It's Time We Stop Being Afraid To Get Personal in the Workplace

When employees emerged out of COVID-19 cocoons, very few, if any, knew how to navigate the return to the office.

business team
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When my employees and I started to emerge out of our COVID-19 cocoons, none of us really knew how to navigate the transition back to the office. What I understood when I looked at my team, though, was the overwhelming level of loss.

Relationships, energy, personal, professional — the price was admittedly different for everyone, but we all had lost something along the way. I knew at that moment that if we were going to do our best work going forward, I had to restore what the pandemic had taken from people. To truly recover, all of us needed to seize the unique opportunity we had to get personal and shift to a more human way of working.

New Recognitions and New Forms of Support

Before the pandemic, my company had provided basic support for employees through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and a traditional Wellness Program. However, a formal mental health program wasn't yet in place. I also realized that some of the new challenges workers had were unusual. The experience of being sequestered in the house with the kids in one room, your spouse in the basement and you in the living room trying to work isn't normal. Watching your eating habits slowly worsen because working from home makes you pass the fridge a few dozen times a day is abnormal, too. Yet, my team told me a lack of focus and nutrition were some of their most common struggles.

Some people just needed to find a coach or figure out how to better connect with their families. But the bottom line was as leaders, we understood that we couldn't view those needs, whatever they were, as something to minimize. The team and I put together a new Restore program to recognize the more traditional difficulties and new weights people were carrying directly because of the pandemic. Through that program, people are encouraged to shed light on whatever their reality is so the team can offer the most appropriate help.

The Goal Is Better People, Not Better Workers

As the company continued to grow through the pandemic, a central theme has been elevating everything the team and I do. The leadership team has stressed how much potential there is and the workers' capabilities to reach it. That's all been formalized in our ELEV8 initiative.

As part of ELEV8 workshops, in the beginning, facilitators gave workers a blank card to write five things they wanted to get better at professionally. On the other side of the card, the employees had to write five things they wanted to get better at personally. I noticed that people consistently filled out the professional side of the card relatively quickly. When they faced the personal side, though, most people didn't know what they wanted. Some wouldn't even fill it out because they didn't feel comfortable doing it. This wasn't all that surprising. When business leaders around the world talk about self-development, they usually only talk about gains in the context of being a better, more valuable worker for the team.

The cards helped start the discussion about who the team members were outside of the office, what they needed, and what they dreamed about. Leadership made it clear that the goal wasn't only to create better workers — it was to create better people. For some, that meant finally joining a volunteer board, finding a significant other or eating more greens instead of ice cream. Whatever the improvement goal was, the leaders wanted people to feel comfortable owning and sharing it.

Workers put their cards on a board just outside my office. Gradually, more and more cards showed up because people started to understand they had a safe place to be their authentic selves.

This exercise shows how small activities can open the door to a more supportive culture where people accept others for who they are. Doing something similar in your own business is a significant step toward getting to know your team on the deep level you need to earn loyalty and guide them to their best work. The cards also show how important it is for people to write down what they're aiming for to get some clarity.

Part of helping workers get past hurdles and meet their goals is helping them make connections. Based on their card responses, leadership was able to see that some people liked pets, so we pulled them together into a group to get to know each other and their pets better. Another group liked gardening, so we gave them a plot in our back parking lot, and now we have a cool garden. Whatever the common interests are, showing people they're not alone and supporting their hobbies is a powerful way to get them to open up.

Your Team Is Counting On You to Blur the Line

When I coached youth football in my community, I noticed some parents who came to every practice but they were on their phones the entire time. They were physically there, but they weren't really engaged, and it was obvious to their kids. Other dads weren't there for every practice, but they were attentive and supportive when they were there, and their kids noticed.

This scenario applies to how you approach your own players in the office. If you want to get them to the next level and achieve happiness, you can't keep pretending like it's enough for them to just show up. It's not about the hours. It's about the quality of those hours, about whether people are present and fulfilled. Usually, getting to that point means acknowledging that work and home life naturally influence each other and, subsequently, giving people the freedom to be the same person in the office as they are outside of it.

Blur the unnecessary, impossible line between professional and personal. Let people know they can win the game wearing all the brilliant colors they have. The more people understand they can be everything they are, the more they'll grow into everything you knew they could be.

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