So often human resource professionals are concerned more about ensuring the health and well-being of the organization and the team, putting themselves second. I’m constantly called on to solve issues, be a diplomat, resolve conflicts, enable the team, and help people see the path through a challenging time, whether personally or professionally. It’s been a deeply rewarding career, but one that comes with a price.
The 2022 Stress in America™ survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association between August 18 and September 2, 2022, among 3,192 adults age 18+ who reside in the U.S. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. In 2022, the top stressors included government and political divisiveness, inflation, and violence. Close to 76% of the respondents said they have experienced health impacts due to stress. When this survey was conducted in 2020, not surprisingly Covid took center stage in 2020 and found that nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) stated the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 3 in 5 (60%) say the number of issues America faces is overwhelming to them.
In 2017, the American Psychological Association released their 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey. The survey covered a myriad of topics, but specific to organizational change and wellness, it noted that workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress, compared with employees who reported no recent, current, or anticipated change (55 percent vs. 22 percent), and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34 percent vs. 8 percent).
I recall in the days following 9/11 and while I was working down on Wall Street, I invited a psychologist to assist and be available to our employees who were all returning to the office for the first time three weeks after many witnessed the horrific events unfold that day. We were all under stress and I was worried about the team. I recall her comments to me. “You are like a bank; people are coming to you, asking for your help and ‘withdrawing’ from you. A bank cannot survive if there are only withdrawals and likewise you need to recharge yourself, get ‘deposits’ back into your bank.” That was the first time in my career that someone had used this analogy. But it was so true.
I’m sure many fellow HR leaders have all experienced significant change similar to my experience; from office moves, M&A and post-acquisition integration, new CEO and leadership, financial setbacks, bankruptcy, and from 2018 to 2019 prepping my company at the time for sale – all while trying to ensure that our people were okay. It was an incredibly busy, and powerfully rewarding period of my life and one that culminated with me leaving my role to recharge and think about the future. My concern during that time was sustainability; having the ongoing energy day in and day out to project an image of control and seeing these initiatives through.
I reached out to Jaymie Meyer, Founder of Resilience for Life®, an ICF PCC & Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach. Jaymie provides private coaching to individuals seeking a lifestyle change. In addition to coaching work/life balance, she focuses on stress reduction, weight control, and self-care. Through the years and at various organizations, I have invited Jaymie several times to speak to our employees as we were going through times of change. The feedback was always so positive. We reconnected recently to discuss how individuals can take care of themselves during organizational change but also how the pandemic, have impacted employees and individuals.
Starting out, I asked Jaymie what has she seen change since the start of the pandemic that has caused people to reach out to her (burnout, fear). Jaymie responded, “I think because of my particular wheelhouse, the reasons people reach out to me haven’t changed radically since COVID because I’ve always been in the business of lifestyle, work/life harmony, resilience, and stress reduction. If anything has changed, it’s that people see the value of integrating the myriad aspects of their lives. During COVID, for those working at home, the distinction between work-life and home life became blurred. Setting healthy boundaries became a major challenge. How can we fulfill our responsibilities as an employee, partners, and parents and still be true to ourselves?” Jaymie went on to say, “People began to understand that the less they compartmentalize the various parts of themselves, the more energized, healthy and successful they feel.”
For me it was good to hear that the reasons haven’t necessarily changed pre-and-post-pandemic. I went on to ask Jaymie if there were any tips in her toolbox that she has found which have had the greatest possible impact on the individuals that she’s coaching and working with.
Jaymie spoke of the age-old contemplative practices of meditation, breathing, and mindfulness. “There are many different approaches. I never apply my idea of what might work for somebody.” Jaymie first explores to see if her clients have any experience with contemplative practices, and many do. “Interestingly, many people enjoyed meditation in the past, but then their mind got busy and they thought they weren’t doing it right, and when I explain that that’s what the mind is designed to do, it’s a great relief. In the West we erroneously think the mind is going to flip off like a light switch during practice, but it doesn’t work that way. Mindfulness and meditation come in many flavors. Some people may have been given a Sanskrit mantra by a teacher, some people may have a strong Judeo-Christian background and prefer to repeat a Psalm or a prayer that has meaning for them. Others prefer to work with the breath. It’s all good. It’s important to find out what works for the individual.”
In my own experience, the following tips have helped me a great deal. They are all geared to self-care during times of stress and organizational change.
Give yourself time to recharge and reenergize. Being constantly connected drains our ability to rest and clear our minds. One simple tip that I started doing on the weekends is leaving my phone at home so that I am not tempted or distracted. After all, I’m usually with my family and these are the most important people in my life. Also, take your time. Americans not only receive less vacation days as compared to Europe, but a 2017 U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off study showed 52 percent who left vacation on the table accumulated 705 million unused days last year, up from 662 million days the year before.
Train yourself to be in the moment and turn your mind off to the things you need to do at work tomorrow, or on Monday. Live in the moment. There has been increased awareness of ‘mindfulness’ which now seems to be the new buzzword, but it is true. Learn to appreciate the here and now. Time is fleeting and those we love will not be around forever, don’t miss those moments. I train myself to remember the smells, the weather, and the feelings of the here and now.
Find an outlet to harness energy, creativity, and health. For me, it’s hitting the gym at 4AM, yes that’s right, 4AM. I find the early morning workout is not only physically beneficial but more importantly, it gives me the mental clarity to tackle the day ahead. It could be the endorphins, how I feel after the workout, or the pain I’m in afterwards, but it works for me. Writing also helps me. Putting pen to paper can be very cathartic and rewarding.
The workday can be a crazy chaotic mess. If you are like me, you can often be enveloped by that one thing you did wrong rather than all the great things that happened during the day. Take a balanced approach on how you are able to contribute to others and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.
While we all gravitate towards the familiar, there is no better feeling than achieving something that you would not have ordinarily done had you been in your comfort zone. 2019 provided me an opportunity to reinvent myself. Yes, it was scary (thinking about leaving my job) but I learned so much about myself and my capabilities in the process. And it gave me the time to focus on writing this book!
Our lives are hectic and often we are so tired from the week we have little time to meet friends or even family. Reconnecting and keeping key relationships alive takes work but it pays off immensely. Reconnect with people who are supportive, who are insightful, who give you peace of mind and whose advice you value. Accept that invite and go grab that cup of coffee! Reconnecting means different things for different people.
“To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” ― Abraham Lincoln
When Jaymie and I were speaking about isolation exacerbated by the pandemic and what individuals can do to feel connected, to have the human interaction, she recommended volunteerism. “It may seem counterintuitive when you feel lonely but it’s extraordinary how the act of extending yourself to somebody in need can lift your spirits. There are many ways to make yourself of service. Whether joining an organization that asks you to make a birthday call to a senior once a month; dropping off food to a homebound individual (like the Meals on Wheels program); helping maintain a public garden; or volunteering at a local animal shelter, the list is endless. I recommend people search online to find volunteer opportunities in their community.”
Taking the time to recognize and be grateful for where you are is tough. It’s easier to compare ourselves against others who we may think are more successful. Appreciating how far you have come is so important. I am grateful every day for my family, my health, and having a role where I can contribute to my company’s growth and helping others achieve success. Showing gratitude is just as important. A simple ‘thank you’ has more power than some realize and it’s amazing just how infrequently we say those two words. Take the time to recognize those who are important in your life. It’s amazing what you will learn about yourself in the process.
This was a tip that came out of my discussion with Jaymie. I always thought it would be a bit selfish or self-indulgent to take the time for you. However, Jaymie changed my mind. She shared the following, “One thing that I think is applicable for everybody is the practice of self-compassion. Often the people I work with are high-achievers and in spite of being at the top of their game, it’s surprisingly common to see a lack of self-compassion. People often feel it’s indulgent. Whether stemming from cultural beliefs, or a by-product of a strong work ethic, it’s essential to remember that self-compassion is not self-indulgent. In fact, it can help you be more empathetic, successful and healthy.”
Understand What Change Means for You.
Bottom line. Don’t lose yourself in whatever change your organization is undertaking. Understand how you will be affected by the change, who will be there to have your back, and sometimes coming to the realization that the only option would be to walk away can be liberating. We are each different, and the way we choose to deal with daily stress can also vary. While sometimes these tips are easier said than done, like everything else, it’s a mindset and a discipline. Just find what works for you and go for it.
American Psychological Association Apa.org, 2023, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2022/concerned-future-inflation#:~:text=The%202022%20Stress%20in%20America. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.
With over thirty years of human resources generalist experience, Charles J. Alaimo has overseen all global HR processes including compensation, performance management, policy development, recruiting, learning and development, and has worked closely with organizations’ Board of Directors. With a global mindset, he is a self-proclaimed global citizen with a high degree of cultural awareness and sensitivity. Charles holds a Master’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Baruch College, The City University of New York, where he also received his undergraduate degree in Human Resources Management. Charles recently published “HR Leadership During Bankruptcy and Organizational Change,” which is available on Amazon.com and Springer Publishing.