sure, in spite of the tragedy and challenges of the past year, there have been great advances in science and in the technology of communication. The various video platforms we now routinely utilize have improved on bandwidth, fidelity, and functionality by leaps and bounds. And many of those who were reluctant to use such technologies have embraced them and now see them as essential tools of communication. So, to that degree, we have seen a significant shift in how we communicate – and that is a good thing. As one of my Boston Executive Coaches colleagues notes, “It serves a purpose in a time of need.” Read More…
If we were to ask leaders of organizations around the world what was the most disruptive event or thing to have happened in 2020 that impacted their business, the overwhelming majority would point their fingers towards COVID-19 and the pandemic. However, disruption is a tale as old as time and an inevitable part of any maturing organization’s life cycle. One of the key antidotes to surviving the disruption that was 2020, is the same as it has always been: A strong, healthy organizational culture.
Before we get into that, I’d first like to ground the word disruption into something more tangible. Disruption is not always a world-wide pandemic pushing organizations to pivot to remote work and to adjust to rollercoaster-like fluctuations in the economy. Disruption can be a natural change in the markets, it might be a change in an organization’s structure, a merger or acquisition, a change in leadership, or even a change in strategic direction. If you are a five-person team, disruption can be losing or gaining a single team member.
While there are different approaches to managing change, one thing experts seem to agree on is that it is hard. Regardless of its nature, managing change requires a significant amount of attention and resources. It creates instability and fear for people within the organization, and if it is not tended to, it can negatively impact the change process, leading to its doom. Read More…
When I served in an Army tank battalion we were taught marksmanship; first at stationary targets, and later, at moving ones. In the classroom, we learned that if the target was moving left or right you had to aim a bit ahead in the direction it was traveling in order to hit it. As we transitioned to ranges with actual moving targets, we had to compensate for vehicles that might be maneuvering at what then seemed like incredible speeds, sometimes as high as 30 mph.
The best marksmen and tank gunners were those who fired an appropriate distance ahead of the vehicle. We called it “Leading the Target.” The finest gunners would apply mental feedback loops to compensate for windage and smoke. Initially coached by experienced tank gunners, they asked themselves a hundred questions and later developed shortcuts for answering them. Today we call those shortcuts heuristics. Others call them intuition. Either way, all are based on gathering information and awareness about one’s environment and then making meaning of it.
Targeting and marksmanship are metaphors often associated with leadership and business. “Right on target,” “Straight-shooter,” or “Bull’s eye” are not uncommon terms thrown about in corporate settings. But “Leading the Target,” has often drawn blank stares from my colleagues. It shouldn’t. Business is moving at a speed considerably faster than 30 mph. And, unlike modern tanks with computers and predictive gun sighting technology, it still takes leaders and teams working together in an organization to effectively stay ahead of the speed of change. Leaders and teams, not unlike marksmen and tank gunners, must determine which organizational challenge or target to concentrate on and how to effectively “hit” it. Read More…
As a senior vice president, I used to sit around the table at corporate boardrooms and listen to varying opinions about the business. Some I agreed with – others I did not. When I experienced disagreement rising, I could feel my energy building towards argument and a need to somehow convince the other person about why I was right; the other wrong.
Such feelings are common. It happens to each of us at various times in our professional and personal experience. In coaching, we invite our clients to work towards “reaching others where they are,” which provides a means to bridge those gaps between humans.
Our journey bridging those gaps begins with the understanding of a concept called “Resistance.” Resistance is really a basic form of energy. It is effectively used by each of us to protect us from the unknown, which can include anything from fearing a roller coaster as a youngster to hearing a new idea in the corporate board room and quickly concluding that it might hinder our own efforts or even harm the company.
When we encounter an idea that is new to us, or that runs counter to what we “always” have done, we feel a resistance inside us. As a coach I invite clients to “lean into” that resistance with curiosity and appreciative inquiry, helping them build awareness about the issue or idea before moving to action. Read More…