My Crazy Office

My Crazy Office is a weekly workplace podcast dedicated to helping listeners navigate their careers. Executive coach Kathi Elster and career therapist Katherine Crowley combine their expertise to solve both serious and silly situations at work. Join Kathi, Katherine and producer Logan Medrano as they answer real workplace questions with solid advice and a side of humor. Do you have someone or something at work that’s driving your crazy? Send your questions to info@mycrazyoffice.co. (All submissions kept confidential.)

Give Your Brain a Break

As we approach a holiday weekend and the rollout of summer, now is a good time to take concrete steps to give your brain a break. “A break from what?” You may ask. A break from being “on” and in hyper-alert mode for four months straight. 

I’m willing to bet that most of our brains could use a break. For weeks now, they’ve been scanning the news, scrolling through apps, ingesting forecasts, responding to texts, sifting through email, sitting on video conference calls, monitoring chat threads, reviewing to-do lists, and ruminating over what we haven’t been able to accomplish at work.

Giving your brain a break is like taking a mental vacation.  You want to let your brain rest and restore itself, rather than constantly pressuring it to react and respond to all of the information and tasks it’s been holding. Giving your brain a break is crucial because every mind needs time for reflection and regeneration. Your mind needs rest now so that it can help you do your best work and make your best decisions in the near future.

Here are a few simple (but not easy) things you can do to give your brain a break:

  • Take a vacation from the news – Much of the news we ingest is designed to get our attention – it’s sensational. Overtime, it inflames and agitates the brain’s nervous system. If you can, refrain from consuming news for an entire day or a weekend. If you can’t do that, try limiting your intake to once in the morning and once in the evening.
  • Take a break from social media – This means staying away from social media for a day or two. Some people take week-long breaks. Try taking a picture of your family and NOT posting it immediately. Or play a round of miniature golf, and don’t message anyone while you’re playing so that your brain can be present for the whole experience. 
  • Spend time in nature – Time spent in a natural setting walking, picnicking, hiking, swimming, biking or simply sitting and taking in fresh air is a balm for the brain. Listening to the sounds of nature – water rushing, birds chirping, leaves rustling – also helps the mind relax and refresh. 
  • Put your unsolved problems in a box – This technique is designed to help you let go of those problems that cannot be solved by ruminating on them. It’s an interesting exercise in letting go – if only for 24 hours. Write down an unsolved problem and put it in a physical box or container. Consider it an act of decluttering your brain. You will free up space for more creative ideas.
  • Immerse yourself in music or art – Playing music you love, taking in art or photography or film that you are passionate about can relax your mind and release emotions. It’s especially helpful to the emotional sections of the brain that benefit from soothing sounds and beautiful images. 
  • Do something that makes you laugh a lot – Is there a movie you find hysterical? A writer who cracks you up? A comedian who you find endlessly funny? Maybe there’s a friend whose humor brings you to tears (of laughter). Laughter is a great release and relaxant for the brain. Whatever tickles your funny bone, do it. 

During the last four months, our brains have been working overtime. We’ve used them to handle the pandemic, to respond to social, political and economic upheaval. We’ve used them to plan our days, take care of our loved ones, show up for work, and do the best that we can under strange and adverse conditions. I invite you to apply these ideas (or your own) to give your brain the rest it needs. It will thank you.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at info@mycrazyoffice.co for any further help around this topic.

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Negotiating During a Pandemic

What are you negotiating for at work? Is it a promotion? A raise? Working from home full time? A new position? Working less? Changing teams? Retirement?

Whatever aspect of your work life you are currently negotiating, the pandemic makes an already unpredictable task more stressful then usual. Negotiating is not everyone’s favorite thing to do. It can be a sweat-provoking activity that causes many people to freeze and take what they are offered. Many of us don’t negotiate often enough to feel competent at it. So here is a crash course on how to negotiate – even in a pandemic. 

1 –Prepare and Plan. 

Know what you want. Know what you want in a perfect world and what you can live with in a pandemic world. Be realistic. This may require doing research.

2 – Clarify and Justify

Be direct and clear in your ask. Practice (on friends) asking for what you want. Get comfortable saying it. More importantly, come up with solid reasons for your ask. Is your request justifiable because of your market value? Does your promotion or raise make sense based on your accomplishments? Be ready with documents (sales reports, list of accomplishments, industry standards) that clarify and justify your position. 

3 – Ask for more than you want

This can be challenging for those of you who are uncomfortable advocating for yourself. It’s important to ask for more than you want, as you will most likely not get what you initially ask for.

4 – Waiting and silence are important.

Do not speak or write again until you get a response to your initial ask. Quickly speaking or writing to fill in the blank space will show the other person that you are uncomfortable. This is when we inadvertently lower the bar for what we could get. Waiting is where the sweating comes in. If you come off too eager or desperate, you will not get what you want.  

5 – Look for a Win/Win solution.

Both sides will want to win, so it’s okay to compromise. By being accommodating, you will be seen as a collaborator. Your negotiating partner will see you in a better light and will be more likely to strike a deal. 

6 – Get closure in writing

Make sure to close the negotiation with some kind of written agreement. Whatever you are able to negotiate, get it in writing. Verbal agreements are nice but they don’t protect you from possible backsliding or misinterpretation over time.

DO NOT…

  • Avoid. Do not use the strategy of avoidance, hoping the situation will resolve itself.  Avoiding never works to your benefit.  It may take the pain of negotiating away, but the result will be less than what you could have received if you’d stepped up and stated what you wanted.
  • Play innocent. Put on your big adult pants and ask for what you want.  No one else will do it for you.

Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at info@mycrazyoffice.co for any further help around this topic.

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Are Your Priorities Changing at Work?

The past few months of weathering the pandemic, and living with social, political and economic upheaval, have also acted as a time for reflection and reconsideration of what really matters to us. Where ever you are in your career, you may be re-calibrating your priorities.  

As we enter the summer months and (hopefully) take some time to restore our bodies and minds, this could be a good time to reflect on what your priorities are, and how they may have shifted. After months of sheltering in place, weeks of home-schooling, and days of working remotely or not at all, what truly matters?  

Here are some areas to consider:

Work hours 

Before the pandemic, were you a constant worker bee? Did you look at work email before getting out of bed every morning? Did you refuse to take breaks or vacations? Were you the person who closed the office at night and worked every weekend?  

Perhaps you have come to realize that such a compulsive approach to work took a toll on your body and mind, and interfered with your family life. Maybe now it’s important to incorporate breaks during the day, exercise during the week, and plan non-work activities over the weekend. 

Eating habits

I know this may sound weird, but I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they’ve changed their relationship to eating and food. Pre-pandemic were you the king or queen of take-out? Did you purchase most of your meals via take out or dining out? Was your refrigerator a place to store cold water, leftovers, and batteries? 

Perhaps, like many of the people I’ve spoken with, you’ve learned to cook and prepare meals at home. You actually like the experience of making your own food. Maybe you’ve become skilled at shopping for fresh produce and healthier snacks.  Your new priority may entail continuing along this path, transforming mealtime to a more nourishing, creative experience.

Climbing the corporate ladder

Ambition and drive are a great thing. But a number of my clients have been reflecting on the cost of always trying to get ahead.  Before the pandemic and the protests pointing to institutional racism, it was easy to simply believe that what mattered in terms of professional development was getting that next promotion, or successfully navigating company politics.

Today, you may be reconsidering the value of complying with company politics at the cost of your values.  If equity, diversity and inclusion matter to you, it may be essential for you to participate in campaigns, meetings, education, company initiatives to address this issue. There may be other aspects of your company culture that you’re no longer willing to tolerate for the sake of advancement. 

Family life

While it was easy pre-pandemic to give lip service to family life, many hardworking professionals felt a constant tension between fulfilling the demands of their careers, and tending to their families. They expressed regret for missing so many important moments at home but rationalized that the extensive travel and long hours at the office were a necessary evil in order to fund their lives. Were you one of those people?

These days, I’ve heard a number of professionals admit that while being grounded at home has been stressful in terms of juggling work, family, and personal time, they have also become better acquainted and more appreciative of every member of the family. Perhaps the new priority will be retaining and sustaining some of that family closeness by reducing time away for work. 

These are just a few areas to think about. You may have other priorities that have come to your attention in terms of what matters to you now regarding your career, and the role work plays in your life.  Whatever they are, I invite you to reflect on what matters to you this summer. Better priorities could be one of the gifts of these trying times.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at info@mycrazyoffice.co for any further help around this topic.

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New Social Contracts for the Workplace

social contract is an unofficial agreement shared by everyone in a society in which they give up some freedom for security. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau popularized the idea of the social contract in the 1700s, but it’s just as applicable today. A good example is when we go to the airport and go through security. We may not like it, but we understand that it’s a freedom we give up for the benefit of safety in our society. 

Social contracts in the workplace have primarily been between employees and employers where employees receive a living wage in exchange for their labor. This exchange would help employees achieve a stable life while employers would be able to produce their goods and services. As the workplace and what constitutes work have changed so has that philosophy of a social contract. Now, because of technology and the restrictions in place with COVID-19, that former social contract is being further challenged. 

When reasoning through this new challenge here are five areas that need rethinking:

1 – Working virtually most of time. So many companies resisted having staff work from home for years, but guess what? We learned through the pandemic that it works! Staff have worked harder and have not missed a beat. This experiment of working from home because of the quarantine has proven that working virtually works and people like it.

2 – Flexible work hours. Another lesson the quarantine has taught us – if we do need to commute or take an elevator or fit into the same office space close to our coworkers, then we can not all do it at the same time. In addition, having also having our children homeschooled taught us that we must be flexible as people do have full lives.

3 – Equity and diversity. This is a topic that has been talked about for way too long. Its time has come, and each organization should take some time now to agree that they will hire and promote a diverse team instead of hiring and promoting the same people who look like themselves. It is going to take real effort and a level of self-awareness to do things differently. You may want to seek help.

4– Social distancing, the handshake, and buffet lunches. Adjusting to these social rules is going to be a hard one for me. I’m a hugger. I hug most of my clients. I’m sorry to say I will not be hugging anyone until we have a vaccine. Handshakes? No way! So what is your plan? Will you bow? Greet others by touch elbow to elbow?  Wave? And forget about sharing platters of food for a while.

 5 – Wearing a face mask. Many spaces including retail stores, supermarkets, hospitals, doctors offices, office buildings, elevators, etc. require you wear a facemask, and yet some people feel it does not apply to them. The department of health in most states is giving recommended guidelines for the workplace so how will your company handle this?

Understanding that Social Contracts are mutually understood arrangements for the greater good, we know that what constitutes greater good today is significantly different from what it was four months ago. How are you going to participate? How is your organization going to participate? Let us know how it’s going at your place of work.

Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at info@mycrazyoffice.co for any further help around this topic.

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The Importance of Being Present

With all of the upheaval and uncertainty we are facing, it can be more challenging than ever to be in the present moment. With the threat of another wave of COVID-19, with the death and losses already endured from the virus, with the pain and outrage over police brutality and the many forms of institutional racism that plague our communities, our emotions are running at a high pitch. Our minds either race forward to predict outcomes or look back to assign blame. 

No matter how angry or sad or anxious you are, coming into the present moment can help.

Being in the present moment gives us the chance to take a break from projecting forward with catastrophic images, from obsessing about what is coming. Being present creates the space to feel our feelings, breathe into our bodies, and slow down the racing mind. 

Being present is not a solution to the many challenges that lie ahead, but it is a tool for managing our feelings and projections more effectively, so that we can take constructive actions in the short term. 

If, for example, you find yourself constantly worried about the future of your industry or concerned about losing your job, being present can give you the headspace to examine the reality of your current situation – exactly what is happening – and generate a list of small actions that you can take to protect yourself right now.  

How do we bring ourselves into the present moment?

  • Breathe – Check your breath right now. Is it shallow or deep? Is it fast or slow? Are your chest and shoulders tight or loose? Can you feel your stomach going in and out? Breathing slowly, deeply, consciously for 5 – 10 breaths will do more than anything to take you out of your head and put you into your body. Regular deep breathing will take your mind out of obsessing about tomorrow and into dealing with today. 
  • Exercise— We’ve said it before and will say it again, exercise is a great way to move the emotional and mental energy in your body, to release tension and stress, and to ground you in the present moment. The more wound up you feel, the more you will need to exercise. Run, walk, do video workouts, try yoga, play a sport – if any of these options work for you, make sure to do them.
  • Take an inventory – This tried and true technique for getting out of your head and coming into the present moment involves answering five questions that examine your current reality and clarify your options: What’s happening here (what is the story that has you emotionally wound up)? What are the facts? What is beyond my control? What is in my control? What are my options?
  • Meditate – Meditation is not about rising above what’s happening, it’s about learning to sit with whatever feelings and thoughts you have so that they aren’t just surging through your body creating discomfort. You can try meditating on your own or enlist the help of an app like Headspace, Calm, or 10% Happier. Whatever form of meditation you attempt will help usher in the present moment.

As we venture back to work, as we contend with the many public health, economic and societal challenges ahead, it is worthwhile to make a concerted effort to stay in the present moment as often as possible. By grounding ourselves in the present moment, and making short term plans, we can turn sadness into compassion, anger into activism, and anxiety into constructive planning.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at info@mycrazyoffice.co for any further help around this topic.

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