Managing grief and anxiety in difficult times

I’m hearing a lot from folks who are really feeling the weight of social isolation with this new COVID-19 reality. 

Some were feeling like they were managing and suddenly feel like they’ve been blindsided by emotions. Others share that it’s been hard but now, nearly two months in, they’re barely coping. Then, of course, there are the frontline workers who are so busy and worried by what they’re seeing that they’re just doing what they can to keep going while protecting all of the rest of us.

Clients, members of our team here at Padraig, family, and friends many of the folks reaching out to me or responding when I reach out to check in with them nearly everyone is feeling out of sorts right now. 

Some folks aren’t sleeping well as they struggle with insomnia, nightmares or anxiety. Tension is running high in some households, with even the normally calm personalities feeling irritable and cranky. It might be hard to focus, remember things or accomplish much.

Add to that that some of us have been sick with COVID-19, know someone who has been sick with it or who works on the frontlines caring for those who are ill, and we can include anxiety and fear to those other feelings of malaise.

When I was “Zoom meeting” with our Padraig team across Canada this week, our Admin officer, Tricia Hiebert, shared that she’d read a great article in the Harvard Business Review that this discomfort that we’re all feeling is grief

That realization resonated for us. Collectively, we’re grieving the loss of how things were before COVID-19. Many of us, and you, have lost work and income and some have even lost loved ones or we’re worrying that we will and that anxiety is palpable.

No matter what your experience is right now, we are all going through losses and fears while also trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. It’s stressful, it’s unusual, it’s challenging and it’s sad. And, you might feel like you’re not doing as well as others.

Remember the five stages of grief? Think about them now in terms of what you’ve experienced during this pandemic:

Denial (We’ll be fine – some say COVID-19 isn’t worse than a bad flu.)

Anger (I can’t believe this is happening – why didn’t anyone plan for this?)

Bargaining (We can stay home for two weeks and then resume normal life.)

Depression (After weeks of this health stats are still bleak & unemployment rates are brutal.)

Acceptance (What can we do to work through this?)

This is a script change that none of us anticipated and the fallout touches on all aspects of our lives. We have an expression when it comes to feelings: Name it to tame it. Being able to name what we’re feeling is a relief and when you can identify it, you can talk about it and release some of it. Only then can most of us move through the thoughts to action.

Here are some ideas for managing grief and anxiety during this time of uncertainty:

Find ways to connect with other people: As humans, we’re built for connection and we need to feel valued. Social isolation has cut us off from our normal connections and on top of that, now we’re stressed, perhaps lonely and worrying. Reach out to friends and loved ones by phone, on social media, or by video teleconference. Don’t feel guilty if you’re home with family and still feeling lonely! You might just need a bigger support network right now, so get in contact with the other people you care about and engage with them online. Be real and honest about how you’re feeling and lean on those people around you to get through this. Name your feelings.

Stick to a routine: When everything seems uncertain, a new routine of what we can control can be very helpful and comforting. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning,  regular sleep, add in some exercise, drink lots of water and eat healthy at regular intervals. Remember routines can start small. If “get some exercise” means 10 jumping jacks when you get out of bed, that’s 10 more than you were getting before and you should be proud of that.

Manage information: Some of us are watching the news headlines compulsively, which can add to our feelings of grief and anxiety even if we don’t think it is. Tune in to the news at a certain time of day for a set amount of time and then get on with the rest of your day. This way you can be informed without being overwhelmed with statistics and reports. Again, this is habitual only in this case, it’s breaking a habit. When you realize you’re checking the news app, or you’re reading more frustrating social media updates about this politician, or that company gently remind yourself to do something else. Don’t criticize yourself for being “lazy,” don’t criticize yourself for breaking your “rule” of no longer reading this stuff during the day, just “notice” that you’re doing it and switch to something else. It’s helpful to decide now, what you will switch to when that happens so you’re ready. Maybe you switch to working on project X, or you switch to clearing up work emails, or whatever works for you. Tell yourself, in the moment, you have to switch for 3 minutes. In most cases, that will be enough to remove you from the news or the social media, or whatever it was that was distracting you.

Try to be flexible: This is hard for everyone. Many of us are having to revisit what it means to be a professional and adjusting our ideas about productivity in the workplace. Working with kids and teens at home and trying to keep them schooling remotely? Enough said. There will be really good days and there will be some really hard days. Things will not be perfect. You will not accomplish everything you feel is needed of you. That is okay.

Work through feelings of anxiety: The way we think about anxiety can have a huge impact. Anxiety itself is not a bad thing. It is a very important human response that helps us to avoid danger and tells us what is important. Sure, it feels uncomfortable when we’re in a state of alarm, but it’s a normal human response to a threat. The first thing to do when you feel panicked is to acknowledge it’s happening and that it’s okay. Then breathe. Deep breathing calms our nervous system. Racing thoughts? Try writing them down because journaling helps us to process our emotions and put them in perspective while slowing us down.

Turn to mental health professionals: Many mental health providers are providing free resources and even online consultations (I found Stronger Minds by BEACON on Facebook a free digital program created by clinical psychologists that is free to all Canadians and sponsored by Manulife and Green Shield Canada). A number of provincial governments have contracted with mental health organizations to provide free online resources. You can Google for local references. Reach out if you are really struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety and stress because looking after our mental health is as important as, or more than, taking care of our physical well being.

Focus on what we can control: There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and feelings of fear and anxiety intensify when we’re facing the unknown. Try to sidestep falling into the “what ifs” (which usually get us thinking about all the worst possible outcomes) by focusing on what you can do in the moment. We don’t know how long this will last, but we do know that washing our hands and practicing social distancing is a good way to protect ourselves. Taking a walk in fresh air can clear the head. Turning off the video on a Zoom meeting is helpful when you just don’t feel like trying to be “on” for everyone.

Boost those feel-good hormones naturally: Our bodies produce hormones that elevate our mood (endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine). Know what helps get those feel-good hormones flowing? A bit of regular exercise, sunlight, fresh air, connecting with other people, laughter, singing or playing or listening to music and certain foods (spicy dishes, foods high in tryptophan and probiotics to name a few!). If you’re feeling low, it’s time to walk around the block, turn on the stereo (or iTunes or Spotify on your phone!) and have an impromptu dance party, sing along to your favourite tunes or swap funny stories with some friends. 

Coach’s Questions

 Have you noticed your mood changing over the last few weeks? What’s been a struggle for you and can you name it? What ideas above resonate for you? How will you remind yourself, in the moment, to use them?


Next up: What does being productive mean right now?


How introverts and extroverts can manage through social isolation

You may have heard the joke that staying home sheltering in place is what introverts have been training for their whole lives. 

Or the meme asking introverts to please check on extroverted friends because they are not okay with social distancing.

While it’s true that facing social isolation is arguably harder on extroverted personalities in some ways, it’s very challenging for all of us to be home because of COVID-19 and not by choice.

We’re several weeks into this COVID pandemic and it’s wearing on most people, even the ones who are safe at home and not worried about their incomes. For those struggling with layoffs or professions that have them on the frontlines, it’s a particularly scary time.

It’s really shades of introvert and extrovert

At Padraig, we do a lot of work with leaders and their teams on understanding personality differences. There are different assessment tools available our coaches use one called Everything DiSC to help folks understand themselves and others better. 

If you’re familiar with the DiSC personality styles or a regular reader of the blog, then you’ll know that the Dominant “D” and Influential “i” tend to be more extroverted and the Steady “S” and Conscientious “C” tend to be more introverted. 

Some people think introverts like to be alone and extroverts like to be around a lot of people, but it’s a little more complicated than that. For example, introverts can be very outgoing and sociable but tend to like to recharge with some alone time. Extroverts can accomplish things solo but like to recharge with others. And there is no “right” or “best” style, by the way, because all of us have strengths and challenges being able to work with different personalities is where we find true success.

Typically introverts:

  • Draw energy from within, spending time alone
  • Seldom like to be the centre of attention
  • Like to think before they speak, which to others may make them appear reserved or quiet
  • Don’t need a huge social network

While extroverts usually: 

  • Draw energy from other people and enjoy being around others
  • Enjoy participating actively in things and being the centre of attention
  • Are usually seen as outgoing and enthusiastic
  • Enjoy cultivating a large social network

If you’ve ever done a personality assessment like DiSC or perhaps Myers Briggs, then you know that personality is not as simple as introvert or extrovert because it’s a scale where some will score very high, very low or in the middle. Our personality styles affect how we approach work-life balance, work, and personal relationships.

So when it comes to social isolation, we need to remember that while there may be some truths to introverted personality types adapting to being socially isolated more readily than their extroverted counterparts, we’re all learning how to manage this new normal. 

As leaders, understanding personality styles can help us anticipate what works not just for ourselves, but for some team members and what will help other folks manage better. 

What helps introverts manage social isolation

I’ve spoken with clients, heard from blog readers and touched base with my Padraig team members. Introverts may not mind some aspects of self-isolation, but here are some helpful strategies:

  • Create and adapt to new routines: For many people who are more introverted, routine is a great comfort. Thanks to COVID-19, most people’s normal schedules have been disrupted. And it’s not just the work routines that have been derailed! Introverts who are used to picking up a coffee at their favourite bistro in the morning or going to see a movie every week are missing their habitual practices just as much as extroverts. Building new routines is very helpful while physically distancing. If there are things that you can keep on schedule with working from home (from sleep schedules to the timing of regular team meetings), it can really help some personalities feel more settled.
  • Reach out when and how you need to: That’s right, connect with people! Nearly every one of the more introverted personalities I spoke to said that everyone assumes they are happy and relieved (rejoicing even!) to be home all the time, but that while they do like solitary time it’s different when they’re feeling confined to barracks. They’re also missing the freedom to go out to eat, visit public places and travel. One introvert shared that he has found it really hard to deal with stress since his gym closed and his band can’t meet: “I like having alone time, but I enjoyed these activities and now they’re off-limits. It’s really hard for me to lose them.” He’s started running and says he now appreciates being invited to participate in an online meeting or streamed concert or movie. An introverted account manager I know said, “I’m actually gaming online or going on social media to interact with people and look at photos of friends who live in other places. It’s great because I can enjoy a bit of a diversion, but it’s still interacting on my terms.”
  • Deal with non-essential chatter: It’s not that more introverted folks don’t like people, because most value close one-to-one relationships and are very thoughtful. What’s hard is feeling inundated by small talk or too much casual conversation, which is draining for introverts. “I don’t like meaningless texts,” one self-described introvert shared. “We have a text chat for our team and I’m not kidding, the other day there were 183 new texts and only five were actually work-related. I can’t skip them because I could miss something important. It killed me.” The simple fix is to ask for or offer a way for introverts to opt-out of the contact that the more extroverted need and want. Maybe suggest a chat stream or a Slack channel for socializing (“The Break Room” or “The Watercooler”) and one for each project?

What helps extroverts manage with social isolation:

It’s not hard to see why folks who feel energized when they’re with other people and out there interacting with clients and colleagues all the time are struggling with social isolation. Here are some ideas to help the more extroverted personalities:

  • Figure out remote ways of connecting with people: The more extroverted you are, the harder it is to be socially isolated. Feeling lonely can increase your stress, interfere with your sleep and exacerbate feelings of anxiety or depression. You might also be feeling shame, or guilt, if you’re at home with spouse and kids but still feeling lonely or disconnected. I recently spoke with a client who is exceptionally capable, very positive, creative, and intelligent who shared that he’s been in despair for about three weeks now as he tries to figure out what to do to cope with social isolation. First, it’s very helpful to name what you’re feeling, to know you’re not alone and to reach out to someone who can be a good listener. Next, strategize and find ways to fill that need for human interaction. This is where having video conference calls for work (seeing people, not just chatting with them), online coffee breaks with friends or coworkers, virtual coffee dates and checking in with loved ones and friends is essential. Participating in Instagram streamed events with your fave celebrities (many musicians and authors are streaming interactive concerts and readings or Q&As) and going for walks where you can pass people at a safe distance may also help to fill your bucket.
  • Get creative and stay active: The more extroverted folks I’ve heard from miss the busy-ness of life before COVID-19. They’re missing the events, lectures, meetings, parties, and all the opportunities to network and mingle. Living within four walls and rarely venturing out unless it’s for a careful shopping trip alone is not just boring, but depressing. Find some inspiration and do something that allows you to interact with others at a distance. We’ve seen the balcony concerts and serenades in Italy first and now many other places, online dance parties, and surprising friends with drop and dash goodies left on their doorsteps. I’ve heard of friends playing a game of hide-and-seek in the car where one vehicle hides and texts clues to the others. Go for walks and exercise to keep all those feel-good endorphins and dopamine flooding your system.
  • Ask for space if you need to: Just as introverts do need some human connection, extroverts sometimes need some downtime and quiet. One of our Padraig team members is on the extreme end of the extrovert scale, but working from home while also schooling her children has been a strain. Her partner, an introvert, was genuinely shocked when she dissolved in tears because she wanted him to take over for a few hours at least one day a week. “He genuinely thought that I’d be in my element, loving having everyone home. And while that’s true, it’s also stressful to lose my routine and ability to work uninterrupted when I need to.” 

No matter where we fall in the continuum of introversion or extroversion, it’s important for us to learn to live and work remotely with different personalities in these uncertain times. Everyone is adapting to new situations and how we’re feeling can change day-to-day.  That last phrase is an important one our feelings can, and do, change from day-to-day. If you’re having a bad day, set an intention to, later in the day, or tomorrow, try one of your new goals above.

When we’re aware of what we and others find comforting or challenging, we can be more mindful about feelings and what we all need for our physical and mental health. It helps to communicate clearly when we’re feeling anxious or stressed, and to reach out when we need support.

Don’t assume people know how you’re feeling or that you know how those around you are doing; share your real situation with those you trust and check in with people. It’s especially important to listen to understand right now to support one another and strengthen relationships.

Coach’s Questions: 

Where do you fall on the introvert or extrovert scale? Who on your team is more an introvert or extrovert? What can you do to manage social isolation on those difficult days? What could you do differently or better to help those on your team?

Next up: I’ll explore more about how the pandemic is affecting our mental health and then how to have an attitude of gratitude in social isolation.


How to start an engaging Zoom meeting

Capturing the attention of an audience has been the work of storytellers, writers, and orators forever and a day. Narrative hooks can range from dramatic to hilarious stories, startling stats or relatable secrets.

Songwriters and musicians use music hooks memorable lyrics or melodies to catch the ear of the listener. 

Why? If you can pique the interest of your audience and bring them together, you’ll have a better shot at keeping their attention with the rest of what you have to say. Not only that, but they’ll feel connected to you and to each other.

When you have a Zoom meeting with your team, how you start things off matters — especially right now, amid the uncertainty and stress of the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve already covered the basics for setting up an online meeting that keeps your team engaged. So, how do you actually kick-off the meeting in a way that gets everyone involved?

Start with a question for everyone to answer. Not just a rhetorical, “How’s everyone doing?” but a truly interesting question that everyone can answer. 

(Pro tip: If it’s a huge meeting, skip the roundtable and ask people to give their answers in the chatbox so everyone can quickly scan the responses.)

It sounds simple, but having the right question to start a meeting:

  1. Encourages participation: Getting people to say something at the start of the meeting inherently makes them more comfortable to speak up and engage later in the meeting.
  2. Guides conversation but allows for creative and varied answers: A good open-ended question encourages folks to share about a common theme. When you’re leading a team during these uncertain times, it helps to have direction and focus. The right type of question will work for all personalities, taking the pressure off the quiet folks, exciting the creative thinkers, and not annoying the logical members on your team.
  3. Builds relationships on your team: An open-ended question allows people to share their unique thoughts and experiences, which helps with team bonding as people get to know each other better. Your team members may realize they think a lot like Sam in accounting, they’re interested in what Fadi in marketing has to say and they have a lot in common with Zoë in sales. In times of distress or difficulty, it also allows people to share a bit about themselves their bigger lives outside of just their work life.
  4. Builds trust among team members: Sharing things about ourselves that aren’t necessarily work related or that won’t come up in most work conversations helps us to get to know each other and that builds trust. Best of all? Building trust builds stronger teams.

At Padraig, we’ve developed a card deck, called “Team Talk, Team Trust” that helps get teams sharing about interesting and thought-provoking topics. The deck has 150 questions that are designed to start conversations that develop trust among team members.

We’ve recently developed a screen-sized version of the cards for virtual meetings and whiteboards:

engaging zoom meeting

engaging zoom meeting

engaging zoom meeting


We’ve heard from so many of you who are trying to figure out how to make this new reality of working remotely and managing others remotely (all while juggling family and personal life) and so we’re offering you this complimentary download of 10 questions from the Padraig “Team Talk, Team Trust” card deck. CLICK HERE and we’ll send you the 10 cards as screen-sized PDFs, and as PowerPoint slides and Keynote Slides so you can use whichever version works best to post on your video meeting software.

If you’d like to buy the full set of cards, we’ve also put them on sale and we’ve added a bonus we’ll email you the full set of all 150 cards in PDF format, as well. You can order them here.

And again, thank you to everyone who has reached out to me to let me know how much you’ve appreciated the blog topics to help support leaders during this COVID-19 crisis. If there is a topic you’d like us to address, please let me know.

Coach’s Questions: 

What successes have you had with online meetings? What are your top challenges? Which question would you like to try to launch your next meeting?

Balance? What about work-life synergy?

I’ve been doing some reading about work-life balance (and how it rarely exists). 

Many of us have spent years — maybe even decades — trying to find ways of achieving work-life balance. A primary focus is often, reducing the demands from our work time to allow more “life” time. And, indeed, research shows that idea is important to retain talent and most companies have developed policies to help people carve out some balance.

It’s become even more difficult to achieve in the last decade with improved technology making it hard for people to really unplug from work at the end of the day — let alone weekends and holidays. It’s hard to leave work when it follows you on your phone everywhere you go.

Work-life synergy

I’ve noticed a shift toward the idea of work-life synergy, which is a refreshing new way of trying to find some “balance.” The idea behind this is that each side of our life supports the other. The difference is nuanced, but it’s interesting:

Work-life balance implies there are two sides competing, like weights on opposite sides of a scale, and by compartmentalizing you can focus fully on one and then the other.

Work-life synergy focuses on finding ways work and personal life can interact and cooperate, creating harmony out of their combined existence. (Life includes your family, friends, health, community, hobbies, etcetera.)

With work-life synergy, we work to align everything with our goals and unique needs. It’s a way of figuring out what you’re passionate about not only at work, but in all facets of your life — at home, in your hobbies and in your volunteer time — and using things you learn or practice in one area to support or strengthen another. At times, it requires more flexibility and at times, increased commitment. 

It’s an interesting endeavor in today’s work climate, when the ability to stay connected (and sometimes the pressure to be constantly available) can result in our work lives eclipsing everything else about us.

You may be surprised when you start looking at your life this way how many elements can work in harmony. Instead of feeling stretched and pulled in all directions, you may start to feel more congruity. 

A tech leader we know used to struggle to find time to practice yoga during her busy work weeks. If she tried to fit in classes after work, she felt she lost quality time with her children and partner. 

She decided to make time during her workday for yoga, and found to her surprise that some of her team members wanted to join in. She had become a certified yoga instructor back in her university days and found great joy in leading classes in a break room. Not only was she enjoying her return to the yoga mat, she saw how the classes were reducing stress and encouraging a different relationship among her team members.

Other leaders have shared how they felt great satisfaction in sharing their time and talent for finance with non-profit charities that were aligned with their own beliefs. 

One finance manager not only volunteered as a treasurer for a non-profit organization, but started participating in fundraisers for a cancer charity. As a cancer survivor, he enjoys giving back and also celebrated his return to health by cycling 200 kilometers for the epic two-day Ride to Conquer Cancer. Plus, his improved fitness routine has helped him manage stress at work and feel more focused.

Work-life balance to work-life synergy

Here are some ideas to help you shift from thinking about work-life balance to work-life synergy: 

Accept the complexity. You can embrace different aspects of your identity and you don’t have to pick one over the other. Make a list of things you care about and then ask yourself: Why are these things important to me? 

Find common ground. Look at your list and then think about connections. Are there aspects of some things you do or enjoy that complement others? Does being better in one area help you in another? What skills can you take from one area of your life to another? Are there ways you can make time for what matters that you hadn’t considered previously?

Recognize it’s more than just work and personal life. Move away from either/or thinking that either you’re at work or you’re home — or either you’re working or you’re relaxing. Synergy is about finding harmony, not segmenting aspects of your life. Are you able to enjoy the moments where you are? Are you giving your full attention to the activity at hand (whether that’s talking with a client, or talking with your kids, calculating spreadsheets or going to the movies with your spouse)?

As leaders, we can also help folks on our team move toward work-life synergy. Finding this sweet spot for work and life helps with mental wellness, retention, recruiting high fliers and job satisfaction. All of this then feeds into other benefits, like higher productivity, creativity, and loyalty.

Here are some ways to encourage a shift in culture to work-life synergy so that everyone on your team can walk the talk:

Offer practical support. Researchers find that employees appreciate a variety of supports to facilitate their work-life integration. It’s not just being able to telecommute at times (that’s expected in today’s job market!), but also other things like on-site daycare, gym subsidies or classes at work, perhaps a shower and changing room, healthy snacks, casual dress and flextime. What are some things you can offer to your team members?

Agree on boundaries and respect competing priorities. It’s so easy for us to keep working around the clock and through days off and evenings because we’re tethered to cell phones (and thanks to smartphones that means email and spreadsheets and on and on). Being able to say no without losing respect is part of the equation — the other part is being the leader who says I understand and let’s see how we can make this work and still achieve our work goals. Set the example of making other things in your life a priority and, for example, really unplugging when you take a vacation.

Understand demographics and cultural differences. Millennial workers are driving change in the workplace because they just don’t (or won’t) live to work because they want to work to live. They want careers to fit in with their lives and individuality. Their successors, Gen Z, also want work that has meaning and a meaningful life. Add into that the diversity of a multicultural workplace and there will be different priorities for family time, holidays, cultural traditions and more. When leaders support people finding what work-life synergy means to them individually, everyone is more inclusive and supportive.

Involve your team members in the conversation. Work-life synergy is going to mean something different to people in different industries, at different stages of life and from different backgrounds. At its essence, work-life synergy is achieved when employees have more control over their lives professionally and personally. What will make your team feel more engaged, creative and enthusiastic? (Hint: the same things that will make them more productive and increase their job satisfaction.)

This might look like someone leaving work early to drive a child to soccer and catching up on work later at home. Or it might be someone telecommuting for a stretch of caregiving for an aging parent. It could also be offering team members opportunities for professional development because many folks like to feel they are involved in something that has meaning and that their employer is supportive. 

Align with company and personal goals. When you set performance goals for your team members, of course, you’re going to want to have them align with company goals. But team members who write a personal vision statement for their career will have some ideas about what work-life synergy means for them as individuals.

This helps to determine ways everyone can get work and life to dovetail so that one supports the other — things like cycling to work knowing there is a place to keep the bike locked and safe as well as somewhere to shower (meeting the personal goal of keeping fit without any strain on work or other goals). 

Consider setting weekly priorities. Making a habit of setting weekly priorities (individually and as a team) instead of a daily to-do list helps the flow of work and life because you’re not perpetually managing urgent situations that knock everything else off the schedule. Check out project management and communication tools that may be very helpful for planning and executing priorities (at Padraig, we use Asana and we know some of our clients use Trello boards to manage deadlines and many moving pieces). 

When there’s a rhythm to work, everyone on your team can schedule other things around the key priorities and manage their time accordingly. Some companies even reserve certain days or times for meetings or administrative tasks so that team members can flex other days without inconveniencing anyone else.

Embrace a change in time management thinking. Instead of feeling like you’re juggling or always short on time, reframe the busy-ness in a positive way. Setting priorities and finding time for what matters is about problem-solving, not throwing your hands in the air in frustration and defeat. When you can figure out what matters most and strategize how to get things done, you’ll attract and keep the best and brightest talent. It might involve teamwork, delegating, outsourcing (by the way this applies equally to work and personal life!) or asking for additional resources — or it could mean you’re going to have to set some new habits and guard your time more wisely. 

Coach’s Questions:

What possibilities do you see in shifting from work-life balance to work-life synergy? How can you start finding work-life synergy for yourself? What can you do to help your team achieve it?

Respect: is it owed or earned?

Respect is a two-way street. 

Respect your elders.

Give respect, get respect.

We grow up hearing all kinds of things about respect, but what is ideal in the workplace? Is respect owed because of achievements, abilities, and status? Or earned because of qualities and reciprocity? Or should it be a combination of both owed and earned?

I recently read a very interesting article that Kristie Rogers, an Assistant Professor of Management at Marquette University, wrote for the Harvard Business Review about respect and employees.

In her article, Rogers says that her research shows that two types of respect are valued in the workplace:

Owed Respect – which should be given to all members of a company, where everyone is valued and accorded a basic level of civility

Earned Respect – which is given to those team members who have done work well or exceeded expectations and are rewarded for their success with admiration and sometimes in other ways as well (financial or other incentives)

Rogers and her fellow academics argue that companies whose employees feel valued and respected are more successful. Finding the right balance of owed respect (which meets the universal need to feel included) and earned respect (which meets the need to be valued for doing good work) is the tricky part for leaders. 

You’ve probably seen workplaces where there is a focus on earned respect but not enough owed respect: Only the shining stars are appreciated. In this environment, you’re thanked or appreciated only if you deliver the big client or the successful project. Good, solid effort every day toward ongoing needs gets overlooked. 

I once worked for a boss who was seen to “play favorites.”  He *loved* Joe in sales because of the clients Joe brought into the company but showed no respect, at all, for the folks in HR who kept Joe staffed with sales staff when he went through people like Kleenexes because he was so hard on them. There was no respect for everyone in finance, who made sure billing to clients was timely and followed up when payments weren’t received. 

This boss created an environment where earned respect and owed respect were badly out of balance. When only earned respect matters and there is very little owed respect, team members who aren’t superstars become very, very discouraged.

Soon, you’d overhear shorthand lingo around the office like, “well, if you want him to agree to do that, you better get Joe to pitch it to him.” Or, “I saved us thousands last year on delayed payments but, I’m no Joe so, of course, I didn’t get so much as a thank you.”

Contrast that with a director at a health authority I heard about from a staffer who raved that this director knew everyone by name on her team at the health unit and on the ward at the hospital. Everyone respected this director, who moved into management after years as a nurse, because she recognized not only the big important things, but the day-to-day dedication of various support staff. She was genuinely interested in everyone, took the time to check in with everyone on her team and even celebrated the smaller successes of support staff. You didn’t have to be a NICU nurse or helping to deliver babies to feel valued and want to go above and beyond.

This director is an example of a leader who offers both earned respect (the good job individual nurses did with moms) and owed respect (treating everyone with quiet dignity and setting a tone and an expectation for a baseline of respect for everyone on the team). We can see how respect, as one of the key leadership behaviors, has a ripple effect and is copied throughout the team when it comes from the top.

It’s a balance that can be tricky to achieve because too much of one of the two types of respect can be detrimental because the fallout is frustrated team members. 

What happens when there isn’t enough owed respect?

  • Only recognizing the high fliers can leave others feeling unmotivated and demoralized
  • An abusive culture, a culture of disrespect and incivility 
  • Overall mood drops, people feel unhappy with their job or role
  • Micro-managing

What happens when there isn’t enough owed respect, yet lots of earned respect?

  • All of the above, plus
  • People who should be working together see each other as competition (and excessive competition is quickly toxic)
  • There could be temptation to steal credit from peers

What happens when there isn’t enough earned respect (either all respect is absent, or owed respect overshadows or eclipses earned respect)?

  • People feel their extra effort isn’t recognized and some will begin to question whether their effort is worth it (reduced individual motivation)
  • High fliers will look elsewhere for work
  • Major contributors may feel frustrated and unappreciated
  • A culture of “minimum required effort” may develop

What happens when there is a base of owed respect shown to everyone and healthy earned respect in place?

  • A positive culture of people supporting each other and interacting with civility
  • Overall employee satisfaction increases
  • A relatively consistent level of effort and output is achieved
  • High fliers are challenged, but cooperative, and everyone is motivated to contribute to company success

Before you dismiss an imbalance or lack of respect as merely creating some sour grapes, consider the impact on productivity. In her HBR article, Rogers said, “80% of employees treated uncivilly spend significant work time ruminating on the bad behavior, and 48% deliberately reduce their effort.”

Respect really matters and workplaces that get it right reap many benefits:

As a leadership coach, I firmly believe that it always comes back to learning how to manage different personalities. When you understand personality, you get what makes each individual feel motivated/complacent/unmotivated. 

Here are some tips to help you build the right balance of owed and earned respect:

Make sure everyone feels respect in your workplace. From the most junior to the most senior and everyone in a support role, all people need to feel valued and worthy of basic dignity. This can be accomplished by something as simply getting to know your team members by name because you build stronger teams by developing relationships

I remember someone saying once, “You treat people on your way up the way you would if you were on the way down.” How you treat those who work under you will affect how your team members treat their subordinates and your clients or customers. Do you make time to answer questions? Do you listen, really listen to people? Do you see the little things as well as the big things? Other actions that cultivate respect include delegating and supporting your team through tough situations.

Recognize that there could be variations in respect behaviors. What works in one environment could be perceived as rude in another so the approach has to fit the reality (and it could vary between departments at your workplace). How you apply the elements that build relationships and foster respect and trust have to make sense within the norms of the workplace. For example, you don’t want to disrupt the rhythm of the workday by making small talk during a time or period that everyone needs to be focused and working. Be aware of different personality styles, and things like who thrives with quiet, private conversations and who likes to be part of a more animated and open discussion.

Once you have owed respect figured out for your workplace, consider earned respect. The researchers have demonstrated that the balance has to be right to be effective, so how you reward team members for performance is ideally fair and tied to deliverables. In practice, this could include things like celebrating success, praising exceptional contributions, awarding bonuses or other incentives. (Note: the research is clear that praise and attention from a leader frequently mean more than money.)

There’s always enough of both owed and earned respect. Consider respect from an abundant mindset, and you’ll agree that it’s impossible to run out of respect. You can offer owed respect to everyone, across all levels and departments. Similarly, you can still offer earned respect when and if it is due for meeting or exceeding expectations. Sure, you might have a finite bonus budget or salary pool, but you can still celebrate the big successes by building a company culture of growth and happiness

You’re never too busy to acknowledge team members with respect. When owed respect is the default behavior, it’s going to be there even under heightened stress (things like listening to understand, offering common courtesies and showing gratitude for help). It’s also well worth making time for moments to offer earned respect because failing to do that, as we’ve discussed, has serious repercussions for motivation and even retention of the high fliers on the team. 

The best gestures of respect are authentic. Feigning interest or half-hearted attempts at offering praise will be seen as such and become meaningless. Similarly, if praise is too lavish and constant or if everyone gets the same reward for varied effort, team members won’t feel valued. Have you ever worked with leaders who only offer owed or earned respect when others are watching (especially more senior folks)? Insincerity is never received well. Having said that, a little fake it til you make it can get you started if acknowledgement and respect feels foreign.

Coach’s Questions:

Have you ever worked where respect (or a lack thereof) was a problem? Are there ways you can improve how owed respect and earned respect are shared in your workplace? What is something new you’d like to try this week?

Why celebrating wins with your remote team is important

We’ve talked before about rememberingamid the deadlines and the pressures and the non-stop busy-nessto celebrate wins with our team members.

It takes a little extra effort to celebrate wins in a meaningful way when you have a remote team or manage a mix of on-site and remote workers especially if you are, like most of us right now, scrambling to adapt to managing remotely while helping staff transition to working remotely in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The last thing you might be thinking about is celebrating wins! But now, when people are feeling uncertain and worried, it’s particularly important to pause and take note of all your folks who are doing their best to work hard and the ways they are making a difference.

No matter what’s happening in the world, cultivating a company culture of growth and happiness pays big dividends. Feeling appreciated and valued is great for retaining your top performers and dedicated workers (and they talk to other people, so it’s also good for recruiting!). It fosters a sense of loyalty and makes people want to work hard. And, let’s face it, it’s just good for everyone’s mental health, if we can boost spirits.

When you are thanking people (in person or remotely!), remember that a cookie-cutter approach never works as well as tailoring employee recognition to what each individual values and what makes them feel valued.

Because you’re not running into your remote workers in hallways and you can’t drop by their desks for an informal check-in, you need to make an effort to build connections and go out of your way to really communicate gratitude when it’s warranted.

Celebrating wins

Here are a few ideas for celebrating wins with your remote team members: 

Make time for kudos

When you have a video conference call, set aside time to acknowledge different ways your remote workers are contributing. Recognizing their effort and dedication will mean a lot, particularly when they don’t get impromptu moments of your time in the hallway or lunchroom. A few words to acknowledge the times people go above and beyond or pull off the extraordinary will go a very long way for morale (and with this COVID-19 crisis, we can all use some extra feel-good moments!). You can also express your gratitude for small and large wins in emails, text messages and even when you’re editing a document someone submits for your approval. Remember some folks appreciate public recognition, others prefer private.

Eat together

People who work together often celebrate together over a meal. You can still do this with your remote team members (and experts say takeout and food delivery are still safe during COVID-19 – and restaurant owners will appreciate your business now especially). Be creative! You can send everyone gift cards (to use when they wish) or arrange for their favourite comfort food to be delivered by a meal delivery service (Skip the Dishes, DoorDash or Uber Eats are popular most places). You could also order custom cookies from a local baker or other treats to enjoy over coffee during your next online meeting.

Send some swag

When you want to recognize hard work and effort, consider sending folks some company swag. Nothing says I’m part of a team like matching shirts, ball caps or hoodies (just make sure you check to get everyone’s preferred sizing first). You can also order useful branded gifts like water bottles, notebooks or wireless chargers or other tech devices.

Personalized gifts

As you get to know the folks on your team, you’ll get a sense of who likes coffee or tea or who loves to see the latest films. Take notes! When they’ve done something that you want to recognize, and if your organization can afford it, send them a gift card for or tickets to something that they’ll really enjoy (with a heartfelt note of gratitude from you). If you can’t afford that, try sending a thank you note and in it mention you remember they like X or Y and suggest a movie you’ve watched on Netflix, or a book you’ve read, that they might enjoy. 

If someone is passionate about a particular charity, the company could make a small donation in their name or you could offer extra paid time off to people who would love nothing more than extra vacation (now, so they can have days off with the kids at home, or later when travel gets back to normal). 

When you are able to select really meaningful gifts or send thoughtful, personal recommendations, it shows that you appreciate their work and take the time to choose something meaningful to give them in thanks.

Commemorate work anniversaries or other milestones

Remote workers like to have their milestones remembered the same as people who work onsite. Celebrate their important dates and accomplishments the same as you would anyone else’s, but keep in mind that while some folks love a big splash and shout out in front of everyone there are others who prefer a quiet one-to-one thank you and acknowledgement. It might take a little more effort to get to know your remote team members, but the best way to build stronger teams is to build stronger relationships.

Party on

You can celebrate wins with your remote team by throwing a big online bash (with music and maybe some competitive online games). Be creative! It doesn’t have to be an epic online party; short and sweet is fine when it’s heartfelt. When we’re through the need to self-isolate, perhaps it will be time to start planning to bring everyone together for an in-person meetup or an offsite meeting. Having an opportunity to meet in real life on a company-paid trip is great for team-building and showing gratitude for the hard work of your remote team.

Coach’s Questions: 

What are some of the ways you’ve been celebrating wins with your remote team? Are there opportunities to show gratitude that you’ve missed? Who might be needing a bit more attention from you this week? What can you do differently to involve your remote workers in celebrating accomplishments?


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