I originally wrote the post below for Linked-In thinking about how hard it is to have a supportive check-in with team members in a virtual world … but I realise that we often shy away from asking what is going on with the people around us in any situation – family, friends, virtual or in person. Try substituting the words “team” or “colleague” with “husband”, “friend”, “child” and this is still a good model for how to check-in with them.
When is the last time you checked in with your team? Not one of the virtual happy hours or daily round-robin team to-do calls with a hurried “how is everything? … fine?… great”, but a real check-in conversation between actual people? Most of us have been working from home for 14+ weeks already … and for many of us, this will not be changing for at least the next 8 weeks.
A key element of workplace engagement is having a sense of emotional connection with the workplace – it’s goals, success, and the people. Without engagement, employee productivity drops, feelings of success wane, retention falls and even clients notice it as satisfaction rating tumbles. It was low even before CV-19 forced us into distanced working making our ability to reach out to people, especially in times of stress, even harder.
As a former manager (and a current employee as well as coach), I know too well that having a real conversation about mental health, stress or engagement can be difficult. It feels uncomfortable.
So what can you ask that will get an honest response, one that invokes an action? How can you answer in a way that makes a positive change without feeling like you have been exposed as unable to cope?
Five key things to do when checking in
1) Don’t assume an action is always necessary. Sometimes just asking is enough to make someone feel heard and to settle anxious thoughts and feelings of isolation.
2) Be present and actively listen to what they are saying. This is a very effective way to build trust.
To practice active listening:
Put your pen or phone down.
Make eye contact with the person you are talking to. Don’t look at another screen.
Resist the urge to interrupt, and tell them how they should feel or how you feel. Instead, tell them that it is OK “I understand why you might feel that”.
Restate and clarify anything important … show you are listening and that you care enough to make sure you fully understand.
3) Rather than asking wide open questions that are easy to bat back with a generic answer – “How is it going?”- or one that is going to put people in defence mode – “How are you feeling?”- try asking semi-open questions that lead to specific insight. “What is going right?” “Are there things that are causing pressure?”
4) Don’t assume you know what they need. This can trigger even more frustration than it eases. ASK. This can be, “Would it help if we did X?” or even more simply, “What do you need?”
5) Community, team spirit, and support don’t just come from the team head. Encourage people to check-in with their colleagues, showing that support extends beyond the boss. They are likely to realise that they are not alone in their thoughts, frustration, lack of motivation or desire to feel more engaged.
Good questions to ask
If you are unsure how to approach the subject, here are some suggested questions and conversation openers for your next check-in.
· What are you enjoying about the job at the moment?
· Where or how have you found support or balance over the last few months?
· What is your biggest stressor at the moment?
· How can I better support you?
· What could the team or the company do better/ invest in to ease any pressure on you?
· Is there anything you would take from your current work environment back into the workplace when we return? Or vice versa?
· What do you need?
It is easy for the weeks to slip by, gradually eroding the teams’ trust, communication, and engagement. So, is it time to step back from the routine check-ins for something deeper and more insightful. By checking in with your team you will also feel the benefit of those closer relationships on your own health and productivity.
Embrace Stress course
Over the years, as an ambitious employee, team focused manager and supportive friend, I developed a deep understanding of the challenges and pressures that we all face not only day to day but also in our long-term health, happiness and career development.