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The Positive Impact of Empathy in the Workforce

I want to cringe every time I see a TV series or a movie that features a crazed, former military member brandishing a gun, running with simulated voices in his or her head, and ominous music of impending doom – all due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I applaud storytellers for bringing mental health issues to light and for attempting to tell these often-silent stories. Yet what is often lost in the sensationalism of a highly trained person with a gun, is the humanity and seriousness of the situation.

The US Department of Defense, National Center for PTSD reports that issues of PTSD vary. For veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom between 11%-20% suffer. For the Gulf War, Desert storm the center reports 12%. For the Vietnam War the numbers are 15%.  These numbers cover only those who have been diagnosed; the estimates for actual individuals coping with PTSD are thought to be even higher.

These numbers are important because if you live and work in the Washington, DC region, or any area of the country with a large military population, you interact with people who may be suffering or who have suffered from PTSD.

In my role as a leadership development trainer and executive coach, I work with large populations of both active duty and retired service members. They are some of the most highly trained technical people and skilled managers in the workforce. When these people transition from active duty and enter the workforce, they can and do bring real value to the companies fortunate enough to snap them up.

Please don’t avoid anyone you know with PTSD or pass them over for job or promotions because they may have issues. Don’t be afraid of them or not trust them. After all, these brave men and women have given their all to protect us. Instead, learn to manage PTSD in the workforce, whether you are a manager or co-worker.

Coping with PTSD in the workplace

  • Create a safe place to ask questions and work together
  • Bring in a trained facilitator/consultant to work with both management and veterans to better understand issues and then develop solutions
  • Develop written procedures, meeting notes, and training manuals so employees and can refer back if they missed something at a session or need additional refreshers
  • Have published calendars for team tasks so individuals can refer to these privately
  • Provide access to alternate/softer lighting in work spaces
  • Initiate organization-wide strategies for managing stress
  • Set aside money for additional training for new members
  • Provide disability training to all team members
Corporate Teams Training and Productivity Tips

Building a Healthy Company Culture

Let’s talk about company culture.

Much has been said about companies like Google that offer employees snacks and Netflix with free movies. I’ve included a link in the Great Reads section, check it out.

Company perks are not the same as company culture. Culture refers to an organization’s personality. Even the most buttoned-down industries think finance, insurance, and government, can have attractive cultures. These are the places that are committed to employee satisfaction. Your organization doesn’t have to offer free massages for it to be a great place to work.

Time and again, employee surveys show that employees are most likely to be happy at their jobs when they have good management, feel valued, and have a mission to which they feel connected. A company may choose to show its value with freebies, but if movie nights and free vacations a la AirBnB aren’t in the budget, consider how other offerings translate.

  • Paid parental leave for women and men signals a commitment to families and values as employees transition to and from the workforce.
  • Paid tuition and training signal a commitment to training, education, and a growth mindset.
  • Healthcare benefits for part-time employees signal a commitment to health and understanding what matters to people.
  • Flex time and work-from-home options signal a commitment to family-life balance, transportation costs, stress, and employee independence.

Hire for your culture

  • Do your organization value teams and collaboration?
  • Are you based on independent thinkers and doers?
  • Do you provide services and want employees with a servant’s heart?
  • Does management want to see people at their desks or does it prefer online communications?

And while these touchpoints are broad, an organization can break them down to why they are important and how they work, or in some cases don’t work. If face-to-face communication is essential to your organization and everyone works from home, it’s time for a culture change.

In today’s tech-dependent environment, employees do expect perks and view them as part of an organization’s culture. The company with a 50% discount on its services, generous leave package, and management training program is seen as desirable. But perks are not a bandage for unhappy workers. Suddenly offering free Starbucks in the morning isn’t going to make up for poor leadership. It certainly won’t make up for a company’s poor reputation. Define your culture and hire employees who fit. If you can’t find enough qualified employees, maybe it’s time for a culture change.

Need some help? Check out my classes including my popular Change Management for Cultural transformation class.

Contact me with your leadership and team issues.

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Corporate Team Building and Training

We’re Doing What? This Isn’t My Idea of Team Building!

If you need to take a mental health break and want to have a few laughs, do an online search for team building gone wrong. You’ll find a selection of videos that for some are funny, and for others, bring back bad memories of their own failed team-building events. Here’s one to start you off.

Poor video Steve. He almost suffered head trauma. He obviously was a good sport for posting the video. However, he will now be remembered as the guy who took a gainer off the girl’s pink bike – not the man who sold the most widgets, an engineer who solved a pressing design flaw, or the executive with innovative ideas. We don’t know what this man does, but you get the point.

This month, I want to talk about team building and corporate training programs.

A company-sponsored team-building event can be a useful tool to bring diverse groups of people together or specific people, like new hires, or teams recently re-organized under new managers.

Studies have shown that workers are often more productive away from the office and can benefit from speaking to and working across, departments on shared projects and goals. The benefits can also apply to people working in service or manufacturing industries. When you change the venue, you can change the message.

However, one organizer’s idea of team building does not fit all. Trust exercises, puzzles, sports competitions, public performances, etc. are exciting to a lot of people. Hey, I can juggle and love jumping out of trees – let’s do it! But for others, whether due to physical limitations or intense loathing of an idea, these competitive team events are stressful – like “going to the doctor” stressful. Why would you do that to someone? Messages such as, try something new and get out of your comfort zone to spur creative team results, don’t work. It brings us all back to gym class where you were either picked first or last or hiding in the locker room so you didn’t have to participate at all.

Companies can run effective offsite programs that include social events and sports if it’s appropriate for your group. However, ask a department of working parents to spend a night away from their family and you inadvertently start an avalanche of turmoil as parents have to find overnight daycare and reschedule more than just their own lives.

If you decide to have a fun wine-tasting or cocktail-mixing event, you may be stressing people who don’t drink for medical, addiction or religious reasons.

My point – the purpose of team building is to build teams, not destroy people or force them into embarrassing situations, or call attention to personal attributes.

Training – The Flip Side

Let’s talk about how you can improve your teams and their performance through training.

Gone are the days when one person did one job. Employees are expected to be masters of multiple technologies and processes wrapped in company values and shared goals. One of the best ways to achieve these high-performing experts is through continued training, either formal classroom work, offsite workshops, or online programs.

Employees want job training and expect it as part of the job benefits. Training programs also build loyalty and shared skills. Training can be designed for the teleworker or the worker on the line. It can – and should – be customized to your company and the goals of your workforce.

And yes, you can combine training with corporate team-building exercises. Just keep your employees’ feet on the ground and not swinging from the trees.

I’ve included interesting resources and ideas to help you think through retreat and training exercises, along with a few laughs.

Contact me with your leadership and team questions. I’d be happy to build an offsite learning or training program for you.

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The Bully Behind the Desk

Here’s some eye-opening news. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. A Yale University study found that victims of bullying are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than those who are not being bullied. The National Education Association reports 160,000 children miss school each day for fear of being

Much has been written in recent years about bullying; many schools have developed a no-bully policy. However, that doesn’t stop the behavior any more than a no-smoking sign outside a building stops people from smoking.

Let’s move past the tender school years and jump into the workforce. A 2014 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI,) reports that twenty-seven percent of workers “have current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work.”  Not surprisingly, managers are the majority of offenders.

Now, let’s connect the dots. If students are missing school and contemplating suicide, how does that translate to working adults? Students can and should report all incidents of bullying to school authorities. But what does a worker do if the consequences are professional retaliation or job loss? Not everyone is in a position where he or she can just get another job.

First, it’s important to recognize and define workplace bullying behavior. WBI defines it as conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating and includes actions that lead to work sabotage. This can come through verbal abuse or written text or emails.

If you think that these behaviors walk the line between bad actors and legal actions, you’re right

  • Document the activities, names, dates, events, and witnesses if applicable
  • Report activities to human resources or the highest authority above the person who is the bully
  • Seek the advice of an attorney
  • In extreme cases, call the police

Most of all, realize that you are not alone. The schoolyard bully does grow up, yet unfortunately, may not outgrow his or her reprehensible behavior. No one has the right to abuse another person on the playground or at work.

Wise Words Newsletter – read the rest of the April newsletter here!

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PTSD in the Washington Region – Hidden in Plain Sight

Living in the National Capitol Region, we share the area with many military installations and service members. Americans pride themselves on supporting the military. People rally around the returning troops, attend fundraisers to help support individuals, brave freezing December temperatures to lay wreaths at military cemeteries, and countless other opportunities to show their gratitude. Some even come together to build homes for those who have sustained more severe injuries that require building accommodations for prosthetics, wheelchairs, and other mobility-enhancing devices.

But what about those soldiers, men, and women, who carry silent burdens? Many look the same but suffer the natural consequences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to a study by the RAND Corporation, at least 20 percent of service members returning from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from depression, PTSD, or both. Military counselors estimate those numbers to be higher, especially when coupled with a TBI or traumatic brain injury.

As veterans transition into a civilian work environment, both themselves and their employers must understand how PTSD may impact everyone. They must work together to develop solutions so both the company and the veteran have the best chance at creating a successful work environment for all. According to 2012 research from Babbel, PTSD can impact veterans in many ways including memory loss, which can impact those struggling to learn new tasks on new jobs or function in meetings; lack of concentration; stress, including panic attacks, flashbacks, and emotional extremes resulting in the potential inability to work well with colleagues and managers; and hypersensitivity to sounds, lights, large crowds, and unknown areas resulting in headaches, migraines and panic attacks. Many veterans may not be used to the traditional work structure as compared with the military rank structure. This can cause stress and frustration as the employee works to forge a new path. For someone suffering from PTSD-induced memory loss, being unable to remember how to do that basic task explained earlier in the day may cause the individual to become overwhelmed and then lash out and blame a colleague or a supervisor. These types of negative responses can impede the development of relationships and workplace morale, particularly if other employees don’t understand that the incident isn’t about them. As the tension comes to light, it’s important to identify the root cause. Is it coming from one of the identified symptoms of PTSD? Supporting Individuals with PTSD in the workplace

  • Create a safe place to ask questions and work together
  • Bring in a trained facilitator/consultant to work with both management and veterans to better
    understand issues and then develop solutions
  • Develop written procedures, meeting notes, and training manuals so employees can refer back if they
    missed something at a session or need additional refreshers
  • Have published calendars for team tasks so individuals can refer to these privately
  • Provide access to alternate/softer lighting in workspaces
  • Initiate organization-wide strategies for managing stress
  • Set aside money for additional training for new members
  • Provide disability training to all team members

A solid relationship between employees and managers is critical for a productive workplace. This may be difficult for a veteran suffering from PTSD, working for a manager with little to no awareness of their background. Just like any employee, if the manager exhibits a lack of empathy for the individual’s situation, it becomes more difficult for the employee to be successful. This is magnified for someone struggling with PTSD.

Transitioning into a new workplace is difficult for anyone, but for those who bear the biggest burden for our freedoms, the task can seem impossible. If everyone did their part, the difference would be immeasurable.

This article was initially published in Prince William Living Magazine.
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Communicating from Our Corners

Election month, November is finally here. The political vitriol and hate speech will stop (hopefully). With internet jokes, pundit reports, and social media shouting at us in a never-ending cycle, it’s difficult to tune it out. I’m your neighbor from up north, and I think a lot of it is a communication issue. The United States has genuinely stopped listening and talking as a country.

Let’s examine the previous several months and how we got here.

Republicans came first, but only because of the order of their convention.

Ted Cruz declined to support Trump. For the purposes of this conversation, it doesn’t matter if you loved or supported him. What counts is that a group of people booed him, engaging in improper behavior of their own. This shows how strongly they felt about his message. Delegates then began to abuse him on the convention floor, calling him a traitor and other derogatory terms.

The Bernie or Bust Democrats followed suit a week later. Even after their candidate endorsed the opposing candidate, they refused to accept it and continued to spew hate speech.

then the debates would follow. I listened to a stammering Donald Trump ramble about, I don’t know, anything. I could share some advice with him about how to interact with a crowd as a leadership development expert. Hillary made a sincere effort to connect with the audience despite her worries about her ability to do so. She has been portrayed in the past three weeks’ worth of Saturday Night Live sketches.

Then came a series of one-liners from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, including references to “Nasty Woman” and “Basket of Deplorables.”

Including the allegations of sexual misconduct, Wikileaks, remarks concerning the involvement of other countries, and so forth. We are impatiently waiting to exit the crazy Ferris wheel that is spinning nonstop.

One of the things that make the United States a nation full of ideas and opportunities is the freedom to protest and inquire. But somewhere along the line, people lost the ability to sympathize, compromise, listen, and act rationally rather than emotionally. They have retreated even further into their corners.

Do you stand in a corner and stare out? Have any of the following crossed your mind or lips?
– Because I despise candidate B, I’m going to vote for candidate A. I won’t be casting a vote at all. I wholeheartedly agree with what my candidate says. Everything the other candidate says is unquestionably false. Never support Trump! Never Hillary, I say!

If you answered yes to any of them, you’re probably in a tight spot politically.

What would happen if you declared that you would never collaborate with a person in your office or on your team? What would happen if you were asked to present evidence and information regarding a project to aid in solving a dispute but you objected, claiming the opposing side was incorrect? What would you say if a worker approached you and said, “Never”? There is a good chance that HR would receive a call.

This lack of leadership results from no one paying attention, making concessions, or showing empathy. Booing someone is simple. Finding a solution to a problem and shaking hands is more difficult.

We all have our own niches, but it’s important to identify when we start to attract less attention since all we do is boo. This is when we become the “Never.” And when we turn into the “Never,” we must understand the effect that has on other people.

What do you perceive from your position as a leader? Do you simply perceive things from your own point of view? Or can you move around the room and experience it from someone else’s perspective? Do you anticipate that everyone on your team and throughout the company will adopt your point of view? Or can you see that sometimes being a part of something bigger than yourself requires sacrificing your personal needs and ambitions in order to realize the wider picture? In my book, How Not to Act Like a BLEEP at Work, I discuss how empathy and perspective-taking are crucial for fostering teamwork. Although it’s not always simple, achieving an organization’s objective and the bottom line is essential to its success.

As an individual leader and a part of your professional and personal communities, I encourage you to turn around and look at things from a different angle. You are not required to alter your opinions. But maybe, just maybe, you can work out a compromise. Your efforts to try and meet individuals where they are will be noticed by your team, and your business will benefit as a result.

Also, don’t forget to use your voting rights!

Read the remainder of the November newsletter at Wise Words here!

Corporate Teams Training Programs

Bring Melissa’s top-rated Change Management for Cultural Transformation to your Organization

Change is necessary for all highly effective organizations to maintain their edge yet the process of change itself can be a slippery slope if not managed well. Those involved in leading the efforts must possess the ability to motivate their people toward the common goal. Successful change management requires more than just assigning tasks to members; it requires leaders who can inspire team members to see the vision and contribute their individual talents toward the efforts.

Who Should Attend?

Managers, supervisors, team leaders, and individuals who have been charged with leading teams or departments through the change process.

Course Topics and Outcomes Participants will be able to:

  • Define the process of Change Management and its principles
  • Identify the critical components of Change Management principles
  1. Why is this change necessary
  2. How is change going to be accomplished
  3. Who must be involved, both leading the effort and along the way?
  • Define the process of Change Management and its principles
  • Identify the critical components of Change Management principles
  • What steps are critical to successful change occurring
  • Identify methods for developing new attitudes, values, and behavior to replace the existing culture
  • Identify and apply strategies for fostering positive relationships necessary for successful change
  • Identify key leadership traits necessary to effectively facilitate the process
  • Understand the process people go through as a result of a change
  • Understand the ‘implementation dip’ and how to work through it
  • Analyze a given industry scenario and develop a detailed plan to successfully guide the Change Management process

Learning Methods: Self-assessments; individual and small-group exercises; facilitator presentations; simulation; and discussions.

Learn more about Wise Ways Consulting Training.

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