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Category: Water Cooler Chat (Page 1 of 26)

Survey: These Are The Top Office Stress Factors

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Written by:  Jane Burnett,

Recent research ahead of National Stress Awareness Day on November 1, from compensation, culture, and career monitoring site Comparably, shows that the top cause of stress cited by 42% of employees is “unclear goals.”

Looks like some workers really feel like they could use more direction – even more so than these other factors: “commute” and “bad manager” followed (both at 16%, respectively), then “difficult coworker” (14%), and “too long hours” (12%).

The report also pointed out something dire: “[R]ates of burnout are nearly the same for employees of nearly every age, with 48%-50% of employees saying they feel burnt out at any given age.”

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The End of Water Cooler Conversations

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“Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” – Mark Twain

Managers no longer try to have a conversation with their people. While social media has proven itself to be very beneficial in some areas of communication, I believe it has also to some extent has sabotaged in-person communication.

Meaningful Conversation is an Overlooked skill

“A single conversation across the table with a wise person is worth a month’s study of books”- Chinese Proverb

Good news, bad news, or any kind of news, gets communicated through email and WhatsApp. These may not always convey the correct meaning of what one wants to say.

Effective conversation is more important than just communication. Technology has helped us to connect and communicate, but these are superficial connections.

Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and author of the book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, talks about CEO’s who now make it a point of instructing employees to work out disagreements and apologize in face-to-face meetings.

Imagine that you have to deliver a poor performance review to one of your team members or have to ask one of your best team members to resign since his role has become redundant. It is not proper to do this with an email or WhatsApp. But nowadays, many managers fear doing this in person and shy away from a conversation because it is painful.

Conversational competence is the most overlooked skill today. It’s time organizations review their competency list and add this one as most critical. Not just effective communication, but effective conversation. Conversation builds respect, empathy, friendship, love, and also improves productivity.

Stephen R. Covey in his book ” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about Seek first to understand, then to be understood (habit 5).

Importance of good conversation with your team

The days of water cooler conversations are coming to an end. You now see a bunch of people standing around the water cooler or the coffee machine, but each is engaged and focused on their mobile screens.

If you notice someone under-performing, engaging with the person in a conversation would be more constructive than just emailing. It would be a difficult conversation, but as a manager and a leader, you need to face it. You cannot run away from it.

Allowing your team member to talk is very important. Give him your full attention and be non-judgmental.

You need to develop successful working relationships with your team and you cannot depend on technology and social media alone to do that for you.

You may be a great communicator, an excellent orator, and speaker who knows how to make a compelling presentation to the bosses, but that is not enough. In the VUCA world, you need to be a great conversationalist. You need to have a frequent conversation with your teams. They are the ones who would drive your goals for you. You need to, therefore, connect with them at a deeper level.

Tips to having a meaningful conversation

  • Don’t shy away from open-ended conversations. Talk with a wish to understand your team member and connect at a deeper level.
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN and connect. Show interest in what they are saying. Refrain from the urge to get your point across.
  • Do not judge, ask questions, give a solution from your point of reference or your experience. Listen and be nonjudgmental.
  • Put away your electronic devices and ask others to do the same when you are getting into a conversation.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

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You’re More Likely to Screw Up in The Afternoon. Here’s How to Stop It.

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Written by:  Daniel Pink is the author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, from which this article is adapted.

It’s a cloudy Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and for probably only time in my life, I’m wearing hospital greens and scrubbing in for surgery. Beside me is Dr. Kevin Tremper, an anesthesiologist and professor of the University of Michigan Medical School’s Department of Anesthesiology.

“Each year, we put 90,000 people to sleep and wake them up,” he tells me. “We paralyze them and start cutting them open.” Tremper oversees 150 physicians and another 150 medical residents who wield these magical powers. In 2010 he changed how they do their jobs.

Flat on the operating room table is a twenty-something man with a smashed jaw. On a nearby wall is a large-screen television with the names of the five other people in hospital greens—nurses, physicians, a technician—who surround the table. At the top of the screen is the patient’s name. The surgeon, an intense man in his thirties is itching to begin. But before anybody does anything, they call a time-out. Almost imperceptibly, each person takes one step backward. Then, looking at either the big screen or a wallet-size plastic card hanging from their waists, they introduce themselves to one another by first name and proceed through a nine-step “Pre-Induction Verification” checklist that ensures they’ve got the right patient, know his condition and any allergies, understand the medications the anesthesiologist will use, and have any special equipment they might need. When everyone is finished and all the questions are answered—the whole process takes about three minutes—the time-out ends and the young anesthesia resident begins to put the patient, already partly sedated, fully to sleep. Soon the patient is out, his vital signs are stable, and the surgery can begin.

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Holidays Aren’t The Only Time for Leadership GIFTs

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Written by Julie Winkle Giulioni (

The holidays are a time when many leaders find themselves scrambling simultaneously to meet year-end business goals and punctuate the season with their staffs. Too frequently, the stress overtakes the joy, and gifts become another obligatory to-do on a never-ending list.

What employees really want doesn’t come in a box or require a bow. And it’s certainly not restricted to December. What employees wish for are the special GIFTs that leaders can offer all year long.

Over the past 20-plus years in the leadership-development arena, I’ve never met a person who said they received too much recognition. But I’ve met many who report getting woefully too little. Positive feedback is one of the most cost-effective actions a leader can take to elevate morale, engagement and performance. Catching others doing something well grows that behavior. It also shines a spotlight for the rest of the team on what you value, thus magnifying the message.

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Trust Makes Culture Change Ready

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What is the level of trust in your culture? What do employees think of senior management?

Research says that only 49% of employees trust senior management. The scores for CEO’s are even more dismal; 28% of surveyed employees felt the CEO was a credible source of information.

Trust promotes creativity, conflict management, empowerment, teamwork, and leadership during times of uncertainty and change.  A culture of trust is a valuable asset for any organization that nurtures and develops it. Amy Lyman’s work on the 100 Best Companies to work for concludes, “Companies whose employees praise the high levels of trust in their workplace are, in fact, among the highest performers, beating the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”

As a core enabler of a high-performance organizational culture, the absence or presence of trust can be either an accelerator or barrier of organizational strategy and performance. As Stephen M.R. Covey writes in his book “Speed of Trust”, when the level of trust in an organization goes down the speed of change goes down with it and the costs of the change go up.

Before you start that transformational change, ask yourself if your organization is ready for change. Will your organization’s culture, and more importantly, its level of trust support the change you wish to implement?

What is Trust?

Here are three unique qualities about trust; it’s a process, a choice and something that is uniquely human:

  • Process – trust is a learned skill. It involves an ongoing process of relationship building, communication, and action. For example, doing what you say you will do builds trust. Building trust is a process that layers on level after level of deeper trust. When actions do not match words and trust is breached, this is also a process that works in the reverse.
  • Choice – people decide whether or not to extend trust. Trust evolves incrementally over time, is based on sound judgment, and is not without limits and conditions. Those who choose to trust understand that there is the possibility of a breach of trust, and weigh risks and benefits before proceeding.
  • Uniquely Human – while you may consider your car to be reliable transportation, you don’t “trust your car.” Trust is about keeping your word, honoring your commitments and involves a decision, action, and a response. Trust is something that is unique to human beings.

The Process of Trust Building

Relationships are complex and so is the trust building process. Trust comes from who you are, what you say, and how you behave.

Think of trust like a bank account. You extend trust credits proportional to the risk you are willing to take with someone. When that person honors the trust you’ve granted, then he or she gets a deposit in the trust account. When the person says or does something that busts your trust, then you deduct from their trust account.

Components of the trust building process:

  • Code of Honor – the basics like showing respect, telling the truth, and keeping your word are foundational to the process of trust. If you are consistent in keeping the code then you build trust over time.
  • Extend Trust – go first and give trust. Not a blind trust but rather a trust with clear expectations and strong accountability built into the process.
  • Be Open – People who communicate only when they need something or when it’s in their best interest to tell you, limit trust. Those who share information appropriately increase trust. Tell people what they need to know not everything you know. Use judgment to balance between protecting confidential information and sharing needed knowledge. Information that adds to overload or isn’t pertinent diminishes trust.

Trust accounts can become overdrawn and create situations where it’s foolish to extend trust because there is no more trust to give. Be intentional about building trust and recognize that it’s a process. That’s why they say, “trust must be earned.”

To build organizational trust, employees need connection to their work, to what’s going on in the organization, and to the leader. Here are three ways to build that connection:

  1. Help employees understand how they fit in and how their contributions make a difference.
  2. Improve the flow and frequency of communications. Employees often feel they are out of the loop and they are not involved in decisions that impact them.
  3. Close the gap between senior leaders and employees. Leaders need to take time to develop authentic relationships with employees by connecting to their daily reality.

What destroys, breaks or busts trust and how do you repair broken trust? Trust busters are behaviors that destroy trust, sabotage relationships and reduce the balance in the “trust account.” There are two key categories of trust busters.

Expectations that are broken or miscommunicated
Broken expectations occur when you give your word that you will do something and you don’t do it. Broken expectations result in broken trust. Organizations break trust with employees when the employees have expectations of lifetime employment or stable work and layoffs occur. Leaders break trust when they commit to one course of action and take a seemingly different path.

Unfairness – whether it’s real or perceived
The human brain is always evaluating for fairness. Unfairness is a brain threat that creates an instant and automatic negative response. Perceived unfairness creates an environment in which neither trust nor collaboration can flourish.

When undergoing change, there is a significant risk of these trust busters. Too often, communication is emphasized during change as an antidote to trust busting. Leaders believe that if they “communicate better” they would overcome all the trust busters. The problem arises when actions don’t align with the words of the communication or the leader just presents rather than having a conversation.

Beware of trust busters and be prepared to address them or you risk raising the cost of your change and increasing the time it takes to get the change completed successfully.


Change Your Mindset: Office Politics Isn’t a Dirty Word

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Article courtesy of Career Advancement blog

When my client, Miles, heard the phrase “office politics,” it brought up negative associations (backstabbing, kissing up, gossip, who you know gets you to advance). One way to embrace and capitalize on office politics is to get rid of the actual words “office” and “politics” so you won’t feel so charged by these words. Instead think of it as “company culture” or “building relationships” or “how work is done.” When you have a better and more positive perspective, you’ll be able to embrace what is actually happening and leverage it to your benefit.

Once Miles changed his mindset, he was able to use these eight tips to harness the power office polit… er, “company culture,“ and you can do the the same:

1. Persuade others to your opinion.
Nobody exists in an environment where everybody agrees. You will work on projects and assignments in which many different approaches will be used by a variety of people. It’s important to understand where everyone is coming from and their different perspective. At the same time, you want to work on getting others to buy-in to your perspective. You can do this by providing factual information backed with logic. Also, strive to build a reputation that creates immediate respect. This will help you get the things accomplished you need to get done.

2. Don’t intimidate superiors. Try to avoid going over your superior’s head.
Most bosses feel a need to establish and maintain their authority. Often, based on their title and that they are a superior, they feel they can leverage and take advantage of their power and authority. It’s important for you to not intimidate them or go over their head because they will feel the threat of your actions and thus could undermine your career.

3. Make your boss look good.
Watch out for your tendency to avoid making your boss look good. Constantly look for opportunities in which you can help your boss shine. Making your boss look bad or saying something negative about him or her will come back and bite you.

4. Cultivate a positive, accurate and likable image.
The image you project can directly impact how well others trust you, like you and want to work with you. If you project a negative and unlikable image, it makes it easy for people to judge and question you.

5. Communicate accurate information.
If you constantly communicate accurate information, people will be less suspicious and less inclined to question your integrity. When the work politics start to get out of hand, others will rely on you because of the established honest and respectful image you have projected.

6. Be aligned to many groups – not just one.
It’s easy to be aligned to one specific group in your company. You either get drawn or exposed to a few people in one group and latch on to them. However, aligning yourself to many groups will help you when the influence of one group gets diminished or removed. You will want to rely on other groups and create a coalition to champion your ideas and projects.

7. Create allies who like you, support you and will go to bat for you.
Having a strong and wide network of allies is vital when the work politics start to disrupt and damage things around you. You’ll see how beneficial it is to have allies who can help mitigate negative situations.

8. If all else fails, move on.
After exhausting all your resources, talents and abilities in working the political system inside the company and getting nowhere, it might be time to move on. Sometimes the politics are so bad that you need to remove yourself from the toxic environment and make a fresh start in a new company.


How good of an example of living a balanced life are you?

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By Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

Our reader poll today asks: How good of an example of living a balanced life are you for your team?

– I’m a perfect example. My life is very much in balance: 13.61%

– I’m a good example. I’m mostly in balance but sometimes work too hard: 37.58%

– I’m a fair example. Sometimes I’m in balance but not as often as I’d like: 29.48%

– I’m a weak example. I’m out of balance most of the time: 12.53%

– I’m a terrible example. I’m never in balance and work consumes me: 6.80%

Half in balance. Living a balanced life is important both for you and for your team. For you, managing stress and balance in a fast-paced global economy is tough, but if you don’t, you’ll burn out and be worthless. More importantly, your team takes their cues from you on how hard they should be working. It’s hard for them to reconcile you telling them to leave by 6 p.m. when they’re still getting e-mails from you at midnight. Sometimes you have to set a pointed example of what balance is because you might find, as I did in this particular scenario, taking time out for yourself sends a strong signal to your team as well.

Only Baby Boomers Could Afford to Be Helicopter Parents

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By Sarah Kendzior, Contributor for The Atlantic

Do Millennials have enough money to live up to the child-rearing norms set by their moms and dads?

About 25 years ago, when the era of irrational exuberance allowed enough disposable income for irrational anxiety, the concept of “helicopter parenting” arose. A “helicopter parent” micromanages every aspect of his child’s routine and behavior. From educational products for infants to concerned calls to professors in adulthood, helicopter parents ensure their child is on a path to success by paving it for them.

The rise of the helicopter was the product of two social shifts. The first was the comparatively booming economy of the 1990s, with low unemployment and higher disposable income. The second was the public perception of increased child endangerment—a perception, as “Free Range Kids” guru Lenore Skenazy documented, rooted in paranoia. Despite media campaigns that began in the 1980s and continue today, children are safer from crime than in prior decades. What they are not safe from are the diminishing prospects of their parents.

In America, today’s parents have inherited expectations they can no longer afford. The vigilant standards of the helicopter parents from the baby boomer generation have become defined as mainstream practice, but they require money that the average household earning $53,891 per year—and struggling to survive in an economy in its seventh year of illusory “recovery”—does not have. The result is a fearful society in which poorer parents are cast as threats to their own children. As more families struggle to stay afloat, the number of helicopter parents dwindles—but their shadow looms large.

The helicopter parent may be mocked, but she is never truly maligned. No one wants to be the parent pampering her child into a life of risk-free achievement—but no one wants their child to be, as the mantra of our era goes, “left behind.” Being a helicopter parent may be looked down upon, but being a helicoptered child has advantages: Helicopters hover but their cargo moves fast. In an economy marked by the “jobless recovery” and soaring levels of child poverty, the helicoptered child is sheltered and shepherded—and the parent relieved from social stigma and shame.

The first generation of helicopter children were raised by a new set of middle-to-upper class parents who were desperate to stay there. A great way to accomplish this was by pricing everyone else out in a way that seemed meritocratic rather than the maneuverings of a new aristocracy. The key was education, and in the 1990s, the price of higher education and its accoutrements—SAT prep classes, expensive extra-curriculars—began their exorbitant rise. Vigilant parenting and rigid student schedules became the province of the parental elite. “Permissive parenting is less attractive when the stakes are high,” economists Fabrizio Zilibotti and Matthias Doepke wrote in a 2014 study, “i.e., when adult-style behavior is especially important for children’s future success.”

The new parenting was not for everyone—many parents could not afford it. One of the most damaging legacies of helicopter parenting is the way it centered the practices of a wealthy elite as not only normal, but necessary and moral. Papers like the New York Times filled their education sections with tales of $40,000 per year high schools, preschools with waiting lists, and babysitter “patrons who are professionals in the arts. That most Americans never lived this way was irrelevant. It was clear, given the high-earning, high-achieving progeny of the new winners, that they should.

The trend hit its peak with the 2011 publication of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, an alleged study of traditional Chinese parenting that was made possible by the author’s bountiful—and unremarked upon—wealth. Many parents may have chosen the tiger mom path—the trips abroad, the private lessons—were they not trapped in their own economic cage. Though intended as a cultural study, the book was just another reminder that you can’t spell “enrichment” without “rich.”

Tales of expensive enrichment and children snatched by predators were twin anomalies peddled as the norm throughout the 1990s and 2000s—one out of media elitism, the other out of media sensationalism. Elitism and sensationalism stoke anxiety, and parental anxiety, the media know, makes for a buyer’s market. Parents are told they are responsible not only for their children’s safety but also for their success.

With elite university admissions disproportionately weighted toward the richest U.S. families, and elite professions increasingly requiring expensive credentials and unpaid labor, huge numbers of American kids are being shunted onto a lower track, their potential capped by the circumstances of their birth. This has always been the case in the U.S., but the new normal works to further restrict and refine the group at the top. Helicopter parenting is opportunity-hoarding repackaged as parental devotion.

And so we arrive at the summer of 2014, when several mothers were arrested for “abandoning” their children while trying to procure resources to survive. In Florida, Ashley Richardson was arrested for leaving her kids at a park while she went to a food bank. In South Carolina, Debra Harrell was arrested for leaving her 9-year-old at the park while she worked at McDonalds. Both mothers are black, placing them outside the distorted media ideal of the white upper-class hovering mother, that fringe figure now portrayed as the gold standard.

The racial overtones of Richardson and Harrell’s demonization were undeniable. But the two mothers are far more like the typical American parent than commonly portrayed. The average mother is drowning as the cost of raising a child soars while wages stagnate or decrease. Since 2008, the cost of both childbirth and daycare has skyrocketed while U.S. median income collapsed. Daycare is now an average $11,666 a year, with the cost in some states as high as $19,000. The exorbitant trappings of an “enriched” childhood—activities, travel, tutoring—are out of bounds for most parents, who struggle to cover the basics.

People who complain about the spoiled Millennial generation—themselves the alleged product of helicopter parenting—forget how old they are. Many Millennials are now raising children themselves, while carrying enormous college debt burdens and scrambling with low-paying, contingent jobs. The standards erected by their prosperous progenitors are unsustainable. The helicopter parent, always more of a mythological standard than a familiar figure, has crashed.

A good parent is said to “provide” for children. It is no longer enough to simply love them. Love is the sidebar to achievement, an insufficient defense against an unyielding future. That is the cruelest legacy of the helicopter parent, one that will endure long after the smoke has cleared.

The dreaded holiday party

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 have thought about this for years, and I finally decided to write about this because several people have approached me already this year about dreading their work, holiday party. So I’m going to say it:

Most people hate your holiday party.

Consider these 3 groups in your organization

To the executives and the people who help plan these things, please consider the following.

About half of your employees are introverts, and forced socialization is not pleasant for them. So no matter what type of party you have, the introvert segment of your employee base will never see this as a perk. It is just an additional, energy-draining social requirement.

About half of your people are extrorverts and while they will likely love the idea of a party, the love will stop and will also turn to dread when they find out your party is on a weekend. I have never seen anyone in my whole life, on their way to a weekend work party, who was excited about it.

About 100% of your people are extra-busy in December with their own holiday prep, personal parties, and social obligations, so a holiday party that is not during regular work hours is an unwelcome time-demand.

What is your real desired outcome?

So when you are planning your holiday party, I suggest you first consider your real desired outcome.

Is it to:

* Thank people
* Motivate People
* Do Team Building

Thank People

If your only motivation is to thank people, I humbly suggest you take the per-head budget for the party and just give people gift cards.

If you really want to achieve your desired outcome, deliver the gift cards personally to each employee and thank them personally for something specific they did. Tell them how their effort helped you or the business this year.

That sounds harder than having someone arrange a party. Yep, But it gets you your desired outcome.

Motivate People

If your desired outcome is to motivate people, do something that makes their job more meaningful. Remember, a party will never be the thing that motivates 100% of your people.

Do team building

If your desired outcome is team building, and you believe that a holiday party is a good opportunity to get your team together, then perhaps you are on the right track now….

But please…. Just don’t do it on the weekend.

If you sent out a confidential survey and asked people to rank in order which things they would prefer for the holiday celebration and gave them the choices of:

* Gift Card
* Party during work hours
* Dinner on a week night
* Party on a weekend

No one would choose the weekend.

What you are basically saying by having your holiday celebration on the weekend is that “It’s not enough for me to tell you what to do during the work week. I also need you to demonstrate your loyalty to me by giving up weekend time during the busiest time of the year in your personal life.”

I’m not saying don’t have a holiday party. I’m just saying please respect your employees, and don’t pretend that a weekend party in December is a perk.

Show people that you are doing this for THEM. Make it an actual perk. Make them feel appreciated and motivated by making it convenient and fun, respecting their personal time, and giving them a break from work. (And if you don’t want to give them a break from work, give them a gift card.)

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

The Ebola Scare: 10 Workplace Issues HR Should Be Ready For

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You might initially think that Ebola is only a medical issue, but corporate leaders, HR, and recruiting professionals should realize that any Ebola-related panic and anxiety will also negatively impact an organization’s employees and candidates.

Take a moment to visualize this possible scenario where during the upcoming flu season employees will irrationally stress, panic, and avoid other employees and customers who appear to be even slightly symptomatic. Envision an HR function that will be bombarded with questions and concerns about sick leave, medical benefits, and a variety of Ebola related issues. 

So if you operate under the philosophy that it’s better to be prepared than surprised, prepare for the possibility that the fear of the Ebola disease alone will result in severe employee stress, turmoil, and lower productivity.

10 Ebola-related issues HR should be ready for

I have written extensively since 9/11 about the need for HR to proactively prepare for disasters. And although no one knows precisely what will happen in the future, I predict that there will be numerous complex employee issues related to Ebola that corporate leaders should immediately begin preparing for. The potential Ebola-related issues that you should prepare for include:

  1. Employees will be distracted from their work – Be ready for a significant portion of your employees to be stressed, anxious, and distracted as a result of this issue. In most firms this may only affect productivity by 5 percent, but in healthcare and all firms where employees frequently interact with the public, expect a much higher employee distraction rate. Proactively addressing Ebola-related employee issues with speed, transparency, and authenticity will become an absolute requirement if you want employees to remain fully focused on their work.
  2. Recruiting issues – Obviously if you are recruiting or transferring people into a geographic area like Dallas that is known to that have Ebola issues, you have to expect some added resistance among prospects and candidates. Transportation firms, building maintenance firms, and obviously hospitals will have to be able to demonstrate to recruits that they have done everything possible to mitigate any dangers to their employees.
  3. Miscommunications –In all disasters, there is an increase in the amount of rumors, false alarms, and stories that quickly spread virally throughout the organization. Most of these rumors won’t even be true, but HR and the communications function must be proactive in providing timely and accurate information and instantly countering any related rumors through email, text, and mobile phone messages. As anxiety levels increase, consider surveying a sample of your workers to identify their issues, concerns, and the actions that they expect.
  4. Employee relations issues – Be prepared for situations where individual employees panic when they think there is an employee or customer with a possible Ebola transmission issue. Be prepared to have some employees arbitrarily walk off the job, to refuse to work alongside some coworkers, or even having some berating customers that they think have Ebola symptoms. Managers will have to be trained and educated on what to do in all likely scenarios. Some employees may even quit if they perceive that the firm’s reaction to the crisis is inadequate or if their risk is high.
  5. Sick leave issues – Sick-leave-related issues will likely explode because no one will want to work with a coworker who they fear that might have or might develop the disease. Firms may have to prohibit their employees with any form of fever, diarrhea, or vomiting issues from entering the workplace. And if individual employees are forced to stay home, they will have to be accommodated under ADA. That means that if possible, they should be offered work-at-home options. In order to discourage symptomatic non-exempt workers from coming to work, they may have to be paid for as many as 21 days. Managers will have to be trained and a special Ebola team may have to be put together to handle suddenly sick employees that may need to be sent directly to the hospital. All of these issues may require a temporary change in sick leave policies and it certainly will mean that the number of questions related to sick and medical leave will increase dramatically.
  6. Medical benefits issues – When your employees are worried about Ebola, expect them to contact the employee benefits function with numerous questions about their medical coverage. Employee assistance and counseling options will have to be examined in order to determine and communicate what services are available to employees.  And in the rare case where an employee actually gets the disease, every employee will want to know if the firm’s benefits coverage and treatment of the employee is adequate.
  7. Travel issues — Getting salespeople and employees to travel to Africa or a problem area anywhere in the world will become an issue. This may negatively affect business results, especially at firms that do a lot of business in infected geographic areas.
  8. Bias against those that appear to have been to Africa – If one of your employees perceives someone who they come in contact with on-the-job has recently traveled in Africa, you can expect an emotional reaction. Also, negative reactions and even direct discrimination may occur if a customer is simply perceived to be wearing clothing that the employee judges to be “African” (even if they haven’t recently been to Africa).
  9. Stock and business issues – The Ebola crisis itself will likely negatively impact the entire economy and the stock market. Individual firms that are impacted by Ebola concerns (especially those in public transportation, hotels, restaurants, and retail) will find their business results negatively impacted, in some cases even if the public perceives that they are handling the crisis effectively.
  10. The handling of an actual Ebola case – In the unlikely situation that an employee at a firm (outside of health care) actually develops the disease, the firm’s leaders will have to assume that all employees, managers, and customers will watch corporate actions closely. An in-house or a specialized vendor team will also undoubtedly be required to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Final thoughts

Organizations can’t operate in isolation, so corporate and HR leaders must remain aware of how external events like Ebola may impact them. We obviously all hope that Ebola won’t turn into a major epidemic, but at least in my view, it still makes sense to prepare for the worst case scenario.

Start by revisiting and learning from previous disaster plans (terrorism, flu, weather disasters, etc.). Next, firms need to educate their managers about the range of possible employee problems and it must provide them with effective tools and approaches that they feel comfortable using.

HR should urge managers to talk directly to their employees about these issues but they should also provide an internal information website and designate an HR person to be the primary contact for talent management issues that individual managers can’t handle.

And finally, corporate leaders should work with HR to expand and improve this list of potential employee problems. The time for corporate leaders to act is now, well before my projected high level of Ebola related employee anxiety becomes a reality.

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader who specializes in bold and high business impact and strategic Talent Management solutions for large corporations.

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