Hi. How are you? And how would you answer that if you and I were hanging out by a water cooler (remember water coolers?)?
While idle hallway chit chat is something many of us are missing right now, there are virtual ways to replicate it.
I’ve been doing this. Just checking in and chatting with clients, friends, and colleagues. And some of what I’m hearing around the virtual water cooler has me concerned.
Two predominant themes emerging (across industry and across the US) right now include versions of:
- I’m overwhelmed and burned out. But I can’t say anything because…layoffs. So, I’ll power through.
- Amidst this crisis of racial injustice, my company is doing “token” things (i.e., making donations, disseminating corporate messages of equality) while also praising the Inclusivity of our culture. But in reality, our culture isn’t inclusive at all.
I’m curious. Does either sentiment above resonate with you personally? If so, take comfort in not being alone.
This tells me it’s high time for a pulse check. And I don’t want to talk about statistical validity or industry comparators. Those wonky elements matter when you’re using a survey to formally assess; to measure data-based trendlines.
But what I’m advocating for is a pulse in service of connection – to start a critical conversation with your teams.
Employees are struggling and suffering. And leaders in many cases want to talk about it – but are afraid of stepping on a landmine. Because emotions and stakes remain hot and high.
So the question is – how do you structure a safe conversation in which employees can speak, leaders can listen without fear, and organizations can respond meaningfully and with resonance?
The answer is – simply, quickly, and with confidence. Do not let statistical validity be your excuse for inaction. Reach out to your employees and reach out now.
Check the pulse.
In the most incredibly biased way imaginable, I’m a big believer in inviting an experienced third-party in to support you, to offer a safe and objective space for your teams, and to help you extract themes and identify actions. This is our expertise – it’s how we run our Pulse Checks. If we can help, please reach out. But if you want to run with it, here’s a quick roadmap for you.
Step One: Communicate → Let your team or organization (or a sampling) know that in light of all that’s happening around us and sitting on our shoulders, you’d like to check in. They should expect to see a brief pulse check from you – and they should use it to express themselves freely. The purpose of the pulse check isnotto define an action plan, but to give you a sense of direction around where action is needed. Action planning will come later.
Step Two: Plan → Compose a brief set of questions – no more than 5 – 7. A blend of quantitative (response scale of 1 – 5) and qualitative (open text) is welcome. Your goal is to get a sense of how people are faring, where they need your attention, and what risks you may be facing that you can’t see. Some sample questions you might consider are:
- (Scale of 1 – 5) how manageable is your workload right now?
- (Scale of 1 – 5) do you feel supported in asking for help if it’s too much?
- What could your leader be doing to better support you right now?
- What tools, resources, or outlets feel missing to you?
- (Scale of 1 – 5) how Inclusive would you say our organization is (as you define Inclusion)?
- (Scale of 1 – 5) do you feel safe in speaking up?
- How do you define Inclusion?
- What are we doing well from an Inclusion standpoint?
- How would you describe our culture to a friend?
- What is one thing you wish your leader knew or could see?
- What is our biggest opportunity for change?
Step Three: Pulse → Establish a plan (are you sending to a whole team? Organization? Will you limit to a sampling for now?), choose a platform ( you might use an internal tool, a SurveyMonkey-like option, or even a simple email response – to an objective recipient if the sample size is small) and distribute your pulse check.
Step Four: Analyze → Read, digest, absorb, look for themes. You don’t need to own every quote. You’re looking for themes that seem pervasive. Focus on what lies within your locus of control (i.e., too much work, failure to prioritize, need for employee affinity groups) over what may not (calls for police re-education).
Step Five: Communicate again → Tell your teams what you’ve heard from them. Be bold. Be candid. Take ownership where it’s warranted and pay homage to what you can’t own – but where you hear their pain. Acknowledge this will be a journey.
You’ve heard and absorbed a lot. You can’t flip a switch overnight. But you are committed to taking action over time, and you invite the advice and collaboration of your teams in the process.
Step Six: Action Plan → Now it’s time for action. Choose 2 – 3 themes that offer near-term opportunity. Those where impact feels both essential and accessible. Don’t bite off what you can’t chew. We believe in quick wins. Let your team own this plan. It drives empowerment, skin-in-the-game, and ultimately action that resonates.
This outline is rough, but my call-to-action is clear.
Please be in touch with your teams. And if you’re struggling personally and just need a friendly ear, here’s my direct email. Let’s talk. I’ll bring the virtual water cooler.