Human resource professionals are the ones who take care of the people in the company. But who takes care of them? Cathy Norris joins this episode to talk about HR wellbeing. If there’s anyone who needs it more, it would be the HR professionals. Cathy is a Leadership & Wellbeing Coach and Corporate Trainer & Facilitator. She shares her seventeen years of experience to talk about the struggles of those in HR and helping them overcome those with emotional wellbeing. How can HR professionals balance the ability to be accessible and get things done at the same time? How can they release the stress from their day-to-day work? Cathy answers these questions and more! Plus, she provides tips for having effective conversations and setting expectations.
I’m excited about our topic because last time we spoke about helping our people with emotional well-being, and now, we are going to be talking about helping those that help others, the HR professionals. Cathy is going to be leading us through that discussion but before I introduce her, I want to make sure that we go through the cadence and let everybody know what the show is about for our first-time readers out there.
Our intent is to come together as professionals and bring in expert seekers to talk about how we create places where people love to work, engage, and elevate our people overall. One of our key hosts is Sumit in India and the people’s strategist. He owns his own consulting firm over there. He also helps us here at CompTeam. He’s a thought leader in the HR space. He comes with a great deal of expertise and a lot of large consulting firms. We are very fortunate to have Sumit.
Also, my colleague, Howard Nizewitz. Howard and I worked together at Barclays a number of years ago, and now, he’s helping lead the CompTeam through its success. Howard is an expert in systems as well as compensation. He comes with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. We have a lot of people out on vacation. Char Miller is getting ready to relocate down to her winter haven in South America, down in Mexico. Jules is in Australia, and Windy is down-diving in Mexico now.
Everybody is having fun, and I’m here in the cold, getting ready to feel for the winter and fighting a cold myself. I’m very jealous but pleased to introduce Cathy Norris. Cathy is our speaker. We are going to be talking about HR well-being. Cathy comes with a wealth of knowledge for many years of experience. A lot of that is at larger companies such as AT&T and Walmart. She has been a consultant for a number of years and also training and development at some companies. It’s a pleasure to have her here. Cathy, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became into what you do, and how you help people on your journey.
Thank you, Sam. I’m happy to share how I got into doing this. My journey was that my very first career was teaching high school for a few years. I then went back to do a PhD program in Instructional Technology because I was interested in how people learn. I did that program and did everything, even my qualifying exam. I’m one of those ABD-ers because I got to do an internship and tee.
Once I got into the real world of seeing results from a training program, I was like, “This is much better than academia.” I ended up working at Accenture, which was Andersen Consulting at the time. I’m developing training programs. I went from there to implementing PeopleSoft HRIS programs as a consultant, which is Workday now. I got to travel and implement HRS programs for several years.
My company got acquired by a large software company, and I got to move back into instructional technology. I spent several years as an instructional design manager, developing mostly online training programs for the technical people in our software company but I got to go to Singapore and manage all the Asia Pacific training programs and implement our global programs for a couple of years.
It was in that position, working with all the country managers of Asia and having a lot of requirements for the company, that I came face-to-face with my emotions. “It’s not so easy to implement this and that when I have to work with a team of people from very different cultures, countries, and budgets.” I was thrown for a loop. “My emotions are getting in my way. I’m getting frustrated at work, and I don’t like this.”
I started learning online. I investigated and heard of emotional intelligence. I found a consultant who helped me with my situation at work. I was also going through personal situations as well. It all came to a head for me, and I was like, “I want to understand my emotions.” Fast forward, I came back to the US, and that large successful software company no longer exists. They were in the process of laying people off, which it was also getting affecting my emotions at work.
I came back and decided to start my own company and help people personally with emotions as well as in companies. I got a couple of emotional intelligence certifications and developed programs to help people raise their emotional intelligence. Coincidentally, a few years before the pandemic, I still wanted to master more of my emotions.
There was still more. I was like, “I still don’t feel like I’m managing them.” I joined a program and worked with the master coach, and then the pandemic hit. We are all dealing with emotions at this point. I wanted to help with what I was learning. I want to help people see that there are things we can do. We can become aware of and manage our emotions no matter how much despair we might be in.
I was on the board of my local SHRM chapter, of which now I’m President. At the time, I offered an emotional resilience group for everyone on our board. We started meeting and ended up meeting for over a year every single week. One of the major parts of developing emotional well-being is identifying your emotions, even getting a handle on what emotions you are feeling. We focused on that every week, identifying emotions. People are sharing, identifying what they are going through, being heard or listened to, and sharing their experiences with others.
It literally helped them raise their emotional well-being doing that. They emailed each other later in the day, “Thank you. I feel so much better.” That was the beginning of my journey of offering emotional resilience and emotional well-being program as opposed to emotional intelligence, if that makes sense. What’s the difference? We might want to talk about that. There are subsets of each other in some ways.
The first thing I would love to hear from you is I imagine the experience that you had and traveling to different parts of Asia and working with different types of people set you up for success and understanding the different types of cultures and behaviors that you can expect from a magnitude of different individuals. Can you tell us a little bit about how working with different cultures has prepared you for what you were seeing?
I can talk a little bit about that. Another part to me that was new was the company culture. It was a little more of a learning experience for me because of seeing the constraints and even how leaders were changing. The company started going through hard times, so the VP of our region started demanding stricter and more rapid goals like, “You must achieve these sales by this quarter.” Suddenly, everybody is in panic mode and not paying attention to the culture or their employees even. It’s making it harder to talk about things like training. That was one thing.
As far as the different cultures, there are differences between the different countries like Japan, Australia, and India. I would rather not get into that because that’s not what I’m focusing on at this point. I had not been aware of my emotions and was certainly not good at expressing my emotions, and that happened in many cultures, especially when you are in a corporate culture that’s trying to move fast.
You were mentioning emotional intelligence and the difference between thoughts there. Let’s dive into that.
For most, there are several emotional intelligence models. The common model is emotional self-awareness, emotional self-management, and social awareness or other people’s emotions. What I’m doing in the model now is more on emotional self-awareness. The father of emotional intelligence is Daniel Goleman. He started publicizing the work back in the ’90s but all the tenets are important and critical in leadership.
They are very behavioral-oriented, which they need to be. We have our emotions, and then our emotions get our behavior. Hence, the criticality of emotional intelligence. I found it important for me, and then what I want to share with people now is how having a more in-depth relationship with your emotions and knowing them can not only help you change your behavior as a leader at the workplace but also raise your well-being.Having a more in-depth relationship with your emotions not only helps you change your behavior as a leader at the workplace but also raises your wellbeing. Click To Tweet
That’s a very good place for what we are talking about. It is what’s happening now. We are all under stress as we are doing this. Being aware of that environment, there are things that we have to be human about in these issues. When we are all under stress, what do you see are the key things that HR professionals are dealing with? We came out of a hugely stressful period of a number of years, and then also now, as we know, mental health has reached the top of the list of main concerns of organizations. What are HR professionals saying that’s stressing them out the most?
I had a-ha a couple of months ago because I have been working with teams in companies on emotional well-being. I realized that if anyone needs help with emotional well-being, it’s HR professionals who are in my community. As I said, I’m the President of my local SHRM chapter. I have been working on the board with HR professionals now for several years. It was in front of my face. Why don’t I focus on helping HR professionals? They take care of everyone else but no one takes care of HR professionals.HR professionals take care of everyone else, but no one takes care of them. Click To Tweet
I started by interviewing 25 HR professionals. There are 3 top challenges that came out in my 25 interviews. I’m using a combination of their own words. The first one is the constant rollercoaster of interruptions in the day where everyone’s request is urgent, and there’s never enough time to get everything done. There’s so much in that. They are overwhelmed by everyone’s requests coming to you. You never get to plan your day, and there’s constant change. That’s the top one.
Another one is handling their emotions in difficult conversations at the moment. That’s common for all of us, probably. Another one also, which surprised me more than the top three, was not always knowing what to do. HR is a role all of its own. You are serving employees, leaders, and the company. There’s often not the right answer. There’s not a book you can look up, “What should I do in this situation?” Sometimes you are going to make one group happier, not the other. Normally, you want to promote the company but then sometimes the company might need help with compliance and stand up for that. They are second-guessing themselves and not sure how to handle certain situations.
Let’s talk about the first one that you brought up, which is a huge issue as we are dealing with the roller coaster of change. Even before the pandemic and several years ago, we probably all remember the concept of the open-door policy, where the thought is that leadership and HR professionals keep their doors open so that at any moment, people can come in and are accessible.
Also, in getting so many things done, the constant disruption of people bringing things in, the problems and crises keep us in a stressful state. If we are trying to get a project done, it’s difficult to change gears, focus, and deal with the different crises that come through the door. How can HR professionals balance the ability to be accessible and then also have the ability to get things done at the same time?
Certainly, there are structural steps HR professionals can take as far as organizing their time and having policies. One part of the programs that I’m offering now is giving space for them to share with each other the practical things they are doing. What I like to bring to the discussion is mindset because the fact is they are always going to be interrupted. It’s the nature of the role, unfortunately. It takes a mindset shift of knowing and accepting that you are not going to get everything done in the day.
It will behoove your well-being to not take it home with you and give and replenish yourself because you can’t feasibly do it all. That’s one of the things I’m helping people look at in working with them. Again, understand your emotions, especially at the moment, because that’s when a lot of the triggers can happen. A common reaction when being interrupted is because what I’m finding is that a lot of times, I wasn’t used to expressing and feeling my emotions, so I was surprised back when I was having emotions. I thought, “I’m being courteous. I’m trying to be nice to everyone,” and HR professionals who are always interrupted, there might be some resentment there.
“I’ve told you five times. I sent you an email about this, and now this is urgent,” but you can’t share that and even understand that. However, in the process of understanding what emotions are underneath you when you have a minute, you can say, “I see what I was feeling,” and then you can let it go but if you don’t recognize it, it simmers and leads to exhaustion.
One of the challenges is that HRs, relative to itself, is being open to management and employees. They are constantly hearing issues and concerns. Where do HR folks unload? You need time to reflect. The other pressure that you were talking about is looking for the answer now. Sometimes you got to tell people or pause a little bit. Everyone thinks their shoe is the most critical and urgent. “The barn is burning, and all the animals are trapped inside.” Sometimes that the time to reflect gives the person a chance to breathe and you a chance to think about options.
That’s so true. It was wonderful interviewing 25 professionals, and I’m doing a pilot program. In my program, I have a range of experience, and it’s wonderful to learn from more experienced HR folks who are like, “I finally learned to listen. I’m feeling the emotions.” Ask that person who’s bringing you this mess or who’s triggering you for more information or anything. Asking and listening more can help diffuse it for both you and the other person, especially for you. You can take a moment. It’s an often-simple strategy. The trick is catching it.
Setting expectations as well. Sumit, what do you think? What do you commonly see? Do time management techniques help to be present? There are more times but also handling things in a timely manner.
For HR, I’m using the airline analogy. Put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others. Being self-aware and aware of what challenges are around, try to solve them for yourself before you start diving into supporting other people. That’s why I use this analogy when coaching HR leaders or HR teams. Support yourself and your own people, and then enable them to make a difference to the rest of the world. I love to know, Cathy, what you think of this.
I love that, Sumit. That’s very true. That’s what came out of most of my interviews. People are like, “I don’t do that. I got into this because I love helping people but then forget to take care of myself.” One of the things that I’m bringing with my program is simply what do you love? What are your passions? We can get so caught up in work that we do not fill our own cups. I was very guilty of that too.
There are many methods to be able to full yourself. There are many techniques that build your stress tolerance instead of coping strategies. Going out in nature, expressing gratitude, and those things we know scientifically can help us. Also, very important for each person. What is it that you totally love, and are you still doing that? Are you even appreciating it in your life or do you need to get more of it into your life? That’s absolutely critical as well. When you are happier and filled up, then you can better help others.When you're happier and filled up, then you can better help others. Click To Tweet
I completely agree. On the counter side, the risk is that if you are not happy or fulfilled, you probably end up reducing other people to numbers. “How many employee queries have I resolved? How many transactions have I done?” Rather than looking at others as people, which is key to the role.
One of the questions I asked in my interviews was, “What would make a day ideal for you in your HR role?” Almost everyone said, “To help an employee grow or to help the business grow,” that’s what they want and yearn for but in the day-to-day roller coaster interruptions, that often doesn’t happen. That’s what they want to see happen. Being human and paying attention to their own emotions and employees’ emotions may help bring that desire to fruition.
Everybody likes to have an impact. HR people, in particular, like to help, and they like to help others and provide structure for consistency in providing that assistance, and that is common. As you mentioned, you have to take care of yourself or if you give and give, then pretty soon, you have nothing left. Filling your cup is quite important. This is a session that you are coming up with that you are going to be starting soon. Can you tell us a few things about how HR professionals can fill their cups? You mentioned one, and that’s getting out into nature as a way of releasing some of that stress but can you tell us a few other ideas?
It’s critical to take time for yourself. Something as simple as taking lunch away from your desk can be a huge breathing which is helpful. Taking a full deep breath provides more oxygen and slows you down. Also, getting grounded is the concept of groundedness. We are always often in our heads. We do some practices during the program of grounded meditation practice, which can be 4 minutes or 1 minute.
It’s raising the awareness of connecting to the present and the ground, even though it’s just a floor. It’s almost setting a boundary for yourself because you don’t have to go into the drama of what that person or the organization is bringing you. Keeping groundedness and being present helps you be aware of what’s an emotion and a fact.
You often hear the technique of making sure you take a pause before you enter a new phase or a new meeting. We often have these back-to-back meetings, especially if we are Zoom practitioners. One thing that we have to be careful of is taking our past meetings or discussion that we had into the future discussion with somebody else.
Taking pause before that session, whether it’s taking a brief moment of meditation or taking some deep breaths before you go into the next thing, is critical to show up appropriately for that next session. When I’m in a rush like back-to-back meetings, “I got to get off on this one and jump on the next one. I’m already late. I’m a minute, 2, 3 or 5 minutes late,” The thought is that it only takes a few seconds to get grounded. The realization is to say, “Stop. I have fifteen seconds. They can handle fifteen more seconds of waiting.” I take a few moments to get myself in that new head space. I often found that to be very helpful.
For many of us HR professionals, it’s like, “I need to help them first,” but you have to put your mask on first by taking fifteen seconds to nourish yourself with a deep breath.
Now is my busiest time of the season. As a compensation practitioner, this is where companies all over the world are getting ready to do performance reviews and thinking about how much they can pay their people. This 2022, unlike any other in recent memory, there has been substantial inflation across the globe and coming into recession.
A lot of companies are under stress. They don’t know what to do. I have constant people calling me all day long. It’s a very busy time. I’m not able to be as responsive as I am at other times of the year but what I do find that helps alleviate stress with clients as well as myself is setting expectations and making sure that people are aware, “I intend to get back to you as soon as possible. It may be an hour or two from now or at the end of the day.” Also, giving them other options to get help in the interim so that I’m not holding back progress. That’s a great thing that HR can do to alleviate pressure and keep the service level up for their people. What do you think, Cathy?
I agree with that. What I’m focusing on with my program is how to manage emotions. If HR professionals get triggered by somebody who’s pushing, another strategy is to let that person know what they are dealing with and even how they are feeling. It can humanize you. I’m not saying complain but people think, “I’ve always got to be the professional HR person who never shows emotion to my internal clients,” but it will help you connect more if you help that person understand in a sentence or so what you are doing, a challenge, and even how you are feeling. “I am feeling stressed to get this done. I want you to know.” Any emotion can humanize you to the other person, and that’s what it’s all about connecting and being human. It helps build relationships.
That’s a great point. In the age of humanization, which I like to call what we are going through now is important. Leaders and HR practitioners are human too. We don’t always have it together at every moment of the day. Embrace that vulnerability and make sure that we can be real with people in saying, “I know you are having a hard day, and I have been through it before. I know what you are experiencing. You can’t bounce back as much as you would like,” and then giving people some grace and also allowing people time to recover from some of these issues is important.
That’s critical too. That’s compassion and saying you hear them by repeating what they say and some understanding and then saying where you are as well.
Sumit, what are you thinking? We are talking about humanity and giving people grace in our culture. How are things being handled in different parts of the world that you see with your clients? Are you giving people a grace and vulnerability global approach or what are some differences you see in practice?
I don’t think there’s a binary yes or no answer to it. It’s a big mix, as we’ve seen with one of the recent tech companies. Grayson brings a short supply from their leader, who’s all over the place firing people publicly and calling them out for various things. It’s part of the world because we are influenced by American corporations and the American way of doing business. We have shifted.
Many of the traditional Indian organizations, at least, are more accepting and welcoming of the needs of people. A personal example for the longest time, I used to think of working lunches as something cool. I used to almost look down on people like, “How do these people have 25 minutes to waste? Have they got nothing better to do in life? They could have worked and eaten a sandwich at the same time.”
Now, I realize how utterly stupid that was. In line with what Cathy was saying, one, you believe in some toxicity yourself, and then you go around spreading it and making it the norm. That’s what we’ve fallen prey to as well but in that sense, the pandemic has been a welcome change where people are realizing the need to own a lot more of their time. They are looking at support from different quarters, including their own supervisors, and CHR as chief well-being officer is gradually coming. That’s what I see in this part of the world, at least.
That sounds fantastic. That shift is happening.
It is. It’s slow but we will get there.
As you said, in moments of stress, leaders are getting it wrong in certain areas. In technology, there are layoffs that are happening across a lot of different fronts and companies, putting both managers and employees under stress. This takes us to another piece of being able to handle these crucial conversations and effectively communicate appropriately. What are some tips that you have there, Cathy, as far as having these effective conversations?
The trigger is what takes you away from connecting. One thing I like to do is help people track their triggers first to understand what’s happening. Is there a pattern? I have a spreadsheet to help prompt my clients, “When is this happening during the day? When did I say something I wish I didn’t or react in a way I wish I didn’t? What was I feeling? Is there a trend for that?” Again, awareness is the first step.
Another thing that is key is being aware of your tone of voice and body language. This is for me. If I say how I’m feeling, it helps me explain maybe my first reaction, which could have been you bothering me. I would’ve frowned or something. If I haven’t said what I was feeling, then the person can misinterpret my frown directed at them when it may not have been.
It’s more awareness of your emotion, body language, and tone of voice and then connecting. Connect first. I still don’t remember it myself, even though I teach it. You almost can’t go wrong because you are humanized, “How can I help you? What are you feeling?” It’s hard when you are triggered but those are my words of advice.Connect first, and you almost can't go wrong. Click To Tweet
Let’s dig into that a little bit more in a situation because, as HR professionals, we often hear things that we wish we didn’t hear. People that are under stress at the moment, such as the situation that you might have somebody storm into your office. That person may be a high performer or a coveted employee, and they come in and say something that triggers you like, “So and so said something to me. Those people always do this.”
Maybe they are talking about somebody’s particular ethnicity, sexual preference, race or something that is very inappropriate and could be triggering for an HR professional. How do we recover from that and redirect the conversation? A lot of people might say, “That is wrong or you are wrong,” and immediately come into a conversational type of situation and not have the ability to maybe change their perspective. What are your thoughts there?
You would notice you are being triggered, and you would use a term bookmark. It’s great to be able to label the emotion you are feeling. We know that labeling the emotion engages your prefrontal cortex. It takes you out of the limbic area of your brain. You are already then getting out of the emotional response. Labeling for yourself in your head, “I am angry that this person brought up this racial slurred. I’m going to bookmark it.” It is necessary to revisit it later when you have time, preferably by the end of the day, and feel that. Let yourself feel the anger and feel through it. That will give it air within yourself. It can move through you but if you don’t address it later, it can build up. That’s a technique for yourself.
There’s a great tool by Cy Wakeman, and the book I have gotten this from is called No Ego to use with others. It’s to pretend you are a journalist or something. If you have paper, write down what they are saying and then repeat. Focus on the facts, so you can say to the person, “What you told me is this.” You are taking out the facts of what happened versus what they think happened or what they are saying happened to get the story to diffuse the emotions with that other person.
Sometimes what I do in a situation where I feel triggered is I often acknowledge that as well like, “What you said to me, I find highly offensive but I want to understand your perspective.” You are humanizing it in a way to open a dialogue instead of preventing one from happening. That’s one thing I would love to hear your perspective on but the other thing also is we talk about maybe hearing something and then giving us some time to digest it so that we can have a constructive conversation around that.
I don’t know about this technique but I would love to hear your thoughts. If you are coming in and somebody is angry or expressing a lot of stress and emotion, should we take in that information and perhaps say, “I’ve heard you. Let’s go ahead and pause. Maybe we can get together in another half an hour or an hour. Let me digest this information and get back to you?” What are your thoughts?
That’s an excellent strategy to use. Successful HR leaders are using that strategy too. “If possible, let’s take a pause and talk about this tomorrow or let’s set a time to revisit or address it,” because a lot of emotion came in with the problem with that person, especially if you are triggered too. That’s the better thing to do so that you won’t be responding inappropriately. It gives everyone time to reflect more on the situation.
There may be other situations that come up in the daily life of an HR practitioner. They may get it to some crisis that comes into their office or get a call saying, “Somebody did this,” or they need help that’s beyond our expertise. What should we do as HR practitioners to set expectations, understand, and also help guide people to the right solution?
That is something that is done ahead, not one time but at the moment. You would need to set expectations. Everyone may be a little different in what their personal boundaries would be. In general, there are many different types of situations that come up in HR. What will your boundaries be, and what can you recommend? It is difficult. I will admit. You need to do something to address it, say that you will follow up, or find a way in the organization to help them.
Other people that like to help others can have the tendency of overstepping or stepping too far in that direction. It’s good to put up these boundaries of the area you are comfortable and provide influence and advice and knowing where that boundary is so that you don’t have to say, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you with this. That’s not my expertise,” but help guide them to finding a solution with somebody that can make a difference in their particular realm to a certain extent.
I find that to be pretty helpful in my practice. It’s critical. When you are dealing with behaviors, and it gets on the medical or legal side of things, it’s important to understand that barrier. You have a virtual workshop coming up, where you work with a group of people, take them through, and help them with their well-being. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
We have been talking about HR professionals who have distinct responsibilities and challenges like managers and leaders. I am now piloting a program called Emotional Well-being for HR Professionals. I wanted to take what I learned from the interviews and try these strategies that I have been talking about and help my pilot program participants practice these strategies and see what their results are. I’m planning to offer a full program of Emotional Well-being for HR Professionals in January 2023. I will be launching that.
How can people contact you to find out more about that?
My email address is [email protected]. I’m happy to answer any emails. I’m also on LinkedIn, where you can reach out and message me. I’m happy to share any of the tools I’ve mentioned too. Anything I’ve talked about, if you would like a tool, reach out to me, and I will send it to you and hear how you are doing with it.
You mentioned some tools. What are the different tools that you use to help measure the well-being of leaders in HR?
What I’m doing in my program is providing tools to help the participants become aware of their behavior. One tool is a tracking worksheet on behaviors that trigger them during the day. That’s a trigger behavior tracking tool. Another tool is a massive list of emotions that can help you practice identifying your emotions. “What emotions am I feeling?” Practice this on a daily basis. A list of emotions is very helpful because we tend to the basic ones, “I’m mad, sad, glad, frustrated, stressed or overwhelmed.” There’, so take the time to investigate. Also, finding your passions. What are your top passions? I have a tool for that too. If that’s something you need help with, reach out to me.
Finding your passions is so important. Not just in work but also in what you like to do outside of work and realizing what brings you that sense of filling your cup, relief, and where we can find solitude and recovery during our day to take us back into what we do in our work to be present. Thank you so much, Cathy, for all the wisdom you’ve shared. This has been great.
Thank you so much for inviting me. This has been a great conversation. I got some ideas to try as well, Sam. I enjoy talking with all three of you. Thank you very much.
It has been great. Thank you so much. We will everybody next time at the People Strategy Forum.