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Employee Support through Open Conversation and Listening

With so much going on in the world, life can be extremely overwhelming. Everyone is not only trying to figure out the “new normal” in their personal life, they are trying to figure it out in their work life as well. Did Jordan Peele write and direct 2020? The year is only halfway over, but it feels like it has been going on for a decade. The past 7 months have shown so many world-changing, paradigm-shifting developments that it is hard to believe that we are not in the middle of a movie. I mean a worldwide pandemic where there is so much that is still unknown, social change, racial inequality, protests and riots, killer hornets, bubonic plaque…. I am afraid to ask, “what’s next??”

In the midst of everything that has been happening, mental health is extremely important. We need to develop a mental discipline to deal with the chronic stress that has come our way. There is a stigma around mental health which causes so many people to not seek help. As employers, we need to realize this and create action plans for keeping conversations going with our teams. Conversations matter more now than ever. Our teams are processing a lot at any given time and are most likely overwhelmed and would probably like to talk with you about their concerns.

Studies have shown that the number one reason employees leave a company is not because of the work that they actually do, it is about the relationship that they have with their supervisor. When someone from our team leaves their job, they are not only leaving us with a position to fill, they are also taking their experience, knowledge and ideas with them. It is hard to put a price on how much we are actually losing. Because of this, it is important to keep the culture that we have worked so hard to build, intact. I know you are reading this thinking; how can I do that with so many of my team working remotely now? To start, remind your teams individually and as a group that they are valuable to the organization and how much you appreciate them. If employees are having issues with working remotely, find out what you can do to help them adjust to their new work life.

As a small business, have you provided tools to your team to interact with each other? Have you checked in with your team to find out how they are feeling? Your team might be struggling with the unknown of the economy, the unknown of your company’s future, the UNKNOWN. They need to be reassured and hear from their leaders in an open, honest dialogue.

It is important to remember that you will not always have the perfect thing to say to your team but providing the opportunity for open dialogue is a great way to start. Here are some tips for leaders on starting open conversations:

· Think about some conversation starters and write them down to remind yourself. It is easy to overthink what you are going to say if you do not write it down. If you are still unsure, ask your partner, a family member, or a close friend how the question sounds.

· Ask open-ended questions. It is much easier to start and keep a conversation going by asking a question instead of a statement. Don’t just ask your team “How are you doing?”. Most people’s response is fine. Think about the last time you went to a store and the cashier said “Hi, how are you?”. Do you ever honestly tell them, “Well to be honest, I’m not doing good”. No, you say, “I’m fine, how are you?” or “fine thanks” and then you are silent until they tell you their total. The same thing will happen with your team members unless you ask them an open ended question such as “How do you feel about _______?”, “What are your thoughts regarding _____?”, “What did you think when ______?”

· If you need more ideas, think of a personal story that you can tell that will have your team loosen up and relax. The details do not necessarily matter but come up with something ahead of time and again, write it down. When you tell a personal story, it helps others relate with you better. It lets your team know that you are human and go through some of the same things that they do. Let them know that you also have worries, concerns, etc.

· Once you get your team to start talking, make sure you are not only hearing them, but that you are actually listening to them. There is a difference. Ask follow up questions to keep them engaged, i.e. “Tell me more about _____”, “Why____”, “What was that moment like for you?”, “Knowing what you know now, would you have still done ____?”. By interacting with your team this way, you will be keeping them engaged, which will be a huge benefit to your company.

Open conversation in the workplace can help minimize employees’ fears, anxieties and provide them the peace of mind they may need to know what to expect at work. The team at Employers Advantage is here to help you with creating an action plan, including dialogue starters. It is also worth considering providing employees with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a resource for their overall wellness. We offer a small business EAP that is a low cost and high value way to support employees. Information for the EAP can be found here or reach out to Client Relationship Manager, Robert Williams for details on either the EAP or how Employers Advantage LLC can help support open dialogue in your small business.

- Rachel

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