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#1. Acknowledge Mistakes Made & If Necessary, Apologize

Leaders must ask themselves this critical question:

Have our actions lost or gained the trust of our employees these past few years?

If the leaders have lost some trust, they have to acknowledge it.  

The gaslighting of telling staff that we are "back to normal" when specific past issues have not been resolved will leave a wound to fester, which creates toxicity that can spread.

Recommended Strategy: Vent, Validate, & Vow

A. Vent & Validate with the Influencers/Organizers 

  • Identify the leading 5 - 7 people with significant issues who are vocal about it and influence others' opinions. 

  • Meet with them face to face over lunch (even consider going to them if they won't come to the office).

  • Allow them to vent and validate where you can.

  • Have a KIND Meeting where you are fully transparent about what can and can't be done.

    • The five-day workweek is here to stay. (We could do four days/week at 10 Hours per day.)

    • The pay raise is going to be minimal, but we can find alternative ways to compensate you, and we are open to suggestions.

    •  We need you back in the office, but we can find a solution that works for our clients and for you personally.

  • Take immediate action on what can be done right now. Don't gaslight your staff with words without action, as they have seen that countless times before. Show that you are willing to uphold the core values that your organization represents and take action where you can to take care of your employees in a real, not performative way.

  • Expect that some will quit, some will commit more, and the people in the middle will decide or be challenged to decide which way they want to go.


B. Vent & Validate Meetings with Larger Groups or Office Hours

  • Because they never got to vent to you, and maybe others, some will still want that chance.

  • You could even allocate certain times for the next month when people can come directly to your office (open-door policy) to share their concerns.

  • Be sure to emphasize that they will not be reprimanded or punished for voicing their opinions.


C. Vow What You Are Willing To Change Or Work On

  • At the beginning of Ted Lasso's coaching tenure, he used the venting and validation strategy with his players, and they complained about everything. One thing they identified was that the shower water pressure was rubbish. So, he fixed that one thing, and they began to listen.

  • What's your water pressure issue that can be fixed?

    • What's an issue that is easy enough to fix but would make a world of difference to so many?

#2. Gratitude & Languages of Appreciation


Staff want to feel seen, appreciated, & heard.  So how do we go about doing this?


Feeling Seen


Recognize what incredible work they have been doing, especially over the past few years.  These need to be celebrated.  

Also, ask your staff the following questions to help them explore their why:

  • What is the work that you are most proud of that you have done in the past few years?

  • How many lives have you impacted with your work during these past few years? (Understanding the scale of their impact)

  • What is your most impactful, memorable moment in the last year?

This will help remind them what they enjoy about this job and why they have chosen to stay.  

This can be done through a facilitated exercise, or you can have these conversations with groups of people or one on one, perhaps even over a meal.


I recommend you also do this for yourself to remind you of your why. 


  • Why are you still there?

  • What motivates you to keep coming back? 

Your why will drive other people to explore theirs, which results in creating a more psychologically safe workplace that people want to be a part of and want to be around the office to experience this.


Feeling Appreciated


After recognizing what work they have done, then express your appreciation through their language of appreciation.  


Figure out your staff's language of appreciation and give to them in that way.  Also, identify your language of appreciation and communicate that to your staff reporting to you and your supervisor.  This will help you feel more seen and recognized.


#3. Address The Work Culture That Currently Exists


Feeling Heard


After you have expressed a certain level of gratitude and appreciation for your staff, slightly more trust has now been built.  Now, it is time to ask them what challenges they are experiencing, specifically around culture.


Culture is Defined by the Worst Behavior Tolerated - John Amaechi

If that is the case, then ask these two questions: 


  • What is the worst behavior tolerated, and how do we address that head-on?

  • What is the best behavior not being recognized, and how do we celebrate that?

    • Let's spend more time catching people doing good rather than what we have been doing, which hasn't been effective or inspiring.

#4. Identify What Are The Most Important Conversations That Need To Be Had


We avoid many conversations that would address many of the issues we face.  Studies found that the teams with more difficult conversations are more productive, more trusting of one another, more willing to hold each other accountable respectfully, and less prone to turnover.  If your staff is terrible at communicating, the only answer is to start practicing communicating, even if it is awkward initially.  


If you can cultivate a culture within your team where they aren't scared to have hard conversations, you will build a robust, psychologically safe space that can impact other departments.


In your case, the critical conversation that needs to be had, both by you to the leadership and your staff, is that you don't want to be the one running these events any longer.  You did it for quite some time, and they need to stop looking for you to do it.  So, it is time to find a couple of other people, including HR, to help assist with this because it shouldn't be your responsibility to do this.  Have that hard conversation and find someone to whom these responsibilities can be delegated.  


Then, you can appear at the first few gatherings to show support and then let them take the reins from there.  


#5. Finally...Time To Play...On Their Terms


So, I'm not fond of forced fun.  Play is only enjoyable and effective if it is voluntary and not contrived. 

So, I recommend you help your staff figure out their Zone of Genius.


It is the work where they forget about time.  It is their flow work.  It is the work they would do even if they weren't getting paid to do it.  If you can help them do 10% more of their Zone of Genius work, studies have shown that they are 500% more productive.  Because they now feel seen, heard, and appreciated and get a chance to do cool work that can help your organization thrive.


If all these steps are taken, some of which can be done in parallel, people's perspective on coming to the office will change because they feel more respected and seen as whole human beings.  


Work sucks because the leaders and staff have chosen for it to suck.  It is a great deal of work to turn a place that isn't enjoyable to work at into a place people respect. 


You need to check your ego. 

You need to admit your mistakes.

You need to choose to be the better person. 


If you can do all of this, then you can begin to make inroads to ensure your staff begins to enjoy work.

If you need additional help, I'm also happy to facilitate some of these conversations, as that is the work I do regularly for companies. 

Too many leaders have resolved that work sucks, and there is nothing we can do to change it.

My Response:

“To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.” – Jean Luc Picard

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