Engaging Voices - Michael Lee Stallard


Continuing the Engaging Voices series begun with David Zinger and Tim Wright, I am pleased to add Michael Lee Stallard, with an entry he calls "Weathering the Storm." The author of the Connection Culture manifesto and the book Fired Up or Burned Out, Michael is the president of E Pluribus Partners, a consulting firm that focuses on helping leaders increase employee and customer engagement.

Weathering the Storm by Michael Lee Stallard

I was an enthusiastic 21-year old recent college graduate when I arrived for my first day of work at Texas Instruments in 1981. Ready to take on the business world, what I encountered was an office of stressed-out co-workers. The day before, the company had announced its largest layoff in history. The mood at the firm made me wonder if I had just bought myself a seat on the Titanic. Since then I’ve lived through many a restructuring and downsizing and learned how to cope with the normal feelings that arise in times of uncertainty.

When colleagues lose their jobs, it is natural for us to fear for our own. Triggered are a range of emotions, including anxiety, anger, sadness and even grief. These emotions are grounded in our needs for respect, recognition and a sense of belonging at work. Meeting these needs is critical to restoring normal emotions.

If office morale is low due to job cutbacks, I recommend people concentrate on two areas. First, focus on what you control, that is, your efforts in carrying out your own job responsibilities. When you do this, your colleagues will see you in a more favorable light. If you mope around and complain, however, it looks immature and selfish. Now is not the time to drop the ball. If the team has been weakened, everyone needs to step up during this time of adjustment.

The worst thing for people going through a time of uncertainty is to feel alone. When we feel alone, we tend to become more pessimistic and may over-react out of that pessimism. The office mood will sink even further if everyone tries to “suck it up” on their own. When people worry about losing their jobs or get stuck in their grief over the loss of their former colleagues, the level of the stress-related hormone cortisol soars in their bodies. A whole host of negative physical and mental effects arise when cortisol remains high. When people feel connected relationally, however, and receive encouragement from others, their cortisol levels fall. The connection helps them feel better and the clouds of gloom will begin to clear. The second response I recommend, then, is to intentionally reach out to “connect and encourage” your colleagues.

Connecting with a co-worker may include taking him out for a meal or coffee, or out for a walk. As important as the time and attention is the opportunity to get him to talk about how he’s feeling. Listen closely to him and try hard to empathize. Encourage him by complimenting him on his strengths and assuring him that he will be fine. Because your co-worker will feel respected by you and recognized for what he does well, it will boost his sense of belonging to the group. And when you connect with and encourage others, you will find that you feel better too.

You can make a difference and lift the spirits of your co-workers by taking the initiative to connect and encourage the people around you. Stay on task. Your team will weather this storm and the support and encouragement you show one another will make you better equipped for the future.

[Copyright 2009 by Michael Lee Stallard. All rights reserved]

Posted by Terrence Seamon, January 31, 2009

Comments

Brian Oates said…
Here's an idea that I learned from someone. Map out a 1 mile walking course (inside or outside) your building. One person collects how many miles each person walked each week and uses the combined miles to travel across the country or between two cities. Put up a map and use a pushpin so everyone knows where your at.
A fifteen minute walk during the day is a good break, a good way to invite coworkers, and is an easy way to build connection.
hmorrison said…
On the "connect and encourage" front, it's a fine line to walk with two big risks. You don't want to come across as a cheerleader, because that's just annoying. The idea of individualizing your attention and reaching out to spend time with one co-worker at a time can make it seem more meaningful and less blithe.

That could also help avoid Risk #2, being dragged down into a "gripe session." It's easier to trump the negativity and worries of one person during a coffee break than with a group of people!

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