Rediscovering Your Identity

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Identity is a funny thing. We spend our time trying to distinguish it, both personally and professionally, and then spend our lives trying to build and protect it once we know what it is. Our experiences and surroundings transform it. We go through cycles of trying to fit in, to making sense of who we are. Other times we are trying to stand out and become indispensable. And when we find a place where our identity makes sense, we get comfortable with the easy flow of knowing who we are and where we fit. But what happens when that comfortable place is gone?

It’s been a while since I’ve written last, mainly because I’ve been going through a transition that has tested my feelings towards my identity. In 2012, I developed my personal brand without even realizing it. I started this blog, joined online discussions, participated in Twitter chats, guest blogged, networked and so on. I was sharing my knowledge about HR, talent acquisition and business. And with each conversation, research and experience, my knowledge continued to grow to the point where I was able to provide valuable insight and suggestions. From the people I networked with, to the company I worked for and the clients I supported, I was able to make an impact. I started to work harder, I tied my name and experiences with my professional work and I truly believed I was going to build my career with that one company for at least five years, if not more. I was set… until I wasn’t.

A move to Boston from South Carolina made it difficult to keep up with the cost-of-living increase. I struggled but I tried hard to make it work. After all, I had built a reputation internally and externally. People from all levels, interns to c-level, came to me for brainstorming, mentorship or suggestions. My personal brand had seemed to merge into my company brand.  I excelled because my company was able to give me the things I needed to move forward that I couldn’t get myself. So, naturally, I wanted to be loyal and give back. We were a unit—an equal balance of give and take.

When it came to the point when I had to regretfully move on, I dealt with the loss. I fell silent; on social media, with those I networked with and with blogging. I had become so ingrained in the company and what I was doing there, that I truly believed that without my employment, all the things I’ve done over the last 2+ years was suddenly lost. As if with the end of that employment came the end of my worth and my ability to be impactful and valuable. It had been the first time I had felt so loyal and deeply connected to a company, that I wasn’t sure how to accept that I was now an outsider. I was no longer able to voice suggestions, develop strategies, author something or get recognition for a job well done. I was floating along without a home, without a purpose.

As I stated in my last blog, sometimes you just need time to handle the changes in life. You can be sad, in shock, in disbelief or even happy. Whatever you feel, it’s important you face it head on as soon as possible so you can start to make a plan for your next step. Over the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I did. I dealt with the sense of feeling orphaned and questioned who I was as a professional. Would my opinions matter without the backing of an organization? Or would I just be a random person who’s “faking it until I make it” and in which everyone can see right through?

But then I remembered something.

I built my personal brand before this company found me. My blog, my conversations and my interactions on social media were mine. Even while employed there, my thoughts were still my thoughts. Some of the ideas we implemented came out of my head based on what I knew or researched and my ability to make sense of it. Sure, my work at the company did help me learn more and helped me develop my professional skills because of hands-on experiences. But my capability to absorb that and develop it into something useful was because of what I knew on my own.

My identity is still my identity as long as I’m still breathing and pursuing it. It didn’t come about as some Frankenstein experiment developed by a specific employer. No; it was a compilation of several experiences and the way I processed it. My identity won’t change unless I change it myself, no matter if I’m employed by one employer for the rest of my life, work for myself or become a freelancer. This identity comes with me.

And with that notion, I began to feel better about the change. Maybe I haven’t found my “home” yet, but I no longer feel like I’m a wanderer that doesn’t belong. This is all about growing up and the sooner I get used to it, the better I’ll be at bouncing back without missing a beat.

I know well enough that I’m not the only one who has experienced this situation when going through a transition, voluntary or not. Letting go, moving on and getting used to a new chapter in your life (personally and professionally) is not always easy. An important reminder is to know that no matter what happens; you don’t lose yourself or what you’ve accomplished when something comes to an end. In fact, it’s just another addition to help shape your transformational identity.

 

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Creating a Culture of Wellness

Human resources goes through great lengths to ensure they’re selecting the right benefits provider that will offer the greatest options for employees. Although this has been a common benefit to ensure positive employee health and resources if/when needed, HR is also realizing that healthcare benefits aren’t the only option to help improve employee wellness. Employee wellness is vital, not just for the employee but also for the well-being of an organization.

When the economy struggled, many employees lost their jobs and benefits. Workers who were able to keep their job may have absorbed other job functions to keep the business afloat, creating stress due to the need to produce the amount of 2+ people. With recent increases in healthcare benefit premiums, employers may have had to cut back on benefit offerings (such as using a lower quality provider or cutting dependents) or stopped offering it altogether. In more positive situations, employers who are growing have been able to not only offer fantastic benefits but also have incorporated additional wellness programs through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which provide additional support and resources for employees.

In my experience, I’ve seen HR actively keep employees informed. Sometimes benefits can be a bit too overwhelming to understand and other times, employees aren’t always aware of what they can use through EAPs. Aside from regular meetings, newsletters and so on, some companies’ HR departments have also incorporated initiatives to improve employee wellness. Some such things include weekly emails with tips on diet and exercise, on-site events for nutrition and fitness classes, and some companies also require employees to take a specific number of stretch breaks throughout the day. Lucrative companies have even splurged on cafeterias with healthy options (sometimes at no cost to employees), on-site fitness centers and unlimited PTO/vacation days.

Wellness programs are a good way to improve employee morale and lower stress levels, and is something more companies should consider. Although healthcare benefits are perfect for medical needs, wellness does not stop short of this and some wellness issues might not require a visit to the doctor. Additionally, some employees might not even be aware of situations impacting their wellness until it creeps up on them. This can include workplace stress, anxiety, sore muscles from sitting long hours or performing strenuous labor, eye strain from a computer, poor diet and so on. Over time, these things can add up and negatively affect the employee and organization. This can consist of unexpected absences and a general rise in absenteeism, reduction in performance and quality, turnover, low morale or even more long-term absences like LOA and FMLA. Although many HR departments are making an effort to boost wellness, it can’t only be up to them to be proactive about this. After all, they can’t be everywhere and they can’t keep a constant eye on every employee (despite what some might believe).

As part of a proactive wellness initiative, HR needs to get management involved to support the ongoing programs established. HR should train management regularly to be able to do the following:

  • Take stock of your employees: On many occasions, managers focus on the work that employees produce but may forget to pay attention to the employees as individuals. It’s important for managers to be aware of their employees, such as if they seem to be struggling, overwhelmed, distant/withdrawn or lack passion. These signs could be a tip of the iceberg that an employee is quietly dealing with. If you notice these things, be sure to reach out and see if there’s something you can do to mediate the situation.
  • Regularly check in: Along the lines of taking stock of your employees, it’s important to regularly check in with them even if you don’t notice any signs of struggle/lack of wellness. Checking in can be a practical approach to ensuring employees are prioritizing workloads correctly and managing their stress. Very similar to regular feedback sessions, this can be incorporated frequently and in a casual environment.
  • Create a culture of wellness and health: Time is money and some employees might work themselves into the ground to ensure job security or to help towards career progression. In other situations (and ones I’ve personally seen in the past), an office culture might be aggressive in the sense that employees seem to work an average of 10+ hours a day and respond to emails at all hours… and if you weren’t one of those employees, you may be shunned as the office slacker. Although businesses thrive on productive employees, there comes a point where working your employees too hard becomes counterproductive. Management should create a culture that offsets some of the pressures of rapid work demands, whether that means giving your employees breaks such as a longer lunch or an early dismissal, or just taking time to lighten up the atmosphere around the office.
  • Support employees who need it: As proactive as HR and management try to be to help wellness, sometimes it may not help an employee or maybe it’s too far past that point for them. An employee may not have spoken up sooner or asked for a mental break day because of guilt or the feeling of pressure from an overwhelming workload. Maybe some might feel like they don’t deserve a break because everyone works just as hard, so why are they the weak one? Whatever the reasons may be, if an employee finally reaches the point where they show signs or outright say they are having issues, management should take the stress of asking for help away. Being supportive, getting them in touch with HR about benefits, or encouraging them to take a day or two off to take care of things can help relieve any stress, guilt or anxiety they may have felt when asking for help.

Workplace wellness is more than just finding the right benefits provider; it’s about paying attention to the day-to-day of your employees. Underlying issues such as poor habits or workplace stress can be the cause of many issues and affect the health of an organization. Being proactive and finding ways to be supportive of your employees is essential to help promote a culture of wellness.

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