Back In Action – Tips For Creating a Positive Workplace Environment
Thursday, Dec 02, 2021

Back In Action – Tips For Creating a Positive Workplace Environment

Many industries have reopened their doors to welcome employees back into the workplace. While this might bring great relief and even excitement for some individuals, it also may stir some feelings of fear and resistance in others. It’s important to realize that all reactions are completely normal and to be expected. 

This podcast provides tips for leaders, including financial regulators and supervisors, to help their employees not only to survive but to thrive as they adapt to the workplace.

Marianne Jurney – LCSW, CEAP EAP Counselor & Incident Manager Workplace Options

Hosted By:
Shelina Visram – Program Director, Toronto Centre


Listen to the Podcast

Read the full Transcript

Speaker 1: You're listening to a Toronto Centre podcast. Welcome. The goal of TC podcast is to spread the knowledge and accumulated experience of global leaders, experts, and world renowned specialists in financial supervision and regulation. In each episode, we'll delve into some of today's most pressing issues as it relates to financial supervision and regulation, the financial crisis, climate change, financial inclusion, fintech, and much more. Enjoy this episode.

Shelina Visram: Hello everyone, and welcome to our Toronto Centre podcast. I'm Shelina Visram, Program Director at Toronto Centre. Many industries have reopened their doors to welcome employees back into the workplace. While this might bring great relief and even excitement for some individuals, it also may stir some feelings of fear and resistance in others. It's important to realize that all of the reactions are completely normal and to be expected. Today's podcast will address some key topics for leaders, including our listeners who are generally from different financial regulation and supervision area, to consider as they look to help their employees not only to survive but to thrive as they adapt to the 2021 workplace.

Today, I have the pleasure of speaking virtually with Marianne Journey who is certified employee assistance professional and a licensed clinical social worker for workplace options. She has been working in the employee assistance field for over 14 years and has supported employees and organizations around the globe. Marianne's passion is for working with individuals and work groups who have experienced grief and traumatic events, and she is certified as a grief counseling specialist. Marianne has been working with managers and organizations throughout the pandemic to provide what she calls an emotional safety net for employees as they transition to working remote, as they lost loved ones to the virus, as they faced company restructures, and as they now seek to explore what the future of the workplace will look and feel like in the wake of these experiences. Welcome Marianne.

Marianne Jurney: Thank you Shelina. I'm really happy to be here with you today.

Shelina Visram: Thank you, likewise. Let's begin. Lots to cover today. Why are companies having to give so much thought to the process of bringing employees back to the workplace?

Marianne Jurney: Absolutely. Well, I think it's really important for organizations to understand that changes have occurred. We're all at a different place. Nearly every industry, maybe all, have experienced some sort of shift due to the pandemic and nearly every individual has been impacted by that shift in addition to maybe changes in their personal lives. And so for us to have any expectations that we're just going to pick up where we left off, it's just unrealistic. Employers need to understand that they may have a really weary workforce right now, but at the same time I think most would agree that we've got to start taking some sort of steps forward. But those are going to be very nervous first steps for many people.

I think companies need to understand that employees needs have shifted significantly. No one exists in a vacuum. So even during COVID times, people have gotten married. They've had children. Some have buried loved ones. Some may have gotten a higher education or some have become empty nesters. So what worked for your employees 18, 20 months ago may not work from them now because the demands placed on them outside of work might be dramatically different. And these changes aren't just practical. I mean, our emotional needs have changed as well. Some of us are feeling more stronger. We're feeling more resilient because of what we've endured. Well, others may just simply be feeling absolutely depleted.

I think the third point that companies need to realize is that employee's expectations of the workplace have almost certainly evolved. That's a big one because around the globe, we've seen employees who have really stepped up during the pandemic. People have learned to work from home while they're balancing childcare responsibilities or they're caring for aging parents. We've learned new computer applications. We've learned how to conduct virtual meetings. We've been working on projects with people hundreds of miles away because everything we're doing now is virtual. And at the same time, we have reprioritized how we spend our time and our energy.

I've spoken to so many people who have kind of valued the ability to work remote because it's given them more time to attend to the needs of their family, their home. You can start a load of laundry in the morning and put it into the dryer at your lunch break. So we're able to kind of get more things done. People have been taking more time to develop hobbies or kind of spend time on things that are of interest to them. So as we're inviting employees to come back into the workspace, many of them are going to be looking to their employers to provide opportunities to maintain that work life balance that they've achieved over the past year and a half.

Shelina Visram: What do you feel employees are needing from their company leaders? What is your perspective on that?

Marianne Jurney: I think there are some really kind of key elements that employees are looking to their leaders to provide. First and foremost, they're looking for empathy. Members of the workforce really need for their leaders to have an understanding that a lot of people, as you just mentioned, are doing their absolute best just to keep it together. I spoke with a manager just last week who said, "Listen, my team is showing up for work every day and they're getting the job done, but not one of them has expressed any motivation to advance their career." And we talked about the fact that the pandemic has made it really challenging to kind of think forward very far. Some individuals, some families have had to slow the pace just to get through the day.

And so it's helpful for leaders to be willing to be compassionate learners and to show genuine interest in their employees' overall wellbeing. We need for leaders to find small ways to be present for the work group. Ask how people are doing, inquire what they have going on besides work. And then to keep an eye out for signs of burnout and stress. I think employees are also expecting their leaders to communicate with them. Employees need their leaders to communicate clearly, concisely and to say the right thing at the right time. We want our leaders to share valuable information. We want them to seek input. We want them to ask for our ideas and to be upfront about what they want from the work group. When we're faced with something that creates stress or anxiety for us, it can just help to know that there's a good reason behind it.

I think employees are also looking to their leaders to be visible and I've seen incredible strides that leaders are taking to connect with their work groups. And let me tell you, it really works. It's effective. Employees feel more invested in a company when their leaders are perceived as being visible and approachable. Visible leaders are people who keep their work group informed on where they want the company to go, how they're going to get there and how they're going to measure success along the way. A visible leader is often intentional about leading by example, and we find them to be respectable, incredible, because they set the right pattern for other people to follow.

Two more points about what I think we are looking for in our leaders right now is adaptability. That has been paramount over the last 18 to 20 months. I don't know if anyone could have anticipated all that has occurred within the short period of time. And so as employees, we need leaders to respond productively when things don't go as planned. And last thing probably as equal to if not more important than everything else is we want our leaders to be willing to express gratitude. In order for employees to stretch themselves and to contribute their best efforts, they want to know that their work is going to be both valued and appreciated.

Shelina Visram: All are really good points. What I would like to add here is this is very good with leaders. I also feel as employees, a lot of this resonates with us as well. We also need to be empathetic. We need to be communicating both with the leaders as well as if we are a leader ourselves with our teams. Adapt, show gratitude to your peers, to your colleagues. At this point I have my colleague, Claire, on the line. Claire, perhaps you can share an example that resonates with you.

Claire: Thank you, Shelina. Listening to Marianne, I completely agree with so many of her points. I'm just thinking what I'm looking for in a leader when we're going back to work. And I think it really comes down to collaboration and also flexibility. So taking employees opinions and our individual situations into consideration and making it a conversation as opposed to an order. I think the idea of going back into the office five days a week just seems archaic to some people and we've changed the way that we're working from home and it's working well for some of us. Everyone has something different going on at home, whether it's kids in childcare. From a personal standpoint, I had a toddler home from daycare with a fever last week. Normally we might have had other options, but we had COVID  tests and everything. So just the flexibility when it comes to what people they're dealing with at home.

Shelina Visram: Thank you, Claire, for sharing your example. It's a nice segue into our next question, which is, what are some things that leaders can do to prepare themselves as they aim to meet the needs of the 2021 work group, Marianne?

Marianne Jurney: Shelina, it's just like what you just said. Leaders need to be ready to set an example. It's like an artist. We need for our leaders to kind of prepare the canvas, in a sense, to model work life balance and to give permission for their employees to do the same. No one can pour from an empty cup. And goodness knows that some of our cups are just downright bone dry right now. So we want managers, supervisors, leaders to model positive self-care by prioritizing their own personal wellness. It's like if you picture kind of four pillars that hold everything else up. And that first pillar is sleep, getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night. The other pillar would be physical exercise, which helps burn off stress and then it releases those good feeling endorphins. The third pillar is to attend a proper nutrition. Making a whole natural foods, making sure that you're staying hydrated.

And the fourth pillar is allowing adequate time for downtime for relaxation. It's like being intentional about disconnecting from the job and other tasks, and that allows yourself to come back the next day renewed and restored for whatever is in store. We also would recommend that leaders, again, set an example by establishing a routine for themselves. Some of us really haven't had a lot of routine or we've had kind of just a lot of flexibility that now coming back into work, we've got to create structure again. I love the reminder that calm can be contagious. So model calm by planning ahead.

And just to give an example, during COVID, our youngest child finished junior high school primarily as a remote learner and then started secondary school this year in person. So we were essentially starting from ground zero in regard to building our new morning routine. So giving thought to what could be taken care of the night before, and then waking up a little bit earlier, at least that first week, gave us a sense of calm control over the course of our morning as we figured out a brand new system for getting ourselves out the door and into carpool line on time.

There's tremendous benefit in organizing your workday. Prioritize, establish deadlines, delegate where you can, and then leave yourself more room than you need so that you can avoid feeling rushed or panicked. This is especially important, like Claire was saying, with families who have younger children. Consider how much time will be needed for things like putting on of the shoes, getting kids buckled into a car seat, the drive time to a childcare center or for school. And then of course time for those extra hugs of reassurance as we're leaving each other for the first time in a long time.

We're also going to look for leaders who can anticipate. We talked about this a little bit already because these are changing times and I really would encourage everybody to avoid being a perfectionist. I can nearly guarantee that there are going to be bumps in the road for most of us. I love the concept of kind of learning agile. We've seen so many changes over the course of the last 18 to 20 months. Employees have thrived under leaders who have learned to be adaptive and to be creative problem solvers. So be prepared to face uncertainty with the readiness to just generate new ideas and new solutions.

I think we also need to be really intentional by rewarding ourselves, carving out time for self-care because there are so many demands being placed on us. And so it's important to kind of indulge in an activity after those first few days or weeks that you really enjoy. It might be scheduling a dinner date with a friend or planning to take a long Saturday nap, or even treating yourself to an ice cream or something you enjoy. Those momentary finish lines can be incredibly motivating. And the truth is, you probably deserve them.

Shelina Visram: Yeah, absolutely. Again, just sharing my own experience as Toronto Centre return back to the office, there's lots of examples where our leaders are leading by example. They've put proper health measures in place to make their colleagues and staff feel comfortable. There's flexibility in the schedule. Although there is some level of routine so that we don't trip over each other, there is flexibility. Normally there are times when we are teaching on different time zones. So that has been anticipated in our routines of coming back to the office. And certainly there is a lot of encouragement to take care of ourselves as we gradually move into this new workspace, so to speak. So definitely I think that all those prepared and anticipate these types of challenges and offer solutions, have open conversations. So that was great. Let's move to our next area that I'd like your views on. What do effective leaders need to be aware of in helping the work group thrive in a workspace? So not just return, but actually thrive there.

Marianne Jurney: Absolutely. And these are so important to be thinking about. I would say first we need for leaders to acknowledge that the needs of the work group are as diverse as the work group itself. A colleague of mine often reminded me that we are not on the same boat. We may have been in the same storm, but everybody's boat is different and there's so much truth to that. We need to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone has had the same pandemic experience, just like you were saying earlier, Shelina. Some of your work group may have had a large home office to work from when someone else might have worked from a kitchen table with their remote learning kiddos right next to them. Your employee may have had to assume the role of caregiver for sick family members. The period of lockdown may have been extremely isolating for employees who live alone or who are in difficult relationships.

And on the other hand, I've spoken with many employees who have experienced social anxiety and therefore they've actually really enjoyed working from home. So along these lines, I think we just need to remain aware of the fact that not everyone is returning to the same work environment either. Someone who has a nice private office may be more comfortable than someone who's returning to a shared workspace or a cubicle. An employee whose commute, like you said earlier, involves public transportation, might be more hypervigilant than someone who drives themself to work. An employee who has to get children to school or to childcare might be more rushed or anxious than your employee who no longer have children in the home. So those are just all things to keep in mind.

And as you said earlier, or maybe Claire had mentioned it, leaders need to be prepared to engage and to support. And as we've discussed, each employee's needs are unique, but you're not going to know what they need unless they tell you. And they may not tell you unless you ask. So if you're not already doing so, I would really encourage to schedule one to ones with your employees both before they've returned to the office, and then after they've returned to the office. Ask them what they're looking forward to. Ask them what they're concerned about, and then ask them what they need from you and from the company to help them feel supported and to feel safe.

And I think we need to be mindful and have a plan that considers employees who may be remaining remote or who may be part of a hybrid work group. It's been my observation in speaking with managers that there are, I would say, more than not organizations that are adapting some flexibility with work arrangements. One company might be planning to bring everybody back into the workspace while another has said, "Hey, this is working well. Let's keep everybody remote." But I think the fair share of organizations are sort of straddling the fence for now and allowing a hybrid work model.

What employers need to remember here is that there's just that very natural tendency to engage more with people who are in your physical space. But we need to be cautious. Leaders have to plan to keep company communications like staff meetings online so that employees who are working remote feel equally included in important updates and group interactions. And leaders also need to be aware of any possible bias towards employees who are in the office space. It may be that employees who spend more time in the office are just promoted more frequently. And so I think it's important for protocols to be established that ensure that opportunities are distributed fairly among employees regardless of where they're logging in from.

Shelina Visram: That's a really good point that I didn't quite think about because it's early days, we've just sort of started going back to the office. But yeah, as people managers and leaders, we need to make sure that we treat everyone fairly regardless of where they're working from. Marianne, you covered quite a lot of topics and you've shared various examples. Any final thoughts to sort of recap some of the thinking, some of the takeaways for our listeners today?

Marianne Jurney: I think there are some key takeaways. One is to recognize that each member of your work group contributes to the vitality of the workplace. Your people matter. 

So help your employees identify their strengths. Encourage them to be innovative and to invest their skills. And then show appreciation when they do. Another is to maintain consistent communication about the visions and the needs of the organization. What I mean here is kind of have a way or an us perspective so that employees know that they're part of something bigger than themselves and feel that shared responsibility towards the company's goals. I would encourage that supervisors and managers schedule regular check-ins with their employees as individuals, to inquire of the employees needs and how they're doing, how they're adjusting. And for supervisors to actively listen and be flexible and to be accommodating when they can. And then lastly, and I can't stress this enough, attend to self care. You've got to keep your tank filled so that you're available to meet the demands of both your employer and your employees.

Shelina Visram: Thank you, Marianne. This session has been very insightful as you've highlighted with examples some key topics for leaders to consider as they look to help their employees, their colleagues, their teams, not only to survive but to thrive as they adapt to the 2021 workplace. Thank you for your time.

Marianne Jurney: Thank you, Shelina. I'm really happy to be here with you today.

Shelina Visram: You've been listening to our Toronto Centre podcast. Thank you for joining us.