Relationships at Work - the Employee Experience and Workplace Culture Podcast

Providing Care and Comfort at Work with Jen Marr

January 23, 2023 Russel Lolacher
Relationships at Work - the Employee Experience and Workplace Culture Podcast
Providing Care and Comfort at Work with Jen Marr
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author and Inspiring Comfort CEO Jen Marr on the importance of prioritizing care and comfort in the workplace.

Jen shares her thoughts, stories and experience with...

  • Empathy isn’t enough in building connection with others
  • How comfort and care can be effective to build connection at work
  • The self-imposed roadblocks to caring
  • How younger generations are having difficulty with human interactions
  • The negative impacts of not being there for employees during traumatic experiences.
  • What the “empathy action gap” looks like.

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Russel Lolacher
And on the show today is Jen Marr, and here's why she is awesome. She is the founder and CEO of inspiring Comfort LLC, a social good company using evidence based comfort skill programming, a speaker and member of the Forbes Business Council. She is the author of pause for comfort, a how to book on teaching readers to intentionally act help others and build emotional resiliency, oh, I have such feelings about the word resiliency. And in her new book showing up, I have a feeling it's going to be very much involved in this conversation. It helps readers show up for others when they are struggling, including at work. And here's a Jen Fun fact, in 2021, she spoke at the White House Leadership Development Program session on creating culture of care in our pandemic weary workforce. Hello, that hits home. Hi, Jen.

Jen Marr
Hey, thank you. So good to be here. So thank you for having me.

Russel Lolacher
I'm so curious connection is such a... man, it is such a necessity in organizations, that human element. And yet it doesn't seem I mean, it's getting more play in the last couple of years. And I want to talk about that. But before we get into any of that, let's connect back to your past a bit and ask the question I asked all my guests, which is what's your best or worst employee experience?

Jen Marr
Yeah, that's such a great question. And I think it goes back to right before I was married, I lived in Europe for three years for a health care company I was working with, and I was tasked with bringing all of the European affiliates together to a cohesive marketing and purchasing strategy across Europe at a time when the European Union was just being formed. So I'm gonna age myself here. But being put in a situation where you had to bring unity and alignment between the French and the Germans and the Brits, and the Spaniards and understanding the background with each was really, really eye opening to me, and really laid the basis for a lot of how I think and view the world. And they're all just so phenomenal people that Dutch I lived in Amsterdam for a few years live in London, and I mean such great people, but such different views. And so really bringing that all into an alignment, we had so much fun, where we really had to understand what made us common, and let go of the differences because otherwise we would not be productive in our meetings. And so from from that point on, that's how I've always looked, and like we have far more in common than what we're different with. And that to me, obviously, it probably was some of my best moments and probably some of the hardest, because there was some real conflict going on there that we had to rely on. But yeah, really, really phenomenal experience just absolutely loved it.

Russel Lolacher
Reading about your amazingness, we talked there was some words that jumped out at me quite a bit, which was of course, comfort, connection, and how that connects to your book, which is about showing up. I wanted to find what you mean by showing up when it comes to the workplace, especially in a just well still even in a pandemic?

Jen Marr
Yeah, it's it's such a good question. And there's, there's a complexity to how we tackle our connection to the workforce, right? And especially when it comes to human care. And what I found when I was in the field, and why did I land on this word comfort, in order to really connect with people in a good way, you have to have empathy, right? And you have to have care. But in reality, you can care for someone and not connect with them. And this is what I found in our research is borne that out that 80% of people will consider themselves empathetic. But yet 70% of people don't feel seen when they struggle, this massive, massive gap. So you can care about somebody but not connect with them happens all the time. And we can get into that gap. It's called the awkward zone. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say, I don't know how to handle it, right. So empathy is great, but you got to go deeper to those social skills. So again, you can care but not connect, you can connect with somebody but not care. Right? As we talked about in our divisive world, you can be online and have lots of friends but not really care about them. But you can't comfort someone without doing both. And what I began to look at was when you look at the world in terms of emotions, which are needed, you have empathy, you have compassion, you have sympathy, you also have apathy, right? Our emotions of care or not care have to consider all of them. But you also have to consider then is the opposing emotions to that which are guilt, fear, doubt, awkwardness. And so anytime you may feel feel empathy for someone, you're also gonna say, I don't know if it's the right time, I don't know what I should say, I don't know if I'm the right person, I don't know if I should do that. I don't think it's my place, I think they can do it better, I got my own problem. All of these things come straight against your feelings of empathy or compassion. You know, it's funny, because I watch sometimes as people debate, what's better compassion or empathy, I'm like, doesn't matter. What we need to debate is what's stopping us from putting those emotions into action, when you have emotions of empathy, and compassion, and then you have these other emotions of guilt out, awkwardness, fear, whatever it is, those are all just playing around in your head. And half the time we don't act because we talk ourselves out of it, haven't even gotten to action. So the other layer we have to put on that is social intelligence, we have to add on the social skills we have to add on what is stopping me, we can assess against that we can assess against what are my main behaviors and habits and attitudes towards connecting with someone and then teach against it. But it's a skill set, it should be a skill set that goes far beyond emotions. And that's what we dive into. So you can't be empathy by somebody, you can't be compassionate by somebody. So you need a verb to teach a skill. And comfort makes the most sense. Comfort is a verb means to bring strength and hope. CLM means community for need strength, we're stronger together. So when you dive into this word, it's the it's the logical solution to bring about carrying connectedness in our world today. So that's why I love the word. But a lot of people think of comfort as that cozy noun.

Russel Lolacher
And what kind of challenges have you had in bringing your work to organizations, when you bring up the word comfort? Do people just get awkward and uncomfortable in the room? Or are they much more embracing? Because like you said, people? Well, first, it's a personalized thing. What comforts one person is very different to another and people's relationship with that word, could be tricky. So I'm kind of curious.

Jen Marr
Yeah, well, I think first of all, when people hear the word, they immediately think it's going to be some kind of dealing with grief, or something like that. And we don't need that. I think the reason we named the book showing up is because that's what this is. And when you look at the need for people to feel seen in their struggles, because, look, let's start at the front. Everybody's struggling right now. Right? Whether you lost someone at COVID, or whether you are just burnt out, everybody's struggling. And 70% of people that we work with, we work with colleges, workplaces, you name it 70% Don't feel seen when they struggle. And that's a problem. And we have quiet quitting, and we have the great resignation. And I think a lot of that is because people are not feeling seen. So how do you make them feel safe, you have to have skills of connection. So those skills of connection have to teach you not only what am I doing wrong? What's stopping me from connecting? What's stopping me from caring, but also, you know, what, what will work for me. And again, it's when you talk about care for someone, we're not talking about fixing the problem, we're not talking about being someone's counselor and therapist, we're talking about being there to make sure someone feels seen acknowledged and validated, which is very, very different than being a therapist

Russel Lolacher
Did a keynote just a couple of weeks ago, actually. And it was about leadership impact, good or bad. And one of the things I brought up was everything your employees are going through right now that have nothing to do with work. And it was everything from inflation to still dealing with the pandemic trauma and going through, I think I came up with nine things. And I just said, and this is only Wednesday, like this is just, there's so much going on. While organizations want to be productive, they want to move forward. But they're not taking into account this and when I brought it up, there was a bit of an ease. And that brings me up to your point around this discomfort, this awkward zone. Am I getting into that direction? Or how would you define that?

Jen Marr
Yeah, well, I think, you know, the awkward zone is when we actually dive into the skills. And I think what we can do above that is just to talk for one second about why are companies not embracing the well being and the connectedness of their culture. And I think I think that is starting to change. I think especially post pandemic, people are starting to recognize it. But there still is a sense that with all these other priorities, so you think about what's going on, you know, whether it's Dei, whether it's vaccination status, whether it's hybrid workforce, whether it's all these other things, so many competing, In priorities, where is mental health and well being falling on the radar. And so more and more people are understanding that it is at the forefront of everything. And if you're not looking at the whole employee, you are not going to get the whole employee showing up. So I think there's such great articles out there right now from Harvard Business Review, from Bain, from McKinsey, from Deloitte, you name it, they're all now talking about, you have to be more human, we have to have care as a key leadership skill, we have to approach this as a, we're not a me, they're talking about if you focus just on self care as your well being, it's almost a subtle form of abandonment. And so, you know, Harvard Business had this great article out there. And it talked about company's responsibility to look at this as a collective, and that it's a company's responsibility, kind of like a football team. If you have an injured team member, or someone going through a difficult time, you don't just tell them to go home and deal with it and come back and play on Sunday, you know, that the health of your team and the success of your team is going to be based on taking care of that player in every aspect of their life. And the workplace should be the same. Great article. So to me, Russell, going back to your question, there is this level of new priorities that need to be set by HR departments, and a lot is being dumped on HR departments, and I feel for them. And so now you have, you know, some companies are putting in a chief wellness officer or chief medical officer, things like that. But post pandemic, that kind of has to rise to the top to, for a company to put a priority on the overall employee well being and saying, we're going to take care of the whole employee, and that just the old punch the clock, I go to work for work, I go to home and get filled up doesn't work that way. And

Russel Lolacher
So where do you start? I know people are listening to this going, Okay, I know I need a healthy organization, I know there are people in front of me that are suffering, where do I put my energy into, to get better skills to be able to do this.

Jen Marr
One of the things that we focus on as we first assess people, so having data and having benchmarks to be able to track how your employees are doing is so critical. So when we track and assess, we're tracking and assessing specifically for how people are feeling cared for and connected, right, that's our thing. We're not going deep beyond that we go deep into this. So we'll do an anonymous pre survey where we do not collect personal data. But we'll ask questions like, What have you been dealing with? What do you worry most about? Where do you feel least cared for at work? Where do you feel these cared for at home? What's most important for you at work to feel cared for? Same on college campuses, same kind of thing. So that's anonymous, we collect the data, we have that aggregated, share it with the organization. But then we also do a personal assessment that they do share their information so they can get their personal report. And that assessment really dives into their behaviors and habits and mindsets of care. And, you know, certain situations, how would you react to this rank? How you think you would, how do you feel about this. And so, from that report, we will take all of that data and put it together in a webinar or Keynote. So we can share key insights with people as to why this is critical. Going back to our last point. A lot of people don't understand why this is critical. And why do we have to focus on these skills. So we start assess reform with that webinar. Then we go into workshops where we'll take that assessment and our key workshop, we call it breaking through the awkward zone. So it's from your assessment, you're going to go through three things. Number one, what is stopping me from connecting with someone else or really having that deep, caring relationship? And we have four different kinds of areas that we look at within there. We have people that are doubters, people that are deflectors people that are fixers, people that are avoiders, and all of these different behaviors and mindsets will kind of fall into that, like I tend to deflect like, I don't think it's my place to step in. I think somebody's better at it. That's a deflector. a doubter is I don't think it's the right time. I'm not sure what to say. So those are, we assess against that. So if you tend to be more of a deflector, you have different areas to focus on than if you're just a doubter. And then when you are face to face with someone, do you tend to mess up your actions of connection by being more of a fixer, like, I know exactly what you need to do, just do this. Try that do that right that it usually will pull the connection apart and bring it closer together, or completely avoid it. Like I'll talk about anything but the problem you're dealing with. So when we first dive into What's stopping me from that connection, that really helps people to understand where their barriers are. And then we dive into so what can I say? What can I do? So people walk out of that workshop with a concrete plan, like, we want them to bridge that gap, they should not be stuck in the awkward zone. And that's the first step. And then we go deeper, much deeper into certification training and other workshops and team connections, workshops, and all sorts of stuff.

Russel Lolacher
I have a chicken or the egg question. So does comfort lead to connection to this connection lead to comfort?

Jen Marr
Does comfort... Well, I think you have to, you know, we teach, there's a process that you first have to, you know, remove distractions. Be aware, identify someone that's struggling, identify what you want to do with them, and then connect, right. And then after you connect, you reflect back and you do it again, that that's the process of comfort, that evidence based process. And so connection is like step four in there. So you have to do some perspective taking, you kind of have to figure that out first, and then connect in that that whole cycle is comfort. So I think it's it's kind of part of it. But you have to go about the process to get that connection, but it goes back to you have to both care and connect when you comfort. And so you have to start with care, you got to start with thinking opening your heart, having those emotions, then adding the connection in. Does that make sense?

Russel Lolacher
Absolutely. What are been some aha moments, because I'm sure going in there doing research doing an audit for an organization, walking people through this. I'm sure they're skeptics probably in the first second even third step of this process. So where have there been moments where they're like, Oh, this is why you're here. Oh, okay. Now I understand. What was that tipping point for some people?

Jen Marr
Well, I'm one just very recently, when we share data that looks at the average adult in the workforce right now and looks at the average college student data. So when you're looking at reports coming out from McKinsey, or Bain or Deloitte or HBr, they're talking about, you know, McKenzie, will say the number one reason Gen Z leaves a job is uncaring. Laters. Right. But when we look at statistics of colleges versus workplaces, number one, depression and anxiety, average adults, right now, it's a 32%, average college students 66%, exhaustion, burnout, very closely the same average US workers at about 61 62% average college students about 66%. But then you look at loneliness and isolation. The average adult worker right now is at 11%, the average college student is over 60%. So we're looking at a generation that has been raised with screens, that is awkward to even have any personal face to face interaction. And so colleges need to raise up and teach these skills, we need to require students to be put in settings where these conversations happen, where they learn these skills back. And so the aha moments, IT companies all of a sudden say, this is your workforce tomorrow. And if you're not taking into account how you are going to care for this next generation that's coming in, they're begging for connection. They're desperate for belonging and community. Because, you know, look, I'm a parent of three daughters, and one of them is part of this guinea pig generation that was raised with a phone in her hand that as parents didn't know what we were doing. They're now in college, they're now getting out into the workforce. And it is a fully different person that has ever entered the workplace before. And so we can look back to what it was pre COVID. But my first book out, came out before COVID. This was brewing way before COVID. COVID is just kind of put it on steroids. So a lot of the aha moments are like, Okay, this is something I need to take seriously. Yeah, you're right, life has changed. We're awkward. Our screens have completely changed us rewired, our brains rewired our focus rewired our priorities. And for us to have those human interactions, again, is going to take some skill development.

Russel Lolacher
Do you think generationally that is the biggest challenge when it comes to showing up at work?

Jen Marr
It's one of them, there's so many, I mean, there's Gen Z is that Shareen in such a different view of work, that I am not a Gen Z expert, but you can talk about a lot of things you could talk about the hybrid workforce, that is really also being ushered in by Gen Z. So, you know, my area of it is really making sure we're connected. And, you know, showing care to people to make sure people feel like they're seen and valued and cared for. And we can teach that. But you can talk to a workplace. And there's a host of other reasons, the things that are being changed. With change of work being ushered in by Gen Z.

Russel Lolacher
A lot of what you're talking about is first about being intentional. Because as we need to get there, you have to want to change, you have to want to understand you have challenges. Are there any red flags? What what is something that will sort of I use the word term canary in a coal mine quite a bit. But what is that red flag that people need to look for? Or little ones or big ones?

Jen Marr
Well, it can be, it could be postvention. Or it could be prevention. Right? You know, last week, and Yan is and I think if you ask anybody that are dealing with it, there's a lot of horrible stuff happening right now, last week, and one day, three people very close to me, one of them being my daughter, lost someone to suicide. And it's just not okay anymore, I got into this work, because we have to it there's an urgency to be in there for people. And sometimes one of those people is, you know, need some support in the workplace after a tragic death, a loss of an employee who took his life. That could be that could be something that says, Oh, my gosh, we need to come in, because you know, what, you can't just Crisis Response doesn't cut it anymore. Crisis Response is a legalistic, check it off the list, I send out my memos, I'm going to talk to the family and let's get back to normal doesn't work anymore, we have to be able to make sure everybody in the workforce is touched and knows how to move forward after a tragic loss of an employee. So that's one way, another way would be being more for looking saying, we need to have the organization of the future if we want to be the best X company, the best X campus, the next X. And we want to attract and retain the best people, we have to embrace this going forward. Because I'm not the only one saying it look at look at any report coming from those consulting firms or researchers across the country, this is a shift that's going to happen. So some people are either on the forefront of it. Or looking at a crisis in the aftermath, those would be the two areas that I think would trigger people reaching out.

Russel Lolacher
What's your biggest worry, if organizations aren't prioritizing, showing up for each other.

Jen Marr
Well they will lose employees. So we're seeing that happening right now. There are the the nursing turnover rate, the great resignation rate, the you name it, Gen Z moving around from job to job, all trickles back down to not feeling cared for value belonging seen. It's just a different world, right? Like you you live this too, right? What are you saying?

Russel Lolacher
I'm seeing people that are, I mean, as much as we talked about great resignation, and people leaving organizations, there's many people that don't leave, and they stay, and they marinate in their traumas, and they're not getting the support they need in the organizations they work in. And it's almost Compounding the problem, rather than as you say most a lot of people leave, too to, you know, possibly that's a solution to go to another better culture, or to get support somewhere else. But a lot of people don't have that option for financial reasons for just even mindset reasons that that's even an option for them. So they sit and they marinate and it gets worse, and it gets worse. And it gets worse. And that is probably my biggest fear is that people don't know they're empowered to do anything because they don't have the support system at work or at home to realize that they can, they can actually do something about it.

Jen Marr
That's such a good point. Such a good point. And then it just sits in festers, right? And it brings the whole team down and an employee that doesn't feel supported will not be productive will be less reliable. Sometimes being a little divisive than the manager for those employees just spends their whole time putting out fires if they can't get to the core of that so bingo spot on. Yeah.

Russel Lolacher
A lot organizations as well will are more about managing up. And so you'll have leaders who don't really even care about the mental health of their organizations. It's all about are they fit? Are they doing the widget? Is the service being delivered? Oh, is our net promoter score? Good, fine. Moving on? Well, these people are just crumbling around them. And that's not how they were trained as managers, because they might be the generation of hours, which is about show up, go to work go home. Done. So showing up for them is defined differently than how you're explaining it today.

Jen Marr
Well, which is why there's a process right, you first, first we assess, and when organizations say, Wow, 70% of your employees are not feeling when they're struggling, and you're having a high turnover rate? And is that okay? Let's dive into that. So you have to first show the data. So there's something to work with. But then just like we're talking about, you have to inform them, you know, I've worked with groups wrestle where 35% of people in the company, don't have someone to go home to to fill their bucket, don't feel cared for outside of work. Think about that. 35%, on average, it's roughly running about 18 to 20%, but still 18 to 20% average amount of people, you know, to in 10 of people that walk into your workforce, don't have somebody to fill their bucket when they walk out. So if they're not going to feel a place of belonging, and cared for and seen and valued, they're out, or we're gonna lose him. Like, that's how serious this is. And I think, you know, the generation that was raised, like, you go to work, and then you go home, and you didn't, you know, Leave It to Beaver, whatever, June Cleaver's made dinner, you know. That's just not the way it is anymore. And that is probably the most resistant group to open their eyes to the change that needs to happen.

Russel Lolacher
Off the top. You talked about this horrendous gap. I want to dig a little bit deeper into that. How have you seen that manifest in your work?

Jen Marr
Well, I'll tell you, it was smack dab in my face when I was in crisis response work, which is what prompted it, right? Where I was in Sandy Hook Elementary where, you know, if you look at pictures that warehouses and warehouses full of stuff that was sent, like just stuff 67,000 teddy bears sent to a town of 20,000 people, people cared, but they just sent stuff which added a burden to the town. And yet, people that were really struggling, just felt so misunderstood and alone. That was one aspect. Another aspect if I would be added to crisis response, when time, you know, I was with a group of high school boys that their best friend had lost their brother, their best friend was home. And not one of these students had reached out to their friend yet their phones are in their hand. Right? They care about their friend, but the conversation is like, you reached out? I don't know, I don't think I don't think it's the right time. I think he just wants to be with this family. I don't know what to say. I know, right, like, and so I finally said, Guys, don't you think your friends at home wondering why nobody's reaching out? This is what's happening. People care, but they don't know how to show it. And especially in our cancel culture, world where people are afraid, so afraid to offend people are so worried to say or do the wrong thing, or they don't think it's their place. Or they think it's going to be a burden that they don't, you know, Kelly Shannon, who's my sales and marketing manager is amazing. She's kind of as a millennial, she's on the cusp of a millennial, and Gen Z. And she will say that any conversation for her age group is awkward, because they're on their screen so much. So if any conversation is awkward, imagine now when you bring in some level of tragedy or trauma or a mental health condition, or when you're you're not even willing to share your happy times together, how are you going to tell somebody that you're struggling with anxiety? So we in our programming, you know, we bring small groups together small group discussions, to make it easy to have conversations about it. So you're looking at your data, you're given prop questions, and people are just dying to talk about this. Like they're just give them an open door and a place to talk about this in a safe constructive way. And you can't stop them talking. It's just this awkwardness of not knowing where to start at. That's the gap. And that's the challenge we're facing today. You know, so many people talk about you have to have skills of empathy and this net, I'll tell you what Gen Z is an empathetic generation. They have empathy. They don't know how to show it. And that's the challenge. That's the gap. Harvard Business we'll call it the empathy action gap. But the empathy action gap is alive and well. And so that's why we have to tackle that in the awkward zone.

Russel Lolacher
How does an organization know they are successful with their employees showing up their leadership showing up? What's the other side of this,

Jen Marr
You would retain your workforce and you'd have a really good productive workforce. People would be happy at work, they would be sharing, they would be open, they would be authentic, you would know the whole employee, you would know, your employees would feel comfortable speaking up when they are dealing with something, and you would know how to respond and support them. And you would know about them, you would know things they struggle with, you would know how to support them, if they lost their mom, you would know what they need, if their kids are at home sick, and they don't have childcare, that day, you would just instinctively care for them first. And in return, they would be far more productive, because they would be grateful for how you supported them. That's the key. It's kind of just nobody wants to leave a workforce where they're happy and cared for, and feel productive in a sense of worth and purpose. And so that's what that's what the workplace is a tomorrow have to do. And that can be done in a hybrid environment, too. It doesn't have to be in the office.

Russel Lolacher
How is this filling your bucket, Jen? I mean, you've been doing this, like you said, your work really crystallized from Sandy Hook and your experience there. And then moving forward. How has this been a journey for you that you're doing this and you're calling to do this?

Jen Marr
Well, it's a great question. And I mean, one aspect of my story that hasn't been brought up was three months after I started going to Sandy Hook each week after that tragedy, I was a half mile from the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off. My family was there, it was chaotic. It took two hours and a half, you know three more miles to find my way back to hotel, thinking more bombs, were going off all of this. And it was pretty traumatic. And I found that it is in our connectedness, it is in caring for us it is in those people that I've formed really, really deep relationships with, and have just walked this journey with that. I have this network of people that I love dearly, and they love me back. And when I'm struggling, I tell them when they're struggling, they tell me. And as long as I keep my focus on it, my bucket is full. But it's all about the supportive care network, right? You've got professional care, there's counseling, for sure. That's that's one aspect of mental health care. There's also self care. That's also important, you need some self care. So sure, you know, I love to run and I love to, you know, have my morning quiet time for sure. But I'm telling you, it's the connectedness, it is my supportive network that keeps me going and fills my bucket every day, and fuels me more and more, because the more you get it, the more you want it. And that's how we're wired.

Russel Lolacher
I have to ask the final question, Jen, which is what's one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Jen Marr
Oh, my gosh, you know, think of three people on your team. So maybe it's three, but one action, consider what they're going through and send them a text. How can I best support you through this, and then follow up on it. I mean, it that's it, you don't have to fix it. You just want to acknowledge, validate, and let them know you're there support them. That's it simple things. You're not the therapist, that you are the leader that needs to show that you see them, you value them and you care.

Russel Lolacher
Thank you very much for your time. That's Jen Marr, she's the founder and CEO of inspiring comfort LLC, and please check out her new book Showing Up which helps readers show up for others when they are struggling, including at work. Thanks so much for your time, Jen.

Jen Marr
Thank you. Great, great show.