When The Going Gets Tough


You’ve likely heard that familiar phrase, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” It is a compliment to those who bear down and work hard when the conditions are equally hard. With hard work, what’s viewed as tough is overcome.

There’san addition to that phrase you might be less familiar with. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The smart left a long time ago.” This is a nod for those who saw the tough times ahead and actively took steps to avoid the tough going to come.

I suppose it’s an accurate assessment to say that not only do we see ourselves as generally favouring one or the other, but we’re likely to do either one depending on the situation. We definitely might roll up our sleeves and tackle tough situations; why we might even draw inspiration from the challenge of whatever threatens our productivity or success! At the same time, we might also see something upleasant and tough ahead and determine that we’re in posiiton to avoid it altogether and the effort isn’t worth it. For example, I’ve known people who have been close enough to retirement that they decide to leave early rather than learn what they see as a complicated and new piece of technology.

It’s not that one saying is right and one is categorically wrong. It’s more that we as individuals size up the challenge ahead of us and make a decision to get going or we don’t. Yes, in some situations we’re smart to protect our physical or mental health by removing ourselves from the situation if we perceive it as dangerous or not in our best interests. Take when forest fires or floods are approaching a community and while the smart leave when instructed, dig in until the water or fire is upon them and only then do they get going, often needing rescuing.

The issue that causes divisions amongst us can come about when others we work with and/or care for greatly, don’t have the same views as we do. While we’ve taken a position that we’re comfortable with, so have they, and it can strain a relationship if the decisions aren’t united. In the case of a coworker retiring, while we might want them to stick around and face the tough sledding together, it’s likely that we understand and even appreciate their decision as wise and in their own best interests. We may be happy for them.

However, when the situation is closer to home, we might feel and react very differently. Suppose for example we see our son or daughter considering dropping a course they find extremely tough, or worse yet, dropping school altogether because in their view, it’s just too tough and not worth the grief. It’s probable that now that this involves our own children, we are less likely to appreciate their decision and be happy for them. Perhaps we’d try to convince them to struggle on, get a tutor, and/or talk to school officials because the reward of overcoming the challenge far outweighs the consequence of dropping out. And what we might also worry over is that this could set a future pattern of avoiding tough times more and more and failing to learn from working through them, gaining that feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.

At work, we might extend an offer of help to a coworker in tough. Be they a teammate or someone on another team, we want this person we work with daily to be in a positive frame of mind, be able to do their work with confidence and gain the skills required to continue to perform the work they’ve done previously. The thing is however, this is a person who we feel is entirely entitled to make their own call; to do what’s right for them. We might choose differently were we in their situation, but we respect their decision.

When it’s us that makes a decision to avoid something tough, we generally hope it’s the kind of situation that won’t come back to haunt us. Putting something off we find hard doesn’t typically make this tough thing go away. It can sometimes just leave us with less time and fewer resources to tackle it. When we eventually face it head on, such as cramming for an exam the night before, we might thrive on the increased pressure and higher demands, or we might falter badly and resort to asking other people to throw us a lifeline.

Facing up to tough situations immediately isn’t always the best strategy either. No, sometimes it’s best to let others with more time, expertise, experience and ingenuity lead first and work out some of the difficulties, then when things are clearer for us, return to walk us through. This can lead to higher success with less worry, anxiety and lower failure rates.

The point is to accurately determine when facing something tough is a good idea and when removing ourselves from a looming bad situation is the right thing to do. It’s all about using good judgement, knowing when and where to find support when the going gets tough, and respecting the choices others make, especially when they differ from what we believe we’d do in their situation.

 

Feeling Stretched?


Many well-meaning people encourage us to push and achieve more. Hit a sales target for the boss and you may find the bar gets raised for next month. Bring a project in under budget and you may find one consequence of your success is their belief you’ll repeat this with future projects; perhaps to the point of being given less resources yet expected to achieve the same results.

Higher expectations in the workplace are nothing new. It seems everyone wants us to be more efficient with our resources, employers want us to cross-train at work; not only being excellent at the work we do, but also learning how to do the work of others, which in turn makes us a higher valued asset. While we know we are entitled to our full lunch or dinner and our 15 minute breaks, often we might find pressure to work through them in practice, even though we’re told to take them.

And it doesn’t stop in the workplace. You might find that at home you’re expected to not just prepare supper, but ensure it’s something that will be a hit with everyone at the table. There’s demands on your time to help with homework, read a story, cuddle on the couch, have everyone’s clothes clean and ready, have lunches ready to go for tomorrow, spend time with the pets and then suprise, squeeze in some additional request for your help with something completely unexpected.

Stretched. It’s perhaps the best and simplest explanation of what you’re experiencing. Pulled by well-meaning people both in the workplace and at home. Of all the people in your life, you’re the only one who really gets the impact of having all these requests and demands made of you. Even when you share with those at home what’s going on at work, they can only understand on an intellectual level rather than having a real appreciation for what it’s like to live your experience. Pehaps while their listening empathetically, they even suggest you make yourself a tea or coffee to calm your nerves, rather than getting up to make it for you. Well-meaning sure, but yet one more tiny thing to do.

The thing is that no matter how much you’re able to stretch yourself and be there for everyone who needs you, you’ve got your limits. Pull beyond what you’re capable of doing and you’ll snap. Then people will look at you with puzzlement and disappointment and question your effort, your commitment, your capabilities!

You have to forgive people who do this though. I mean, we’re all different from everyone else; there isn’t a blueprint that says we can all be stretched to the same limits. Some of us can take on heavy loads and appear to thrive on them. Others work best when the loads are lighter, just not being designed to work at our best when we’re overloaded. But those well-meaning people are sizing us up based on the other people they know and their own best guesses as to what they believe we should be able to take on.

At work, the boss can hardly keep laying more and more responsibility on some members of the team while keeping the workload light for others. This could be read as favourtism. If it went on for any length of time, it could breed discontent, resistence and conflict among the members of the team who feel taken advantage of and overworked – especially if they all receive the same wages.

The other reason I think people should be forgiven for failing to understand what we’re capable of is that as individuals, our own capcacity to carry our loads fluctuates and changes based on all the things we juggle at any one time. What we were able to handle last month might be more or less than what we can handle this month. Why? Well maybe we’ve got 4 birthdays to plan for this month, there’s been a death of a close friend in our personal life, while at work someone’s confided in us that they are looking to leave and all we can see is more work coming our way.

While we can forgive others for unintentionally adding to our stress, we have to give ourselves permission to plateau if need be; send our Superhero cape out for cleaning, and just be normal. It’s not only okay to do this, it’s healthy for our minds and bodies. Pushing ourselves for too long beyond what we’re able to do risks both our physical and mental health. If we should stretch to the point of breaking, well, we’re not only unable to help others, we’ll end up feeling guilty, incapable and disappointed in ourselves. This can mean lower self-worth, anxiety and sadness.

This is not to say we shouldn’t push ourselves or fail to be pushed by others to find what we’re capable of. This is a good thing and sometimes we wouldn’t have the success we’ve had if we didn’t stretch to see what we might achieve. But the difficulty is knowing where that line is between stretching and breaking.

From time to time, what we’re giving is all we’ve got. This doesn’t make us a bad person, nor weak, nor unachieving. It makes us human. And when you feel ready, don your Superhero cape and go get ’em!

The Best Of Teamwork


Look at a lot of job postings and you’ll see amongst the skills and job requirements, a great number indicate the employer is looking to hire a team player. Many job applicants are smart enough to know that it’s in their own interests to make sure that they then put the words, ‘team player’, on their resume. This makes it difficult for employers to tell the difference between true team players and those who either prefer to work alone, or work with others grudingly, or only when they know the boss is watching.

Far too many organizations share a common problem in managing the talent they have. Managers in some businesses group their workers in teams on an organizational flow chart and expect the magic to happen. They hold meetings for the people in those teams, and wonder sometimes why people who work well alone, don’t excel when working together. Putting people in groups and calling them a team doesn’t of its own accord accomplish this however.

Great teams are composed of ordinary people who understand that all members have skills, experiences and personal qualities that when shared, benefit each member of the team. Great teams evolve when each member willingly contributes their talents, are supported by their teammates, and in turn support them. Without a willingness to appreciate the talents of each member, a team is doomed from the start to simply be a collection of people on paper, working under a person of higher rank. They will either be mediocre at best or poor performers at the worst; failing to achieve the greatness the teams potential has.

Management and workers both have responsibilities when it comes to making great teams. Managers assemble the talent, going out and finding desirable experience, skills, and above all, personal characteristics in the people they hire who truly embrace working together to achieve the best results. Employees have a responsibility to appreciate that the sum of their collective talents will take them farther as a group than any one of them working alone.

The problem for Managers and those that hire is that during an interview, most people will indicate they work well in teams and will cite previous experience of having been on one. Managers are challenged to assemble talent that will fill organizational needs, and complement the talents of their existing workforce. The question then becomes, “Who can I bring onboard whose style, attitude, work ethic, daily practices and willingness to work collaboratively and cooperatively blend with or spur a change in the team where I’m attempting to fill a need?” You have to appreciate their predicament because in job interviews, people are on their best behaviour and we all know that many people will say what they believe is what they feel will get them hired, even if it’s not entirely true. Tell an employer you work best alone when they want a team player and you may get passed over.

Collaboration is one key requirement to success when it comes to team performance. This means sharing ideas with your team, but respecting the responsibility to listen to the ideas of your fellow teammates – without formulating in your mind what your response will be while you’re listening. Why? Because when you’re getting ready to launch your response, you’re not truly listening wth the goal to understanding what you’re hearing, nor are you processing the merit behind others’ thoughts.

Good team players recognize the value in the experience of their teammates. While you might all be sitting around a table here and now, HOW you all got to this point is unique to each member, and all the failures and successes each member has had, have shaped them into the people they are now. There’s a lot of rich history each member brings to the table; a lot of skill to be mined, shared and tapped into to improve the performance of this group as a whole.

I once gave a co-worker a stick drawing of two people, with one figure holding a line representing the back of the other which was missing. I wrote the caption, “I’ve got your back” on it. That simple drawing I was surprised to find affixed to their cubicle wall for as long as I worked with her. It was reassurance that one of her co-workers would support her if whenever needed. I tell you this; the feeling was mutual. In her actions as well as words, she showed support, checking in with me periodically to ask how I was doing and meaning what she said. In small and large actions, we gelled because we both got it – backing each other up, lending a hand, bothering to care and wanting us each to succeed. In short, we respected each other and respected ourselves enough to be great team players, and we were.

If you really want to work on a great team YOU have to make an investment in your teammates. Coming together just in team meetings and then working in cliches or isolation at other times limits a teams success. And it’s only when an organization has every team working together that you have a truly phenomenal group both in name and performance.

What’s been your own experience? Have you had the pleasure of working as a valued member of an awesome team? What did that look like?

When Change Is Here


Throughout your professional and personal life, you’ll often experience change. Whether or not you adapt, and the rate of speed at which you do, goes a long way to determining your successful transition from what was to what is.

Just like any other skill, the ability to deal with change is something some of us are better prepared and able to deal with than others. While one person might embrace change immediately, another might take longer, needing time to process new information; work through in their mind what they are being asked to do, consider the ramifications and eventually get on board. Still others will hold on with everything they’ve got to what they’ve known out of their personal need for security and familiarity; especially if they’ve liked doing things a certain way.

Not all people who resist change are similar, although to casual observer they may appear to be so. While there may indeed be people so resistent they actively go out of their way to thrawt change, others just need time to process new information. This is particularly the case if the size and rate of change is large and quick.

Back in 2019, a lot of businesses and employees worked in ways which were very familiar to them. 2019 looked a lot like 2018, 2017 etc. But then, a world-wide pandemic arrived and for many individuals and businesses, the unexpected pandemicvirus forced people to change and adapt or risk business and job loss. Transforming how business would be done meant many people had to suddenly learn new skills, merge home and work environments, affecting their personal and professional lives.

One key determinent to how quickly we commit to change is whether it’s us that’s envisioned the change or we are having to react and adapt to change envisioned by others. When we initiate change, we are involved with the entire process; having a spark of an idea, mulling it over, considering pros and cons, weighing ramifications of when to change and the rate at which we do so and then finally introducing change when we feel confident and committed to it. When someone else brings about change, it depends at what point we are introduced to the process and its impact on us personally when it comes to how quickly we’re able to move from what was to some new way of working.

When change is large, such as working remotely from home rather than going to a workplace, one thing which makes this easier is a pack mentality. Everyone is in the same situation during the pandemic and this common, external threat unifies staff and gets people supporting each other; everyone starting from a common point of having to learn new skills.

When major change is initiated by some in the organization and there isn’t a shared belief that change is required, resistance can be predicted and expected. Consider a new delivery model of the services you provide, a new set of policies and procedures, a realignment of departments and personnel. When these kinds of changes are brought about, you may be asked to trust senior management is making changes for the betterment of the company and is making decisions based on information they have, which you at your level do not.

While you will be expected to get onboard with implemented changes, I submit that ‘getting onboard’ isn’t enough. In navigating an organization through some new uncharted waters, some onboard might choose not to paddle – at least not while being observed; the result being they don’t help move the rest forward. While they don’t actively impede progress, forward movement isn’t as unified and quick as it would be if they pulled in the same direction. Everyone moves faster when given the tools required and uses their oar to pull. Things progress best not only when everyone works together, but also matches the effort of those who move with enthusiasm and energy.

Good advice if you generally don’t do well with change is to give yourself time to receive and process information before digging in and coming across as opposed. Sometimes 24 hours and a good sleep is all that’s needed to process information and see things differently. It’s also helpful in some circumstances to ask questions that help you better understand the reasons behind change. What is it these changes are a reaction to? How will they better posiiton your company, department or you personally to better deliver your products and services? What’s at risk if you keep the status quo?

Of course there are times when you’ll be expected to embrace change without access to all this information because the distance between your posiiton and the people envisioning change is great.

If change is severe, you might find it healthier to look for work elsewhere or retire. You might also find that seeking out a Counsellor to talk through your fears, concerns and anxiety helpful too. Not everyone deals well with change but change happens nonetheless.

I personally have improved my adaptability to change and it’s now a strength. For me, the faster I change my mindset, (which I control), the better I am to embrace change itself, over which I often have little control.

Resistence to change is often how it might look to others when actually you just need time to learn new methods.

Deliver On The Expectations You Set


One of the biggest goals for any business is delivering on the promise of getting their goods and services to their consumers which fulfill their expectations.

One of the biggest frustrations for any customer is when a business fails to deliver on getting their goods and services to the consumer which fails to align with the customers expectations.

Businesses are famous for establishing expectations of quality, service and delivery. Those of you old enough to remember the Timothy Eaton company may recall their motto, “Goods satisfactory or money refunded.” The Ford Motor company promoted, “Quality is job one.”  Goodyear says, “The best tires in the world have Goodyear written all over them.”

The thing about a motto or slogan is that customers who buy into it (literally and figuratively), will hold you to account at some point and expect you to live up to it. So here’s a question…how well do the employees on the front-lines who deal with customers know the slogan they’re asked to uphold? Some pizza companies promise 30 minutes or it’s free and when it takes 31 minutes or more, you not only expect it free, you expect the delivery driver to smile as he hands it over with a, “no charge”. What you don’t expect is having to argue about it while it cools down in their one hand while they phone the store with the other to ask for clarification.

What about where you work? Does your organization have a motto, slogan or widely-known policy? If you’re not sure or you’ve forgotten what it is, you would be wise to ask about it now rather than waiting until you’re in an awkward situation of being called on it by one of your customers.

And what of you as an individual? Do you come with a promise of performance? What claims did you make during your interview which played a big part in the hiring decision to bring you on board? Are you living up to whatever you promised? Maybe it was a certain, measurable level of service; being able to process a given number of phone calls in a day or claims of physical strength. Perhaps you laid title to a keyboarding speed, knowledge of a software application, the ability to lead effectively or being available to work all shifts as scheduled with a positive outlook. How are you doing in living up to your performance promise?

Suddenly you might be just a little less comfortable. Yes, it’s easier being on the other side when we’re holding other people or organizations accountable. The Pizza is one minute overdue and late is late after all. Is that one minute worth a free pizza, the gas money, the driver’s time and the possibility of a tip? Some will say yes and others will still gladly pay for what they receive a minute later than promised.

But when it’s us – myself included here – it can be a little less comfortable as I say. Some people will make all kinds of claims in an interview just to get hired. I recall one person telling me years ago that they told an employer they knew the software the company used at an expert level. If they got the job, only then would they figure it out by asking their co-workers to show them when the boss wasn’t around. There’s several presumptions here; no testing at the interview stage, employers who are easily duped and co-workers who will have more allegiance to a brand new co-worker rather than the employer who provides their pay. I don’t like those odds.

The truth is that many people forget the claims and promises they make. Have you ever had an experience as a customer where you feel a company representative is selling you a line; saying anything just to keep you from demanding your money back? You know, they promise to fix your problem in short order but then you don’t hear back from them until you rev yourself up for round two of a bout? Some companies actually predict and allow for a certain percentage of their customers who will not complain and simply go away. If you get a wrong order at a drive-thru and only discover it once you’re home, would you actually get back in the car, drive back and complain? Exactly.

As an individual, you can improve your reputation and your credibility if you live up to the promises you made and continue to make; deliver on what you say you’ll do to ensure complete customer satisfaction. Even amongst co-workers, if you say you’ll get some information right over to a colleague, live up to that expectation you just made. You may hope they’ll forget it, but it’s more likely they are now counting on you and the clock is ticking.

One thing likely common to us all is the expectation we’ll be at work and ready to go every day by a certain time. If you’re punctual, you’re living up to the expectation of the company and one you accepted upon hire. If you’re consistently late, you’re not delivering on the expectation of punctuality and reliability.

As an experiment, listen for and think about the expectations you set for yourself when you interact with others today. Only promise what you will deliver.

Investing In The Relationship


The best relationships are the ones in which both partners not only make initial investments in each other, but do so on an ongoing basis. The initial investments come easily to most people; going out of your way to show through your actions that this person means a lot to you. In the early stages of a relationship, there’s a lot to discover about this other person you’re drawn to. You’re on the lookout for the things that please your partner, you put effort into the relationship and you do little things that pay off with a smile brought to their face.

Strong relationships stand the test of time when partners continue to invest in each other. It’s important to realize that as the relationship evolves, so too do the two individuals which make up this partnership. Sometimes couples come to realize that their individual priorities have changed, along with their interests and needs. While each individual person may very well be a good person at heart, this evolution of the individuals involved can divide a relationship to the point where each person moves on in separate directions apart from on another. There’s no issue of blame, no wronged partner; just a parting of the ways, each with a healthy view of the other.

The relationship which exists between employers and employees works much the same. In the beginning, an applicant does their best to get to know a potential employer by doing their research. Then the applicant makes an approach, does their best to capture the employer’s attention and present themselves as a good match. The employer is also doing their best to present themselves as a good partner; dangling benefits, wages, work environment, culture and future growth to woo the applicant.

Once the two come together in an agreement, both employer and employee begin in the honeymoon phase where each invest in the partnership; the employee grateful for the opportunity is on their best behaviour. Employers are doing their best to welcome the new hire into the fold, making introductions all round, providing training opportunities and protecting the new hire from a full workload in the first early days. Both employee and employer check in with each other to see how the relationship is progressing and both want this partnership to be productive and lasting.

Now there’s no specific timeframe for the transition to the post-honeymoon period. A sign of the transition however, is when the newness has rubbed off, the routine of daily tasks is known, the employee has settled in and the employer stops checking in to see how the newbie is doing as a regular thing. Protecting the new hire from a full workload is over and expectations of full performance begin. This doesn’t mean the relationship has soured, it just means the 2nd phase has begun.

Employers show their continued investment in their employees by providing ongoing training, making sure staff have opportunities to develop professionally and acknowledge achievements employees make which enhance the end-user experience. They provide feedback on how they see the relationship, talk about where they as an entity are headed and why, hoping by this transparency, to avoid surprising their staff by moving in any direction that would catch their employees off guard and unawares. In short, the best relationships between employers and employees is where employers demonstrate great care for the staff they employ.

Employees too have a responsibility in this relationship. For the the partnership to continue to be a good one, employees need to pull in the same direction; work with each of their colleagues in order to be collaborative and productive. This can mean learning new procedures, taking on additional training with enthusiasm and continuing to develop as individuals so their skills remain competitive.

Frequently, as employees and employers evolve, the time comes when one of the two realizes that things just aren’t working as well as they once did or could, and a parting of the ways is in each partners best interests. It does not mean that either partner is necessarily to blame or at fault, but rather that they have grown and evolved in different ways, have different needs and their futures will continue to evolve down different paths. In parting, each actually does the other a favour. Only poor employees or poor employers belittle and demean the other – sometimes done from a place of hurt or feeling wronged. Smart employers and employees part on the best of terms which leaves reconciliation a possibility and intersecting in the future in different roles something to look forward to, such as moving to another organization in the same field.

When either partner ceases to invest in the relationship, things stagnate and what can set in is complacency. Employees stop stretching themselves and developing their skills, employers expect to stay competitive in their industry but fail to invest in ongoing training of their greatest assets – the people they employ.

If you apply yourself and do your best, you increase the odds of finding a great partner to build a relationship with. It takes effort, investment in each other and understanding that if you take care of your partner’s needs, you often find they take of yours.

Whatever your role where you work, may you be in a great partnership and get as much as you give.

 

 

Communicating Effectively


It was back in 1980 on Erindale Campus of the University of Toronto that I was first told in a Sociology lecture that effective communication was sending a message from one person to another and having it received and understood in the way it was intended. If the person receiving the message interprets it in any way that differs from the intent of the sender, you have miscommunication.

With such a straightforward explanation of the communication process, why then is it so hard for people to communicate effectively? To answer this question, we have to look at some of the many things that accompany the message when it’s being transmitted to the person receiving the communication. Tone of voice, body language, physical proximity, the method of communication, past histories of the two individuals, context, and the list goes on. There’s a lot packed into how we communicate with others!

You might think that removing all the above would make communicating so much easier and increase clarity, but not so. How many times have you read an email for example and been unsure of the meaning behind the words you’ve just read?

In the workplace, communicating effectively is of great importance to employers. This is evidenced in the number of job postings which include, ‘strong written and verbal communication skills’ as part of the qualifications for the job. For whether it’s with customers, clients, co-workers, Managers or the general public, being able to communicate effectively is critical to increased productivity, company image and your own individual success.

How effectively you communicate begins the moment you come into contact with anyone who works in an organization you’re interested in joining. Whether it’s a phone call to gather information, a cover letter accompanying your resume, or the job interview itself, your communication skills are on display and you’ll be assessed at each one of these stages by company personnel as being a weak or strong fit based on how you send and receive information.

Everyone with something to communicate begins with an idea that they wish to share. People who communicate effectively then do many things simultaneously in just a few seconds. They think of their audience; the person or people who will receive the message. They consider their own relationship with these people and how best to pack the message so it not only gets delivered, but stands the best chance of being unpacked by those receiving the message in the way the sender intends. Should it be a text, an email, in person, over the phone, a group meeting, posted as an announcement on a bulletin board, etc.

But that’s just the method of communication. The words themselves have to be well thought out, to avoid any chance of being misunderstood. Even then, it’s not enough to guarantee success. The tone of voice we use is critical. For example if you shared some exciting news with a co-worker that you’ve just received a promotion, you might be confused if they say, “Gee that’s great”, while at the same time they yawn and roll their eyes. Even though they say the news is great, their tone and body language isn’t consistent with what you heard. In fact, you’re likely to believe the body language and tone over the actual words you hear and be left feeling disappointed they aren’t as excited as you.

Now imagine that same situation happening not just with a co-worker, but rather your boss. The boss tells you to have something done by 1:00 p.m. and you smile, wink an eye and say, “Yeah, I’ll get right on that!”, and chuckle. Your boss is probably left wondering if you are really going to get to it right away or you think they are kidding and have no intention of doing what they just asked. It’s likely they’ll say, “No, I’m serious; 1:00 p.m.” This second communication is also going to be delivered clearer, with little room for miscommunication. In fact, even if you got the message right the first time, your tone, facial expression and body language sent conflicting signals with the words you used. This inconsistency may actually be so confusing to an employer that it could limit your role in a company, causing you to be passed over for promotions because there’s a lack of faith in your communication skills.

Suppose you want to get to know the people you work with and figure having lunch with them one-on-one will give you both sufficient time to get to know one another. You say to someone, “I’d like to have lunch with you one day this week to get to know each other better.” They might be confused, especially if there is little history between you for them to understand the context for your request. Is this just lunch? Are you personally interested in them? Why them? So they might ask you for clarification by simply saying, “Why?” Although your motives are clear to you, what you have to understand is your motives aren’t clear yet to them.

Miscommunication can lead to awkwardness, jobs failing to get done, puzzlement, confusion and conflict just to name a few negative outcomes. Good advice is to consider your audience, how you’ll deliver your message, and checking for understanding once the message is received by asking for feedback.

 

 

 

Struggling Under Pressure


Feeling pressure and stress is a natural reaction to changing conditions around us, especially when we feel a loss of control over the environment we’re in, the people around us and the rate at  which the change occurs. When we struggle, what’s really happening is we are undergoing an adjustment period from what was known and normal to conditions that are unknown and new.

The degree to which we struggle with change depends on the magnitude of the change, the quantitative number of changes we are experiencing at one time and whether or not the changes are being initiated by us or by others.

When you’re the person who initiates change, you’re in control. Having control helps you cope with the pressure that comes about as a result and generally speaking, you’re able to handle it because you initiated it. Struggling to break in a new pair of shoes is a good example. It’s a relatively small change, and you understand the pain and stress your feet are under will only last long enough to break them in. You can mitigate the pain of the new shoes by wearing them for short periods of time if you want; switching to a more comfortable pair if you choose.

The quantitative number of changes you’re under greatly affects the degree to which you struggle or not. When the only thing causing stress is breaking in a new pair of shoes, it’s likely you’ll cope well. However, if you’re dealing with uncomfortable shoes while heading to the school to answer a summons from your child’s principal; which coincides with the oil light coming on in the car and you suddenly remember the whole chicken you meant to put in the slow cooker has been on the kitchen counter for 6 hours, the stress is compounding. Oh, and tonight is the night you have to pay the month’s bills!

Here in November of 2020, we’re all under stress arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. On the size scale, it’s massive and as for control, we have none; only over our reaction to it. What is different for each one of us is the number of other changes and stressors we have in our lives. While some of us have kept our jobs, others have lost them; lost the security of income that came with those jobs. The loss of that stable income has meant applying for financial relief for some, eroding life savings for others. Increased irritability is what some are feeling as their self-identity has been lost along with job titles, and this can cause struggles at home to the point of breaking formerly strong relationships.

When we are in a healthy, normal state, we are in balance. When a change occurs that tilts this balance, we put our brain and body to use in an effort to restore the balance. If we are stressed because the oil light comes on the dashboard of the car, we get it serviced. Our stress is reduced as a result and we’re back in balance. Funny how that little light can upset one person tremendously while another will drive for years with it on and not care in the least.

The oil light is a good example of a problem we encounter where for almost all of us, the solution is known. While we may not be able to take the car in right away, we at least have the knowledge of what to do to resolve the problem and we book a service appointment which gives us a definitive date by which the problem will be resolved. We are in control.

However, take a problem that’s beyond our control with no easy solution. There’s going to be a big shake up at work; people reassigned work locations and the company is bringing in some outside leadership. You haven’t had the opportunity yet to be cross-trained and fear you’ll land in a job you won’t perform well at. There’s rumours that this is the same leadership that cost people jobs in a nearby town.

We feel understandably stressed and vulnerable during this time as we lack the necessary information that is needed to reassure ourselves and get back into balance. There’s nothing we can do until we learn what the new alignment looks like. While this might be exciting and energizing for some, it can cause us great anxiety.

Some of the anxiety we feel might be because we haven’t had a previous experience in our lifetime upon which we can draw to cope. Some of our co-workers might have had one or two shakeups they’ve undergone and survived elsewhere and are better equipped to cope with this situation. While the reassurance they give us might help, it doesn’t completely as we go through this kind of experience for the first time ourselves.

If you have more stress than you can deal with, you may indeed be struggling. If you’ve been struggling for a longer time than you feel you should, it’s natural to worry. Understand your stress is a natural reaction; your way of coping with your circumstances.

Reaching out to a Mental Health professional is a great way to regain a measure of control by sharing your stress. Start with your doctor or contact your mental health organization directly.

 

“I Need A Job Not A Conversation”


When I meet people for the first time in my line of work, one of our first interactions starts with me asking how I can be of help and getting the  response, “I need a job.” That makes sense, because supporting people in their quest for a job or career is what I do.

Like you’d expect, I ask a few questions about what they’re looking for, whether or not they have a resume and if so, I ask for a once over which is the quickest ways to see their career path to date. What you might not expect however, is the direction I steer the conversation in. Sometimes the biggest mistake I could make is pulling up a website and looking for a job for them to apply to. This is exactly what they hope and expect I’ll do, followed by sending off their resume and then saying goodbye while they go home and wait for the phone to ring.

What I have found far more effective however, is having a conversation; some meaningful dialogue that gives me information I’m after in order to make the most of our time together. The odd thing is were I to ask directly the questions to get at what I want to know, they’d likely shut down the conversation with the response, “Look I just want a job. Are you going to help me or not?”

The conversations I work to develop are my way of getting insights into a person’s backstory. Knowing the backstory might not seem to you to be any of my business; like them, you might agree that I should, “just get them a job.” Well-meaning rookies in the employment field do that, and that’s no slight to their intelligence, they just lack the experiential awareness that comes with having tried that approach and learning it doesn’t work.

While I’m looking at a resume for example, I’m not just looking at their work history. I’m wondering about the decisions that prompted changes in jobs, looking for promotions that suggest competence, an employer’s belief that they were ready for increased responsibilities. I note gaps and want to hear those so I can hear first-hand how they might similarly explain these to an interviewer. The spelling and grammar, the simplicity or well-developed vocabulary they have gives me clues as to their literacy and written communication skills. The education they have completed gives me insight into their academic achievements and whether I see additional courses and certificates or not gives me clues to their belief in the value of continuing self-development. But the only way to verify all my assumptions is to respect the person enough to ask. And rather than ask direct questions that would come across as an interrogation, the kinder thing to do is have a focused conversation.

The positives I’m listening for in this chat are the good decisions they’ve made, achievements, acquired skills and I’m watching their face and listening to the tone of their voice so I don’t miss what they are proud of and what recalls good memories.

On the other hand, I’m alert to anything which causes their eyes to drop, their head to turn away, the things they skip or skim over, drops in the volume of their voice. These are clues to current employment barriers, problems in past jobs which if not fully addressed could be repeated in future ones. The more we talk, the more trust is established, the deeper we go and the better I get at responding to their initial request to help them find not just a job, but the right job.

Not all the time of course, but it happens where a person pops in expecting to leave in an hour with a shiny new resume and all we’ve done to the casual observer is talk, having accomplished nothing. A second meeting is needed to do what could and should have been done in the first meeting. Stats-driven governments and organizations that put numbers ahead of people encourage that approach. Not a single person ever went into the employment counselling and coaching profession with the goal of being a churner of impressive statistical data. Every single one of us without exception put helping and serving people first.

It’s conversations; human connections from which we learn best of others. These are where we connect with people and in the job seekers situation, where we can have a significant impact and accelerate their job search. What this translates into is not just finding them their next job, but partnering with them to better help them know themselves, find a good match with an employer, and increase their chances of finding lasting, meaningful work.

Looking at conversations this way, the investment of time in people pays off. It might look to outsiders like a nice conversation with very little productivity to show for it. I suppose however it depends on your currency – what you see as a productive outcome.

These conversations are what true professionals long for and rebel against most strongly when they are threatened by short-sighted people who see them as luxuries we can’t afford. If you really want to pump up your stats and get people jobs which last, you’ll be wise to help job seekers with a healthy conversation.

 

Out Of Work? Opportunities Are Knocking


Right off the top, let me say that I’m sorry if you’re one of the people who lost their job because Covid-19 closed the doors of your employer either temporarily or permanently. I feel for both employers who invested their personal equity and for the employees who, having even less control, find themselves out of work. It’s not a case of who is hurting more; whatever loss you’re personally feeling is legitimate and valid. My sympathy might be appreciated and hopefully shared by others for you, but I know it doesn’t do anything on its own to alter your situation.

I’ve been thinking however, as I’m apt to do, that there’s opportunities to be had; opportunities which you might consider taking advantage of. Choosing to do so could make the difference between continuing to live as you are now or improving your mental health, finances and self-esteem. Interested?

At the best of times, I understand that job searching is often an isolating experience fraught with ups and downs of expectations and let downs. Finding and applying for jobs you’d love to do that you feel qualified for and then hearing you didn’t get the job or even worse, just no response whatsoever for the effort you invested in applying. Feeling ignored with no feedback at all is demeaning, hits our pride, leaves us confused and if repeated again and again, can turn us bitter and disillusioned.

Add to a frustrating job search the further isolation brought on by Covid-19 where you shop curbside or online, going out less often, avoiding interaction with purpose and feeling there’s less jobs to apply to and you only add to deteriorating good mental health.

So what of these opportunities? I believe many people will find employer’s empathetic to applicants who have current gaps on their resumes; the explanation needing nothing more than, “Covid-19”. Two problems though… because your competition for employment will say the same thing, you won’t stand apart. Secondly, while an employer will understand the loss of employment was beyond your control, they will wonder what you’ve done in the 6 months or more to improve yourself – which is 100% within your control. How will you answer that question?

Jumping on the internet, you can find online courses for free that will add to your resume with 2020 (soon 2021) filling widening gaps. Here’s a few sources:

Health and safety in 4 Steps https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/elearn/worker/foursteps.php

Coursera   https://www.coursera.org/

LinkedIn Learning https://www.linkedin.com/learning/me?trk=nav_neptune_learning

Agelic https://education.agilec.ca/resource/learn/signin

Of course, you can also find courses that cost money to take and you should consider those too. While money may well indeed be tight, it’s equally possible that what you’re saving in transportation costs and eating out could be reinvested in academic or skills upgrading. Not a bad trade off.

On to opportunity #2. You’re forgiven if you’ve been avoiding dropping in to your local Employment Centre out of fear of contracting either the full-blown virus or the common cold. However, make sure you know what you’re avoiding and not what you believe you’re avoiding. Prior to the pandemic, many such Centre’s were bustling hives of activity where many people came and went, where Coaches met you with a handshake and someone invariably coughed, sniffed and spread their germs like others spread their charisma. That might be your recollection of what such a Centre was, but it’s an inaccurate picture of the current reality.

These days, many drop-in Employment Centres are back open, but they have rigid screening systems in place – designed to keep both those staff and YOU, healthy. Handshakes are a no-no, as are fist pumps and high fives. Masks are mandatory and the hand sanitizers are more prevalent than bottled water. Desks and computers you sit down at are wiped before you arrive and after you depart. Even where you walk and the distance you sit apart from others has widened and is enforced – all with keeping everyone safe as the number 1 priority.

And here’s the thing…many of these Employment Centres have far fewer people dropping in – precisely because of the well-founded fears people have of becoming ill. So, you might be the only person or one of two or three in such a place. You can use their WIFI, save your data, get help one-on-one if you want it still feeling safe, and advance yourself past others who are at home waiting out the pandemic and the all-clear to get about.

As an Employment Counsellor, I tell you this, employers are still advertising for help. The ones I’m talking to are sharing how hard it is to find qualified people too. What do they say they need most? Enthusiastic people who will show up dependably and punctually, with a good work ethic and focus on jobs to be done and get to work. They want people who work well with others, who they can trust to get the job done when they aren’t being watched, and people who are willing to learn. Yep, they can’t find these kind of people.

Look, you have to decide what’s safe for you and the ones you love. Everyone agrees with that. At the same time, if you need or want to improve your chances of finding work while doing so safely, you can choose this too.

Stay healthy in mind as well as body and thanks for the read.