Check-in Authentically

The old adage, “leave your personal life at home” is officially outdated.

During Zoom meetings, I ask my team how things are going. They smile, nod and say “fine.” But, is there such a thing as being fine in these challenging times?

They were coping with issues of grief, social isolation, anxiety, and burnout.

I recently had this conversation with an executive. She was right. Most people are not just “fine” during these unprecedented times. In the same week, another executive asked for resources to support her leadership team. They were coping with issues of grief, social isolation, anxiety, and burnout. Both leaders were requesting my support to lead mindset check-ins with their teams. They wanted to get a more authentic read on how their teams were adjusting.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve facilitated several team check-ins. During these conversations, people openly shared vulnerable reflections like, “I’m overwhelmed or I need help.” The impact of these check-ins sparked a few ah-ha moments:

1. This crisis has created an urgent outcry to lean into our humanity even more at work

2. Many high-performing executives are not ready for that level of vulnerability

3. Employees may not be willing to dial back their humanity after COVID-19

Prior to the health pandemic, my work involved consulting leaders about the human side of planned change strategies like reorgs. Now, the work is about helping leaders navigate the human side of crisis — a fear-inducing, unplanned, and even more ambiguous cousin of change.

Now, there is a universal readiness to acknowledge these emotional strains and their impact on personal and organizational health.

The biggest difference between planned change versus crisis is the interconnectedness we feel. What do I mean by this? We are in the midst of a common life-altering experience. So now it is acceptable to be stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed at work.

Prior to COVID-19 shuttering our office doors, my organization was in the middle of a merger. The environment was rich soil for stress, anxiety, and burnout among leaders and teams. I observed executives work non-stop to prove their worth. Team members were unable to concentrate due to fear of losing their jobs. However, the health pandemic introduced a universal fear that normalized the ever-present trifecta of anxiety, stress, and burnout at work.

So, what’s the lesson here? Fear, burnout, anxiety, and stress are constant derailers in work life. Most people were navigating these emotions prior to COVID-19. Quite often, leaders neglect to check-in. Now, there is a universal readiness to acknowledge these emotional strains and their impact on personal and organizational health.

When you ask how your team is doing, are you prepared for an authentic answer?

Prior to COVID-19, leaders would ask, how are you? without allowing time for a real answer. Post COVID-19, this question requires a new level of sincerity. Now, leaders must be prepared to hear the answer.

With Zoom offering leaders authentic (albeit intrusive) glimpses into employees’ homes, it’s not acceptable to focus only on work. Ready or not, leaders are now being confronted with the whole employee and not just the representative who comes to work. How are you, is no longer small talk; it’s an agenda item that deserves time and space. People expect their leaders to take a genuine interest in their well-being. Not surprisingly, leaders who show they care, see stronger performance and higher engagement from their team members.

Checking-in is such a simple concept. So, why don’t leaders do it consistently? Because it can be uncomfortable, awkward, and emotionally taxing. The need to check-in authentically will continue post-COVID-19. Many executives are counting down to the get back to the good old days — the days when employees lied when asked, how are you? However, the old adage “ leave your personal life at home” is officially outdated.

Leaders, lean into the discomfort and build the habit of carving out time to check-in now. Here are a few ways you can make your team meetings and one-on-ones even more authentic:

  1. Ask targeted questions: How are you — is too broad, get specific
    — Share 1 thing that you look forward to this week
    — Share 1 thing your concerned about this week
  2. Acknowledge emotions: normalize how people feel
    — I understand why you’re overwhelmed, you have a lot on your plate
    — During these times it makes sense that you’re feeling anxious
  3. Be a thought partner: ask questions to generate solutions
    — How can I support you to feel less overwhelmed?
    — What is something you can do to manage your stress level this week?

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