Stop asking employees to “Hold On” (and what to do instead).

I get it! If you lead others, you don’t know what to tell them anymore. They are taking the brunt of losing colleagues, constant changes within their organization, perhaps supply chain issues, working longer hours, and their own overwhelm.

So you ask them to keep holding on. You assure them that things will get back to normal soon.

The problem is that neither you nor they truly believe it.

While you likely say these words to offer encouragement to your team, at some point, these assurances no longer ring true. The issue is that, collectively, we’ve been saying this to employees for over two years. Within those two years, not only have there been more unprecedented challenges, but their roles continue to change in a way that shifts them more and more away from the norm they once knew.

The reality is that within your organization, you have employees who are barely hanging on by a thread. To ask them to keep doing so feels unbearable. This is when they question what the point is of all their efforts or if things will ever get better. This is when they seriously consider leaving, because a part of them feels lied to that after all this time, life hasn’t returned to normal, despite their hanging on for as long as they have.

The result is that they quit (to pursue a less stressful opportunity); they need a leave of absence; they unintentionally take their stress out on colleagues or customers; or their mental health, and therefore likely their motivation and productivity, suffers.

Does any of this ring a bell?

Myself and my team at the IIEE (The International Institute for Emotional Empowerment) offer a different suggestion to the companies we work with, and that is to tell them the truth about our current reality.

Collectively, our world is facing a great reshuffle. It’s like that closet you have that you’ve just thrown things in that you didn’t have time to deal with or didn’t know what to do with, where at least those things could become out of sight and out of mind. We’ve done it for so long, we’ve totally forgotten what has been stuffed away and we haven’t paid attention to how full that closet has become. When we tried to open the door to squeeze in one more item, everything, and I mean everything, that had been neglected exploded everywhere. This is the state of our current reality.

You may be thinking, “Michelle, I can’t tell my team that. This is so discouraging. ”

First, it is our reality. And while that may be difficult to take in, people appreciate being told the truth about our reality. even if it’s hard. They would rather know what they are up against rather than continue to pretend it doesn’t exist, because deep down we know that ignoring problems only makes them grow into bigger challenges.

Second, this reality is pretty much in every organization currently, exactly because the world is going through some major reshuffling. When we don’t tell the truth about this, people can fantasize that it will be magically different in another organization. When we tell the truth, we can help our team gain perspective that this is happening all over the board.

Third, when we face our reality, we can address the mess your team and organization is facing honestly.

Approaching our reality collectively in this way is encouraging because there is a recognition that things are a mess and, together, one step at a time, we will figure things out to make an even better reality.

Right now, we are in the mess of the closet contents being spilled all over the floor. Some will continue to want to pretend this doesn’t exist. In doing so, they will lose valuable employees who don’t want to deal with an organization that ignores their mess.

Now is an opportunity to see all the contents that have been shoved away and re-evaluate what goes with what, what should stay, and what should go. It’s time-consuming, frustrating, annoying, and burdensome. It’s not what we prefer to be doing, but it is what we are collectively being asked to face.

Some of the contents that have come exploding out are the employees’ needs. While it used to be that we could shove aside work-life balance, our emotional and mental health, and our desire for continued growth, doing so is proving too costly to organizations.

In a recent Business Journal article, the #1 reason people will quit is a lack of personal and professional growth opportunities. Furthermore, in Bank of America’s Workplace Benefits Studies of both 2020 and 2021, employees continued to rank their mental health as impacting their overall well-being as the number one issue, even higher than their financial and physical health needs. The challenge, however, according to the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, is that while employees continue to rank their emotional health as a top priority, companies continue to rank this at the bottom of their agenda. Clearly, if organizations are unwilling to really listen to what employees want, it will prove difficult to keep engaged, motivated, and productive talent.

At the IIEE, we are supporting organizations to create a workforce that learns how to maintain an inner sense of calm and resilience regardless of what is happening externally around them. We are straightforward in telling them that we have no idea how long this collective reshuffling will go on for, but that despite the never-ending changes, they can remain internally centered. 

We give employees the skills to find a sense of inner calm, despite their external circumstances. We do this, in part, by providing them with specific guidance on what to do (as well as what not to do) should they take an unexpected dive on the emotional rollercoaster they have been riding.

What we see time and again is that we must move beyond the notion that we need more emotional management techniques. From the psychological lens through which I am viewing employees, they need to learn the skills to understand why they feel the way they do and what they can do to help diminish their negative emotions. They need to be able to recognize their emotional triggers and what they can do differently to avoid being triggered in the future. While emotional management techniques are well intended, people often learn how to cope with what they are feeling without ever resolving the emotion. This becomes emotional weight that, without resolution, turns to emotional overwhelm at best or can lead to mental and physical health challenges.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I believe we are all painfully aware of the critical state our collective mental health is in currently. What we aren’t clear on is the best way to address this issue. I can’t claim that I do either, as mental health is a very personal experience. However, what I see is that people are eager to feel better and the vast majority haven’t been taught to understand their emotions from an empowered perspective.

As you may have guessed (based on our name), teaching an empowered approach to negative emotions is exactly what we do. In doing so, we meet organizations’ needs by teaching their leaders and managers how to proactively address the emotions that come up within themselves and their team members, as well as how to be aware of their own emotional triggers and biases, so that they can lead with greater resilience and empathy. We meet employees’ needs as they learn how to take responsibility for how they feel in a way that reduces their emotional triggers and diminishes negative feelings. In doing so, we support them with their desire for professional and personal growth in a way that positively impacts their emotional well-being, their communication, and their intrinsic motivation.

Should you want to support your leaders or employees with how to address this messy closet state that your company is facing in a way where their talent can remain calm, hopeful, motivated, and resilient, just send us an email to [email protected]. I would be happy to set up a time to hear more about your organization’s needs and share with you an easy first step to support your workforce.

In any case, for your own mental and emotional well-being, I hope you are able to give yourself compassion as we face this reshuffle and as more is piled on your plate. I hope it is a time for innovation for your organization and the positive impact that they can have during this time of change. I also honor you that you care about your employees’ well-being enough to stick with me through this longer update. Even if others don’t recognize your effort to understand employees’ emotional well-being, I do, and I thank you for being a caring person amidst all we are facing. It is through this consideration of others that will have a positive ripple effect, as we merge our compassion with empowered action.

With appreciation for our connection,