We are never, ever, getting back to normal (Taylor’s version).
In honor of the re-release of Red, it only makes sense to paraphrase the iconic Taylor Swift.
In the Fall of 2019 our leadership at Happy Medium did our annual SWOT analysis session. During the threats portion, not one person mentioned a global pandemic, which meant we were not prepared when it hit just a few weeks later. I was just back from maternity leave and very much in the thick of figuring out how to be a mother to two, run a company, and add in time to pump 4 times a day while at the office with a very chaotic schedule.
I’ve never been a fan of the saying “work-life balance” and at speaking engagements, for years I’ve talked about how I believe this puts too much pressure to find some magical “balance” which in my opinion is a fairly subjective word. Our team pre-pandemic was allowed to work from home occasionally during the week and we had unlimited PTO as a work perk. We’ve had 100% parental leave (including mothers, fathers, and adoption) for years. I have always communicated to team members if you need to be off to go to a doctor’s appointment, a child’s activity, etc… please do it.
The most surprising output of the pandemic however to me has been how much the workforce mentality has changed. People are no longer willing to base their entire lives around their jobs. They have had a taste of what it’s like to be working from home, and how truly life-changing it can be to also be able to throw in a load of laundry and start dinner. It seems so simple and obvious, but the culture and working mentality in our country prior to the pandemic made this feel scandalous and odd rather than the true wonderful balance that can be. Now, on the day I knew I planned to write this and announce a few things to my team, the NY Times article directly to my inbox was serendipitous.
“The bottom line is that Covid now presents the sort of risk to most vaccinated people that we unthinkingly accept in other parts of life. And there is not going to be a day when we wake up to headlines proclaiming that Covid is defeated. In many ways, the future of the virus has arrived.”David Leonhardt
I’m not sure if it’s been the return of quite a few in-person events lately, or the additional rounds of COVID-19 vaccine boosters we’ve all now easily had access to, but I’ve finally started to feel like we’re on the other side of this. We made it, we persevered. I knew at the beginning of the pandemic we had two options, barely get through this and feel the pain of this pandemic everyday within our organization, or work to find the silver linings and know that if we’re here and forced to be in this situation, we’re going to learn together and we’re going to make the best of it we can. I am SO DAMN PROUD to say we are the latter. We did it, we fucking DID IT. It was hard every single day for a very long time. A friend of mine who also runs a business said she felt everyday was like you showed up to work and you were forced to play whack-a-mole day in and day out. Exhausting.
So many things have changed since March 2020. As we near 2022 I can confirm we are not working to “get back to normal” as I’ve heard so many other CEO’s mention. I do not have that goal. I want to use these past two years to define how we’ll be different and better in the future. Rather than looking for balance, we’re pushing even harder to humanize the experience of working at Happy Medium. That goes for all of us, and starts with me. I’ve learned so much in this experience about what kind of leader I want to be and the type of team members that are the best fit for this company and the work we do. I’ve learned more than ever that it’s ok that not everyone is a fit, and not everyone likes me. I previously got so in my head about these things and I’d spend a lot of my time trying to make people who were probably never going to be truly happy here, have a better experience. It wasn’t in the way that I want to truly impact though. So with COVID-19, all of us have learned somewhat the art of giving less of a priority to the things that matter less, and more of a priority to the things that matter more. The same goes for me in all aspects of my life. I feel so incredibly freed from so many pressures I previously felt and I want the same for the humans that show up everyday to do incredible things along my side at Happy Medium.
Going forward here are a few things that will be standard in our company:
- Mental Health Hour – I think it’s been interesting to watch the world try to get back to doing the things we did pre-COVID. In my observations what is stressing people out the most is the demands on our time. The previous way we were living as a nation was unreasonable and we didn’t fully realize it. Now, with the space away from those expectations, we are able to see that previous demands on our time were unsustainable. One of the biggest things I can now provide to our team is time. It’s truly invaluable for most, so we started the Mental Health Hour. Normally, while the standard for everyone is working 40 hours, we’re giving one hour back each week to team members to do whatever they want for their mental health. Run the errands you just can’t seem to find time to, go to a yoga class before you need to be home to your kids, or stare at Netflix if it makes you happy. The positive feedback I’ve got back from team members on this perk has been wonderful and a realization that even one hour back per week – 52 hours of your year – can make a big impact in happiness.
- If you’re burned out, say it. This is probably the biggest one I’ve grown in. I used to let myself be so completely pulled in a million directions from the team and I should have been so much braver to say “hey, I’m burned out for the day and I need to hold this conversation / decision / brainstorm for tomorrow.” Instead, I’d show up, feeling the pressure of being everything to everyone. Likely I’d be frustrating for team members at times because I couldn’t be fully present. We are all humans and have to treat not only each other, but ourselves, as such.
- We will only work with kindness as part of the foundation of our partnerships. The amount of pressure that comes with being personally responsible for 20 people’s paychecks is not small. Sometimes that pressure can/would make it feel like we had no choice of who to work. We continued to work with clients who weren’t sometimes professional, or kind. They had unreasonable expectations. While I understand being in the service industry means some of this occasionally comes with the gig, there is a significant difference between this happening sometimes, or daily and toxic. The daily and toxic is something we will no longer work with. Like with anything, we’re comfortable knowing we aren’t a great fit for everyone and have very much moved towards a world of no. I will no longer let us work in environments where there isn’t a base level of respect and mutual appreciation. The amount of mental peace this brings is worth far more than any amount of money.
- We will continue to find ways to evolve our benefits to be supportive of our employee’s needs. I’ve also taken a deep dive into our company health insurance. I do not want any of our team members to not have the access to any healthcare needs they may have. I was frustrated to find out that, because of the size of our company, we can not get access to the same additional benefits larger companies do. I pushed our benefits provider to help me find solutions and they told me about the option to have an HRA (a Health Reimbursement Arrangement). It’s a way employees can get reimbursed for things our health insurance doesn’t cover through a fund I started. They submit to a third-party administrator the refund they need and it’s taken care of. We are in control of what is reimbursed for and I anticipate this will continue to grow as we find needs. As of January 1st, 2022, our team will have coverage for fertility treatments, abortions, and any mental health treatments including the company paying any co-pays.
All this is to say how we’ll be moving forward while recognizing how truly fortunate we are to still be in business. I know so many businesses were not as fortunate for reasons that were out of their control. For me, I’ll continue to reflect on this time as an era we were forced to simultaneously take a deep breath and work harder than we ever have before. These past two years changed me personally and professionally so much and I am so very grateful and proud to be where I am today. If one of my biggest lessons these past two years was to better take care of ourselves and to put up boundaries with the madness that was, I can’t think of a better way to show my appreciation to our team for getting through it along my side than by shutting down the office for the week of November 22nd, 2021. For the first time in the company history, we’re taking a collective break, and we’ll come back stronger and better for 2022. We are humans first and will be prioritized as such.