Languishing, Values, and the Post Pandemic Workplace, with Polly Yakovich

May 12, 2021
PRODUCED BY POLLY YAKOVICH

Polly Yakovich is Co-founder and CMO at A Brave New, a Seattle digital marketing agency focused on helping businesses accelerate their growth through inbound marketing, branding, and web design. She specializes in working with clients to identify barriers to their growth and overcoming them with strategic content and marketing tactics. She has more than fifteen years of experience in digital marketing and branding.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How pandemic remote work has permanently changed how we see the workplace, and how the pandemic has dramatically impacted our collective mental health over the last year
  • How author Adam Grant wrote a New York Times article about why "languishing", a sense of stagnation and emptiness, may be the dominant emotion of 2021
  • How a number of intersecting factors have created a perfect storm in our present mental health crisis, and what important lessons we can learn from pandemic life
  • How "flow" is the antidote to the feeling of languishing, and why focusing on the moment and achieving and recognizing small wins is crucial
  • How the A Brave New team starts their meetings with an "emotions wheel" that allows team members to vocalize what they're feeling in the moment
  • How the pandemic has created a universal experience, teaching many of us that talking about mental health and expressing vulnerability is okay
  • Why leaders need to express support and ensure that their team members are taking advantage of PTO and of the mental health resources available to them
  • How the concept of "positive regard" works, and how this key value empowers the A Brave New team to support each other through the challenges we all face
  • How the meditative practice of mindfulness can help us avoid burnout and help us be more present in the moment

Resources:

Additional resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro: Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich

Polly Yakovich: Welcome back to the podcast. We have my co-founder, Josh, with me again today.

Josh Dougherty: Hi everybody. 

Polly Yakovich: And, Josh and I wanted to talk about something a little bit squishier and softer today than our typical hard-hitting marketing tactics. I think that this is the confluence of several sort of trains of thought that have happened over the last maybe couple months or last few weeks, and so, we wanted to talk about a little bit about where everyone is at with their mental health and we wanted to lean on a couple articles and some tools that we've seen recently. And then, we also wanted to connect this back into a conversation about values, particularly as we're coming through and potentially out of this pandemic and what all of that has meant for us as an organization and as business leaders.

So, I think over the last year, this is kind of a no-brainer because we've all been leaning into these kinds of conversations. But whether or not you were an organization that, pre-pandemic, talked about or had a lot of resources to support employees' mental health or didn't, last year sort of forced all of us to think more about the effects of mental health and how to better support our employees where they were at, because everyone was in a different place and it was a unique responsibility, I think, in the middle of a pandemic when work became sort of one of the few places that you, quote unquote, saw people regularly. 

And so, I think everyone really leaned in over the last year. But now, the question sort of becomes like, now what? Does it become part of your culture a long term? Do we get a let up on these conversations? And so, you know, I think by now, most organizations know the stats about supporting employees' whole well-being and becoming places where you care about somebody's whole well-being rather than just their work product or their productivity or their efficiency. But I do still see a lot of organizations struggling with how to operationalize thinking about employees in this way and conversations about, at least you're on the West Coast, for those of us who really aren't, quote unquote, all back in the office yet. 

There's been a lot of rumblings, you know? Amazon announced that their, "We like to work together and work in the office" culture and they expect people to be coming back. I don't know that there's a firm time table for that, but that set off quite the conversation about do people want to do that and are they going to do that, especially as they become accustomed to not commuting two hours a day, you know? Some of my friends who work at Microsoft have been talking about more of a flex culture that may be implemented as a result of the pandemic.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. I think even beyond that, as the... Just, there's this idea that even those people who are seeing the office shift and may be okay with those shifts probably aren't doing okay in the midst of all of this, too. I think that's been one of the really illuminating things. For me, at least, throughout the pandemic, has been, both in my journey and in talking with other people, I often feel like I'm fine and then I realize that I have a major lapse in motivation. And, I think I've seen that with other people, too, and that's not really being fine mentally. So, I think the challenging thing here, and this is probably true all before the pandemic as well, but it's just exacerbated that even those people who feel like things are going pretty good or things are okay, they're going... They're still struggling in ways that they may not know.

The other thing I think about through this is in the agency world, we've always had this [inaudible] struggle with mental health because it's a pretty fast charging industry. 

Polly Yakovich: High stress.

Josh Dougherty: Stuff is always busy. Yep. Stress is always pretty overwhelming. And, we have this conversation with our team a lot about how do you manage that stress. So, I think, partially, to kind of, I don't know, expose my answer to your question. Do we keep talking about this forever? I think this... So, one of the good things about the pandemic is it's opened up this as an okay thing to talk about that we can continue to talk about that will be relevant for our agency and for agencies in general even long past when the pandemic is over.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: Ends, I should say.

Polly Yakovich: I also think, in a very real, tangible way, for those of us or those of you who have certain values about culture and what you make space for, the pandemic allowed you to sort of lean into those in a more tangible way and practice them in a way that felt very real rather than more esoteric. And so, you know, even if you talked about them before, it kind of allowed you to... I mean, that's what your values should be, is, in a moment of crisis when the rubber hits the road, they should be there to help you and guide you and hold you. So, it's actually, I think, been very affirming for us that some of our values that we kind of struggled to say like, "Well, how do we actually live this out even though we really believe it?"... They kind of allowed us to lean into them more heavily and help us weather that time period.

And, perhaps some of these softer values have even become a cornerstone of our company culture now. So, we wanted to talk through some of them with you and also sort of this idea that Josh was getting at around this, I think, malaise that a lot of us are currently in in this moment and how we can continue to be helpful to one another. So, a couple weeks ago, it made a bit of a splash and particularly because he has a new book out that is... I'm part way through and it's excellent. But Adam Grant... If you're not familiar with him, he's a professor out of Wharton. He has a new book, Think Again, that came out this year. 

So, Adam Grant published an article a couple weeks on languishing and I think for a lot of us, it hit a key note for us because I think for some of us, it's like, "Okay, we're coming out of the pandemic. We're getting vaccinated. Hope is on the horizon. Numbers seem good. Things are opening up again. Maybe life is somewhat returning to the things that we enjoy about it." And, it's not like we feel depressed, but we also maybe didn't feel great. But we didn't really know how to put our finger on it. And then, this word, languishing, sort of came up in the vernacular and it kind of fits the bill. So, he defines it in the article as a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you're muddling through your days looking at your life through a foggy windshield and says that it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Josh Dougherty: You know, and I think in many ways, as I reflected on that article and just our experience with our team, that's harder to manage than a crisis, right?

Polly Yakovich: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: Because with us, I don't know how many conversations I've had in the last month with people about their workload and what they have and that, feasibly, it should be...

Polly Yakovich: Fine.

Josh Dougherty: Possible. Right? And easy to... Well, I shouldn't say easy. 

Polly Yakovich: Manageable.

Josh Dougherty: Possible, but... Manageable to get through the workload. But there's just not the reserves and I think it's that... That is the... A key function of that languishing. It's that if you feel empty and you don't have a lot of motivation, you're not going to use your time effectively, both at work and at home. And so, it's like you're pushing through tasks and work slower than you typically would, that you're not getting recharged at home like you typically would because you're feeling just blah and [crosstalk].

Polly Yakovich: Or you're still at home and kids are still at home.

Josh Dougherty: Exactly.

Polly Yakovich: And, not in school, perhaps.

Josh Dougherty: Yes. I mean, [inaudible] at home very metaphorically.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: Knowing that many people are working at home.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: And, then, you maybe stay up way too late. I thought it was funny that he mentioned in the article talking about watching Netflix at 1:00 in the morning to get some time to yourself. And, I was like, "Oh, I can relate." So, I don't know. I think it's harder than managing a crisis where you have a very clear thing of like, this is the challenge and this is how I need to push through.

Polly Yakovich: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

I liked in the article, too, because we've been struggling with this with some of our teammates as well. It's like not depressed doesn't mean you're not struggling. Not burned out doesn't mean you're excited and fired up.

Josh Dougherty: On top of that is there's not a... It's not that there's less help available than there used to be, but mental health professionals are more overbooked than they have been, ever.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: Because more people need help. I have a good friend that works in that industry and she says there's just no slack in even being able to... Someone to get scheduled with a therapist to start taking care of themselves. So, that's another complicating factor, is that even though someone's gotten brave enough, maybe, to go ahead and say I need outside help, it's hard to get it right now.

Polly Yakovich: Yes.

Josh Dougherty: Which is another complicating factor.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. We wanted to... So, you know, we're acknowledging sort of this weird season that we're in, which is sort of between the panic and we know what to do but it sort of feels like we're still not really thriving personally, I would say. And so, we wanted to sort of acknowledge this with our employees and sort of here with you, too, and talk about a few tools and antidotes that he prescribes in his article and that we've also really leaned into with our values in hopes that it might be a nice reminder for things that are still important. And, I think perhaps one of the more lasting benefits of the pandemic, if there are any, is sort of, I think, this acknowledgement of our limitations and complexities of our lives. 

I think our kids are going to go back to school one day, but the pandemic has really shined a... Shone... Shined? A light on the fact that we're complex people with complex needs and that more of ourselves can and should be known in our workplace and that our full lives should be supported by a place that we spend a lot of our day. And so, I think that this is going to be something that a lot of people are watching, but for those of us as employers and as business leaders, one that we can be modeling as well, about how to healthfully support one another even as life goes back to a little bit more normal.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. And, I can say that I am trying to fully lean into this, but I struggle with this myself. I want to have some sort of... I don't know if it's a barrier, but some separation between my personal life and my work life often, but I've just realized over the last year, this... That isn't real. And so, I think for anyone who is out there thinking or struggling with that similarly, I feel you at the same time and it's not my natural inclination, but I think there's some really real things that you can do to lean into that and it's going to end up with you being healthier at the end of the day.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: For doing that.

Polly Yakovich: A lot of economists are looking into other kind of more shifts in the way we approach the workplace, and I think often, we do look toward other countries like Europe and Canada for the way that they mentally approach more of a work-life blend or balance. And so, a lot of people are even now advocating again for a four-day workweek for life... Lifestyle health and also effectiveness at work. So, I think it'll be really interesting to look at some of those things and consider them for ourselves. It's just all... You know? It's interesting. When work isn't your only number one priority... Even when you're a parent, sometimes I think work is your number one priority. As other things have encroached on that work time, it's interesting to see, I think, what will fall out in the end.

Josh Dougherty: Totally.

Polly Yakovich: One of the things that he recommends in his article... I wanted to start with this one as the antidote. So, he talks about the antidote to languishing as flow, which I thought was really cool. So, if you're not familiar with flow, flow is essentially when you get in the groove of something and you're not thinking about like, "Oh, I have 10 minutes to do this or I have 15 minutes." Or, you're watching the clock. And, you can really become absorbed in your task and kind of lose sense of time. So, he really recommends flow as an antidote to languishing and to get into flow by setting aside some uninterrupted time. I know this is easier said than done because a lot of those interruptions are still around or we're still at home working, et cetera, et cetera. But if you can set some uninterrupted time aside and just try to be a little less fragmented for a moment to give your brain a break and really sink into your task. 

And then, within that, to focus on small goals. So, you know, maybe you have to do a big presentation and it feels daunting or whatever that is. You're responding to an RFP or you're doing whatever. If you can focus on some small goals within that and break that down so that you can feel successful, because I think a lot of us have had such fragmented time and attention and we're jumping around from thing to thing and it's hard to really feel like we're successful when we can't get anything over the finish line.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. Something... A tool that I've come back to in the last month or couple months as I've been trying... I don't know if I could call it... Could have called it flow before I read this article. But [inaudible] was trying to find that productivity and that feeling, that bit of a surge that comes from feeling like you're working through something, is a technique called the Pomodoro Technique, which... I don't know. Some of you may have encountered, but it's like setting a timer for 20 minutes and then giving yourself a five minute break after those 20 minutes, which you might say, "That's not very much time to be focused." But if you can actually free yourself and your mind from thinking about the next thing for 20 minutes, you can get a ton of stuff done and you can feel like you actually were completely immersed in something.

So, it's funny how these things I thought about in my career 10 years ago, right? Now are coming back and being like, "Oh, that? I thought that only worked for when I was in a production role, maybe doing writing or designing." But it actually works in my business life, too. If I turn off all my notifications and for 20 minutes I just focus on the task at hand, I come out of my day or I come out of an hour even of my day and feel super productive, even if the rest of the day is still fragmented. So, that's one really practical, straightforward way that I've tried to do that. At times, still faltering in that effort, but...

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I would say for those of you who don't work in or are unfamiliar with agency life, per se, you probably don't track your time generally. And so, one of the things for those of us who... I mean, we all groan because everyone hates tracking their time, even those of us who have done it for 15 years. But when your work requires you to track your time, one of the things I feel like is a real benefit of that that you could try just literally tracking time is to... And, you see a lot of memes about this. Like, I've put off this task for four months and it took me six minutes. Right? But it does kind of acknowledge that some of the things that feel daunting, when you actually are like, "Okay. I'm going to sit down and give this 20 minutes and see how far I get and see if I can loosen this up in my mind." A lot of those things that we put off or that feel really daunting or that take up sort of that heavy mental energy really don't take a lot of time.

So, if you can set aside some of your time and capture those and say like, "Oh, wow. I've been avoiding that for ages and it took me 16 minutes." I think we've all had those experiences, but also, the more you can document it, I think it really enforces in your mind that things are achievable when they feel kind of out of your control.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. And, I did really find myself relating, too, for... He talked about checking email 74 times a day, so like, you're like clicking refresh, refresh, refresh. And, I've found myself over the last year, in an effort to gain control... Again, just still faltering in how I'm doing that. But I used to be super disciplined about checking my email four times a day and that was it. And so, I'd check it in the morning, when I got in, got to lunch, halfway through the afternoon, at the end of the day. And so, I think that's another interesting thing to try, is... You're going to have varying success whatever role you're in in your organization or the work you do. Some people have to be on it all the time. But if you can, can you scale that back even by 10% and see what the difference is in your day to day work? 

Because it's really about... I mean, this idea that Adam talks about in this article, that computers function as parallel processors. They can do 50 things at once, but humans actually can only do one thing at once. And, even when we talk about multitasking, we're doing 30 things sequentially, not all at the same time, right? We just... Our mind's jumping quickly. So, getting out of that email allows you to maybe focus in a little bit more and get some more flow going in your day to day work and that also allows you to have the discipline, I think, when you get home, which is almost... When you get off your computer. I need to... I've been using the word get home, but when you get off your computer to actually unplug and then focus in on your family or your friends or whatever is happening in your life so that you can have that true break, because I think the other thing that contributes to this languishing is if you're working from home, especially, you never truly get off work. You're just... 

We all did this before we had smartphones. We checked email, et cetera. But if you're not even just changing your geographic location, it's hard to make that transition and actually have some of those transitions that are really valuable for our mental health and for the space that we need to succeed as humans.

Polly Yakovich: There's a couple additional things that we've been doing and some of these stem out of our company values. But, you know, we're continuing to create space for the conversation. I think at first, there was a lot of space for the conversation about how you felt about the pandemic, how you felt about some of the political unrest over the summer and into the fall. There were... There were sort of external events and there's this sort of vibe now, I think, with a lot of our employees, that they can't just keep complaining about their lives forever. They've got to move on. And so, you know, we do try and create space for the conversation and one of the ways that we've done this as a leadership team... We started this, actually, before the pandemic, but it became a really good tool and if you're not doing something like this, you might try because there's lots of different tools for this. But we use an emotions wheel and we start most of our one-on-ones by just saying like, "Hey, what are two of your primary feelings right now? And, let's share about them."

And, if people aren't comfortable doing that with you, you both share. So, you can go first, but... And, it can be as much or as little as people want to share. But just sort of starting that conversation by acknowledging that there are feelings happening outside of what's going on with work and it's a nice place for people to say, "I feel really overwhelmed. I'm feeling sad. I'm feeling...". You know, whatever it is that they're feeling. And, being willing to be vulnerable yourself can open up to some of these conversations in a different sort of way and acknowledging that it's okay to have all sorts of complex feelings and emotions, even at this space that we are now.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah, and I think it gets you into the emotional conversation. You typically... We'd have three or four, right? Emotions in our mind. So, it's like, we're either good, bad, busy.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: Stressed. 

Polly Yakovich: Is busy an emotion?

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. [inaudible]

Polly Yakovich: Feels like it.

Josh Dougherty: It feels like it, for sure. I... But I've had conversations with members of my team about how they're feeling dread.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: Or, they're feeling stuff because just because a word is put in front of them so they're able to choose different words than what they would typically choose, and I think that's super fruitful, that even like... It does require vulnerability by both sides, but it also feels safer when you're just choosing a word off of a wheel as opposed to having to come up with it.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 100%. I think it's also nice, too, because just acknowledging ourselves as emotional creatures, particularly in the workplace... I think so much of the way we approach our work day is about how we feel about it and not about the realities of the workload. Josh already talked about this a little bit. But it becomes a really nice place to unpack for somebody. Just, for example, in our environment, someone might be like, "I'm feeling so overwhelmed." And, it's like, "Well, let's connect the dots because you only have a half day of work assigned to you, but you're feeling overwhelmed. So, what's the real thing going on here and what feels overwhelming and how can I help?"

Josh Dougherty: I think those type of conversations, if they're happen on a one-off basis, can feel very vindictive from a manager. But if you start having those conversations on a regular basis... I think with one of the members of my team that I was meeting with her every day of the week to talk through workflow and then it became like, "Oh, we can think through the problem together and then we can work towards a solution." And, it feels like a... More of a caring conversation than a vindictive, you should be able to get your work done.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: I think that transition is super important because you can't... You can't care for someone's mental health and then just want... Expect them to figure out their problems and buckle down and do it. And, that's a super hard transition to make because, I mean, regardless of whether someone has two hours, six hours, 10 hours, of assigned work over the course of a day, which... We believe people shouldn't have 10 hours of assigned work every day. They should... It's entirely dependent on their mental state of mind to be able to get that work done.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: So, you got to make sure all those interventions are supportive.

Polly Yakovich: [crosstalk] Yeah. And, if you're unused to having a conversation that starts this way in your one-on-ones or other sort of check-ins, the way I implemented it some time back is I just said, "I'm going to do this in all my one-on-ones from now on." So, it didn't feel like a personal thing that just they were going to have to do. It's like, everyone was going to do that who met with me. And, in addition, I made sure to do it at the beginning of every single one-on-one. So, again, you're going to develop that safety over time, but it becomes a really nice place to check in on emotions. And, the people we learned it from were doing this far before the pandemic, so I think it's really just a good tool. But if you're not using one of them right now, it could be an exceptionally good time to start.

The other thing that I think has been really important for us is I think the way we all thought about mental health sort of before the pandemic and then during and coming out of it is it's sort of like, at least for me personally, being very comfortable with talking about mental health and therapy and different tools. Still, mental health challenges sort of felt like, "Okay, well, you might have depression or an anxiety disorder." Mental health sort of felt important but not so viscerally affecting every single one of us. And, I think it's just become an unavoidable part of our lives that we've all realized in a really tangible way over the last year, that our mental health is just such a key component of our overall well... Our overall well-being.

And, almost nobody, I think, at some point in the pandemic was feeling like they were doing really great with their mental health. I think it's been overwhelming to most people on some level. And so, I think it's really been helpful for me in demonstrating what a powerful, important force it is and as such, that it has to be talked about and acknowledged in the workplace. And, it's such a powerful component in our lives that really how we as leaders talk about and approach mental health becomes really important and I just think it's become a really vital cultural conversation that you can't necessarily avoid.

So, in doing so, I think removes a lot of... Maybe some of the shame and burden for people in saying that they're struggling with their mental health or they're having challenges, because we all were and it's become a very shared experience, whereas before, maybe some people felt that they were having those feelings or experiences and they were more alone.

Josh Dougherty: And, I think once you have that foundation across your team or across your company, it frees you to have some really radical conversations about what people actually need to do and to understand what... How to actually effectively get work done. And so, it's become normal, I think, during the pandemic for someone to say, "Hey, I've got to log out for an hour here because I have to go and step away." Or, "I need to go and do something with my kids and I'll come back and I'll figure out how to get it done." But when everyone's coming... When everyone's coming at it from a basis of, okay, how do we help each other manage through this and still get our work done, but manage through effectively, it's much less of like, "Oh, you've got to be here for these hours between 8:00 and 5:00, 100%." Because everyone understands that the end goal is, yes, to get our work done, but it's to be successful, thriving humans as well at the same time.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Yeah. 

Josh Dougherty: And so, we're going to get our work done by making people successful and thriving humans and if that means someone needs to do meditation for 30 minutes in the middle of the day or someone needs to step away for a walk or someone needs to flex their hours so they can be present for their kids and not feel like their mind is split in two different directions during this time when their kid needs help with school, that's better than holding strictly to these norms that we've kind of, I think, in the history of the United States, just built in as vague norms and they aren't really there for any reason.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. And, this is one thing that I think that we would be well-served to embrace post-pandemic. It really gave us a reason to talk about some of these things, but acknowledging and accepting how powerful mental health, healthy mental health, is, is really important and something that we want to continue. And, creating that space ongoing. You don't have to have the excuse of a pandemic. If you need to take a break, you should take a break. If you need to step away, if your child needs something, if you need a day off, if you're feeling like you're burned out, let's look for ways to support one another so we can be full, healthy people.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. One of the other really practical ways that I think we should mention here is in the midst of the pandemic, I'm sure most people felt this. No one was taking time off because [inaudible] sitting at home and there's nowhere you can go.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: And, it became a pretty proactive conversation across the company of, "Hey, you have your PTO planned still. Just leave for two weeks or leave for a week and unplug and don't think about stuff." And, I think we try to be generous with our PTO plan but at the same time, people just feel like, "Well, there's always too much to do. There's always this much to do." And, I just had this conversation with someone last week of like, "Well, this isn't really a good time to take vacation." I said, "Well, has there ever been? And, you should just go." 

And, I think it's that same conversation all of us as leaders need to be embracing that, of like, are people taking their vacation, even taking their vacation up to the extent of what their plan... What our plan allows or what your plan at your company allows, results in healthier people and will result in better... A better culture for your company overall because your people are actually rested in their minds and they've given a break and they've realized that they're not just task monkeys at doing their jobs and that you care about them. So, I think that's another thing that we started doing, is really bringing that up and saying, "Hey, get out. Take some time." And, I want to be really focused on doing that after the pandemic is over as well.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: In a more direct way. 

Polly Yakovich: And, we had Chris Ihrig on the podcast a few weeks back, talking about some of the cultural leadership things that he's seeing this year and trends, and what he's seeing from so many people is just a lack of margin. So, being able to take that rest and relax and give yourself some margin so your mind can sort of regenerate, I think is so important.

I want to talk about just a couple additional tools. One is actually one of our company values and so I wanted to talk about it. It's this concept of positive regard. This is a principle of modern psychology that we unabashedly stole from one of our clients. It's one of their core values as well. But loosely, the whole idea of it is really just to view people empathetically and put yourself in their shoes and assume that each person is doing the best they can with the resources that are available to them at that time.

So, you know, this could get... This could get really deep and it does in psychology, about what resources did you have that you grew up and what coping mechanisms do you have, et cetera, et cetera. But just to keep it really high level, it's like, you're doing the best you can with the resources that you can accumulate, the information you have, et cetera, at this time, and I'm going to come into a conversation with you assuming that you're doing the best you can and that you're trying. 

And, it doesn't mean that you don't hold people accountable and all of that, but I think that this positive regard... We talk about it a lot in the agency, towards our clients, you know? Our clients are doing the best they can. We try and put ourselves in their shoes as well. We're a small part of their day. We don't assume that they're as obsessed with what we're doing for them as they are and we try and coach people on how to interact with clients, but we also want to extend this to one another as well. And, I think that this is, again, one of those looser values that's become much more tangible during this season as we've tried to think about, as leaders, how can we serve our employees? Over the last year, certainly, but also now coming into the future.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. And, I think it's... The nice thing about this, it puts a name on something, just like Adam Grant's languishing, that you can hold each other accountable, too, nicely. And, I... I mean, I can think of the number of times, Polly, you and I have had this in conversation, where we're frustrated with something or someone and it's like, "Wait. How do we look at this with positive regard?". This person wasn't trying to get this to not do this correctly or to put a massive kink in our day.

Polly Yakovich: Right.

Josh Dougherty: But they did. But if you can even go at it from a compassionate stance, it's like, they did the best that they could with the resources they had in this moment. And, certainly, I'm still going to go have the conversation if it wasn't good enough of like, this still needs to be different next time. But I have a 1,000% better chance of someone hearing me if I'm like, "Hey, look. I know you're trying the best that you can in this moment." And, I think it's just such a nice thing to have that antidote or that name thing to say like, are we demonstrating positive regard to this client, to that teammate that we're frustrated with, to even, I think, if you really want to embrace it, it's pretty universal. Am I having positive regard to my spouse or to my kid in the moment when I'm frustrated with them? I think it can be a huge game changer.

Polly Yakovich: Another thing that's a little bit woo but I think can be a real antidote to burnout is a practice of mindfulness. So, I think most people would have heard of or practiced mindfulness in the past, maybe... Particularly outside of the workplace. There's a lot of really good literature and stats about bringing mindfulness in the workplace and how it improves employee morale and efficiency and productivity, et cetera. But when you think of mindfulness just as an awareness of the present moment, it becomes a really super helpful tool for those of us who... I think regardless of where you are, all of us have been nonstop on screens for over a year and nonstop on Slacks and nonstop struggling with constant Slack meetings that maybe you could have just had a pop-in conversation or a walk to coffee or a walk down the hall.

And so, I think we're all sort of struggling with being present right now and it's like, I'm on another video call, so I'm looking at my phone and I have something on another screen because I'm just here and no one can really tell and everyone's sort of paying half attention. And so, you know, as much as possible... I think it depends on what your culture allows. Either for yourself or as a practice in some meetings, to do some mindfulness exercises or practice. For some people, that can be as much as literally taking 30 seconds before joining another Slack to take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, look out the window. Just really take some times in the day to center yourself and put yourself in the present moment so that you can be more effective, so you can think more clearly, so we can feel less frazzled and running around from one Zoom to the next all day. That's something that we've been working on as well.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. And, I think as much as you can slow down. I've been using this meditation in my personal life around kind of this concept of time being fleeting. Just sitting and thinking this moment will never be here again, so what should I do in this moment? And, even if you can invest in some thoughts like that. I think of one of our clients, Vera, that does mindfulness moments at the beginning of their meetings, or they... At various meetings, not every single meeting, but where they spend five minutes just meditating on the color of a wall, right? It's like, choose a color and look at it and think about that color. 

Those things feel woo, but they give you that tangible bumper between what you're going to do next, which feels so nice, so that you can come into a moment and then be present fully, hopefully, in that meeting, better. As I restate exactly what Polly just said.

Polly Yakovich: Ha ha.

Josh Dougherty: Less...

Polly Yakovich: In a different way.

Josh Dougherty: Less articulately. 

Polly Yakovich: So, the last thing we wanted to leave you with are just... We've just opened the conversation up to our employees. What are some things that are helpful in this moment? Right? So, some of them have talked about building a margin. One of our employees suggested, and I think we might trial this, a color coding system for Slack, right? Because we're Slacking each other all day. We're always on. We're always fragmented. So, you know, red is like, leave me alone. I'm swamped. Yellow is I'm busy but I can help. And, green is like I'm available. I'm working on stuff, but I'm available for questions. Places where we can give each other some margin and respect and not feel like we're encroached on all day.

We've also had suggested we share articles in our Slack and stuff like that, have separate channels for them. Someone suggested a wellness channel with some tips for taking breaks or a mindfulness exercise to start the morning. So, just some of these things that can make us feel like one, I think. We're sort of overly connected to one another because we see each other on Slack all day, but we also probably have fewer personal conversations because we're just working on Slack together all the time or on Zoom. 

We also have implemented... I think it's Slack-specific, but something called a donut, Josh. It's like an app that makes a connection between two people in your company every week and sends you a meeting so that you have a 20 minute essentially coffee break with someone. And, when you have a donut meeting, you know that you're not there to talk about work projects. You're there just to say, "How was your weekend? What are you doing? What are you thinking about?". And, connect with someone in the company that you might not typically speak to or be in a meeting with.

Josh Dougherty: I was going to say the other thing that I've been thinking about is that you think about those really practical connection points. I think the other thing that we all need to consider is everything feels like a sprint right now because we don't have [inaudible] margin. And, as much as possible, we all need to step back and realize that operating in that constant sprint feeling or that constant urgent feeling makes everyone around you ineffective, so stepping back and saying, "How do I slow down? How do I find that break?" I just want to encourage people to think about that's powerful to do even in the busy time because by slowing down, you can move better in a more whole way, and Polly's provided a ton of techniques to do that intentionally, in a mindful way. But my encouragement would be not to wait until it's feels like there's margin to do that.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: [crosstalk]. It would be to make that margin so that you can then move slower in the rest of your life and actually be more intentional and not as frazzled, because getting out of that frazzled feeling doesn't happen on its own. There's not a point where that's going to turn off. You have to actually mentally make that intentional decision to not allow yourself to be governed by the chaos and be start to invest in your own well-being.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Yeah. So, we just really wanted to connect you with some practical tools and tips as we're sort of leaving the crisis of the last 12 months, but also experiencing this season where we're kind of languishing still, and just to help you as you're working with your teams and you're serving your employees. If anything resonated with you, we'd love to hear about what you tried. We'd love to hear about anything that you're doing that we didn't mention here today just as we try and build better cultures and take care of one another.

Josh Dougherty: Good conversation. Thanks for having me on again.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of A Brave New Podcast. Go to abravenew.com for more resources and advice. If you enjoyed this episode, show us some love by subscribing, rating and reviewing A Brave New Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts.

 

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