Too Personal for the Workplace

What is it you want to improve at work?  Customer service? Patient care? Quality control? Error rates? Sales? Communications? Employee Engagement? Check out this bit from Inc. Magazine: “Forty-seven percent of employees say that problems in their personal lives sometimes affect their work performance, according to new research by Bensinger, DuPont & Associates. The firm asked 24,000 employees using its employee assistance program how personal issues were affecting their work. More than 16 percent reported that their personal challenges caused absenteeism, and nearly half said it was hard for them to concentrate. Take note: If you think problems in your team's personal lives have nothing to do with you, you're wrong”.

At the far side of every training program there is a goal for work-related improvement. You already possess the technical skills to run the day to day operational aspects of your workplace, so what skills are needed to make the improvements we are talking about?  They are personal by definition. They involve the person and the personality and the unpredictable nature of the person, doing the work. If we do not make the training personal, the complaint would be that we are trying to script/program everyone into robots. At the same time, many people have the notion that personal matters are off-limits in the workplace. It as if there was some sort of law that personal matters are never to be discussed, with every individual deciding where to draw their own line defining what is personal.
Somewhere in the middle of every training program, there is a collage of personal issues that drive the problems and the solutions to our problems. My job is to inspire, motivate and train people in patterns and practices that bring about success, however they define it. If your people have low self-esteem, low self- confidence, their goals are too small, they carry a scarcity mindset, they fear rejection, fear failure, fear success, or do not have a clear vision, are these people going to help build success in your organization?  If you have these qualities, are you going to enjoy success in your career or your life? Imagine having a high level of confidence and the strength to ask for help when needed. Imagine having such an abundance mentality, that credit could be shared, and responsibility could be taken without a need to assign blame for mistakes. Imagine the productivity levels if everyone, including yourself had goals that made sense and correlated with a personal passion to drive results. This is personal. This is uncomfortable.

Indeed, if I do my job correctly, many participants will feel uncomfortable. All the good stuff happens just outside your comfort zone, is a popular phrase on Facebook memes, but that doesn’t make it any easier to be uncomfortable. I often start a workshop with the invitation to get comfortable, being uncomfortable. We can easily get used to being comfortable with a little discomfort and start to experience the richness of personal growth. Mind you, we do not do really deep, super-personal work with groups in a work setting; and we are talking about creating just a little discomfort, balanced with an atmosphere of emotional safety. 

If employees (or employers for that matter), feel unsafe sharing what they consider to be personal matters at work, it could be a reflection of their insecurities or a reflection of the culture in the workplace. If trust with co-workers or the boss is low, we would need to work on that first. This summer, we have been running short public workshops dealing with some very popular topics that dramatically affect how people perform at work. These short workshops are very small groups of people who generally do not know one-another and don’t work together. Somehow, this makes it emotionally safer to get voluntarily more personal. It is almost universally true that people are more comfortable sharing personal insights and challenges with total strangers than they are with coworkers. What does that say about our work relationships? What level of trust is there at work if strangers are safer than co-workers? Strangers are not gunning for your job. Strangers will not fire you, gossip about you, or punish you with lousy schedules as a result of knowing your secret weakness. It is easier to hold in the stress and make ourselves literally, physical ill than it is to risk being vulnerable at work. It pains me to know this. It pains me to know so many workers (and bosses) who are actually living this way. It is unnecessary. It is personal. It is also a work issue. The workplace is making us sick with toxic environments that do not support the emotional needs of the workers. It is my observation that not only do most workplaces not proactively support these needs, many are actively contributing to the problem. We teach what you allow. Shouting at employees, verbally abusing one another, storming around like angry, drunken, violent parents with no coping skills, is acceptable behavior in too many workplaces. On the other end of the spectrum, some employees (and some employers) simply shut down at the first sign of conflict. They may even feel that any question of their work, no matter how kindly presented, is a personal attack. These people simply shut down and walk away from conversations as if their passivity would protect them from the impending storm that does not even exist outside their imagination. We wonder why we must “walk on eggshells” with some people, who are not strong enough to handle any feedback or input at all. How are these situations going to get better without being personal?

We need to be willing to get to know ourselves and care for ourselves first. We then need to know and care for one another. We connect with others through stories, awareness and empathy. We build trust by extending trust, by making and keeping promises, and by being transparent. These things require personal strength and self-confidence. It is time to get uncomfortable and stop hiding behind our “right” to not deal with personal matters. It is time to live healthy, happy, vibrant lives and surround ourselves with other happy, healthy vibrant people.

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