Inspiration. Bravery. Passion. Advocacy. Activism. Charity.
These are a few words that come to mind when I think of Ms. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” At almost 95 years young, she owned the stage at #SHRM21 in Las Vegas and had the audience gripped by her stories about growing up in Texas and her dream of Juneteenth being celebrated as a national holiday. On June 17, 2021, that dream was realized as she watched President Biden sign the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, commemorating June 19, 1865, the day that Union forces arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation that President Lincoln had issued on January 1, 1962, over two years prior.
She greeted the audience with an enthusiastic, “Hello, young people! And you are young people if you’re not 95!”
Ms. Opal Lee shared how in 1939, when she was about 12 years old, her parents bought a house in a mostly white neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas. A mob of 500 destroyed that house. Her parents sent her and her siblings to stay with friends a few blocks away, and her parents left “under the cover of darkness.” That was on June 19th, a day that was a big deal in Marshall, Texas – as big as Christmas, she described, with fairs and parades and food (“and food and food”)! But it wasn’t a big deal in Fort Worth. She was surprised as she got older how most of the country had never heard of Juneteenth, and how it became her passion to make Juneteenth a national celebration. She was often asked, “Isn’t July 4th the day we celebrate freedom?” She would say in return, “My ancestors weren’t free on no 4th of July!” She feels that freedom should be celebrated from June 19 to July 4 because “none of us are free until we’re all free.”
Ms. Opal Lee has worked for over six decades – as a babysitter, teacher, school counselor. Even after she retired, she continued to work, starting a food bank that serves over 500 people. She’s seen drastic changes over the 60 years she has worked, but she has also seen older people brushed aside because people think they’re too old to work. Why would anyone work beyond retirement age? “Because we still have knowledge and ideas to contribute. Work brings us dignity and purpose, and it keeps us sharp.”
She acknowledged being in a room full of HR professionals, and humorously declared, “I am an HR Trifecta: I’m a woman. I’m Black. And I’m old.” She passionately articulated how diversity and inclusion is about making sure that everyone finds a place and a voice in companies where people can reach their full potential regardless of where they started in life.
After thousands of attendees returned to their homes and places of business, after the conference stage has been disassembled and stored away for the next big event, Ms. Opal Lee's words still ring: “If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.”
She challenged each of us to take what we have learned back to our workplaces. “Please don’t let what happened here in Vegas stay in Vegas!”
As Ms. Opal Lee pointed out, we’ve come a long way. But we have a long way yet to go. “Change is possible if we just hold the course.”
#SHRM21 #SHRM21Influencer #SHRMNMTE #Juneteenth
I can count on one hand the number of keynotes that I’ve attended that have left a lasting impression. I’ve attended many that are entertaining, and some that were… seriously meh. But when someone stands on a stage with a message that strikes a chord with every word, leaving you standing on your chair, yelling "YASSS!" - that’s rare.
Enter Michael Phelps.
I’ve seen every Olympic event where he won a medal. And I watched as the world judged and condemned him after a photo surfaced of him smoking marijuana, and his very public DUIs. (We’re so quick to jump to conclusions, aren’t we?)
It was easy for most of us to sit on our couches, remaining anonymous, never remotely understanding the pressures and rigors that athletes face, and to hop on the judgmental bandwagon. Maybe you were like me and never really stopped to think what he may be going through. I certainly never imagined how anything he could share could make an impact on thousands of HR professionals.
One of the best outcomes of the last 18 months is that the topic of mental health has catapulted to one of the most important topics facing our organizations. Finally.
Mr. Phelps spoke so eloquently and openly about his struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. I was blown away by how candidly he was able to share that one of the hardest things he ever did was to ask for help – something that so many of us (me included) find almost impossible. He passionately advocates for treating mental health the way we treat physical health, and how we need to be prepared physically and mentally in order to show up at our best every day. He shared how showing vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a sign that you want to learn. He has used his experiences as an opportunity to help others so that, he hopes, they don’t ever feel what he felt.
Michael Phelps was funny, articulate, compassionate, tender, vulnerable and 100% relatable. And I hope that we continue to engage in this conversation so that we stand up to the stigma.
There was a lot to take away from this year’s Annual Conference. But I can’t think of anything more important or more relevant to our profession at this very moment than to help our employees be both physically and mentally prepared.
#SHRM21 #SHRM21Influencer #mentalhealth
I had the great pleasure of connecting through a Zoom with Greg Schwem, Business Humor Speaker, to talk about his session: Is It OK to Laugh? Understanding How Stifling Humor Can Also Stifle Workplace Productivity.
As I was perusing the speakers and sessions, I was immediately attracted to the topic of humor in the workplace. (Seems appropriate, considering I am the HR Shenanigator....) I immediately added his session to my calendar, and I reached out to see about an interview. I offered up an email Q&A, and slyly (that's a word, right?) offered to connect via recorded Zoom. He was agreeable, and I'm so glad! We had a great conversation, and I'm thrilled to share it with you.
Find the full video interview here.
Kyra: I have the great pleasure of speaking with Greg Schwem today - the engaging, funny, relevant and relatable speaker to talk about his upcoming session at SHRM21: Is It OK to Laugh? Thank you so much for being with me today, and on a Sunday, no less. I'm super excited to learn more about you and your session.
Greg: Well, I'm excited to be there. This has been three years in the making. I submitted back in 2019, I was confirmed for 20 and then, of course, you know what happened. There were cancellations and postponements and so forth. I'm not even sure I'm going to have a whole lot prepared; I didn't think we'd get this far! I might just come out and say, "Hi thanks for joining me." That's really all I came up with because I figured they'd pull the plug again, but no. It's finally here and I just cannot wait because I've really been looking forward to speaking for SHRM for a very long time. I've done other HR groups, but this to me is the Broadway of HR.
Kyra: What is it about HR that attracted you to SHRM?
Greg: I am a corporate speaker; I am a corporate humor speaker too. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about integrating humor into a corporate event or just a corporate environment, and that's really what this presentation is about. I thought it would be nice to deliver that presentation in front of who I call the gatekeepers. That's not an offensive term. It is important to add humor into the work environment, so this is a chance for me to do that both live and in a virtual setting.
Kyra: Where did you start your career and how did you make a transition into corporate comedy?
Greg: When I started, I was a journalist, back in a different life. That was what my college degree was in, and I was working in journalism. I was a newspaper and a TV reporter. I had been dabbling in stand up comedy since I was 16. When I was working as a journalist, it became more than a hobby and, eventually, I decided I liked entertaining people more than depressing them, which is what I was doing. I hate to say it, every night as a journalist, particularly a TV journalist, because you were on the air live telling about what horrible thing happened in South Florida. So I decided to quit my job and give it a whirl as a stand up comedian, as a club comedian per se. I started doing a lot of material in my comedy club act about computers and learning to work at a computer, and it was really resonating with people, and they would come up to me afterwards and say, "Can you come down to our office and do that bit about being on hold with tech support?" I started getting hired by these companies and I realized that I kind of had a knack for making them laugh at themselves; having some good natured fun with them. Eventually I just transitioned my entire presentation and, really, my entire career into the corporate sector and that's what I've been doing for the past 25 years.
Kyra: That is quite the transition! You had mentioned earlier about some misconceptions about humor in the workplace, what are some of those misconceptions, or some of the biggest challenges that you've noticed?
Greg: I think everybody has had a bad experience. It affects all of us who work in my environment. I always get the, "you know we had a comedian two years ago and we specifically told him not to talk about this, this, and this, and wouldn't you know, he went out and did it, " or "we took everybody to a comedy club and we thought it'd be fun, and the comedian just made fun of the CEO for 25 minutes." So, I think it's a misconception that it's going to be bad. You introduce humor and there's like a little bit of a trepidation factor. I have spent years trying to break that down.
Kyra: So why do you think that humor has gotten a bad rap in the corporate world?
Greg: Because of just different incidences that have happened, you know if somebody said something that offended somebody, and then they had to apologize, and things like that. Some of the biggest comedians in the world have had to go on apology tours because of something they said. And that's becoming more and more prevalent. I'm not saying it's becoming more prevalent that comedians are saying things, but I think it's becoming more prevalent that people are getting offended. I can't really explain why that is, I think we've become a very sensitive society to a lot of things. I mean obviously in HR you want to create a healthy work environment, you want to retain the best employees. I feel humor can certainly do that, but I think there's a misconception in a lot of cases that it does the opposite. It is going to be my job to kind of break down that misconception. I think the benefits of humor far outweigh any potential negative ramifications. I always think humor in a corporate meeting is the biggest hit and the toughest sell. I have to assure all my client, "Just trust the process; trust me. I'm not going to tick anybody off.' And then, everybody walks away and goes, "Man, did we need that. We never had something like that before, and boy did we need it, and thank you so much."
Kyra: Why do you think it's important to bring humor into a work environment and can you describe some of those benefits that you're talking about?
Greg: We've all heard the studies about how humor releases endorphins. That's been beaten to death and I'm not going to bring that up because we've all heard that, you don't need me to say that. But I feel like you're now seeing a lot of studies, in fact SHRM just came out with a study talking about how many people are burned out at work, how many people are stressed - not just in an in-person, environment, but virtual work has stressed people out too because they feel like they're never off the clock. You're doing all these zoom meetings and your kids are in the other room and it's 8:30 at night and why am I doing this? Humor has certainly helped an awful lot of us get through this situation. It has helped people get through the pandemic, and that is a proven fact. I don't for one minute want anybody to think that I'm going to come out here and make you laugh at COVID. COVID is not funny. There's an awful lot of stuff that we have had to deal with, as a result of COVID that we certainly need to laugh at. I believe you can find humor in any subject, even if you're not making fun of that subject - virtual school, zoom meetings, all of this kind of stuff. I think people desperately need to laugh, and that's what I've heard from an awful lot of clients and potential clients as well. We could sure use a laugh right now.
Kyra: Agreed, 100%! So, I'm going to go in another direction for just a second, and then we'll get back to SHRM. You also have a TV series called A Comedian Crashes Your Pad. What led you to start that show, and what is the premise?
Greg: The premise is that I got very fascinated a few years ago with the home sharing market - AirBNB and VRBO. I was intrigued with the idea of who opens up their home to strangers, and it has to be a very interesting person who can do such a thing. I mean it's one thing to be an Uber driver and pick up strangers. But to live with them, with no vetting whatsoever, just, "Oh, you want to come stay? Okay, perfect." I always loved that when they say you've been approved. You don't even know me! I mean I couldn't do that. I can stay at those places, but I couldn't let anybody into my house. But I am a people person - that's how I get material, that's how I write, I have to be out talking to people. So I thought, as long as I'm going to be in all these cities doing corporate gigs, why not take an extra day, find somebody who's kind of interesting - an interesting profile and interesting property? I didn't look for the most lavish or the most expensive. I wanted something or somebody who sounded unique. And I thought this would be just a fun thing to put up on social media, but the more I did it, the more I thought there's really something here. I started doing more episodes. Eventually, the episodes got a little longer. Eventually, I brought in a crew. I'm shooting one in San Antonio next month. I'm going to be doing my presentation for a group of funeral home directors, and no, that is not a joke. The funeral home bit will be hilarious. I guarantee you.
Kyra: You also have a couple of books that are published. Tell us a little bit about those.
Greg: My first one, called Text Me If You're Breathing, I published, during the market meltdown of 2008 when I had some downtime like everybody else. It's about observations, frustrations and life lessons from a low tech dad. I wrote that because my children were starting to get to the age where they were becoming very intrigued with things like cell phones and social media and so forth, and this was all completely foreign to me and I thought there's a lot of humor in here. And I started just writing about all my experiences trying to stay one step ahead of them. Then I wrote another one called The Road to Success Goes Through the Salad Bar. (I'm going to offer a free audio download of that book to anybody who attends my presentation on Saturday live or virtually.) The Road to Success Goes Through the Salad Bar is probably more for HR people. I was talking to one of my clients after a show, and he was talking about hiring people and he said, "You know, I wish I could observe all my candidates at a salad bar because if you watch people at the salad bar you really get an insight into their personalities; how they approach everything, how quickly they make decisions, are they prepared to move quickly, are they wasteful, do they thumb their nose up at everything?" I'm listening to him, and that's really kind of a cool analogy, and then I wrote a column about it because I write a biweekly column for the Chicago Tribune syndicate. And then I thought that could be a great book title. So the book is really more business related. It's just funny business stories that were a little too long to make it into my live presentation.
Kyra: Let's bring this back to the SHRM Annual Conference. You'll be presenting in Las Vegas this coming Saturday, and you know that your audience will be primarily HR professionals. Why do you think your message is relevant to that audience?
Greg: Because, as we talked about at the beginning, I do believe they are in some respects the gatekeepers. I think they are the most hesitant of including humor at an event, and that's, not to say that they're not funny people. I want people to know if you're if you're thinking about attending, or if you're on the fence, you will laugh harder than at any SHRM presentation. I don't even know what most of them are, and I still believe you're going to laugh harder. However, if you're coming to see a straight stand-up show, that's not what you're going to get. I'm going to make you laugh at HR because that's what I do, but the presentation is also going to be thought-provoking. I'm going to give them some suggestions on how to incorporate humor into their events and into their normal work environment.
Kyra: What do you think HR professionals can do within their organization to foster that spirit of fun and laughter?
Greg: I think you have to kind of almost let your employees drive it. If for a team building project, put different age groups, different generations together with one another and have them come up with a funny presentation Put them together; have them work together; have them find a common denominator of what they think together is funny. It could be a one minute almost like a Snapchat type of a clip. Let them work together, let them find out everybody has a sense of humor. More than anything, I think humor brings people together, just like good music can bring people together.
Kyra: What do you hope to be the number one takeaway that the audience will take with them back to their workplaces after your session?
Greg: Not to be afraid of humor. I think not to be afraid of comedy. I want people to see that the positive benefits of humor should not be overlooked, and if you're going to constantly look at humor as something that would be better left on the curb, you're doing yourself, you're doing your company, and you're doing your employees a tremendous disservice. That's what I want people to go away with. I want them to leave and go "That was really fun." I just want people to go away and say that we did get some good ideas from this guy and and obviously, I would love to come to any company and talk about it.
Kyra: Is there anything else that you'd like people to know about you or your session?
Greg - I think, know that you're going to see a comedian and that you're going to get a different perspective. This is not going to be a typical SHRM presentation, because 1) the subject matter, and 2) the guy that's doing it. I guarantee you, you're to get some surprises things you never thought about.
Kyra: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If people would like to connect with you, what is the best way for them to do that?
Greg: That would be GregSchwem.com. My website has all sorts of video clips. I want people to see me in a lot of different situations for a lot of different companies and also talking about the methods that I use to create a presentation for companies, so I hope people spend some time on my website.
It seems like it should go without saying (considering the name of my blog) that I love to laugh. Greg has such a fun spirit. Work shouldn't be void of laughter. I hope you will join me for Greg's session on Saturday September 11 from four to 5pm Pacific to learn more about ways you can cultivate a culture of humor in your workplace.
Also, it's not too late to register for SHRM21! Visit the Annual Conference website: https://annual.shrm.org/ for more information.
Additionally, if you use the discount code SHRM21Influencer, you can receive $150 off registration and a SHRM21 and Life Is Good co-branded T-shirt.
I had the chance to connect with Buddy Bush, an Executive Coach and Team Accelerator with JB Training Solutions. Buddy is presenting The Change Curve: Managing Uncertainty and Ambiguity Within Your Organization at #SHRM21 on Saturday, September 11, from 7:30-8:30 AM Pacific.
The topic of change has always been relevant to the workplace. As the old saying goes, "The only thing that stays the same is nothing stays the same." Change is inevitable. How we manage through change, and support our teams/employees through change is where the rubber meets the road. Buddy has identified the following learning objectives:
What were the factors that led you to speak on the topic of change?
Just like a black cashmere sweater, the topic of change management is timeless and looks great on everyone.
Why do you think change in the workplace can be so difficult to manage?
We are humans, not computers. We can not expect to run a system update overnight and think everyone will reboot at the same time. (Hummmm… it is sounding like I have an IT background with this analogy, but I do not.) We bring our past experiences, our current mindset, and our future priorities to each situation. This means that each member of the team is going to respond in a different way at a different time. This unpredictability makes change feel difficult to manage.
Do you think that organizations, leaders, HR and employees were ready for such drastic and swift changes to the way we work from the start of the pandemic to now?
Most of my clients were already moving towards more flexible/location-agnostic work environments. The pandemic acted as a rapid accelerator. What many leaders and organizations learned is that they could move faster than they thought and their people were far more resilient than they expected.
What are some of the main challenges that leaders face as it relates to change in the workplace?
Setting a tone of realistic optimism, prioritizing initiatives, managing the balance of empathy and accountability, taking the time to celebrate successes…. This could be a very long list.
What are some of the ways that HR can support their companies through uncertainty and ambiguity?
Constant updates, even when the update is that there is no update.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that leaders/HR can make in this area?
Spending too much time defining the future state and rolling out the up-front communication, but not adequately supporting their people in the transition. It is the transition that is challenging. Not the change.
What is one of the ways that HR can have the biggest impact on the change curve?
HR can help leaders think through the stages in advance. If we can anticipate objections, we can better cushion the fall.
What is the #1 thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplace?
We can not jump from phase 1 to phase 4. We have to work the curve and the best way to deal with change is to help create it.
To connect with Buddy Bush, find her on LinkedIn, at www.JBTrainingSolutions.com, or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Buddy's session and other fantastic learning and networking opportunities at SHRM21 by visiting the SHRM21 Conference website.
#SHRM21Influencer #SHRMNMTE #HRShenanigans #HRCommunity
The 2021 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition is a week away. **GASP** A WEEK!
Let’s go back for just a moment to 2020. There was so much anticipation and excitement around SHRM20 in San Diego – which started during SHRM19 in Vegas.
And then…. COVID19.
The world as we knew it completely turned upside down and inside out. The world of work was changed in an instant – forever. Leaders and HR professionals were trying to figure it out on the fly. None of us have ever seen anything like this before. Some companies were models to follow in their response to the pandemic. Some companies woefully failed in the way they treated their people. (I had a friend who was furloughed and subsequently laid off via an email after 20 years with the same company. Y'all, this is an example of what not to do!) Conferences were cancelled and/or postponed, including SHRM20. **sad face**
SHRM21 was originally to be held in June 2021 in Chicago. Sadly, this too was postponed. **sad face**
Now, here we are, just a week away from SHRM21 in Las Vegas. The conference is offered both in person and virtually. You can attend all. You can attend for a day. There are so many options! **happy face**
By the way, there is still time to register for whatever works best for you and your schedule. Check out the SHRM21 Annual Conference website for a list of speakers, concurrent sessions, pre-conference sessions and networking events. Use the discount code: SHRM21_ INFLUENCER to receive $150 off registration and a free SHRM21 + Life is Good co-branded t-shirt.
I will be attending the full conference virtually. This was an incredibly difficult decision for me to make considering I’m an extreme extrovert and mingling in person is my jam. I’ve never attended a conference of this magnitude virtually. Additionally, I was invited to participate as an official #SHRM21 Influencer (previously the SHRM Bloggers). (I invite you to meet and connect with this year’s team: Now More Than Ever – Introducing Your SHRM21 Influencers. Follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter or wherever you mingle on social media, and buckle up for all of the amazing content they’ll be pushing out! Follow the hashtags: #SHRM21 #SHRM21Influencer #SHRMNMTE to make sure you don't miss out on any info!)
I started to think about how I can make the most out of this experience. How would I engage with speakers and their content during general sessions and concurrent sessions? How would I meet new people virtually? How would I keep my energy up in a virtual environment without succumbing to all of the possible distractions?
In order to prep, I want to share a few action items that can help you make the most of your virtual conference experience - before, during and after. Here's a countdown of 5 ways you can prepare for a great virtual conference, share your takeaways with your team at work, make amazing life-long friendships, and continue to build that momentum long after the conference is over.
#5: Prepare Your Session Schedule
The SHRM21 Annual Conference website is a great place to peruse speakers, pre-conference offerings, networking events, and all general/concurrent sessions. Click on “Program” at the top, and select “Full Schedule.” This takes you to a page where you can scroll through the entire conference from beginning to end. You can also search by keyword, the type of pass (Virtual or In Person), by day, by event type, by learning track, and by competency. If you’re new to this, it can be quite overwhelming, so take it in bite sizes. Consider your own career track and professional development. What are some gaps and areas of opportunity that could help advance your career? If your company is paying for your attendance, think about the most critical needs of your company and what sessions you could attend to help support those needs.
The conference spans 4 days. There is a LOT of learning that takes place. Don’t feel like you have to attend intense learning sessions all the time. (I did that one year. I was exhausted! That’s a lot to take in!) Mix it up a bit!
On each session description, you’ll see a little calendar icon next to the event time. Click on the calendar icon and add the session to your calendar.
Here are a few recommendations:
#4: Prepare your space
Create your “conference space” in a way that makes you want to be there. Considering lighting (natural vs artificial, light tone, brightness), potential distractions (kids, pets, significant others, coworkers), audio/video options, and furniture.
With technology, there are ways you can simulate an in-person experience. Connect audio to a sound bar or external speakers so you can crank up the volume! (I’m all about the surround sound soundbar. We’ve had many a Taylor Swift concert in our living room!) Consider the size of your monitor – the bigger the better. Are you able to mirror your screen on a smart TV or large monitor so you’re not struggling to see a small laptop (or phone, eek!)?
Set up your furniture in a way that you’re comfortable – but not TOO comfortable. (Don’t lounge on the sofa, risking a mid-session snooze.)
How do you take notes – paper notebook, tablet,. or other device? Have everything ready – paper, pens, charging cords.
Limit possible distractions by placing your phone on silent, closing a door, placing a sign on your door stating that you’re unavailable until X time, and keeping your work apps CLOSED. (Don’t even consider opening work email until break times and/or scheduled office hours. That’s a sure-fire way to get sucked into work unintentionally.)
#3 Schedule Self-Care
Self-care is as important during a virtual conference as it is during an in-person conference. Make sure you’re scheduling breaks. Get up and stretch. Grab a snack. Eat healthy meals to keep your body and mind ready for all of the information you’ll need to process. Drink plenty of water. If you’re a coffee/tea drinker, have your favorite ready to go.
Also, vary your position during the day – sitting/standing. During your break times, go for a short walk. Do some mindfulness. Keep your morning/evening exercise routine.
#2 Protect Your Calendar
It’s understandable that even during an in-person conference you may be called away to attend to an urgent work matter. It’s even more likely during a virtual conference. This can be quite stressful in both scenarios. To the extent possible, prepare your team and your leaders for your absence. Let them know ahead of time that you are going to be unavailable during certain times. If you want to get really fancy, schedule office hours for when you can be available.
Avoid looking at your cell phone, responding to emails and text messages during sessions. You think you can multitask but you can’t. You will miss out on great nuggets of information and insight if you’re trying to do two things at once.
Protect your time. Protect those sessions that you feel are crucial to your professional (and/or personal) growth. Model this behavior for your team and your leaders – it gives them permission to do the same. This alone can have profound impacts on work culture.
Calendar creep has long been an issue. Prioritize this time so that you can continue to have a positive impact. It’s good for you. It’s good for your company. Go all in.
#1 Invest In Your Professional Network
I cannot stress this enough. Invest in your community. Before. During, After.
If you’re on LinkedIn and/or Twitter, follow the hashtags: #SHRM21 #SHRMNMTE #SHRM21Influencer. Engage with the author by responding and sharing. Consider attending the virtual networking events, as well! There are some entertainment/game options, as well as idea-swap options with others in similar industries.
Be intentional. Be curious about others. You never know what insights you’ll gain from others’ experiences and wisdom, or what friendship can develop from a common interest. Remember, you are in HR. HR is about (wait for it…) PEOPLE. (I know… shocking.) Take the time to meet your colleagues and learn from one another. I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: One of the most powerful tools in your HR toolbox is your network. Networking isn’t about exchanging business cards. It’s about intentionally building relationships for the purpose of giving – not getting.
Make it a personal challenge to connect meaningfully with at least one person whom you do not know each day you attend. Schedule a virtual coffee break or happy hour. (I invite you to connect with me! I would LOVE to meetup for coffee/cocktails!) Keep those connections going after the conference.
Do not underestimate the power of human connection.
The SHRM Annual Conference is an opportunity to grow your community, challenge your assumptions, stretch your mindset, and take purposeful steps towards a more meaningful career. The workplace has changed dramatically in a short period of time. There is no “going back to the way it was.” (And why would we want to?) Now more than ever, our organizations need us (HR) to lead, model, provide sound counsel, and walk alongside the C-Suite to help guide the business. Our profession is on the brink of something wonderful. We are poised to be the business leaders we have wanted to be for decades. Take the bull by the horns and embrace the challenge!
You’ll often hear HR professionals say that they “fell” into HR. It seems to be a common theme. I’m super accident-prone (klutzy, unstable, wobbly), so “falling” always sounds accidental. When it comes to my career, there is no doubt in my mind that landing in HR was anything but accidental.
There was a time in my career, however, when I was at a crossroads. I was in a toxic environment. Leadership was shady at best – secretive, narcissistic, reckless (and yet somehow very deliberate), uncaring, controlling, micro-managing, manipulative, borderline unethical. Leadership squashed any attempt to improve communication, listen to feedback, or treat people as if they brought value to the organization. (I was often told that the only recognition people needed was a paycheck every two weeks.) Since that was the behavior that was modeled, employees acted in kind. The running motto, I kid you not, was “We eat our own.” (Sounds fun, huh?) I felt drained, exhausted, depressed, disappointed and completely spent. I thought, if this is what HR is, forget it.
I had registered for the SHRM Annual Conference that year. I thought to myself, “I’ll go. If my passion for HR is refreshed, I will choose to stay in HR. If not, I’m out.”
That year I leaned in and really engaged in the sessions. More importantly, I connected with people. I found the HR community on Twitter. I found Steve Browne (Master Connector, and Mr. Positivity). I learned that what I was experiencing, while sadly not unusual, wasn’t because of HR. I learned that my environment was toxic. I learned it wasn’t me. (It was them.) It was impossible for anyone to thrive in that environment.
As one very wise co-worker friend (repeatedly) said, “We all have choices.”
Yes. Yes, we do.
I chose to leave that environment.
Since then, I found the environment that feeds my passion for people, stretches me, and allows me to innovate and thrive. (I’m so glad I didn’t walk away from this profession!)
HR is hard. People are messy. To be in this business, you must have a strength, personal resolve and commitment to bringing goodness with you every day. (Kate Bischoff talked about being loyal to yourself and your values in her most recent #DisruptHRBrookings talk. Watch and listen here.) You can choose to get sucked into a negative environment. Or you can choose to remain positive, and make a positive impact – on the business, on your team, on individual employees. And you can choose your environment. It isn’t a weakness to choose to leave when you know your environment is toxic (abusive). You demonstrate a strength of character when you know your self worth and capabilities, and know when you are limited in your ability to apply those capabilities because of something outside of your control. I’m not suggesting to shift blame. (It’s important to own your part and what you’re contributing – positive and negative.) What I’m saying is if you know you can’t thrive in your current work situation, maybe it’s time to consider another opportunity where you’re able to flourish.
I have remained in HR because when I boil it down to one thing, I want the workplace and the work people do to be such a positive force in their personal lives that the sacrifices we each make to come to work 8+ hours every day (limiting time with children, significant others, loved ones, community, hobbies, etc.) is worth it.
I love HR because I have the ability to impact every single person in my organization. HR is work. Some days it’s exhausting. I am driven by my genuine care for people and the unique value they bring to the workplace. Every day is different. Every day is a challenge. And every day is a reward.
While I didn’t initially purposefully seek this industry out, the path I was on twisted and turned, as most interesting paths do. And I found myself in HR.
I didn’t choose HR. HR chose me.
#HRonPurpose #HRRising #HRLeadership #People #HumanResourcesProfessionalDay #HRShenanigans
WARNING: Long, honest and personal post ahead. If you are offended by f-bombs and some ranting, followed by (hopefully) an inspirational message, stop reading now and pull up some videos of puppies.
DISCLAIMER: This is a personal blog post. All views and opinions represented in this post are personal and belong solely to me and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity.
I have cancer.
After a routine mammogram in January, followed by a series of diagnostic tests in early February, it was confirmed that I have Stage 1b invasive ductile carcinoma: breast cancer. I had surgery in April. And started chemotherapy on July 5th (the day I declared independence from cancer). Really, my oncologist and medical team wanted me to start in June, but I had SHRM19 to attend, and I wasn’t about to change my life’s plans.
Want to know why?
Fuck cancer. That’s why.
Since February, only a few people have been made aware of my situation. I have chosen not to be public until now for a variety of reasons. I am not ashamed of it. I am not embarrassed by it. My lack of sharing is in part driven by the fact that most people, when you say you have cancer, change they way they treat you. I think that is mostly the result of not knowing what to say, or maybe the fear of saying something “wrong.” Usually what happens is they become uber-careful, compassionate, concerned, empathetic, etc. The funny thing is, I don’t want that. I don’t want that response so strongly that I’d rather avoid the conversation altogether – more for other people and less for me.
SHRM19 was a pivotal time for me. I had no idea how I would respond to treatment, and thus the reason to postpone until I returned home. Heading out to Vegas was a reminder to me to eek out every ounce of goodness. Savor every interaction. Share words of encouragement for others going through tough stuff. Hug everyone who would let me. Smile and laugh so much that that would be what people remembered about me.
Not only was I asked to be a #SHRM19Blogger (which is truly a special honor), but so did a few members of the #StatelineCrew, which made the experience even more fun. We took this photo together:
This photo was an expression of community and friendship which grew from a simple invitation to connect in a more meaningful way following SHRM18 in Chicago. Since that time, this picture has become a symbol of solidarity. Two of us pictured here are battling cancer. Boo.
Cancer doesn’t define me. It isn’t who I am. It isn’t what I am. It’s something that I have to live with (for now), and deal with (now) so that (hopefully) I don’t have to deal with it at all in the (near) future. Truth be told: Cancer is scary as hell.
Everyone has their shit to deal with. Every single one of us has hardships - finances, marriage, kids, friends or other relationships, employment, school, health, physical, mental, emotional, philosophical, etc. Everyone has a story. This just happens to be my mine. No better, no worse than anyone else’s.
Most people have no idea that I’ve been dealing with this for the last 6 months. I’ve reported to work every day – missing only for the various (and numerous) appointments. When I chopped my hair a few months ago, most people have no clue that I did that to prepare for chemo, and the likelihood that I would lose my hair, and that was a small attempt at making it less traumatic.
I chopped it again last Saturday as a result of chemo-related hair loss. I do have some hair… I’m kind of rockin’ an 80’s combover, which, frankly, I find hysterical. Assuming the hair loss continues, next step is a shaved head. No wig. No head scarves. No hats.
When I tweeted about fear and courage months ago, most people have no idea that those tweets were borne from the cancer diagnosis, and my resolve to kick its ass. After all, I’m a mom of two young children, and as far as I’m concerned, there is one acceptable outcome. My father was 44 when he passed from cancer. I was 8 years old. I’m 46 now. My kids are 12 and 9. I know what it was like watching my father wither away. I was with him when he took his last breath. I know what it feels like to hear my friends talk about their dad and the fun things they would do together, watching them take photos with their dad before prom, at graduation, walking down the aisle at their wedding, when I sat there silently just wishing I had one more moment with mine. I have resolved that my children won’t experience that. Growing up without a mom isn’t an option for them.
The primary reason I haven’t shared until now is because I didn’t want my situation to be a distraction. The irony is that I work for a company in the biotech industry – specifically early cancer detection. So why wouldn’t I want to be more open about it? See prior statement.
I have learned a few things over the last several months.
I have always come at life through the lens of gratitude, joy, happiness and courage. Even when the shit hits the fan, I look for the positive. I’m not one to wallow in misery, or curl up in a ball in the corner, retreat from life, and become a victim of my circumstances. There is not a damn bit of good that comes from that. When you hear the words “you have cancer,” that’s not an easy task. I have viewed my life as a training ground. Every single experience is preparation for something greater. The good. The bad. The horrific. The ecstatic. Life’s experiences teach you (if you’re paying attention) how to respond better each time.
Years ago, when my husband and I were “family planning,” I had a miscarriage. It was devastating. As we were mourning, my husband said to me, “People are watching how you respond….” This was so powerful to me because it was a reminder that the way we respond to life has an impact on others. I am always mindful of what kind of impact I want to have: I want to be a source of inspiration, encouragement and support. Sometimes the way people respond have exactly the opposite effect.
“To everything there is a season….” (turn, turn, turn…)
Listen. There is a time to mourn. A time to be sad. A time to be scared. A time to be so pissed off you want to scream and punch someone in the throat.
A time. A season.
The point is that it’s ok to respond how you need to respond. Sometimes that response is so organic and raw that you literally have no choice in the matter. Nine years ago, I received a call from my sister that her husband stopped breathing. She called 9-1-1, and the EMTs were there performing CPR. I rushed to her house, saw him lying on the living room floor with a team of first responders clearly working very hard to save him, and ran to my sister’s side to hold her. Literally seconds later, one of the EMTs came over and said, “I’m sorry. He’s gone.” The sound that came out of my sister is one that I will never forget and couldn’t describe if I wanted to. It was primal. You can’t choose that response.
There is a time for that response. The key is not to stay there, or allow it to envelope and paralyze you.
I’ve also learned that there is a time to allow others to respond the way they need to, to my circumstance. Sure, sometimes people say stupid stuff like, “Oh wow… My mom had breast cancer… she died.” (Thank you for sharing. That wasn’t the slightest bit encouraging.) But that is the exception, not the rule. Most people express true concern and compassion.
One of the most powerful and special moments at SHRM19 was at the North Central Region SHRM Networking event at Gordon Biersch Brewery. John Baldino, in the company of several of our colleagues, asked an interesting and insightful question about my recent haircut: “So tell me the story about your hair…”
Because in that moment I had a choice. I could choose to answer something to the effect of “I was just looking for a change…” or “summer hair” or whatever. Or I could choose to be honest.
I chose honesty.
In that moment, I shared my cancer diagnosis with a group of people who didn’t know.
Their response was so beautiful, sweet and meaningful. A couple people stood in disbelief. Two cried. All allowed me the room and freedom to share how this situation has become a platform for a message of inspiration and resilience. Followed by a ton of hugs - which, if you know me, is my favorite. (I wish I had thought of the whole "free hugs" movement. What a glorious thing that is!)
Community. A shared memory. Our stories converged. We connected.
While people are responding to your news in whatever way they do, you have the opportunity for impact.
Enter beast mode.
To everything there is a season.. A time to weep, a time to laugh…. And there is a time to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and prepare for battle.
There is a time to share that even in the face of adversity, you can be courageous. There is a time to help people put things in perspective – what it means to choose joy and gratitude in the midst of suffering. There is a time to share your gratitude - for the amazing benefits that your company offers employees that make it possible to meet the financial obligations of very expensive medical treatments; for advancements in medicine and medical technology that allow us to detect cancer earlier, and allow us to make informed decisions about our treatment plan; for a leadership team who offers unwavering support, encouragement and flexibility; for (the few) employees who know your situation who are constantly amazed that you continue to show up every day (because you love your team and you draw so much strength and inspiration from them); for friends who call and send text messages during chemo treatments to help pass the time and to bring a smile to my face; for the HR Community and the #StatelineCrew who send words and gifts of encouragement; for friends who have paved the breast cancer road before you and who share their nuggets of wisdom, tips & tricks and "I am now cancer free" inspiration. There is a time for mental grit and resilience even when you’re experiencing excruciating and debilitating pain and exhaustion. There is a time to show compassion for those with silent disabilities because you now have experienced some of your own and realize quite readily how few disabilities are actually seen.
I have found so many parallels from what I’ve learned through my breast cancer journey, and what we do in HR. It may be odd to say, but I am grateful for my diagnosis because it is making me a better person (wife, mom, friend) and a better HR leader. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with such amazing people who inspire me every day. So much so that even on my worst days, I want to report to work to demonstrate my commitment to them, and my support of the incredible work they do. Cancer has changed the way I engage with people. For the better.
Those who know me know I am not one who is easily kicked down. Cancer screwed with the wrong girl. Cancer hasn’t taken over my life, nor will I allow it to. My life continues on its trajectory – filled with fun plans, house renovations, SHRM conferences, connections with my #HRPals, morning walks with my son, evening snuggles with my daughter, and future planning with my husband. In between all of that, I am being treated for breast cancer.
I’ve gone all Spartan on this thing and it doesn’t stand a chance.
Because now is the time to fight.
#FC #StatelineCrew #HRPals #SHRM19 #SHRM19Blogger #HRonPurpose
Strategic and Nontraditional Steps to Bend Your Company's Health Care Curve: A #SHRM19 Interview with Dr. Wade Larson
Benefits, wellness programs, medical insurance/coverage - so much ugh!
These topics can be quite tough for even the seasoned HR practitioner. As medical insurance premiums continue to rise, more and more employers are cutting benefits - increasing out of pocket maximums and deductibles, reducing networks, cutting coverages altogether. What's infuriating to me is how many HR practitioners look to their brokers as the resident expert on the subject and don't spend enough time truly understanding the benefits landscape and other creative ways to build a benefits package without having to cut important benefits and also **gasp** save the company money.
This particular topic is a painful passion of mine. I say "painful" because, no offense, dear colleagues, but HR professionals are woefully uninformed, uneducated and ill prepared to provide solid leadership when it comes to benefits.
There. I said it.
There are many wonderful broker-partners who truly do look at the relationship with their business client as a partnership and have both the company and their employees' best interest in mind. But, mind you, as is often the case in business, incentives, commission structures and bonuses can be quite persuasive, and can distract from what should be done versus what can be done. This is not where I go on a diatribe about brokers, commission structures, and showing up once a year at renewal - I'll save that for another post and another time (when I'm feeling particularly snarky). Suffice it to say, having the right partners is critical.
I implore you. Taking the time to understand medical insurance coverage, healthcare (**ahem** spoiler alert - health insurance and healthcare are not synonymous), the healthcare supply chain, what is actually driving healthcare (and insurance) costs, how claims are paid, differences between fully insured, level-funded (or "partially self-funded") and self-funded (self-insured) options, what preventive healthcare really is, and other benefits that you can implement to augment your plans will vastly improve your company's bottom line, and I would strongly argue, your employees' health outcomes, as well. Once you have a better understanding of how all of this works, you'll be in a much better (and stronger) position to identify benefits consultants, strategists and brokers who will partner with you to bring strategic, innovative, cost-saving and outcomes-focused solutions to your business.
I was so excited when I found the session "Strategic and Nontraditional Steps to Bend Your Company's Health Care Curve," with speaker Dr. Wade Larson. While we haven't had the chance to speak in person (yet), I feel like I found a kindred spirit in this space. I couldn't wait to connect with Dr. Larson on my questions and share his incredibly insightful and important answers with you:
Stop saying “Someone oughta” and start saying “I’m gonna”.
Q1) What is the biggest challenge for companies when looking at their healthcare and health insurance plans?
Understanding the REAL contributor to the problem. The primary driver of healthcare costs for ANY employer is CLAIMS. If an employer can control claims, they can control costs. And where do claims come from? Employees going to the doctor.
This is the key. Now, how do you control this? There are three fundamental principles that can help an employer get to the point very quickly:
a. Healthy employees don’t get sick, and they don’t go to the doctors. We want them to go to the doctor for preventative care, but that is not what drives up the real healthcare costs. When employees are healthy, they are also happy and that drives of productivity, increases profitability, decreases absenteeism, and reduces turnover. Employee wellness is not just a good thing to do for healthcare – it MUST be a strategic initiative for the business.
b. Employees need to understand that health insurance works the same way as car insurance. (Most employees don’t understand this.) There is a reason why we don’t speed and we don’t wreck our car. When we speed and we get a ticket, our car insurance rates go up. When we wreck our car, our health insurance rates go up. Well, when we wreck our bodies, and we go to the hospital for expensive procedures to fix them, the claims are paid, and those affect the rates which go up for the following year. If we don’t go to the hospital, because we are healthy, we don’t incur claims… And when we don’t incur claims, not only do we save that money, but our rates are not impacted for the following year. Interesting.
c. When employees are treated like partners, they start to act like partners and they start working for us. Businesses don’t have a problem sharing the risk when times are bad. We pass along costs to employees when the rates go up. But are we willing to pass along the rewards when the rates go down? Are we willing to share in the profits when they help us contribute to the solution? Are we willing to disproportionately reward those who are part of the solution over those who are part of the problem? When employees can see that their efforts can result in a reduction of cost, and that reduction of cost puts more money in their pockets, they get excited very quickly. When more money gets into their pockets, they become stingy with that money and they start becoming better consumers of healthcare – including taking better care of themselves so they don’t have to spend that money on healthcare.
If your broker shows up only once a year at renewal time, it’s time to fire your broker.
Q2) HR is often woefully uninformed when it comes to benefits plans. They often rely on their broker as the expert. Do you feel that this is effective? If not, what can HR do to help drive strategic healthcare decisions for their company?
I agree. HR needs to become informed and educated itself, but it also needs to form a dream team of expert consultants. Having the right consultants and brokers is essential. Let’s talk about who needs to be on this team to make it work and their roles and responsibilities.
HR expertise: If HR is not conferencing, and this means specifically to healthcare conferences or national conferences that are specific to healthcare related topics, they’re never going to get it. Look – healthcare is the second most expensive line item on the books. It is typically worth millions of dollars a year to manage. If the only time we manage this is during open enrollment, then we are acting like fiduciary imbeciles. We need to take care of this multimillion dollar account year-round. This also means that we need to become instructed on best practices and ways to manage the solution. SHRM National Conference has great solutions, as do several of the regional and local events around the country. HR MUST remain current in their education. This requires them to go to these conferences and seminars regularly – not just once year.
Brokers: If your broker shows up only once a year at renewal time, it’s time to fire your broker. That goes without question. A broker needs to be a trusted partner that works for you year-round. They are not going to do that on their own. As HR professionals, we need to push them and drive them to create solutions for us. We need to ask them questions and make them do their homework. Personally, I use Mercer because of the strategy that I get from them. However, I also use a second broker – YES, I have two brokers. Mercer is my go to, and the second broker offers some services that are “out there” that are not very conservative but offer me some different solutions that I can’t get through Mercer because they are cutting edge and too new. This creates something of a tension much like Yin and Yang. It’s fantastic. While there is a little bit of competition between the two, it also keeps everybody on their toes. This way I have both of them working for me year-round.
Vendors: If the only time I hear from vendors is around open enrollment to pitch me new products, they don’t help me very much and I am not interested in their services. I have things going year-round with my employees. I need partners, not just a one-time solution. Part of my going to conferences is the trade floor. No, I don’t fill my swag bag full of crap. Sure, I’ll grab a pen or two but not stuff my bag full of useless stuffed animals and squishy things. I hit the trade floor to see what is out there. I look to see what services are available, what is new and thriving, and look for new solutions that can help me streamline benefits management and offer new options that can drive performance of my plan.
Q3) Companies often only review their health plans once each year - maybe 2-3 months prior to their plan renewal. When is the best time for HR to start thinking about, and considering changes to, their healthcare plans?
The best time for HR to start thinking about changes to their health plan is the day after the last open enrollment. As soon as you’re done with starting the year off, it’s time to start thinking about the next year. In fact, as we build one year, we are often thinking ahead of what we are going to do the next year. We think in terms of multiyear strategies. There are some things that we want to do, but in order to manage the change process, we may have to implement it over the course of two years.
Remember – as soon as the renewals calm, it is too late to change anything from the past. I cannot magically change my claims from the previous year. When I open the envelope, it is all about mitigation and negotiation. If I am fully funded [fully insured], I’m at the mercy of the health insurance company to negotiate my rate down. If I am self-funded, it is all about assessing risk and setting price points that demonstrate fiduciary responsibility.
Looking ahead, I CAN influence behavior changes among my employees. I can help them stand how to make better choices as consumers of healthcare, I can help them recognize opportunities to go somewhere other than the ER for primary care, I can offer substantial incentives for them to remain healthy, I can offer alternative solutions such as incentives for medical tourism and pharma tourism, etc. I can’t change the past – that I can change the future, and that future changes as quick as I do. I don’t have to wait for years to make change happen.
Q4) Often, companies feel that the only way to make "healthcare" affordable is by increasing deductibles and out of pocket maximums. Why do you think this is this problematic?
This limiting thought process is what got us into the trouble that we are in. At least, it is partially why we are in the trouble that we are in. Because of this mindset, many employers have passed along premium increases, gutted the coverage that our health insurance will actually cover, increased deductibles, and increased out-of-pocket maximums. The result? Employees are paying astronomical prices out of each paycheck for health insurance that doesn’t cover much, requires an annual deductible that you will never reach unless something catastrophic happens to you, includes an out-of-pocket maximum that is almost the same size as your deductible, and does not allow the employee to get the healthcare that he/she or the family needs or can afford.
Why is this a problem?
Let’s say an employee has an HSA (Health Savings Account) plan with a $6,500 deductible, times two deductibles for the family deductible on the plan. That means that before the employee can actually use the insurance coverage for which he is paying $500 per month, he will need to pay a total of $6,000 in premiums per year ($500/mo x 12 months) + $13,000 in deductibles ($6,500 x 2) for a total of $19,000 before he rolls into any kind of benefits “coverage”. If the employee is a typical employee with an occasional medication and doctors visit, it’s likely that he will never benefit from his benefits. In fact, because of first dollar costs while trying to meet the deductible, there is a really good chance that the employee will just not go to the doctor when he should and may stay home instead. So despite having insurance, the employee won’t use it, will get sick and stay sick for longer, will miss work, and will likely come to work being sick and spread it to others in the workplace.
Q5) What do you mean when you use the term "sick care"? How does this perspective impact a company's employees?
“Sick care” is all about mitigation. We are simply talking about reactive medicine – how to “fix” what ails us after the fact. It doesn’t talk about preventive medicine or the wellness component of preventing bad things from happening in the first place.
Sick care talks about mitigating the cost of the $55,000 that it will take to fully replace a knee through the local hospital system (all costs taken into account including the hospital, the orthopedic surgeon, the anesthesiologist, etc.). Sick care strategies are all about managing costs – and there is some of that that is important, such as bringing in medical tourism where I can send somebody across the border for the same surgery to replace the knee for $20,000 all costs in. But what if I could avoid replacing the knee altogether by helping the employee to lose 100 pounds? What if the reason that the knee needed replaced is because the employee is over 300 pounds? What if I could help them lose the weight in their 40s through our wellness program for a few hundred dollars which then prevents us from having to replace the knee later on? Or the back surgery? Or the cancer that will come as a result of poor health and eating habits?
By taking a holistic approach to healthcare, we take both mitigation (cost control) and prevention into account to attack the costs from multiple angles.
Q6) How can a company address healthcare costs, focus on preventive healthcare (rather than sick care), without busting an already tight budget?
It’s about priorities.
Do they want to spend next year’s money on healthcare increases? That money can go to Blue Cross or you can spend it today on preventive efforts including building a gym, wellness incentives, lunch and learn programming, incentive platforms, materials that you create yourself and distribute, videos that you develop yourself, etc.
We have a fully engaged group that does this as a part of the rest of their job as well. We only have a staff of three in HR. The key is to identify, recruit and engage your wellness committee from throughout the organization. As they become ambassadors of wellness, and they help promote the activities, they will take on leadership roles and begin to run the functions. You don’t have to do it all. In fact, if HR is running the whole thing themselves, this will fail. The more you engage in, the more you can get people excited to participate, the easier this will be to work. Engagement and participation across the board is essential. This CANNOT be an HR event. It MUST be an employee program that engages from the ground up.
Q7) What is the #1 thing you hope the attendees of your session will take back to their workplace?
At least one useful strategy to embrace, take back, and try to do one or more of the following:
I am so giddy about this session, I can hardly contain myself!! This topic should be one of the top priorities for companies. There is so much money to be saved in your benefits plans if you take the time to educate yourself, and then engage the right partners.
Thank you, Dr. Larson, for this incredible information. I am beyond thrilled to share this and truly hope that your session is standing room only.
Please join Dr. Wade Larson for this session, Strategic and Nontraditional Steps to Bend Your Company's Health Care Curve, on Wednesday, 6/26/2019 from 10am-11am in LVCC N201-204.
Please also connect with Dr. Larson on LinkedIN and Twitter.
Years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a place where we felt completely disconnected. We longed for meaningful relationships with the people around us. For all of our efforts reaching out and doing everything we could to engage our community, they just weren’t reciprocated. We started to wonder if it was us, or them, or something else altogether. I wrote several blog posts on this topic (which ironically, caused further separation). Making a long story short, we ended up moving to another state. And almost instantly, we found our community. In fact, such deep community and connectedness that we have become hyper-sensitive to those around us who are experiencing loneliness.
The reality is that loneliness doesn’t end at work. It doesn’t necessarily begin there either. But because most of us (at least those of us working 40+ hours per week) spend the majority of our waking hours at work and with our coworkers, that loneliness tags along with us, and can have a profound impact on how we engage and perform.
Thus, I find the SHRM19 session Workplace Loneliness Is Killing Us, presented by Stuart Chittenden, founder of Squishtalks, to be of great interest. What does it mean to be lonely, how is loneliness manifested at work, and what does that mean for the workplace?
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of connecting with Stuart:
Thank you for speaking with me today! It’s truly a pleasure to meet you and get to know more about you and, specifically, this session. First, how did your business get the name “Squishtalks?”
About 9 years ago, my wife and I started hosting conversation salons in our home. We wanted to have a structure for conversation at a meaningful and deep level, but also one that was allowed to go wherever it wanted to go. We structured it so that we could fit 13 people around our kitchen table at a “squish.” The name just kinda stuck. About three years ago, I exited the partnership I was in, which was a branding and marketing consultancy. I felt the need to respond to this calling to see if this conversation thing could be a consultancy that could pay the bills. So I set up this business, and I kept the name Squishtalks. The camp is divided. Is it absurd, and ridiculous, and undercuts the seriousness of why people pay me? Or does it excite so much curiosity that it is appealing? Thus far, the jury is still out.
That is fantastic! What was the catalyst for making that move from branding to more of the leadership and conversation style salons you would have?
It was a combination of outrage, midlife crisis, and responding to some calling in my life beyond myself. Just turn the news on. Robert Putnam, Political Scientist, talks about our communities being characterized by a shriveled sense of “we.” Just look outside your door. Our social fabric is fraying. I was hitting middle age and I thought, “Is this all there is? And what am I doing to support this?” At that point, I thought the strength I have is using conversation as a way for humans to connect with each other. And I figured if I was going to respond to this calling and indulge the midlife crisis in a positive way, this is what I need to do.
I’m not a researcher in loneliness. And there is no training vocation school where you go to get a qualification as a conversation expert. It’s a subject that I think is relevant. It’s funny to think about HR professionals turning to me and asking “how do I do this?” In many ways, I kinda want to say, “I don’t know. It’s kinda like just being a human… Do the human thing…”
What were the factors that led you to speak on the topic of workplace loneliness?
A cliché, perhaps, but modern society and contemporary workplaces are beset by forces hindering our ability to connect meaningfully at a human level. Maybe I am a little too romantic, yet I am hoping to contribute to the building of stronger, healthier relationships and organizational communities.
How would you define workplace loneliness?
Loneliness may be defined as the subjective feeling that you lack meaningful relationships or a solid support system. It can be distinguished from being alone, which isn’t necessarily unwelcome for us, depending upon the context. Also, loneliness is not necessarily caused by isolation or exclusion. However, while precise, in some ways these definitions and distinctions don’t aid the general practitioner or layperson seeking to address loneliness. In that sense, I find it helpful to consider that loneliness is an emotional state of feeling apart from others.
Do you think that workplace loneliness is a relatively new phenomenon, or is it something that we're just now talking about?
As long as humans have formed communities and societies, we have also been subject to the experience of loneliness. It has been talked about in other eras, although the language and cultural context may not align with what we encounter today. Prof. Amelia S. Worsley at Amherst has written about this and suggests that in the 16th and 17th Centuries loneliness related more to spatial concepts, being away from other people and civilization and instead in the wilderness. Worsley arrestingly observes that modern loneliness has moved inwards and that “the wilderness is now inside of us.” Modernity, however, has a different kind of spatial concept wrought through technology. We struggle with this at a human level. How we connect as people and cohere as societies has not kept pace with the facilities afforded by technology.
I don’t know why loneliness is being discussed more now, but will offer my opinion for discussion. I’ve mentioned technology, which has fulfilled its promise to enable connectivity, but has not delivered on its promise to amplify connection at a meaningfully human level. There are the pressures to be authentic and empowered, yet most of us are unable to cope with the demands that such perfection requires, all the while trying to give the appearance of perfection. Then there are the modern forces – politics, media, socio-economic inequality, racism, bias, and so on – that are widening rifts between communities. More positively, we are de-stigmatizing issues relating to our mental health and wellbeing, which is a welcome shift in our cultural discourse.
What are some of the ways that HR can identify workplace loneliness in their companies?
On a practical level, I am not aware of any specific assessment tool that HR practitioners can discern a benchmark of loneliness. Engagement assessments with some customized questions may offer a viable alternative in the short term and are already visible and credible in the field.
Beyond that, while it may sound cynical, HR should consider starting with senior leaders because, first, that is typically where there are more resources, and, secondly, where HR can get organizational buy-in.
It’s really about organic connection. We come hardwired with this ability to connect with other humans. The truth is there is no simple “one, two, three” that works. What I would suggest is there are principles of conversation that can be brought into the culture. And the way you do that first is by modeling it, and to provide skill building around it. Embed it into training and development programs. Teaching people what some of the principles of conversation are: Curiosity, empathy, listening and courage.
One of the questions that is asked on Gallup's Employee Engagement Survey is "Do you have a best friend at work?" Why do you think this question is so important, and what do the responses reveal to the company in relation to workplace loneliness?
I’ll let Gallup respond to why that is such an important question. This article of theirs is especially relevant, it seems, and includes a statement by a Gallup researcher that you are lonely if the score to this question is low. It also includes this assertion: “'I have a best friend at work’ proved to be the wording best able to discriminate between groups in which friendships are sufficiently supportive and those that have only surface relationships that are unable to withstand adversity.”
What is one of the ways that HR can have the biggest impact on addressing workplace loneliness?
The answer is not mandated “fun” nor forced socialization. What I am suggesting as one way, and not exclusively, is authentic conversation. It is an art that we all have the capacity for and which enables us to encounter others and to be encountered.
What would you say to the business owner and/or leaders who say that it isn't our place to concern ourselves with this topic?
“Are you a human?” Although that is obviously too flippant. I am willing to bet, though, that a business owner or leader who is unconcerned about this issue likely has a workplace characterized by loneliness. If they have dysfunctional teams, siloed thinking, low engagement, little creativity, or high turnover, they might wish to reconsider. If they expect their people talent to fully show up in all their potential then this is an important issue.
For the HR professional, we have to ask, are we there to serve the people? Or are we there to serve the hand that feeds us? That’s where the discomfort comes from.
What is the #1 thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplace?
That a culture of connection achieved through authentic conversation will not only alleviate loneliness and its ill effects, but will amplify wellbeing and performance.
I want to thank Stuart for the wonderful conversation! I hope this information sparks your interest in learning more about workplace loneliness, and some ways you can begin to build meaningful connections through conversation. Join Stuart at his session Workplace Loneliness Is Killing Us on Monday, June 24, 2019 from 1:30 PM - 02:30 PM. To learn more, click here: https://annual.shrm.org/sessionplanner/session/25148/workplace-loneliness-killing-us
To learn more about Stuart Chittenden and Squishtalks, visit his website at: https://squishtalks.com/.
Warning: Long post ahead. #sorrynotsorry
The countdown has already begun for the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition - in Las Vegas! I am giddy with excitement this year! Of course, I’m giddy every year. (Ok. I’m giddy every day… Don’t judge.) I’m particularly giddy to attend this year for good reason. I was invited to participate as an official #SHRM19 Blogger! How fun is that??
Before I dive too deep into this post, I invite you to meet and connect with this year’s #SHRM19Blogger squad: Creating Better Workplace - Meet the #SHRM19Bloggers.
There are a hundred reasons why I look forward to attending every year. But let me take a step back for a second and paint a picture for you. I’ve been attending this conference for years. And every year I see and hear things that make my heart sad, and make me wonder why some people choose HR as their profession. I hear things like “the session was boring” and “there are too many people” and “the coffee line is too long”.
I find it incredibly ironic that we HR pros for years have been trying to unlock the secrets to creating positive workplaces. And yet, here we are, complaining. We know better than anyone in our organizations that you can’t please all the people all the time. So why are we choosing to be on the negative side of the coin. Stop it. Just stop. Let's first make sure our attitudes and behaviors support our efforts.
I’m reminded of a quote from the movie Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday (played by Dennis Quaid) said to Wyatt Earp (played by Kevin Costner):
For some people, this world ain’t ever gonna be right.
Check out the clip here.
Listen up, HR Pros. The conference is what you make it. It isn’t every speaker’s job to ensure that you walk away with 10 golden HR nuggets – at every session. At the end of the day, this is your career. Your development. You take away what you choose. I’m sure you can find just one thing useful in every session you attend. But that is up to you. It is, indeed, a very large conference. SHRM18 in Chicago broke attendance records, and drew 22,000 attendees. So you will have to navigate through crowds, which I realize is a challenge for many people. And, yes, the coffee line is super long at the conference center. So plan ahead and don’t wait to purchase your coffee there. But if you do, don’t be a grumpy butt. See all those people in front of and behind you? They want coffee, too. And, likely, they want it pretty tout suite. Wouldn’t it be something if you started some conversation and helped make the long wait more pleasant?
I know that for many people (like myself), it’s energizing to think of all the possibilities that a conference this size holds. The vendors. The speakers. The bookstore. The Smart Stage. The learning opportunities. The networking opportunities. Connecting with old friends. Hopefully making new ones. All the awesome HR gear. And. So. Many. People. I mean, com’on. Just soak that up. For some of us, when we enter a room of hundreds (thousands) of people, we just revel in the goodness of that energy! (My giddy is showing!)
For many others, especially as a first time attendee, whether it’s 160 attendees or 16,000, it can be quite overwhelming.
In order to prep you for a conference of this magnitude, I want to share a few action items that can help you make the most of your conference experience - before, during and after. Here's a countdown of 5 ways you can gear up, have a great conference, make amazing life-long friendships, and continue to build that momentum long after the conference is over.
#5: Be courageous.
I have thought a lot about fear and courage lately. We all know people who let fear dictate their next move – or lack thereof. Fear, if you let it take hold, will stunt your growth. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said:
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.
Think about that for a minute. Courage is not the absence of fear. That means you can be fearful, and yet still be courageous. (**mind blown**)
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I watched a documentary called “Free Solo.” (Highly recommended.) It’s about Alex Honnold who climbed Yosemite’s 3,000 foot granite cliff El Capitan without ANY ropes or safety equipment. None. I watched the whole thing between my fingers. I wasn’t even there and it scared the poo out of me. (Not literally…)
People like him have a different perspective of fear. They are able to control and use fear - become hyper-focused, confident and prepared. Sure he was scared. And he did it anyway.
If I’m being honest, I spent a good portion of my early career hanging out in fearful places. Rather than let fear act as cement, I learned to use it as a source of motivation to continue to stretch and explore the unknown. I’ve learned that fear is usually my guide. If I feel fearful, that usually means I’m on the right path and something extraordinary is about to happen. Sometimes fear can be exhilarating! (I call that the “Wee Factor.” It’s that moment when you realize how FUN fear can be!) But it does take courage to keep moving forward.
It is not unusual to be fearful of large, unfamiliar places, filled with unfamiliar faces. I get it. Many people are simply uncomfortable around strangers – even more so 16,000 of them.
Do it anyway. Use that fear as a motivator for you to try something new. Embrace the fear, and step out with courage.
The moment that little voice inside your head starts throwing out fear statements, or tries to convince you not to do X, shut it down. YOU are in control of your thought pattern. If you live your life in a place of fear, it’s high time you start writing a new narrative.
#4 Build Your Professional Network
It took me far too long to understand the power of a strong network. For some, networking comes naturally (**ahem** Steve Browne). For many others, networking is terrifying. (Please refer to #5.) There are a ton of books, blogs, articles and podcasts you can read and listen to to learn how to network. The big aha moment (and the moment networking became fun) is when I learned that the more I give and serve, the more I get back. The kicker is that I never give for the purpose of getting. It’s that this miraculous thing happens when you give: You receive.
A starting point prior to heading out to SHRM19 is to log into SHRM Connect, click on “Groups,” and then find the SHRM19 Annual Conference Community. If you are traveling to Vegas solo, this is a great place to start making connections NOW. You will find people posting as a first time attendee asking to make connections. Post one, too! Make plans to meet up – for coffee, lunch, dinner, cocktails, dancing, site-seeing, WHATEVER. Plan a dinner somewhere and post how many dinner partners you’re looking for. You will be shocked (and pleasantly surprised) at how many others are in the VERY SAME PLACE you are! The reality is that people want to connect. Let’s not do this introvert/extrovert labeling BS. The most introverted people in the world still want connections with other humans. And the most extroverted people in the world still need down time. Everyone wants to belong. Be intentional about those connections. How many times have you attended a conference or a Chapter meeting, you sat at a table of strangers, introduced yourselves, exchanged business cards, and then the moment you return to the office, you either throw the business cards in a desk drawer, or worse, in the trash? Spoiler alert: That’s not networking.
If you do some networking prior to the conference, once you get there, intentionally connect with those people you’ve been networking with. That conference center jam-packed full of thousands of people will feel a whole lot smaller when you see a familiar face or two.
During and after the conference, follow through on the connections you made (and continue to make) with others. Be sure to exchange contact information. Make a plan to connect in person (if local), or by phone call, or better yet, through Zoom or other video conferencing. (Claire Petri is a master at this! Anytime I connect her with someone new, I know that on the short end of that introduction is a Zoom call. It’s brilliant!) I’m not suggesting that you need to make every person you meet your new BFF. What I’m saying is be the kind of person that others know they can count on – whether for great content, sound advice, knowledgeable counsel, or another connection. One of the most powerful tools in your HR toolbox is your network. The HR Community is chalk-full of amazing, smart, innovative, experienced professionals. On top of that, most people want to help others. We want to see others succeed. Be the kind of professional that helps build others up. What a legacy!!
#3 Find a mentor
We have so much to learn. Wherever you are in your career, there is zero chance that you know everything there is to know. Sometimes we all need a nudge. We need someone to impart wisdom – to help us make decisions (which very well could be life or career altering), to help guide us when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, to share experiences and knowledge where we lack one or the other, or both.
I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
Mentors are teachers, or as Robert Frost said, awakeners. (Ooo, I love that!) We all have greatness inside of us. Mentors can help to unlock and unleash – awaken – that potential. Mentors can be the conduit between mediocrity and extraordinary. They can be the boost we need to be courageous in the face of our fears (see #5). They are the ones who lead us to truth. Or in some cases maybe just encourage us to recognize the truth we already know and give us just the right kick in the backside to muster the courage to do something with it. (Future blog post on this topic...)
#2 Be a Mentor
One of the best ways to learn is to teach. You do not need to be someone with 20 or 30 years of experience in order to teach others more junior than yourself. All of us have experiences we can share with others. That is one of my favorite things about the HR profession. I am continually impressed by the number of young professionals entering this field, and the level of passion, creativity, innovation and knowledge they already have to share. Find one that you can mentor and help guide and shape, and in return, you will learn oh so much.
The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.
#1 Intentionally Find And Build Your Community
Life was meant to be experienced together. We aren’t meant to walk alone – personally or professionally. Iron sharpens iron. It takes a village. Community is a natural result of consistent presence and intentional relationship building (see #s 4, 3, and 2). When we build relationships with the professionals in our network, when we teach and are taught, connections begin to have more meaning. We build friendships. We find the people with whom we share more intimate details of and the struggles in our lives. Community isn’t limited to a number, or to a certain radius of miles from your work or home, or to the individuals with whom you have the most in common or happen to be most like. Community is what you make it. It can be as large or as small as you feel comfortable. I have found that the more I invest in people, the more I am intrigued and interested in who they are, and the more excited I am to draw them into my community– like gravity.
Choose your community. Choose them well. Choose to pull closer the people who make you better. Nurture those relationships.
The SHRM Annual Conference is an opportunity to expand your community, be challenged and stretched, and take purposeful steps towards a more meaningful career. This year, decide ahead of time what you plan to get out of your attendance and how you plan to bring all of that back with you to help create better workplaces. Start now. Even if it scares you, do it anyway. If the thought of 20,000 people in one spot stresses you out, come anyway. If you don’t have a mentor now, find one anyway. If you feel like you have nothing to teach, mentor anyway. If you prefer to keep your community small, build relationships anyway. Then follow through - during and after the conference.
After all, we are in the business of people.
For another great list of conference tips, I want to give a shout out to fellow #SHRM19Blogger and #StatelineCrew #HRTribe pal – and dear friend, Jeff Palkowski. Jeff and I met in person at #SHRM18 in Chicago. Prior to heading out, he had created this super fun Bingo card, which he enthusiastically branded SHRM-O. I don’t want to steel his thunder, so head over to his blog: HR Sushi Bar. He does a wonderful job of providing great tips for attending #SHRM19 in Vegas. A Case of Déjà Vu All Over Again.
PS – My #1++ conference tip is to wear comfortable shoes! Ladies, this is NOT the time to sport your brand new 4 inch pumps. You will regret it within the first 30 minutes....