Check-Ins, Continual Listening Can Calm Employee Anxiety


​It is amazing what an HR generalist can learn by simply walking through the workplace once a week to check in with the staff.

Mary Kay Kirgis, human resources generalist at Crescent Community Health Center in Dubuque, Iowa, gives her four-story building a listening tour each week to visit with her 121 employees.

“I make it a point to ask each employee how they are doing and if there is anything the company can provide to make their jobs easier,” Kirgis said. “With this way, I find we get more candid feedback than we would by doing an e-mailed pulse survey.”

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Kirgis said not all employees like to offer their thoughts when she comes by in person. “They might feel awkward about doing so in front of others, but when I get back to my desk, many have already e-mailed me to tell me they appreciate it and then write, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking’ in response. This opens a healthy line of communication.”

According to iSolved’s second-annual Voice of the Workforce survey released Sept. 7, continuous listening by employers, consistent learning opportunities and frequent check-ins with supervisors are even more important than some organizations may realize, particularly for employees plagued with anxiety or self-doubt.

The 1,000-employee nationwide survey found that 50 percent of workers experience the “Sunday Scaries” before returning to work after time off. It also revealed that 40 percent indicated they struggle with imposter syndrome, which is an internalized, persistent fear developed from doubting their skills, talents or accomplishments.

Calming Employees’ ‘Sunday Scaries’

Jonathan Roberts, senior analyst of Future of Work at Forrester, speaking at iSolved’s CONNECT Conference in Nashville, said he recently was privy to what some anxious employees have been experiencing.

“One said they cried themselves to sleep every Sunday night,” Roberts said. “Another said they clench their fist so tight for so long at night that they can’t even grip a pen in the morning.”

Amy Mosher, chief people officer at iSolved, said that “unchecked, imposter syndrome and work-induced anxiety can lead to greater employee disengagement, productivity and profit loss, and turnover.”

This emotional turmoil is unsustainable, Moser said. “Inner conflict—does my employer care about me, am I making the right career decisions, can I balance life and work—is a top reason for workforce-changing trends like quiet quitting. Employees need support through continuous listening, constant learning opportunities and meaningful connections with their managers, including regular check-ins, to be committed and confident.”

Kimberly Crawford, SHRM-CP, director of HR at Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative in Hattiesburg, Miss., said engagement is “so important” today because it helps companies retain their employees.

“They want to be asked, they want to feel heard. Your workers can’t just come in and work eight hours and that’s it [as far as interaction with their employer], or they are going to leave the company,” Crawford said. “Also important is that HR needs to hear them and act on it.”

Regular Meetings Stem Anxiety

Fifty-two percent of the full-time employees iSolved surveyed said the top way their employers can help reduce symptoms of imposter syndrome is by meeting with their supervisors regularly while 38 percent said their employers can improve their well-being with resources to minimize burnout.

Kirgis said Crescent requires weekly one-on-one meetings with new hires and their managers for the first month. After that, they occur every other month or based on need and how things are going.

The company has all-staff pod meetings every other month so that employees can share thoughts or ideas, and some employees speak up, Kirgis said.

From those discussions, Kirgis said the company learned that employees found the patient registration process to be challenging and a source of stress.

“This led to our company looking to improve that process by fully revamping the system,” Kirgis said.

It now takes about six minutes to complete the forms, compared to 12 minutes previously.

Kirgis said she’s noticed the behavioral attributes of imposter syndrome in employees who become overly concerned that they are doing their jobs properly.

“They frequently are asking to get help on whatever they are working on,” she said. “A lot of times this happens when it comes to learning or using new computer systems.”

Crawford said empowering employees as often as possible can help boost their confidence. “At HR, we try to continually enthusiastically tell them, ‘You got this,’ and ‘You own it,’ ‘You have the skills and training for this and that’s why we hired you.’ “

Try Virtual Assistants

In an effort to streamline employee check-ins, iSolved said some clients are using its virtual assistant (or chatbot) to regularly ask employees how they are doing.

This device helps to supplement “emotional proximity” where the employee “feels that they are being seen,” according to iSolved’s Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer James Norwood. iSolved research showed that while 52 percent of employees do welcome regular check-ins with their supervisors, only 30 percent of HR leaders actually do so on a continuous basis.

Check-ins can surely be done more personally, but virtual assistant outreach is trending in many parts of consumers’ lives, creating a comfort level, said iSolved Chief Product Officer Pragya Malhotra.

To quell potential burnout, Roberts said supervisors should use their check-ins as more than “How’s-it-going?” moments. Phrase your question carefully to get a full answer.

“Inevitably, the worker will say, ‘Good,’ ” Roberts said. “Instead, ask them to tell you about how they feel about their job’s expectations; ask if they have sufficient resources to do the job. This opens a productive conversation.”

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Reston, Va.

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Check-Ins, Continual Listening Can Calm Employee Anxiety

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