FROM THE COMMS CUPBOARD, Episode #25

Looking after our workmates

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How do we look after our colleagues' well-being without insulting them or affecting our own happiness? John and Shaun float a few theories of their own.

This show may include the words fat, grumble and humdinger.

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Episode transcript

Shaun: Have you ever been in that situation where you’re feeling quite good with your work and – you know, you could be working as part of a team of people – but you notice that someone you work with isn’t feeling that same sense of job satisfaction. They’re doing what they can to support the project, but you feel there’s something missing.

John: What do you about it?

Shaun: What do you do about it? Looking after your workmates.

John: It’s a really good good thing to be doing, isn’t it?

Shaun: People often don’t tell you, though. You have to notice, don’t you?

John: You do. You have to have your eyes open a little bit to other people. They say it’s a good management trait: to be able to understand when people are feeling differently. I think it’s a good person trait to have. The most important thing is to reach out to them. Maybe don’t make them aware that you’re reaching out because you think they look down, because that might upset them.

Shaun: Is that a little bit like asking a pregnant – no, sorry – asking a fat person; a fat lady: “When’s it due?” 👶

John: Yeah, probably!

Shaun: Are we allowed to say fat anymore?

John: Keep your opinions to yourself, I imagine, with people you don’t know!

Shaun: But it’s the same thing, isn’t it? “You seem down today.” It’s just my face!

John: “No, I’m not. I’m perfectly fine.” Because people don’t like sharing weakness with people they work with.

Shaun: Or what we perceive as weakness.

John: Yeah, I mean this sort of competitive nature of jobs at the moment – how do people look after their team? I think when someone’s in your team, you should be friendly with them and not see them as some sort of competition. I suppose it’s very different in different roles, isn’t it? But I think when you’re having a shared experience or a shared thing, you might feel down, and then you should think about how you feel down in situations and what you would appreciate. Maybe that’s the best way you can do it.

Shaun: Yeah, that’s interesting.

John: I find that with people I’ve worked with, everyone just needs opportunity to have a grumble. You’ve got a shared grumble. The opportunity to just be there. Have a moan about something that happens and help them move on from it. Help them get rid of that grumble.

Shaun: Yeah, I think it’s good to vent things, but if you are a consistent venter, that’s not a healthy … it doesn’t make for a healthy working environment.

John: But the only way you can get on is by moaning about something. Then you need to leave it behind.

Shaun: There is that side where you can end up supporting someone in their rants all the time because you don’t want to be impolite.

John: A shoulder to rant on rather than a shoulder to cry on.

Shaun: When you don’t want to be that shoulder, actually. Your job is really happy.

John: You’ve got to be careful of letting someone else’s attitude influence yours. But your question was almost more about support, and if that’s the case with them, then you need to help them get out of that, don’t you?

Shaun: Where does the comms team come into this? So, in a more formal way, how can a comms team approach the subject of being there for your colleagues? Is that a thing?

John: I think it would be a thing, but I’m not really sure it’s for the comms team to do.

Shaun: How come?

John: I think it goes beyond what their role would be, personally. I think they may be able to help other people do it.

Shaun: Oh, who?

John: Maybe a leadership person or a HR department.

Shaun: So we’re thinking that …

John: It’s more of something you would help with. It’s more of a partnership thing. I don’t think communications teams should be the people tasked with lifting morale of people. I think that’s much more of a leadership-type task.

Shaun: Yeah. Even though often – as we’ve talked about in a previous episode – the leaders look to the comms team to tell them how to say that thing! 🤷‍♂️

John: Yeah, absolutely. And maybe that’s what you help. You know, you can have that empathy and that understanding of people, but ultimately you should be looking after the people that you work with directly. And maybe the best way is to really help people to understand workplace stress and the well-being of the people around them, and how to spot signs. In a lot of places, you’re just made a manager. You don’t know how to do it. You don’t get training. You just suddenly: “Oh, well you’re going to be this person’s line manager.” And that person might have had a lot of struggles in their life.

Shaun: I’ve met people that have been put into positions of management and they clearly weren’t ready for it.

John: I’d love to know the stats of how many people are not ready for it when they get it.

Shaun: It would be high, I think.

John: Because often those people don’t get given extra time to manage somebody either.

Shaun: Who do managers turn to? If you go to a manager because … sorry you go to your leader or your CEO as a manager and you say: “You know, I’m feeling a little bit anxious about this.” I bet that doesn’t happen very often because it’s a sign of: “I might not know what I’m doing.” Whereas I think it’s a sign of strength. But many CEOs may not see it that way. “Oh, I’ve given this person a management position they weren’t ready for.” Which is quite sad. So I guess a lot of managers won’t say anything. They’ll keep it all bottled up.

John: I’d like to think that more progressive organisations see that making someone a line manager, or manager of people, means that they need to have some training and it’s not assumed that they just go and be super-good at that.

Shaun: I would bring someone in. I like the idea of consultants. And I don’t mean a consultant that just talks to the leaders. I mean those lunch and learn sessions, where someone comes in and says the emotional side of business. Because I don’t think we talk about the emotive, human side of business enough. What’s your experience? Especially Brits. Us Brits – we tend to not talk about our feelings so much.

John: I think we’re easy to moan about the lack of having a good manager to other people. I don’t think we’ll proactively do anything about it with that person. Going back to the grumble piece, you’ll hear a lot of moaning about people and not being very good, but nothing ever happens to that person. We often don’t put enough emphasis on leaders thinking about how those people might be. They may just see them as being a great salesperson or someone who brings in the numbers, whatever that means. And that’s actually their primary job. Actually, should we be thinking more about splitting our workforce, and being able to say: “This person is really, really good at what they do and they should be able to become senior at being an expert, but they’re not good for being a line manager. We shouldn’t have them.” I think too often, getting a promotion means suddenly becoming a people manager as well. I think what would be better is almost like two tracks of people. You’ve got this great group of people who were really, really technically good at their job, and you’ve got a great group of people who are really, really good at managing people. Why not have both? You shouldn’t have to be a senior manager and have lots of people that report into you.

Shaun: It’s lumping all the different various responsibilities together and saying that manager could do them all, when even the very best managers in the world – people at some of the best companies and football teams and things like that – they delegate different tactical situations. Or a spreadsheet person who looks for the bottom line, but they’re not a people person. So don’t make them a people manager. You’re right, you’re absolutely right!

John: But don’t penalise them because of it. Get them delivering everything for your business and maybe have someone else there who actually does all the ‘pastorial’ work (is that the word for it?) – actually helping people piece. You shouldn’t have to do both. It’s great if you can, obviously.

Shaun: Here’s the last question for you. Here’s a humdinger. Do you think all comms people are people people?

John: No. Absolutely not.

Shaun: Are they expected to be?

John: Yeah, I think so. I think they’re expected to be the life and soul of an office sometimes, but it doesn’t mean they are. We’ve touched on this a lot in the past. The skills are so broad, aren’t they? You could be in so many different types of role. So, you might be much happier in a room recording a podcast or doing the technical side of a podcast, or writing a script for something, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to be speaking it yourself.

😌

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