Attending to the Emotional Well-being of Our Employees

Attending to the Emotional Well-being of Our Employees

The worries about coronavirus and the general fatigue of sheltering in place is taking its toll on the mental health of employees. And according to most mental health experts, the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the mental health and wellbeing of employees well beyond the immediacy of the initial crisis.

For those of us in leadership positions, this weighs heavily. The idea of working from home was once novel and has for many, quickly grown old. Employees readily admit that the line between work and personal life is increasingly blurred, making relaxation challenging. For those still going to their worksites every day, the stress and danger of being infected is weighing heavier as the country experiences new surges in infections. Interacting with friends and family via Zoom, virtually celebrating everything from birthdays to weddings to happy hour is not quite meeting the need for connection.

As leaders, we are struggling with the need to bring employees back to our worksites safely in order to serve our clients and maintain the solvency of the organization, and at the same time ensuring our employees feel safe enough to effectively do their jobs.

Woven into this tension is the knowledge that many of our staff are struggling with their emotional well-being. As a CEO of a large multi-national company, employee health and wellness was always part of my role, but has recently taken on new significance. Some time ago we had Patrick Kennedy—a champion for mental health issues and insurance parity—present at one of our Solution Series. He emphasized the importance of every one of us “getting a checkup from the neck-up” at the same time we are attending to our physical health. He addressed the reality of stigma and the difficulty employees face in being open about the struggles they may be facing. And he is right. The workplace has not always been a safe place for talking about emotional well-being. Many employees fear being judged and thought of as “less than.” We need to change this.

According to a recent article in Fortune Magazine by Guru Gowrappan, “…Rewriting the story [making it safe to talk about mental health issues in the workplace] requires organizational leaders to be vocal—not just by talking the talk, but by action. Every executive leader, department head, manager, and colleague has an important role to play in …helping to normalize the conversation. The steps that organizations take now will go a long way in ensuring that employees are equipped with the tools and education needed …
At Denver-based Paladina Health, which manages primary care practices, Chief People Officer Allison Velez said that virtual 15-minute meditations are being offered each morning for any employee interested in joining. Teammates who miss the meditation can log in later for a replay.

“The old rules may not apply,” Velez said. “This is the time for HR to reinvent themselves. If your old policies and programs aren’t meeting the current needs of your teammates, change them.”

Recently, as part of our commitment to addressing this issue, The Fedcap Group launched a professional development opportunity focused on trauma-informed care. The fact that the session was filled within days and had a long wait list, told us the importance of this topic to our staff. We are intentionally embedding small group discussions about self-care and resilience into this series. Employees need and want to talk about how their emotional well-being impacts their ability to do their jobs well. Fostering these conversations opens the door to a new corporate culture that normalizes discussions about emotional well-being and builds a strong sense of employee safety.

Addressing the overall health and well-being needs of our employees just makes sense. It impacts loyalty, quality and productivity. And it is the right thing for leaders to do.

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The Value of Cognitive Dissonance

The Value of Cognitive Dissonance

I have always been intrigued by the concept of cognitive dissonance—having real discomfort around the conflict between behavior and knowledge, or behavior and beliefs. Almost everyone knows someone who has refused to give up smoking, even if the person knows smoking is not good for him or her. Despite all the scientific evidence showing the effects of smoking, the person convinces himself that smoking is not that bad for them. And the more information the smoker reads about the dangers of smoking, the more discomfort or cognitive dissonance they feel.

Researchers such as Leon Festinger recognized that we have a drive towards internal balance or ‘consistency.’ “Cognitive dissonance is a result of an inconsistency between one aspect of ourselves and another.” Because the desire for inner harmony is quite intense, it makes it easier to understand why individuals attempt to justify or rationalize their behavior—they need to in order to minimize the internal discomfort. In other words, when there is dissonance, our brain has learned to rapidly build a bridge over the contradiction to reduce our internal tension.

Daniel Frings penned an article entitled “Cognitive Dissonance As A Motivating Tool” where he states “Cognitive dissonance is a powerful tool which can be used to motivate us in various ways. And … if you strongly endorse a set of attitudes then you are likely to also be highly motivated to behave in line with them.” He recommends that we work hard to recognize the link between the values that drive us, our attitudes, and our subsequent behaviors. And then he suggests that you increase the level of dissonance that will be generated by publicly stating your vision and values that drive your behavior.

Over the years, I have come to view cognitive dissonance as a value add in the human psyche. It provides us with guardrails for what we should and should not do. The more tuned in we are to feelings of discomfort or when we hear ourselves trying to rationalize decisions—we might need think twice about our decisions. It is important for leaders to reduce the instincts to rapidly build the bridge over the contradiction and to sit with the dissonance, evaluating whether or not it is time to change the decision or time to change the long-held belief.

I welcome your thoughts.

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Reflection and Knowing Your “Why”

Reflection and Knowing Your “Why”


“Life is a reflection of what we allow ourselves to see.”

There are times in one’s life where there is a need to spend some concentrated time just reflecting … on the memories of the past, the realities of the present and the opportunities of the future. These moments allow us to clear the noise and give our brain a much-needed rest. I find that these moments are especially critical in times of struggle and stress. As CEO of a large company, while time is a commodity, moments of reflection are a necessity.

We owe our staff the best of ourselves, the sharpest thinking and the best decisions; this comes from a rested, reflective mind. But, honestly, reflection is not always easy. This may be why many leaders tend to shy away from it. Reflection requires us to slow down, exercise our curiosity and accept responsibility.

An article in the Harvard Business Review that I especially liked discussed the difficulty in reflection. “At its simplest, reflection is about careful thought. But the kind of reflection that is really valuable to leaders is more nuanced than that. The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning making’ is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.”

The ability to pause amidst the chaos and untangle information is a critical skill of great leaders. Clay Scroggins’ Book “How to Lead in a World of Distraction” suggested a tip that as a leader I have found invaluable: Know your why: Why you do what you do, why you say what you say. Your why becomes the filter through which you can decide what you really want to focus on, the messages you really want to convey.

During this time in our country, there is much to reflect on, much to interpret, and much to learn. It is my hope that you, as leaders, hit the pause button and take the needed time to reflect and become better acquainted with your “why.”

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Our Children Are Watching

Our Children Are Watching

As this painful week comes to an end, I am left thinking about the children. How are they internalizing what they see on TV? How do we answer their questions?

This week of pain comes at a time already fraught with tension, compounding the destructive force of COVID-19 and the resulting financial crisis that is hitting our most vulnerable and marginalized communities the hardest.

Our collective children are growing up and learning about their world, now with disturbing events unfolding in every direction. I wonder how we explain these times to our children. What will they take away from this point in time? I listened to George Floyd’s second grade teacher remember him as a pleasure to have in class, a quiet boy who liked to sing and wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. I think of all the children at that age, lives innately full of hope, positivity and wonder.

I have also listened to our staff describe painful and anguished conversations they are forced to have with their children. Some of you are having “the talk”, not about the birds and the bees, but rather preparing your children for racism. I am listening to parents soberly explain how the reality of racism affects their own hopes and dreams for their children and what will be required of them as they grow up.

I can’t imagine looking into the eyes of any child, preparing them for hatred. Yet a large portion of our society must explain to their children the limitations they will face.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be proud of the world into which we have brought our children? It should be a place where they could all feel safe to pursue limitless possibilities, one where there is no need for “talk” to warn that their road will be different, harder and even dangerous.

We must stand in solidarity with those demanding an end to systemic racism and violence. We must do better. We owe our children a better world.

We cannot allow this heartbreaking reality to continue.

Our children are watching.

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Reflections on Memorial Day

Reflections on Memorial Day

Good Morning. On this Memorial Day I want to share my blog with Retired US Army Colonel David W. Sutherland.

This weekend marks Memorial Day, a sacred day of recognition in the United States.

I, like the rest of the team at Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, will spend the weekend remembering, honoring, and mourning the United States military members who died while serving in the Armed Forces – some of whom I served with over the course of my 29-year career.

One of these people was the husband of Latrese Dixon. In her book, From Tragedy to Triumph: The Life of a Widow, Latrese reflects on her life leading up to, and journey following, her husband’s death in 2007 during combat operations in Iraq. While her book is a stirring read for Memorial Day, there are many passages that offer lessons and insights relevant throughout the year.

Today I want to share a few pieces of quiet wisdom from this book with you – and what passes through my mind as I read them.

“He was a soldier and he answered the call of duty.”
The members of our Armed Forces put their lives on the line for their country, knowing that it is a dangerous business that could separate them permanently from their families. Yet a service member follows through and perseveres, even amidst difficult times and challenges. It’s called “character,” and it’s explained best not by definition, but by actions such as selflessly putting country before life.

“He died doing what he loved most – protecting his country, protecting his family. Both were inextricably linked.”
For me, the key words here are “inextricably linked.” Those who serve do so both for, and on behalf of, their families, neighbors, and communities. Equally important are the “comrades” to their left and right in times of crisis. Serving our country is a global duty, but it starts with families. You will find courage, love, duty, and sacrifice a commonality among everyone who has served.

“Losing a loved one is hard: healing is harder, but know that their memories continue to live on.”
The worst thing we can do is to forget. We can all use the opportunity created by Memorial Day to remember all those who died while serving, be it in combat, during training exercises, or through accidents and non-combat related deaths. One of the most important deaths for me to remember is death by suicide while on active duty. Ultimately, though, this painful reflection is necessary as it truly is the purpose of Memorial Day.

“The most difficult and hardest thing to do was figure out how to tell the children that their father would not be coming home.”
The narratives of those who have fallen live on through their families. These families are given the honorific “Gold Star” to designate that they’ve had a loved one lose his/her life in service to the nation. If you know a Gold Star family, reach out to check on them this weekend and provide encouragement. If you meet a Gold Star family member in the future, ask them to share their story, then take the time to listen.

Colonel Sutherland, Latrese Dixon, and some of her children during a wreath ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery honoring SSG Donnie Dixon.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our ability to honor the fallen with parades or memorial services, it does provide an opportunity for us to create our own personal remembrances. Consider the following activities:

•  Plant a remembrance tree or flowers with your family.
•  Research the achievements of one of our fallen from previous wars and ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
•  Livestream virtual events from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and at Arlington National Cemetery.

This Memorial Day weekend, I hope that you take a moment to personally reflect on the achievements and courage of our U.S. service members who died while serving in the Armed Forces.

We at Dixon Center will always remember, and they will never be forgotten.

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The Balcony

The Balcony

This week I am going to veer from my usual blog topics, to talk about balconies … and how they have become a source of inspiration and hope for people around the world.

In Italy you can hear music coming from balconies from town to town—”a nationwide concert to lift our spirits” shared one Italian. People were invited to join in, playing musical instruments –or if that is all they had—using pots and pans to join in on the melody. This is also true in France, where a French opera singer sang the French National Anthem from his balcony amid cheers and tears. There was an amazing evening where applause and cheers were heard when the French organized a countrywide balcony tribute to their health care workers. In Spain you can hear the notes of “My Heart Will Go On” … played on a piano on his balcony by a gifted Spanish musician and the beauty of the huge crowd who joined in.

And in New York, if you listen closely, you can hear the cheers of New Yorkers, from balcony to stoop, honoring health care workers and first responders, and the music from our Broadway musicians who will not be silenced even by COVID-19. And there are photos all over social media showing New Yorkers having balcony picnics and making elegant champagne toasts with their neighbors.

The balcony is a phenomenon within a phenomenon.

I found myself thinking about the many ways balconies have been used over time to communicate messages of good like those of the Pope for individuals of the Catholic faith on Easter morning, or for those romantics who can recite verbatim the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Balconies certainly have been used to spread messages of evil, divisiveness and genocide, such as in the era of Mussolini and Hitler.

What is striking about the balcony scenes of today is the sense of optimism that is generated from these simple moments of sharing. The message that we really are in this together—one global community. These moments remind us of the courage and resilience of the human spirit. They remind us that we always do seem to get back up—one way or another. They remind us how deeply we are connected and how important this connection is to our health and well-being.

There have been moments of extraordinary sorrow since the pandemic struck. And there have been moments of extraordinary kindness. Both will remain with us for a very long time. Both need to be acknowledged.

I have been deeply honored by the many people who read my blogs and who write to me sharing their perspectives on the current reality.

Tonight I may cheer about the importance of this connection from my window.

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Perspectives on COVID-19 Long Term Impact

Perspectives on COVID-19 Long Term Impact

Like many of you, I am spending quite a bit of time reading, listening to interviews and podcasts, learning as much as I can about what the experts are saying about the post COVID-19 world. 

In an interview yesterday morning on CBS Face the Nation, Eric Schmidt, former Google Chairman and CEO, said that the past two months has brought forth 10 years of forward change. I found his perspectives interesting and worthy of further discussion. Schmidt shared that the crisis has made the internet a necessity if one is going to be part of society—employment, education, consumerism, health care—all driven by access to the internet. He delved into the concept of telehealth, citing that 80 percent of medical appointments are now occurring via telehealth; that it is much easier for users and has been something people have been advocating for, only going into the doctor when absolutely necessary. Is this the future of health care? 

He also discussed the potential need for employers to be much more flexible about the concept of where employees work, possibly considering more space if employees are going to come to the office and practice social distancing, implementing a hub and spoke system to minimize commuter travel, and of course carefully evaluating who really needs to come to the office. He emphasized that the crisis has uncovered the weaknesses in the technological infrastructure in rural parts of America as well as some city and state governments—stating that increased access to broadband and upgraded hardware must be part of the post COVID-19 environment. 

Forbes also took an interesting approach to their examination of the future in an article by Tracy Brower predicting how COVID-19 will change the future of work. Some of the things that rang true in the article for me include:

Employers will maintain the expanded support they provide employees. Many employers have added to employee support systems as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and I agree that it is likely this new programming will be maintained, including support for employee mental health and overall wellness. We have all learned in profound ways the importance of employee engagement, and this knowledge should drive our approach to employee communication.

Leadership will improve. In the toughest times, the leaders who excel are those who communicate clearly, stay calm and strong, demonstrate empathy, think long-term and take appropriate decisive action. These are the leaders who leverage the crisis as an opportunity to improve systems and service delivery.

Company culture will become a focus. Like leadership, company culture is paramount to an organization’s success. Brower suggests that is it very likely companies will increasingly acknowledge the importance of culture as context for performance and employee engagement.

Work will become more flexible. Many companies have been resistant to letting employees work from home, but as Brower states, “this unexpected global work-from-home experiment has forced companies to accept it as a legitimate option.” Many of us have increased our technology infrastructure and software options to facilitate remote work. “Teams are figuring out how to collaborate at a distance and leaders are improving their ability to manage based on outcomes and objectives rather than presence, leveraging a growing comfort with technology,” says Brower.

Innovation will flourish. As I have shared in previous blogs, innovation often stems from crisis. We are forced to imagine new solutions, new ways of seeing problems. “Companies will learn from the requirement for greater innovation and create the conditions for expanded levels of creativity, exploration and problem solving,” indicated Brower.

I suspect a bit of all of the above will be true. We will adapt, we will learn, we will evolve and eventually, most companies will come out the other side stronger.

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COVID-19: Impact on Philanthropy

COVID-19: Impact on Philanthropy

The Coronavirus pandemic has inspired help and support from all levels of society, from billionaires to corporations to individuals around the world, as the crisis brings us together with a common purpose, whether it is offering support to health care organizations and workers or a neighbor in the building who is unable to go out for groceries. Because much of what we are doing in providing these critical services is unfunded, many of us have looked to our donors and foundations for help. 

There is a lot being discussed about demand vs capacity. 

Aaron Dorfman and Bethany Maki from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy indicated that we are in “a perfect storm of nonprofit challenges including high demand, an uncertain economy, a constantly changing news cycle, and a real fear for the future. Nonprofit leaders must urgently strategize about how to help those affected while at the same time keep their organizations afloat.”

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, this perfect storm will continue for some time and will result in a growing awareness that “every nonprofit organization (and their board) must become active and vocal advocates for policies and funding to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.” 

“Leading during times of turmoil, whether organization-wide or society-wide, can be demanding, bewildering, taxing, and exhilarating,” warns Alex Counts in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Today leaders must focus on ensuring organizational survival and adapting programs to the limitations and demands of this difficult moment.” While the nature of the work remains the same, in some cases the volume has changed dramatically. “In other words, it has required a major, rapid—and almost certainly imperfect—re-engineering of programs.” Counts is an adjunct professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and founder of Grameen Foundation.  

So, what do we do? 

    • We should work hard to stay connected to our donors. At The Fedcap Group we are posting short videos from our Board Chair as well as others on our website (and other companies of The Fedcap Group) about what we are doing during this time of crisis and why we need our donors’ help. 
    • We should continue to tell the important stories of our work.
    • We should hold video conferences with select donors.   
    • We should structure giving into smaller, monthly payments that automatically renew. This provides a stable and predictable income stream, and it provides a pool of baseline donors to move up the giving ladder.  
    • We should engage in significant digital philanthropy. With digital phones powering every human’s life, mobile donations are starting to become a trend in the world of philanthropy. Donors can contribute using their credit cards linked to the mobile payment systems on smartphones (i.e. Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay), making transactions and sending donations easier than ever.

This unique time calls for creativity as we remain clear about our mission and leadership. Strengthening relationships—and improving communications with donors as well as our clients and staff—is more important than ever. 

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Crisis Can Drive Innovation

Crisis Can Drive Innovation

Crisis stimulates innovation, and war, with all of its horror, tends to be a petri dish for innovation. In researching this topic I learned that canned food was developed as a way to safely feed troops during war time, and duct tape was originally invented because the military needed a waterproof tape that could be used to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. I learned that because the English love their tea, and it was challenging to make tea on the battlefield, the tea bag was born. By packaging tea in small bags that could be dropped right into a pot of boiling water, the issue of tea on the battlefield was resolved. And medical progress meant wounded soldiers could survive wounds that would have been fatal in earlier wars, but that often meant living with severe injuries. A New Zealand-born surgeon, Harold Gillies, came up with ways to graft skin, bones, and muscles, paving the way for plastic surgery.  

The Coronavirus pandemic—another kind of battle— has also driven companies across the world to new kinds of innovation.  

Many of us are using a video platform to provide services to clients that we used to do in person.   

We were used to in-person meetings—felt that in many cases they were a necessity—only to find that we can be more efficient, reduce travel and share information easier by using video conferencing.  

We thought that classroom learning was a bedrock to child education (and still believe that in-person interactions are a critical part of child development) only to learn that much can be absorbed by children online.   

And at The Fedcap Group we were looking for creative ways to connect our nearly 4,000 employees across our international footprint.  During this crisis, Java Junction was born—where once a month staff from across our footprint join small Zoom groups to discuss topics such as music, poetry, meals, TV shows, podcasts, gardening, desk exercises and many more.  

I anticipate many more innovations to come.   

I believe that we all need to consider how we redesign workspaces in order to open up programs and services and bring staff back to work.   

I think it will be imperative that we continuously practice some kind of “remote work” fire drill—ensuring that we are flexible and can react on a dime as the need dictates. 

And I believe that we will need to innovate in areas of Talent Acquisition. Forbes, Korn Ferry, McKinsey are all talking about the need to future-proof leadership.  What does it mean to have leaders who are fully prepared for an uncertain future in which turning on a dime may be the norm?   

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Planning for the Return to Steady State

Planning for the Return to Steady State

“For some organizations, near-term survival is the only agenda item. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, thinking about how to position themselves once the crisis has passed and things return to normal. The question is, ‘What will normal look like?’ While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years.”

Imagine my surprise when reading these words in a McKinsey article entitled Beyond Coronavirus: The Path To The Next Normal only to find that they were written 11 years ago, amid the last global financial crisis, by one of their former managing partners, Ian Davis.

This is the reality that we are dealing with. As we manage our day to day operations under what is unprecedented circumstances, we are also simultaneously planning for the return to steady state operations…while being uncertain as to what “steady state” means. This is as significant a challenge as most of us have faced in our careers. Yet we are obligated to do this–and do it well as our staff, clients, funders and donors are counting on us.

We have approached this crisis in three phases:

Phase I – Immediate Response, Prevention and Containment. This is the phase where we developed our Command Center and Hotline, protocols for sanitizing and social distancing, started frequent and consistent communication to staff, and systematically worked with company leaders to conduct in depth liquidity scenarios. This was a period of shock and to some extent survival. Because we had a strong Business Continuity Plan in place and a robust technological infrastructure, we were able to respond rapidly and effectively.

Phase II – Stabilization. During this phase, after thorough analysis, we closed or downsized programs based on state and funder guidelines and our own liquidity scenarios. We launched telehealth and educational services in order to serve clients via our secure video and online learning platforms. We trained staff on how to be effective working remotely and ensured that staff, who were deemed essential and continued to work, were safe. We sought to secure all potential government and foundation funding and engaged our generous donor community in order to mitigate losses and fund the unfunded services we are providing to clients.

Phase III – Preparing for the New Normal. This is the phase where much of our attention is focused. We are carefully analyzing some of the practices we instituted during Phase II to determine those that should continue—a form of re-imaging how the organization will provide services. Accompanying this process is a rigorous risk management effort—being absolutely certain that the way we deliver services (via telehealth) is above reproach and completely audit proof. We are discussing how to manage program start up, assuming that this may come in waves based on the nature of the service. We are evaluating new services we can launch based on our mission and anticipated need. We are also working closely with our supply chain to ensure that when we are ready—they are ready. Being strategic and planful during this phase is critical if organizations are to regain their footing after the wave of profound disruption, especially if there is the predicted second surge of cases at some point in the fall.

It is never too soon to initiate an in-depth planning process for re-opening services and our gradual return to steady state.

How are you approaching the planning? I would love to hear from you.

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