C4 Innovations

Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change

Supporting Teams in Overwhelming Times

An episode of the “Changing the Conversation” podcast

Ken Kraybill and host Kristen Paquette share tips for leading and supporting teams and employees through COVID-19 and during overwhelming times.

June 22, 2020

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Erika Simon, producer: Hello, and welcome to Changing the Conversation. Before we get started with our new episode, we want to acknowledge that as our communities respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, this is a difficult time for everyone, especially for people who are marginalized and those providing health and human services. We are deeply thankful to all the health and human service providers and community leaders who are working tirelessly to keep people safe and well, and help folks who are sick to recover. We appreciate you beyond measure.

[Music]

Erika: [00:34] We are sharing come COVID-19 related resources for supporting people who are experiencing challenges with substance use, mental health, recovery, homelessness, and housing on our webpage at c4innovates.com/news and on our social media channels on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please email us at info@c4innovates.com if we can support you or your programs in any way. All of us at C4 wish health and strength to you, your families and friends, and the people you work with.

[Music]

Kristen Paquette, host: [1:11] Hello, and welcome to today’s episode of Changing the Conversation. I’m your host for today’s podcast, Kristen Paquette, CEO at C4 Innovations. Today we will be talking about how we can take care of our teams during overwhelming times as we continue to navigate the challenges associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m happy to be joined by my colleague, Ken Kraybill, a Senior Trainer at C4 Innovations. Thank you for being here today, Ken.

Ken Kraybill, guest: [1:36] Thank you, Kristen. I’m happy to be here.

Kristen: [1:38] We both have had a chance recently to think about what this looks like, both from a self-care perspective as well as a team care perspective in our organizations. I think for me, the identity that I bring to this conversation especially is as a working mom. Over the past couple of months, my husband and I have been managing full time work with our three-year-old at home with us, as I know many many others are dealing with as well. And while we recognize our privilege to be able to do that, it makes it that much harder to be a leader and a productive employee at times.

Kristen: [2:10] So we thought we could organize our time together today to talk about a few key principles and strategies that we have found useful at C4 as we’ve tried to support our staff and help all of us to navigate this difficult moment. We know that many organizations are doing their absolute best – they’re innovating, they’re being creative, they’re being supportive and flexible to not only help staff to be employed, but also to stay as engaged, and safe, and healthy as possible. And so this is by no means what we consider the be all and end all of taking care of staff, but some ways that we have found helpful in this time of the COVID-19 outbreak, but just more generally as we strive to be an organization that’s trauma-informed, that’s recovery-oriented, that’s person-centered, and inclusive.

Kristen: [2:58] Ken, I know you’ve had a lot of opportunity to provide training and support to organizations around topics just like this – self-care, team-care, recognizing and acknowledging trauma. I wonder if you might want to share a little bit with our listeners about some of the questions that you’re getting these days around taking care of staff, and then we can maybe talk a little bit about what we’ve been up to.

Ken: [3:20] Yeah, I’m happy to do so. Thanks Kristen. What I’m hearing, and what I’m experiencing, actually, internally with myself, is really this very interesting mix of emotions. Some days feel relatively normal, and then I remember there’s a pandemic going on. Some days I feel more numb. Some days are pretty productive. Some days, not so much. And it’s just one big mishmash in some ways. And in the midst of all that, I’m tying that to my recognition that trauma does impact our brains. It impacts our whole being. And this pandemic is just another whole overlay of trauma on top of the trauma that, of course, that we often experience ourselves, but often in terms of the people that we serve.

Ken: [4:05] So yeah, I don’t know. How bout you?

Kristen: [4:06] I can absolutely relate to that. I think every day has felt completely different. Sometimes every hour of the day has felt completely different for me. Being a couple of months into this now, I can actually look back and see that I think I made my way out of the worst of a fog period where I felt hardly productive, and hardly able to concentrate, and feel like myself at work every day. And I think recognizing that, especially as a leader at C4, has felt really important, and I’ve also shared that with staff at every chance that I could get because I think it’s unrealistic to think that we can just manage our way out of trauma in these moments, push past it, expect the same levels of productivity, and so I think being vulnerable with our teams is really important, and sharing our own experiences, and also recognizing and finding ways to respond and support to trauma that we’re seeing.

Kristen: [5:01] I think especially in the most recent weeks, we’re witnessing, again, an uptick in racist violence which just adds to the experience of racial trauma for our staff of color and our neighbors and community members of color as well. So I think it’s important to recognize that, organizationally, that there are many different ways that folks can experience trauma in the current moment, but that it could trigger experiences of trauma that they experience in their everyday lives and that they’ve experienced over their lifetime.

Ken: [5:30] Yeah, thanks Kristen for bringing that up. This whole issue and incredible overlay of racial trauma particularly, and of course that applies to other kinds of trauma that people experience. But this whole pandemic has just opened up a chasm of gulfs that were always there, but it just seems that they’re even wider in terms of disparities, inequities, injustice, and we’re seeing that played out, and for many of us, I do believe that that level of trauma of just being so intensely aware of the incredible injustice that’s happening, particularly for people who are black and brown is just … yeah, its incomprehensible in some ways.

Kristen: [6:20] I think incomprehensive is a good word for this whole experience, and I think there have been moments that all of us have probably experienced feeling like, “what do we do here?” It’s just so daunting not knowing what’s ahead in the weeks, the months, possibly the years as we face COVID-19. And so, it’s of course important to recognize that staff members may be struggling, and team members may be struggling and then think about “what do we do about that?” “What can we do as employers, and as leaders, and supervisors to make this moment as manageable and supportive as possible?”

Kristen: [6:56] So I think, you know, one value that we hold dearly at C4, is to just assume that staff need support before they even need to ask for it, and be really overt and explicit around naming these challenges, creating space for staff to come together, connect, process, maybe receive some additional supervisory support or support from peers and other colleagues. We’ve done that in a few really concrete ways at C4 over the last couple months just trying to experiment with what would be the most effective and the most accessible for staff. So we’ve held extra staff meetings, we’ve started affinity groups where people could come together either to talk about things like self-care and mental health, or just to come together and talk about gardening, and the books that they’re reading, and whatever can kind of lift you up and help in these moments has been really important.

Kristen: [7:50] One other thing that comes to mind for me in thinking about truly person-centered approaches to supporting staff is really taking the time to ask what they most need in this moment from us as an employer, and that’s going to look very different. My overriding identity right now is the challenges that I’m facing as a CEO with a three-year-old at home with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and sometimes I lead with that in staff conversations, and folks have reminded me how deeply challenging it is to be a person who lives alone in these times, and who literally hasn’t been in the same room as another human being for the last 2 months, and so our needs are very different, and we want to make sure that we are inclusive, and allow space for folks to share that, and then, as much as we can, find ways to support those different needs for our staff.

Ken: [8:39] Very nice, yeah.

Kristen: [8:41] Ken, what are some of the other things that you’re seeing or hearing out in the world for ways that organizations are supporting their staff right now?

Ken: [8:48] One of the things that you know, Kristen, is I have been doing some teaching and training around what I call “trauma-informed supervision,” and, you know, the principles and application of that apply so much more during these days. And just a few of those are given that everybody, not everybody, but many people are now working from home where communication, meetings, tasks, priorities, sidebar conversations, are all very different these days because there are none of those. [9:19] And so we have to ensure that employees know what’s expected of them in this new reality that we live in, they need to have the materials and equipment that are going to help them do jobs, and then there are those other less tangible things, like, do people still have the opportunity to use and practice what they are best at what they’re doing in their work, and are they getting recognition and affirmation, not so much for outcomes, but for just effort being put forth and for continuing to hang in there, and do we, as supervisors and supporting staff, show that we care not just about that person as an employee, but as a whole person who’s also being impacted by what is going on at lots of different levels. [10:09] And then one piece that gets missing in all this, I think, is are we still able to encourage people to grow and develop in this new era. And I know for myself, this time has given me a little bit of extra time to go a little deeper and delve further into some of the topic areas that I provide training on, and that’s actually been a gift for me.

Kristen: [10:26] Those are such great points, Ken, and I think I’ve felt the same. There’s this this sense of, yes, we’re staying at home, we’re in quarantine, we’re not allowed to, kind of, live our usual frenetic lives where we run around and drive around from meeting to meeting and place to place, but having a little bit of stillness where we can find it in our homes has helped me to pay attention to different things, whether that’s work related, or personally, I’ve really been noticing as I go on nature walks with my three-year-old pretty much every day, is that the greens on the trees are just so much more vibrant than I’ve ever noticed before, and I feel like I have this, kind of, heightened sense of awareness and mindfulness for those little details that I just miss in regular day-to-day life.

Ken: [11:15] Aren’t the birds singing more and more sweetly too? Have you noticed that?

Kristen: [11:18] I’m noticing they’re singing more loudly,

[Laughter]

Kristen: [11:21] which I notice on conference calls a little more these days. The other thing that comes to mind for me in hearing you talk, Ken, is that there’s a lot of really helpful resources that we make available to staff just in the normal course of being an employer that we want to remind staff about in these times. So something like an employee assistance program may not be something that every staff person has thought about or reached out to in the past, but that’s a great way to just reach out and get some short-term counseling and support, some EAPs even can help with things like financial planning, dealing with those types of challenges that families might be facing right now. [12:01] I think, also, absolutely maximize the use of things like paid leave, and truly encouraging that, and modeling that, especially as leaders, is really important. It’s one thing to tell staff they have vacation time available, but if we’re not taking our own vacation time, or really truly going off the grid, and off of email, and off of meetings when we take that time for rest, we’re signaling to staff that they’re not truly welcomed to do that either. And it’s just, it’s so essential for rest, for renewal, for productivity, for longevity in our roles, and I think especially in these times, to stay healthy and well, and have strong immune systems, and not put ourselves in a position where we’re getting more and more run down trying to meet kind of an unreasonable set of demands.

Ken: [12:46] Part of what I’m hearing in that, Kristen, and I’ve heard you talk about this before, is this is a good time to share our vulnerability, and by that, I mean to be our authentic, compassionate selves, but also be ourselves, when we can acknowledge that we’re feeling kind of crispy around the edges or a little edgy. I think there’s a real fine line between leaders showing their vulnerability and having people worry about you. And one of the things I think about is, you know, maybe what we can do as supervisors, leaders, is say things like, you know, when I get home from work, sometimes I just have to have a good cry, or, I did have a cry at work, but I’m okay, and I’m sharing these things with you to let you know that I too am experiencing stress, but I am getting support, and please let me know if I am getting a little bit crispy, is the word I’m gravitating towards. I like that. But there’s a way, hopefully we’ve been this way pre-pandemic, but hopefully even more so now, people, we’re not trying to be superheroes, we’re just trying to be human beings doing the job the best we can, warts and all. What do you think?

Kristen: [13:59] I think absolutely, and I’ve tried to be mindful about myself, because it’s really tempting to get on calls with colleagues and want to just let it all out, [laughter], because we all have to let it our somewhere, but absolutely, we’re professionals, we’re leaders, we have to be mindful of that, and we’re often the person that our team members look to for how we’re supposed to be functioning, and how we’re expected to be functioning in these moments. So it also makes me think, you know of course we hear questions from folks who hear us talking about these things, and saying, I don’t think I can open up the floodgates of having staff meetings to talk about feelings, and emotions, and stress, and fear, and worries, you know, and how do we draw some boundaries around that, you know, we’re a workplace, we have a job to do. [14:42] So I think there’s always a need for balance, you know, and I think being intentional about providing some of those spaces so staff know those spaces are available, and can channel those emotions into those meeting spaces, or supervision, or peer support spaces, is essential so that it’s not constantly spilling over into regular work meetings, and not kind of eating up fifteen minutes or half hour of a team meeting. [15:04] The other thing that I’ve found myself doing is trying to be vulnerable around my own work style right now. So C4, for those of you know it, is a very high achieving workplace. We’re just busy all the time, like many places are, and we have a lot of staff who are so deeply committed to our mission that they’re just constantly operating in an above and beyond kind of way. And so, I’ve been really open that right now is a time to be really ruthless about prioritizing what is absolutely most essential, and letting go of what can wait, or what’s not essential right now, because there’s just no way we can do it all. And so let’s be realistic about what’s essential for our organization, our teams, ourselves, and know that we’ll get back to regular life eventually. But let’s be kind to ourselves, let’s give ourselves grace, and let’s just be realistic about what we can accomplish day-to-day.

Ken: [15:57] Really providing us an opportunity, I think, to re-examine our values and our behaviors around busyness, around perfectionism, around, you know, having to always look like you’re competent, all these things, and I, you know, as hard as this time is, there’s really some good learning opportunities for all of us. So yeah, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could diminish some of the “shoulds” in our lives, and instead embrace the “here’s what I hope to do, want to do, and whatever I do is good enough,” I think is another good message to send here. As well as encouraging flexibility around, like you’re a parent, so maybe you’re not working 8-4, well, you never have worked 8-4, but, you know, maybe you’re finding spaces in the day for those nature walks, but then making up for that another time. So I think this gentleness, this flexibility is something we need for ourselves, but also to ensure that we’re providing to others. And be a little more forgiving, a little bit less judgy, perhaps, about what we’re seeing.

Kristen: [17:06] Absolutely. More forgiving, less judgy, I like that. I’m going to put that on my wall. But yeah, I think we’ve done, we’ve tried to do as much as we can for our staff around the flexibility issues. So, you know, we’ve never been an employer that feels like we need our staff at their desks from 9 am to 5 pm so we can keep an eye on them. We’re pretty good about flexibility and family friendliness, but I think in this moment, we’re also pushing the limits of that for ourselves. So we have staff members that are working from 5 am to 7 am before they take over for childcare for a few hours, and then come back at it as they can that afternoon, that evening, and we’re okay with that. You know, we’re taking a really person-centered approach right now to what’s doable, and we know our staff are showing up and doing the work, or else they wouldn’t be here in the first place. But that’s a real shift for other employers, I’m sure, who have not been able to be flexible or support remote work in different ways, and may wonder “how do I really know what my employees are up to.” So I think this is a moment to assume the best of folks, and really try to accommodate individual needs and family needs as much as is feasible.

Kristen: [16:67] You also mentioned something, Ken, that made me think about, you know, in these moments, there’s also an invitation to kind of look ahead to the future, knowing that at some point, the worst of this outbreak will be behind us, even though we know we’ll be experiencing the ripple effects of it probably for generations in different ways. But at least in terms of our workplaces, we’ll be getting back to a different way of working than we are right now, and so why not take this time to look at maybe what hasn’t worked as well in your organization, whether it’s for your employees or the folks that you’re serving. Maybe there are some ways that you have been able to cut down barriers, and bureaucracies, and red tape, and help people to get to essential services and supports in this moment of crisis, that might be strategies you want to adopt in the future because why not make it easier for people to get the help that they need. And I’m sure there’s all kinds of examples, but it’s another way to engage staff in, yes, we feel helpless and we feel paralyzed right now, but there’s also some power in looking ahead and thinking about what can and should be different when this is behind us.

Ken: [19:21] Yeah, I love that you’re bringing that up. This is one of those both/and moments in our lives where we can both be overwhelmed, but we can also be forward-thinking, and I think both are required.

[Laughter]

Ken: [13:35] This reminds me of a quote from a colleague of ours, former colleague, who said, “this too shall pass, maybe like kidney stones, but it will pass.” And there will be some return to some semblance of normal, but I trust and hope that we don’t go back to the normal that was pre-pandemic when it comes to the injustices that we mentioned, and even some of our work practices, and self-care practices, our own busyness. You know, I’m always reminded, Thomas Merton talks about our busyness being a form of innate violence. That it robs us of the root inner wisdom that needs to continually feed our work. And so that’s an interesting way to think about busyness, that it’s not particularly healthy or good for others.

Ken: [20:23] I’ve been listening to a podcast called “The Growing Edge,” and somebody, there was a phrase that was mentioned that I’m just going to mention here that I just found really interesting, and the idea was, how do we navigate our way through these times, and the idea was, you know, as the darkness falls around us, the person said, “we must learn to garden in the dark.” And it just struck me that you can probably interpret that in lots of different ways, but we need to continue planting seeds, tilling the soil, watering, and waiting, and trusting that whatever those seeds are that planted, that we can’t guarantee that they’ll grow, but we can trust that they’ll likely will if we provide the proper conditions. And also, I would even take it beyond seed planting. Maybe it’s time to start organizing ourselves in a way that we can not only make changes in our workplace, but beyond. And that might feel like a heavy lift for some people in these times, but maybe it might also be an unburdening since we also feel like we kind of don’t know what to do. And anyway, these are some thoughts that I’ve been having that I’ve love to hear your response to that.

Kristen: [21:40] I love that image, Ken, of gardening. It’s one of growth, it’s one of hope, it’s one of the future, and I totally agree, this sense of unburdening, let’s take this opportunity to shed what hasn’t worked for ourselves, and our organizations, and our society. It feels like a reckoning in so many ways. And one that has gotten people’s attention in a way that some of these inequities and injustices just hasn’t before. So even in the darkest moments of what we’re facing, I find some hope in that the national attention seems fairly captured around what doesn’t work, especially for people who come from communities that are the most marginalized, communities of color, unable to access healthcare, unable to manage work right now, and things like that.

Kristen: [22:30] So I know we’re up at the end of our time together, and we’ve shared, I hope, some useful thoughts and ways of working and being right now. I’m curious, Ken, if you have any last, wise words on your mind for our listeners today.

Ken: [22:45] Whatever wisdom I have is going to be borrowed from somebody else probably, but I will, sort of, offer this quote from Parker Palmer, a Quaker educator, and it’s about hope, and he says, “hope is holding a creative tension between what is, and what could and should be. Each day, doing something to narrow the distance between the two.” That feels to me like a call to action that is both hopeful, and manageable, and a way to sustain ourselves, and develop, even, and grow during these times.

Kristen: [23:22] Thank you, Ken. That’s a great note to end on. I think my last piece of advice would be to just be kind to ourselves, and recognize that every single day, we’re showing up and doing the best we can, and sometimes handling what’s in front of us is the best thing that we can do. I know two months ago, we didn’t have a two month plan that got us to where we are today, but we were talking it day-to-day, and we’ve let our values lead us, and we’ll continue to do that in our efforts to support staff. So thank you to our listeners for taking the time to be here with us, our thoughts are with you as you continue to navigate all of these challenges, and especially for those of you who are providing essential services and supports and housing to those who need it most. Thank you for what you do. Thank you, Ken, for being here with me this afternoon.

Ken: [24:16] You’re welcome.

Kristen: [24:17] Please join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

Erika: [24:19] Visit c4innovates.com, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for more resources to grow impact. Thank you for joining us. This episode was produced by Erika Simon and Christina Murphy. Our theme song was written and performed by Peter Hanlon. Our hosts are Jeff Olivet, Kristen Paquette, and Regina Cannon. Join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

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