How to Help your Employees during Covid

We at OKA recently gathered twelve Organization & Leadership Development practitioners to address an urgent topic: “How are we helping people through the new reality of the world as we get into the Fall and start of school, and what are our organizations doing to help people deal with this new world?” The goal of the conversation was to create and tap the wisdom of a community and to learn from each other about innovative ideas that organizations were implementing to serve their people in our current, challenging time.

              We were fortunate to have a friend of OKA, Hermeka Ray, help lead our discussion and generously share a number of things they are doing at her organization, Freddie Mac. Hermeka and others in the group shared many great and innovative ideas, but for brevity’s sake, I wanted to shorten the list to five ideas/themes that immerged.

  1. Begin meetings with gratitude

We intentionally started our conversation with everyone going around the Zoom, and sharing something they were grateful for. While this isn’t a ground breaking exercise, the nuanced part was the specificity required in your gratitude sentence. Just saying, “I’m grateful for my job” doesn’t do the same for you as saying, “I’m grateful that I get excited to come to work today because X colleague genuinely brightens my day when he answers the phone.”

Bottom Line – The more specific you are with your gratitude—people, places, times, events—the more you’ll get the benefits of this practice

2. Provide your people with a flexible work schedule

Schools are struggling to re-open, and the reality for many people in this country is that they now have to work and help their children get through virtual school at the same time. This is difficult, and an employer best-practice is to allow this kind of flexibility for employees. We can no longer expect that each employee is available from 9 to 5 because some employees’ will get their best work done from 7 to 10 PM—once they have put their kids to sleep.

Bottom Line – The more we can provide flexibility around the workday for our people, the more productive they will be.

3. Be aware of burnout

The need for flexible schedules speaks directly to what we are hearing from a ton of people right now, burnout. Now that we are no longer commuting to an office and our “offices” are in our homes, people are working more hours and feeling burned out as a result. It’s easy to hop on your computer to do work at night and on weekends, and because of this, people don’t feel they can get away. The best organizations are addressing this burnout through workshops and trainings, and highly recommending vacations during this time.

Bottom Line – Identify the early warning signs of burnout in your organization, and train your managers to be aware of it when they see it.

4. Allow the space for conversation

Organizations are struggling right now; there is no doubt about that. The stress of these pressures can lead many to care more for the bottom-line than the people with whom we work. The irony is that if we take care of our people, the bottom line will much more likely be taken care of. The best organizations are providing opportunities for their people to share what they are feeling right now. They are continuing to have trainings to provide open spaces for genuine check-in moments like, “how are you all feeling with everything going on?”

Bottom Line – Genuinely check-in with your people, and provide the space for them to share how they are feeling. Ask, “How are you doing?” And genuinely listen to the answer before moving on to your work conversation.

5. Emphasize connections

Creating connections in the virtual world can be difficult, but they are necessary. We need our family, friends, and colleagues now more than ever as we deal with the stressful reality of not being able to see each other in person. Many successful organizations are providing virtual cooking classes, virtual coffee chats, virtual workouts, and virtual walking meetings to help increase connections inside their organization. We need to find a way to make up for the previous random conversations at the water cooler where genuine connections are and were built, and some organizations are being intentional about doing this in the virtual space.

Bottom Line – Put time on your calendar to connect with people inside your organization. Move your weekly check-in to be 1 hour instead of 30 minutes, and make it a walking conversation so that you can connect on topics outside of work.

How to Help Athletes Missing their Season

Whether you are in High School or College, missing one of the few seasons you get to play your sport because of the pandemic is hard. It is especially difficult for the Seniors who lost their last season. We are in unprecedented times and to, basically out of nowhere, lose your season can be especially difficult for someone in their late teens and early twenties. Given the work I do with high school and college athletes on their mental performance, I wanted to share my thoughts on how to help the athlete who lost their athletic season.

  1. Allow the athlete to sit with the emotion they are feeling

Nobody else in their lifetime has experienced losing their season 100% due to something they could not control. It’s normal and okay to feel angry, sad, frustrated, mad, disappointed, and everything in between. Allowing our athletes to express those emotions and what they’re going through can be an incredibly helpful tactic. Do not try to “fix” their emotion but rather just ask questions and allow them to share with you what they are feeling.

  1. Remember you’re not the only one going through this

It can be easy to only focus on what has happened to us and the pain we are going through, but it’s important to recognize all similar aged athletes are feeling this way. Understanding that you are not alone can make this easier to deal with. In regards to that, talk with your teammates about what they’re going through as it can be helpful to talk it out with others feeling the same way. Don’t lose that personal touch with your teammates because the season has been cancelled. You need your teammates now more than ever to get through this.

  1. Try to focus on what you can control

As the seasons have been in flux, it’s been incredibly difficult to prepare to be in your best shape when the season starts. That’s totally understandable and nobody expects you to be at your best when all of a sudden your season begins. It is totally acceptable for someone to expect you to bring a positive attitude, work-hard, and be a good teammate through all of this. Focus on what you can control during this pandemic and not the external factors.

  1. Focus on creating a new vision/identity for yourself

As athletes, especially elite atheltes, we have a tendency to put ourselves in a box as an athlete. Whenever you describe yourself to new people, you most likely say some form of “I’m a baseball player,” or a family member often refers to you as “Johnny the baseball player.” Use this time to understand why you play your sport and what your values are. When we can begin to think of ourselves and our identify from a values perspective, it can be less daunting when we lose our season. Perhaps you play your sport because of the relationships you build with your teammates, and even during a pandemic when you can’t play your sport, you can still work on and maintain those relationships.

5 things perspective college athletes should be doing during Covid-19

I have been working with, and hearing a lot from, high-level high school athletes about the stress they are going through when it comes to getting recruited right now. Getting recruited at any point is stressful, so trying to do so during a pandemic can be incredibly overwhelming. Many of these athletes feel lost and like they have lost control of the recruitment process. They are nervous about not getting recruited by the right college, or not getting recruited at all, as seasons continue to get cancelled. I had been hearing this question of “what can I do right now to best prepare myself as a potential college athlete?” so often that I decided to write this blog post on five things that high-school athletes can do during Covid-19 to best set themselves up for success.

  1. Manage your time effectively

The difference between good and great high school athletes coming out of this will be determined by how you used your time during this pandemic. Did you use this “down” time to your advantage or did you play video games and not work on getting better? To set yourself up for success during this time, you have to effectively manage your time. For the first time for most elite high school athletes, you do not have everything planned, so it’s up to you to plan the things on your calendar that will get you better.

  1. Remember everyone is going through this at the same time

It can be lonely and it can be scary trying to get recruited during a pandemic, there is no doubt about that. It’s also important to remember that every other perspective college athlete is going through the same thing. Nobody gets to have D1 college coaches at their games so it is not like you are at a disadvantage compared to others. It’s important to keep this in perspective when you are letting the negative thoughts snow ball in your head.

  1. Pay attention to the rule changes

It seems the rules are changing weekly in what college coaches can and cannot do. This only adds to the excess stress that high school athletes are going through right now. It’s important to find a way to stay in tune with the different rule changes. At Athlete Roadmap Coaching, we have a dedicated expert staying up to date on all the up to the minute college recruiting rule changes. Understanding the rules will help ease the anxiety when you are, for example, not getting a response from a college coach that you were previously in touch with.

  1. Work on what you can

Games weren’t happening for many months and for some sports in some areas, they still aren’t happening. This sucks and it’s not fair, and now once we accept that, let’s focus on what we can control. We have been given a huge opportunity to take a step back and either further improve our strengths or work on our weaknesses. Perhaps this is your opportunity to work on the mental side of the game, or get into the best running shape of your life. The athletes that take advantage of this period (as opposed to complaining about it) will be the ones that end up setting themselves up for success.

  1. Be proactive now more than ever

A lot of players used to think, and some continue to think, that you can just show up and the college coach of your dreams will find you. Right now college coaches do not have the ability to travel to watch you play, so it’s up to you to be proactive about what you’re doing to stay in top shape and leverage videos you can easily create during your games/practices. You’re going to have be more proactive than ever before by focusing on two things; video and references. Utilize your high school and travel coaches as references because they will have the relationships with the college coaches, and will be able to serve as a reference for if you can play at that level.

How to Reframe your Experience for Success – with Harris Fanaroff on the HR Oxygen Podcast

Life has a habit of throwing curveballs at us.  That’s a good analogy for this episode.  Our guest today,  Harris Fanaroff shares his journey that took a very interesting turn and led him to a success that he never imagined.  If you need a good example for how to handle life when your plans fall apart, this is the episode for you!

The Power of Optimism – An Emotional Intelligence Tool

The fifteenth and final element of Emotional Intelligence is optimism. Optimism is defined by the EQi 2.0 as “your ability and tendency to look at the brighter side of life and to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity.” Optimism gives you hope and enables you to see the future as a positive, inviting place. A positive outlook, faith, and hopefulness are all rooted in optimism.

It is not an easy time to be optimistic, but the good news is that it’s something that we can work on. A lot of people think that you are either born an optimistic person or you’re not, but the research within the EQi would suggest otherwise. We have the ability to shift to become a more optimistic person when we start to get intentional with our actions.

With that being said, I wanted to share three ways to become more optimistic:

  1. If an affiliation with a group or relationship is making you lose hope or motivation, consider pulling back from that commitment and spending less time with that group.
  2. Find an activity that makes you smile and laugh. The physical act of smiling impacts the brain which opens up the possibility for more optimism.
  3. Every morning write down three things you are grateful for. A gratitude journal is one of the best ways to look at the positives in your life.

Stress Tolerance Amidst a Pandemic – An Emotional Intelligence Tool

The fourteenth element of Emotional Intelligence is stress tolerance. Stress tolerance is defined by the EQi 2.0 as “the ability to function well in the midst of challenging and stressful situations – to shoulder stress without getting overwhelmed.” Stress tolerance is rooted in endurance, recovery, health, and resilience. There are many aspects of this pandemic that are incredibly stressful, and having the ability to function in the midst of this stress is crucial.

A high stress tolerance is a necessary element to move through the world that we are currently living in. Almost nothing in this world looks like it used to, so navigating this new reality can often cause stress. A high amount of stress tolerance typically shows up with an ability to alleviate and shoulder stress as well as having the confidence to understand you will be able to get through this. Our confidence can be developed in a variety of ways, but surrounding yourself with positive and uplifting people, can be a great way to lift you out of a stressful situation.

With that being said, I wanted to share three ways we can work on our stress tolerance during this pandemic:

  1. Name, tame, and explain the stressful emotion that you are feeling. Sometimes taking a step back and doing the inner-work to understand where your stress is really coming from can help you develop the confidence to move past it.
  2. Our stress is directly tied to our nutrition, exercise habits, and sleep schedule. Check to make sure that all of these are at an optimal level for you. If they aren’t, begin to identify ways that you can make changes to at least one of them.
  3. When you are starting to feel stressed and anxious, get up from your desk and take a walk. Or, if you’re dealing with a time-sensitive topic, close your eyes and take a couple seconds to just breathe.

The Need for Flexibility in Our Current World – An Emotional Intelligence Tool

The thirteenth element of Emotional Intelligence is flexibility. Flexibility is defined by the EQi 2.0 as “your ability and tendency to adjust your emotions, thoughts, and behavior to changing situations and conditions, to adapt – to take in new data and change your mind or approach.” Flexibility is rooted in openness, curiosity, change, and adaptability. Understanding that there are situations where you need to adjust your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is vital in the current social justice movement.

Those who are inflexible tend to hold firm to their beliefs even when new data is introduced to them. Someone who is flexible is able to change their mind when they are introduced to new data, and they are able to see the world differently when new information is presented to them. Someone who is flexible understands that there may be different sides to an argument and is willing to be open to understanding the other side.

With that being said, I wanted to share three ways we can work on our flexibility during this time:

  1. Actively listen to your colleagues or friends, take in new data and/or a new perspective, and push yourself to change your mind about something.
  2. On an issue where your position is fixed, try to think about at least two other positions that could be possible on the other side of the argument.
  3. Consider how coming curious to a conversation could be benefit you over coming fixed to that conversation. Even if you believe you are correct, explore being curious about other opinions.

Podcast Episode – Peace Of Mind, with Harris Fanaroff

It’s never easy to step away from something that you love…especially when you’ve worked your entire life for it. Harris Fanaroff loved the game of baseball. He was drafted by the Washington Nationals and played D1 baseball for Lehigh University, however during his time in school, Harris lost his passion for the game and decided to step away. Today, Harris credits a lot of his success to the tough decisions that he made early in his journey. He is now a mental performance coach, helping professionals and athletes reach their ultimate potential. He is able to pull lessons from his past experiences to inspire and motivate others to their goals. In this episode we unpack why he made the decisions that he did and what he learned along the way – he even shares some motivational nuggets throughout. You can follow Harris at: Instagram: @harrisfanaroff LinkedIn: Harris Fanaroff

Podcast Episode –

5 Questions I’m Asking Myself As A White Male

I wanted to share my thoughts on everything going on with Black Lives Matter & the Race Relations conversations going on in our country right now. I have spent a lot of time on this incredibly important issue and reflecting on what I can do to be better, so I figured I’d share 5 things I’m thinking about with everything going on.

1. What can I do as a white male to make things better? – By being born as a white male I was given a ton of privilege that I often take for granted. I never have to worry about walking around a neighborhood late at night or someone being scared of me just because of the color of my skin. Racism is a white person problem and things will get better from black people AND white people speaking up. It is my job to promote and advocate for policies and leaders that are anti-racist, and speak out when I see racism in action.

2. How can I be more empathetic? – Empathy is our ability and willingness to take notice of and be sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings. The more I can think of others and the emotions they are feeling, the more I can lean into this and make a difference. I’m taking time to listen, learn, and understand what black people are feeling and have been feeling for many, many years. If this turns into a conversation about other groups being discriminated against, we just get further away from making a difference for black people. 

3. How can I push myself to my growth edge?  I shared a picture several days ago on LinkedIn which highlighted phrases we would use when we are pushing ourselves to our growth edge when become an anti-racist. A couple of these statements really stuck out to me – “I sit with my discomfort” “I speak out when I see Racism in action” “I don’t let mistakes deter me from being better” and “I surround myself with others who think & look differently than me.” The last one I feel incredibly passionate about. I am committed to surrounding myself with people that are different from me because I think that is how we will make a difference in this country.

4. How can I educate myself on everything going on? I heard this quote from Brene Brown that really stuck with me, “I’m here to get it right, not to be right.” I’m going to make mistakes when having race relations conversations, but if I get afraid of making mistakes then growth won’t happen. I don’t know all the answers, but I’m committed to learning. I’ve spent a lot of time learning over the last few weeks and here is some of my favorite content: 

5. How can I bring my skills to make this situation better? In addition to my full-time job, I am a Certified Leadership Coach that loves working with athletes on their mental game. I am partnering with a good friend to create a program that helps high performing athletes in underserved communities get access to mental performance training. Additionally, the Nats Youth Academy is an organization I am incredibly passionate about that provides after school programs for underserved youth in DC. I’m having conversations with individuals at that organization about how we can better use my network and young professionals to help this underserved community in DC.

This is what I’m reading/doing/listening to… what are other people reading/doing/listening to? I’d love to hear it!!

Emotional Intelligence – Racial Injustice & Impulse Control

The twelfth element of Emotional Intelligence is impulse control. Impulse control in any situation is important, but impulse control when dealing with something as important as racial injustice, can be vital. Impulse control is defined by the EQi 2.0 as “the ability to resist or delay a drive or temptation to do or say something or to decide too quickly or rashly.” Impulse control is rooted in our restraint, containment, and caution. Having the right amount of impulse control and knowing when to exercise this vs. when to speak out can be the difference between escalating or de-escalating a situation.

As times have changed, I have shifted my weekly blog to focus on the race relations conversations going on in the United States as opposed to the previous articles I wrote on the pandemic. Having a high sense of impulse control means you typically delay your impulses which can lead to more carefully made and better decisions. On the flip side, someone with low impulse control, can come off as making rash decisions with little ability to filter their reactions. There are many times that we need to have a high impulse control, but it’s also important to not over-do impulse control so that we can still show up genuine.

With that being said, if you are someone with low impulse control that wants to work on improving this behavior, I wanted to provide you with three ways:

  1. Before doing an action, take a second to think about the long term implications of that action. What would expressing your thoughts and feelings contribute to the situation or relationship at hand?
  2. If you have a tendency to be the first to jump into a conversation, when someone asks a question, count to ten (silently) to give someone else a chance to respond.
  3. Work to keep your face, body, and gestures from communicating your feelings as someone else is talking.