an employee creating a work life balance during the holidays

Creating Work-Life Balance During the Holidays

By Kimberly Kafafian


The most wonderful time of the year is also the craziest. Crazy busy. Crazy crowded. Crazy expensive. Each and every December, I contemplate how hard it is to juggle end of year obligations with still performing our regular daily tasks. And as anyone that works in HR knows, the end of 4th Quarter is our busiest month of the year. (Quick! Let’s implement that performance management program we talked about 11 months ago!) Then add in the shopping, the wrapping, the baking, the travel, the driving of kids to and fro, and the parties. Between work, home, family, and community obligations, the to-do list grows, the calendar quickly fills up, but the number of hours in the day never changes. Every year, I wonder not only how will I get everything done, but will I get a chance to actually enjoy the magic of the season? As the mother of a ‘tween and teen, I want to be physically present and enjoy these fleeting moments in time with them. I have committed myself to creating work life balance in general (it’s a work in progress) and I make even larger efforts during this time of year.

As the holidays creep up, the anxiety builds. I totally get it. It’s hard to balance the time we must spend completing work projects with the time we want to spend with family and friends. But there are some things we can do to help prevent holiday overload. 

How to Handle Hectic Holiday Schedules


Make a must-do list

I always start by taking stock of all the activities I MUST do and events I MUST take part in during the holiday season. Make a list of both your absolute work responsibilities and personal to do’s. Once you have these items identified, you can work all the “like to do” items around them.

Prioritize your activities

During the holidays there’s so much to do. If you want to achieve a healthy work life balance during this time of the year, you need to prioritize. Of course, there will be plenty of “must dos” on your list (work projects due, holiday shopping, family gatherings), but some are more important than others, and usually there are varying deadlines. Sit down and really think about what you need to do first and what you can schedule to do later on. This will help you better navigate the crazy weeks ahead. Place everything on your calendar and re-arrange accordingly when something new pops up. Having it all in black and white – and maybe even color coded – will help you feel focused and less anxious.

Work from home or set a flex schedule

If you can still work from home, do it. You can grab some extra time in your day by cutting out your daily commute. Working remotely may even make you feel a bit more festive. Put a small tree or some twinkling lights in your office, work in your holiday PJs, make a quick batch of cookies during your lunch. Do something to help maintain your seasonal sanity.

Put in more hours before the holidays approach

If you know crunch time is coming, try to work some longer hours right before the holidays to complete those must-do projects. If you can do this, be sure to make your manager aware so they’re not caught off guard if they see you leaving early or asking for a day off.

Set boundaries

If you’ve been working from home during the pandemic, you’re probably thinking to yourself that setting boundaries has been difficult. The lines between work and home life have definitely blurred in a remote work world. But it’s more important than ever to keep the work and personal life separate during this time of year. At work, focus on what you need to accomplish there. Don’t address your personal holiday to do list during work hours. And try not to bring your work “home.” Do your work tasks during work hours and don’t check email after hours. Make your holiday out of office message personal, such as saying that you’re spending time with your kids, or that the holiday is for some rest and relaxation. Setting these boundaries will help you from becoming too frazzled.

Make a plan and stick to it

Now that you’ve identified the must-dos, prioritize your activities, created a strategy for finding extra time, and drew an imaginary line between work and home, you need to sit down and formalize all of this into a plan. I’m not saying that this plan is set in stone. Things will come up and plans will need to be revised. But you need to keep track of your time and your tasks. This will help you stay focused, and may even identify ways for you to find some extra time in your day. The important thing is to have a plan for moving forward.

Just say no

If saying yes will send you in a downward spiral, remember that you can always say no. No to another party. No to that neighborhood cookie exchange. No to more responsibilities, such as a new project that doesn’t really need to be worked on until the new year. This doesn’t make you a bad person. Saying no is a form of self-preservation and self-care. Full disclosure, saying no is really hard for me to do but I’ve been told that the more we practice saying no, the easier it becomes. This, too, is a work in progress. 

Hopefully these tips will help you achieve a much better work life balance during the holiday season : )

An employee experiencing burnout in the workplace

How to Address Burnout in the Workplace

By Kimberly Kafafian


End of year burn out. It’s real. And chances are your teams are experiencing it, especially after 18+ months of whirlwind pandemic living. Even though I take specific actions in a conscious effort to prevent my employees from becoming overwhelmed, the continuous daily grind over months on end naturally starts to take a toll. I feel it myself. Throw in the COVID-19 childcare challenges, disruptions in where we work and how we work, the fear of getting sick, and the extra responsibilities thrust upon us, and burnout this year is more intense than ever.

The annual Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Co. and backs this up. The survey, which polled more than 65,000 North American employees, found an uptick in burnout. 42% of women and 35% of men reported feeling burned out often or almost always in 2021, compared to 32% of women and 28% of men in 2020. This is underscored by Gallop’s State of the Global Workplace 2021 report. It found that 57% of those surveyed expressed they experienced stress “a lot of” the previous day, which was an increase of eight percentage points from the year before. 

As an HR professional, I have an up-close look at burnout in the workplace. With “burnout” being a buzzword for 2021, addressing it is taking center stage in all types of human resource aspects. And I’m there in the trenches working alongside management to minimize employee burnout and boost retention – which is key in combating the Great Resignation.  Flexible work schedules allow employees the flexibility they need to keep those glass balls up in the air. The result? Less stress. Rewarding and recognizing employees keeps them motivated during a time when they might be doing the work of two or more vacancies. Result? More job satisfaction. Addressing toxic workplace behavior in real time – i.e. see something, say something – creates less workplace friction. All of this helps to minimize burnout. 

Not sure if your team is burned out? Here are some typical telltale signs.

  • Physically exhausted
  • Mentally depleted
  • Mentally distant from the tasks at hand
  • Negative feelings about their job
  • Decreased productivity
  • Decreased quality of work
  • Irritable and/or impatient with co-workers or customers
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent sick days

Chronic stress at work can cause any of these symptoms. Some key catalysts include an unmanageable workload, lack of manager support, unclear communication, and time pressures. In order to maintain a healthy workplace culture, we urge our clients’ management teams to take notice of any employees who are experiencing these symptoms and examine the possible role the company is playing in contributing to them.

What can you do to help teams overcome and prevent burnout?

To build resilient teams, managers need to invest in their wellbeing. Here’s some advice we give to our clients to ward off workplace burnout:

Build wellbeing into your culture

Let workers know that their physical and mental health is a company priority. Support a healthy work-life balance by not demanding unreasonable hours, allowing for a flexible work environment, and respecting personal time. Invest in resources that support this culture. Enhance your mental health benefits, offer mental health days off, and arrange for workshops that focus on mental health topics. 

Educate management about burnout

Leadership needs to ensure that managers understand what burnout is and can identify its symptoms. It should encourage management to cultivate relationships with employees so they can see how they are really doing, assess mental wellbeing on a daily basis, identify how company policies are impacting it, and pivot as needed to address the overwhelm while attaining goals. This may mean adjusting workload and time pressures, reassigning tasks, making sure communication is as clear as possible, and providing some recovery downtime. 

Draw a line between work and personal

Our new remote and hybrid work lives have really blurred the lines between work and personal, diminishing the time we desperately need to unwind. Help teams create this separation by emphasizing that a break from work is a true break so that there is a recovery time. Don’t send emails at night, on the weekend, or during vacation. If you do, make sure to state that if they are receiving the email outside of work hours that it is not urgent and can be addressed when they return to work. 

Make employees aware of their purpose

When the stress builds up, people sometimes begin to feel a disconnect, wondering if what they do really even matters in the grand scheme of things. Managers need to make a concerted effort to show their teams that their contributions make a difference. Tie in workers’ daily tasks with the company’s mission so that the connection is easily understood. 

Burnout results in decreased productivity and high employee turnover. While addressing employee burnout should always be a priority, in today’s hiring and retention crisis, companies can’t afford to lose their most productive and talented workers. If you haven’t been taking steps to minimize burnout, be sure to make it a priority in the new year.



holiday thank you gifts for employees

Thanking Employees During this Time

By Kimberly Kafafian


This past year has definitely been a trying one on both the work and home fronts, which for many of us has been one and the same. There’s been so much disruption, particularly related to where we work, how we work, whom we work with, and the volume of work. It’s safe to say that we’ve all been navigating uncharted waters and stretching ourselves to the max, both physically and mentally.  I keep seeing a sign hung in various businesses that reads: “The whole world is short staffed. Be kind to those who showed up.” With that said, I think it’s essential that thanking employees – those who have continued to show up and are the backbones of our businesses – for their loyalty, commitment, and hard work is more important this year than it’s been in the past.  I also know that while many businesses want to express their gratitude, they’re still struggling to recover from the pandemic’s effects and may wonder how they can afford to show their appreciation. As I frequently advise my clients, there are a variety of options and price points when it comes to expressing gratitude.

6 Ways to Show Your Employees You Care

this Holiday Season

Reward and recognition have always been central to employee engagement and retention. After the toll of the last 12 months, employees are worn out, and according to a recent survey, only half of them are happy with how their employers supported them during the pandemic. Now more than ever, businesses need to provide their employees with positive reinforcement that recognizes their support and diligence. The ideas below are all great ways to demonstrate you care and express your thankfulness for all they do to make your business better. 

  1. Thoughtful Handwritten Notes. While a simple thank you note may seem like a small gesture, it can really make a significant impact. According to the Snappy annual Employer Gifting Survey, when presented with benefits like a bonus or a raise, 52% of those employees polled said what they were most looking for was appreciation or recognition. A thoughtful note is one of the best ways to make your workers feel valued. It’s a small but significant way to let them know how much they matter to the organization as a whole.
  2. Gifts that Show You’re Paying Attention. It’s so much more meaningful when a gift truly relates to its recipient. Think of gifts that tie into what you and your team have experienced during this time. If you’re just heading back to the office after a long period of working from home, the team may not be ready for the sounds of a large space and noise canceling headphones could be a great gift idea. To recognize these stressful times, consider giving small care packages or even a cozy blanket. 
  3. Gift Cards. Do you know from where your employees like to order lunch? Have they mentioned their favorite restaurant? Do they always need their morning coffee or afternoon pick me up? Give gift cards to local restaurants, cafes and coffee shops – they’ll make your employees happy, and you’ll be supporting local businesses at the same time. 
  4. Extra Time Off. You don’t have to go with a physical gift. You can give thanks with the gift of time. It is the perfect way to show your employees that you recognize the importance of a work life balance. Give them one day of their choosing, a specified day or even the dark week between Christmas and New Year. This gift might not seem splashy, but it is one that is definitely appreciated.
  5. A Special Meal. Send a dinner to your employees at home to show them you recognize they may be tired after a long day of work. You can send a fully prepared meal that they just need to heat and serve or a fun meal kit subscription they can make with their family – even if it’s just for one meal. 
  6. Experiences. Say thank you with a carefully thought-out event. Maybe it’s a lunch or dinner outside of the office, a fun class, an in-office spa day, or attending a sporting event as a group. Think of an experience that everyone would enjoy together.

There are many ways to thank employees during this time beyond the usual bonus (although workers tend to really like cash too!). What types of holiday gifts have you given to your employees to show how thankful you are for their loyalty and hard work? I’d love to know!

upset woman with head on desk at work

The Pandemic, Gender Equality and the Great Resignation

By Kimberly Kafafian


Have you ever heard of a default parent? That’s me. I am a Mom, with a Capital M. I am the go-to. The permanent stopgap. I am Plan A and Plan B. When the pandemic hit, “it” all fell to me. In all actuality, I wouldn’t have it any other way and I know I wasn’t alone. Whenever I read that gender equality in the workplace has taken a large step backward over the last 18 months, I completely get it. Because ironically, much of it has to do with the fact that many working women are, well, mothers. Moms, like me. I’m not saying that only the careers of mothers have been affected. Far from it. Women have been disproportionately impacted across the board by the pandemic for a multitude of reasons. For one, millions of women, who are overrepresented in in-person front line jobs, lost their livelihoods overnight when shutdowns took hold. 

But being a mother has definitely impacted career paths. Working mothers like myself, who were lucky enough to retain their positions, were faced with childcare issues overnight as schools, daycare centers and afterschool programs closed. While childcare issues have impacted working fathers as well, evidence has shown that working mothers have taken on more of the childcare responsibilities during this time, unrealistically juggling work and parenting responsibilities, reducing hours or leaving their jobs to do so.

Recent research is underscoring what women everywhere already know: the pandemic has negatively impacted their careers. 

A survey by MetLife found that 48% of the women they polled align with this thought, with one in five women saying they have been pushed out of the workforce altogether.  One study by Deloitte delved even deeper into the toll the pandemic has placed on working women. It revealed that 77% of respondents had an increase in their workload and 59% reported carrying out more domestic tasks. 66% said they have the greatest responsibility for household tasks, and more than half of those with children asserted that they handle the majority of child care. This increase in responsibilities is definitely affecting mental health with only a third of women saying their mental wellbeing was “good” or “extremely good” during the pandemic, which was at 68% pre-pandemic.

Interestingly, a study by McKinsey and Lean In on the pandemic’s toll on the careers of women with white-collar roles found that while women still made strides over the last year, they are experiencing much higher rates of burnout than their male counterparts. As a result, they are questioning if they even want to remain with their current companies and on their planned career paths. They feel their work is going unrecognized and unrewarded – and that is something employers need to be concerned about.

With organizations of all sizes, across all sectors, now facing the Great Resignation, it would behoove leaders to take particular note of what women are saying – especially since 56% of the women in the MetLife survey said they have thought about a career change and 57% of those in the Deloitte poll said they plan to leave their current job within two years.

So, what should an employer do to keep its valuable women talent and attract new workers? 

The Deloitte and MetLife surveys give some good insight on how organizations can make their companies more attractive to women right now:

  1. Step Up Support. Only 35% of the Deloitte respondents felt their employer supported them when it came to work/life balance and only 39% felt their company’s commitment to women since the start of the pandemic has been sufficient. The women in the MetLife survey indicated that they want employers (present and future) to provide not only economic incentives, but tailored benefits, upskilling opportunities, and diversity/equity/inclusion programs. As a leader, ask employees how they are doing and what you can do to assist them at this time. Make sure to define clear boundaries between work and personal time. Take a real interest in the wellbeing of your team.
  2. Be Flexible. Women have been juggling, A LOT. They are looking for increased flexibility (78% are according to the MetLife survey). Offer flex schedules or hybrid work arrangements. Reassess your paid time off, as well as paid and unpaid leave policies. Be as generous with time as realistically possible. 
  3. Offer Career Progression Opportunities. A whopping 73% of the women in the MetLife survey are looking for career development support from their current or future employer. Take a vested interest in your workers’ careers. Have authentic conversations with team members to identify and understand their career aspirations and help them devise a plan to achieve them. Offer trainings and educational opportunities, as well as create a mentorship culture. 

As a result of the pandemic, women are evaluating their career paths in a new light. They want to work for organizations where they feel supported and appreciated. To retain and attract women workers, companies need to understand the impacts COVID-19 has had on working women and take actions to address their shifting expectations and demands.

employee career development discussion

Career Development Discussions with Employees

Smart Strategy Against the Great Resignation

By Kimberly Kafafian


Anyone that’s recently dined out and/or stood on line at a retail store and/or tried to get a customer service representative on the phone and/or needed to get their car serviced can attest to our rapidly thinning workforce. A quick Google search will tell you a record 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August. Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist at Texas A&M University, coined this ongoing phenomenon as “The Great Resignation.” He thinks that the pandemic has made workers reevaluate what they are actually getting out of their jobs. So what is a company to do? For starters, I suggest asking employees what they want to get out of their jobs, while you still have them as an employee. Proactively taking a role in the career development of employees, just might be a company’s best – and least costly – strategy for keeping its workforce in place. According to a recent survey by Lattice, more than 50% of the 2,000 employees at mid-to-large companies in the U.S. polled said they are looking to change jobs. Why? The reasons appear to be strongly connected to the lack of career development opportunities.

Professional development and employee retention

A staggering 76% of respondents said they would be somewhat or very likely to leave a company because they were dissatisfied with career progression opportunities. And with 43% reporting that their career progression with their current company has completely stalled or significantly slowed down, along with 47% saying they are actively looking for a new job that provides the growth opportunities they need for the next step in their careers, employee feelings about professional development can’t be ignored.

Career development conversations appear to be even more relevant when it comes to younger employees. The Lattice survey found that 37% of Gen Z and 25% of millennials are currently looking for a job that offers career progression transparency. In other words, they want to know exactly what the company offers in terms of opportunities for growth.

Looking at these numbers, effective communication with employees around job paths and skill development is clearly a strong offensive strategy in addressing today’s hiring and retention crisis. But what exactly does “effective communication” mean in regard to career development?

Here are some of the conversational strategies I recommend to managers:

1. Customize the discussion.

Every conversation about career development should be uniquely tailored for the employee you are speaking with. When it comes to forging a career path, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. These discussions are supposed to help you gain greater insight into who your employee is and how you can support them. Ask them questions that will uncover ambitions and provide you with the right information, such as:

  • What projects are you most proud of?
  • What job activities motivate you?
  • What do you think your talents and skills are?
  • What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
  • What projects would you like to be part of?
  • What skill development or training may help you progress toward your career goals?

2. Focus on the employee’s aspirations.

While it’s helpful to share about your career path and the wisdom you’ve learned along the way, the focus of these conversations should be on the career aspirations of the employee. Let them tell you their ideas about moving their career forward. Your role is to help them find the path that best fits their existing skills and how to enhance skills for advancement.

3. Develop a plan for moving forward.

As the manager, you have the knowledge to help the employee create an actionable plan that breaks down the overarching career goals into smaller steps. To help them successfully navigate this plan, introduce them to key people in the organization and assign projects that will propel them forward.

4. Initiate conversations on a regular basis.

Have discussions with employees on a regular basis, not just yearly or even quarterly. You should be routinely touching base so that you can monitor progress and provide additional guidance as needed. And don’t roll in a discussion about career development into the employee’s yearly review. The focus of these discussions should be around career aspirations, not performance. By engaging in conversations on a routine basis, you can stay informed as to where the employee is on the path and how you can best support their next steps.

When you invest in your employees, you are investing in the company. It’s a win-win for all involved.

demonstrating career development using chess pieces

Career Development and Employee Engagement

Companies Can’t Afford to Ignore the Connection

By Nicole Martin


I worked with a company that is pretty amazing: from their mission to employee benefits to how genuinely nice the people are, it would be difficult to find a reason not to work there. The leadership team, however, heard murmurings of unhappy employees because they did not have any career guidance for growth. In fact, very few of the employees understood how to advance their career or even what their next job might be. If you put yourself in their shoes, it would be very easy to imagine another opportunity enticing them to leave. 

To stop today’s revolving door of employee turnover, companies should focus their efforts on cultivating an engaged workforce. The evidence is clear that engaged employees stay in organizations longer. And with the cost of replacing one employee being between one-half to twice that employee’s salary, retaining your workforce is imperative in today’s challenging economic environment. This, plus the other benefits engaged workers bring – such as increased productivity and revenue – makes investing in the job satisfaction of your employees a no brainer.

While there are many factors that can drive engagement, according to recent surveys, a current top driving force appears to be career development. 

  • The 2021 Talent Index, which surveyed 5,000 U.S. and UK workers, found 83% of employees think their company should help with career progression. 
  • This is underscored by a recent Lattice survey in which a staggering 76% of respondents said they would be somewhat or very likely to leave a company because they were dissatisfied with career progression opportunities.
  • Making the career development / employee engagement connection even stronger is Gallop’s The American Upskilling Study in which 61% of workers polled said upskilling is extremely or very important when weighing the decision to remain at their current job. 57% indicated they are extremely or very interested in participating in an upskilling program with 63% of those saying they are motivated to do so to advance their careers
  • Although the Gallop State of the American Workplace was pre-covid, its findings are also worth noting: 
    • Of those looking for jobs, 52% said their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them leaving. 
    • Only 3 out of 10 employees said someone had spoken with them about their progress in the last 6 months.
    • Only 3 out of 10 felt someone at work encourages their development.

Retaining the Talent in Which You’ve Already Invested

Employees want opportunities to help them hone existing skills, upskill, explore new avenues, and progress toward leadership positions. They want to see that there is a path forward for them. Demonstrating authentic interest in their professional advancement through mentoring, developing career plans, education/training opportunities and upskilling fosters engagement, retention and a better bottom line. Plus, by investing in skill building initiatives, you can look in-house to fill gaps created by emerging technologies.

Additionally, think about how much money you’ve invested in your current workforce. Consider the expense associated with hiring, onboarding, and training, as well as the hit your organization would take if it lost knowledgeable talent. The cost of attrition together with the benefits engaged employees bring to your company significantly outweigh the financial investment associated with career development initiatives. 

Taking an active role in the career development of your existing workforce is a win-win for all involved.

Career Development Initiatives Can Entice New Talent

Your career development policies will not only help prevent your current employees from seeking job satisfaction elsewhere, they can also give you a leg up in today’s hiring crisis. As mentioned above, 76% of workers said they would be somewhat or very likely to leave a company because of career development satisfaction. So, it would seem that those individuals would be considering professional development initiatives when weighing job offers. Gallop’s The American Upskilling Study also found that 65% of workers believe employer provided upskilling is very important when evaluating a new job prospect. 

People want to work for organizations with a culture that emphasizes and supports learning and development. Providing education, training, upskilling and re-skilling opportunities is an attractive selling point for your organization because it lets potential hires know that you are committed to helping them progress in their careers. 

Career development is a must-have for both existing employees and potential new hires. Given how it can help attract and retain talent in today’s Great Resignation, leadership needs to make it an employee engagement priority. The company I mentioned at the beginning of this article recognized this and committed to doing everything they can to retain the talent in their organization. While much work needed to be done, they started with simple conversations with employees to understand everyone’s career desires. They then clearly defined the various roles and levels of management, which creates transparency with internal career opportunities. This is an ongoing project but once this development strategy is broadly communicated, they will truly become the greatest place to work.

supporting employee career development graphic

How to Support Employee Career Development

By Nicole Martin

Throughout my career in Human Resources, I have noticed a trend – employers who invest in developing their current team members have better retention rates. This was true across different industries and companies of varying sizes. However, leadership does not always recognize this trend. At one company, if an employee left for a better opportunity, it was because they were a millennial who did not value loyalty. At another, turnover was blamed on the type of role – as if hourly employees do not want to grow their careers. Today, the common phrase is that “no one wants to work anymore.” Say what you will about those who choose to leave their jobs, at the end of the day it boils down to creating a workplace where employees feel valued and are empowered to grow their careers.

And right now, the Great Resignation is a black cloud looming over large and small businesses alike. Americans are leaving their jobs in droves. According to recent statistics, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August 2021, on top of the combined 11.5 million that resigned in May, June and July. And there currently is a record number of job openings, which at last number has reached almost 11 million. With company growth and survival hinging on the right mix of talent, leaders looking for ways to retain and attract employees in this crisis might want to re-examine their companies’ career development policies. 

In light of all the challenges we’ve faced in the last 18+ months, today’s talent needs to be motivated and appreciated more than ever before. They want to connect with companies that care about their professional aspirations. If management fails to support the career goals of their teams, they risk having talented workers feel unvalued. Morale will sink and some talent may end up jumping ship, causing productivity and innovation to nosedive. That’s why as an HR professional, I always stress the importance of placing employee career development at the center of company policies. 

5 Actions to Support Employee Career Advancement

There are many ways to demonstrate to your workforce that you truly care about their plans to grow professionally. Here are a few actions organizations and leaders can take to help promote employee development, and in turn enhance engagement.

1. Show real interest in employee aspirations

One of the most important, yet simplest, things you can do as a manager is to show that you genuinely care about the career plans of your team members. Actively listen to their expectations, as well as their near and long-term aspirations for moving up in the company. This will allow you to assess how to best align their advancement goals and skill development needs with the organization’s priorities.

2. Help define a career development path

Once you have a grasp on the employee’s vision for the future, help them plot an upward path within the organization. Identify both small and large objectives, set milestones, and connect them with colleagues who can help propel them forward. These steps not only express your interest in their achievements, but more importantly empower them to control their career journey. 

3. Promote educational training and courses.

It’s not enough to want your team to better themselves, you need to help them do so through job training and continuing education initiatives. Offer a variety of skills training courses to not only improve existing skillsets, but to also offer opportunities to train in other areas. Push your workforce to pursue degrees or licenses for which the organization will pay part or all of. Arrange for lunch-and-learns and encourage participation in industry events to stay on top of the latest trends and developments. All of these actions let your workforce know you want to play an active part in the elevation of their career.

4. Foster a mentoring environment.

One of the best ways to invest in your employees is to start a mentoring program. The advice senior team members can offer less-experienced colleagues is invaluable. The converse is also true, as those older, higher-ranking members can benefit from the fresh perspective and technological savvy of the younger workforce.

5. Remind employees of the importance of their roles in the company.

Never assume that your employees know how important their contributions are to the organization. Take the time to remind them that their role is key to company growth by highlighting progress toward objectives and how their contributions have helped achieve goals. 

I have also worked for companies that invest a lot of time and energy toward supporting career advancement. The result? Engaged employees who not only have long careers within that same organization, but who are also loyal consumers and advocates who constantly talk about how great their company is.

Supporting employee career development is not only important for the employee, but also for the organization over all. When management takes an interest in the career aspirations of their team members, it enhances morale, fostering motivation, which then boosts productivity and the bottom line. And in the face of today’s hiring and retention crisis, keeping employees engaged and appreciated is imperative.


Connecting with Your Co-workers When You Work Remotely

By Julia Lee


There’s a lot that the pandemic has changed, and one of the most impactful and notable changes has to do with where we work. For many of us, gone are the days of commuting to an office space. We’re now working from home. 

There’s so much to love about working remotely and having more flexibility in our day. For our family, since my husband stopped making the 1.5-hour commute to the city, he’s able to attend our children’s practices and games, he and I enjoy lunch together occasionally, and we have more family time. But one huge challenge of working remotely is connecting with our co-workers, collaborating as a team, and building a work culture.  This is especially difficult if you work for a completely remote company or are new to your job and have never actually even met your co-workers IRL (in real life).  

So, what are some practical ways to connect with colleagues while working from home?

1. Turn on your camera for meetings.

I will state the most obvious and simplest action first: whenever possible, make it a habit to turn your camera on for meetings. This is something that we can easily overlook as important. There is so much temptation to turn the camera off (bad hair day, don’t feel like wearing make-up, etc.) and certainly there are times when you will have to join a meeting with the camera off, but this should be an exception, not the rule. The camera gives a small glimpse into your personal space and gives your remote co-workers a chance to get a better sense of who you are. It allows them to get to know you better simply by being able to see your facial expressions, the way you use hand gestures, the small things about you that make you, you. Utilizing your camera also shows your co-workers that you are paying attention to what they are saying and that you give importance to things that are being said in the meeting. This simple action is one of those things that once you get in the habit, it’s hard to break. While there is nothing that can quite replace face-to-face interactions, video is so helpful in engaging with your co-workers when you can’t physically share the same space. 

2. Get to know your co-workers by asking questions and really listening. 

This sounds so simple and easy, but it’s not.  As the mother of a middle school daughter, I’m witnessing the highs and lows of developing and maintaining friendships at that age. They’re learning how to develop relationships with their peers and teachers, how to approach people with different opinions while still being true to yourself – all while navigating the pressures of this technology-driven world that looks similar yet so different from what I remember as a teen.  As I think about some of my recent conversations with my middle schooler, I realize that some of the same principles of building friendships can apply to forming a stronger connection with our co-workers while working remotely from home.  

One of the most important aspects to connecting with others is active listening. This is a selfless act that requires you to quiet your own thoughts and agenda and really focus in on someone else. It’s easy to just jump into a meeting, get to the point, and get things done so you can move ahead with all the other items on your daily to-do list. What’s not easy is to take the time to ask how other people are really doing from time to time, such as how their little one did at drop-off or how the remodeling of their home is going – and then pausing to really listen to their responses.  At times there are fires to put out and you need to get to business, but more often than not we can spare a few minutes to get to know the person we work with better. This is more than a perfunctory “How are you?” It involves actively engaging and being present, asking questions, wanting to get to know the other person, and spending the energy and time it takes to develop a relationship. This small act can help build a foundation for a strong collaborative work environment even if you aren’t in the same building, and you may also find that you’ve gained a friend in the process. It’s also such a rare act in this age of hashtags and click-bates, but ultimately, we all crave the connection.

3. It’s ok not to be perfect, so don’t try so hard to pretend that you are.  

We all make mistakes, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  You might be super detail-oriented or learn new software programs with ease, but struggle with coming up with solutions on the fly, freeze-up at big client meetings, etc.  Of course, at work, there are clients to appease and deadlines to meet, but with your team of colleagues, it’s OK to admit you are struggling with a certain project or a task.  That’s what makes a great team!  There will be some things you excel at and some things at which someone else on your team is a pro. That’s the reason why we work in teams and collaborate.  And when you let your guard down, others will too, and in turn this will help strengthen your team overall.  As I recently told my daughter, people are more attracted to someone who is comfortable in their own skin and can laugh at themselves.  

4. Give your co-workers the benefit of the doubt.

Do you have a co-worker that always seems to be late to meetings?  Did someone on your team sound annoyed when you suggested a change?  Did you get a curt and short email as a response that you felt was uncalled for?  I think all of us have these types of work experiences. When working virtually, there is a lot about the other person you may not know. When you are feeling this way, try to do your best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. When you share the same space, you get to know things about your co-workers that you otherwise wouldn’t know working remotely. You might overhear a phone call from school about one of their kids having issues with a classmate, you can see the stress on your co-worker’s face as they try to coordinate who will be driving their sick parent to a doctor’s appointment, you observe them frantically trying to wrap up their work so they can leave on time to make it to a football game, etc.  Working remotely, you don’t always really know what other challenges your co-workers are going through and it’s easy to assume things or feel frustrated. So a good rule of thumb is to give everyone room to be a little cranky, a little late, less put-together than usual.  Everyone has bad days. We each have gone through different challenges in the last year and the more we can support one another, the better we all will be as a team.

5. Connect IRL when and if possible (even if it’s small pockets of the team).  

Do you have a few co-workers that live close enough for you to occasionally meet in person?  Take advantage of the proximity and go out for a walk at the park (maybe bring along those adorable COVID pups), meet for coffee or lunch or do something fun together.  As much as there is to love about working from home, nothing can replace human face-to-face interaction to help build a connection with those you work with and spend so much time with.  

As an HR professional, I know first-hand how important it is to connect with your co-workers on multiple levels. Working remotely has definitely impacted the work culture, but if you try, you can build strong connections with your colleagues – even if you haven’t yet met them IRL.


a business leader expressing vulnerability

Importance of Vulnerability in Leadership

By Kimberly Kafafian


I cry at work but I tried to hide it for the first 20+ years of my career. Happy, mad, and sad things will make me cry. I cried when I had to lay off a friend. I cried when the project I worked on for 6-months was terminated without my input. I cried when a coworker discovered she was pregnant after years of trying. Not only have I come to accept my vulnerability, I view it as one of my greatest assets now. Vulnerability leads to trust and greater interpersonal connections, but not all leaders feel the same.

I recently read an interview with the former co-CEO of Chipotle, Monty Moran, who helped the company succeed by leading with a people-first business model. He was promoting his book “Love is Free. Guac is Extra.” Although the title is catchy, it’s the book’s tagline that caught my eye: “How vulnerability, empowerment and curiosity built an unstoppable team.” This tagline and the ideas Moran shared in the interview truly resonated with me, particularly in today’s workplace landscape: Vulnerability. Gratitude. Curiosity. And yes, love.

As an HR professional, I’m tasked with helping to foster a culture of engagement to attract and retain the right talent so the organization can thrive and grow. To that end, I design, measure and evaluate proactive workplace policies and practices, as well as provide executive coaching to enhance leader/employee relationships. One of the leadership practices I stress most to my clients is leading with vulnerability because as renowned sociologist Brene Brown aptly notes, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change” – the foundation for an organization’s success.

Leading with vulnerability is actually a very powerful way to connect with team members. Leaders that share their weaknesses with their teams are seen as authentic. The simple act of acknowledging struggles encourages an openness and culture of trust that empowers employees, fosters innovation and enhances productivity. Why? Because when leaders are genuine, team members can identify with, and respect, them.

“The only way to care for someone is to know them and value them and come to understand them. And in order to do all that, you’ve got to access your actual self; you’ve got to stop, be present and actually allow yourself to understand them,” said Moran. “And that means you’ve got to be authentic. You’ve got to be vulnerable. You’ve got to bring yourself to the meeting with them. You can’t just be checking a box.”

But what does vulnerability in leadership really mean?

Being vulnerable to your workforce doesn’t mean that you need to bear your soul and share your deepest secrets. It just means understanding your strengths and weaknesses, letting your guard down, and being honest about them with your team.

Being vulnerable brings many benefits

When you’re authentic, you’ll start to see the benefits being genuine brings, such as:

  • Enhanced connectivity with your team
  • Greater innovation because of a culture where team members are more open to taking risks
  • Decreased tension 
  • Ability to identify issues more quickly
  • Increased collaboration 
  • Reduced turnover

How to lead with vulnerability

On board with the concept but unsure how to put it into practice? Here are a few ways to be a more vulnerable leader:

  • Confront your own self-doubts
  • Actively listen to other people’s ideas
  • Worry less about saying the wrong thing
  • Don’t be afraid of not having all the answers all the time, ask for help when you need it
  • Be authentic – people will know when you aren’t
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes

Simply said, leading with vulnerability builds a culture of trust. This empowers the workforce, which, in turn, benefits the organization overall.

listen with empathy - leadership in the workplace

Practicing Empathy in the Workplace

By Kimberly Kafafian


On March 12, 2020, I had what would become my last in-person client meeting for the next 457 days. My children were home, right outside my office door, for 542 days. Who could have predicted that 18 months ago, life as we knew it would change so radically. They call this the new normal but that doesn’t make it any more palatable. 

In fact, business leaders and their employees are still facing challenges related to where we work and how we work. And both are juggling not only fear of the pandemic itself, but they continually struggle with childcare and working in makeshift home offices. For those for whom working remotely is not an option, the anxiety of catching the virus is palpable. The rollercoaster ride we’ve all been on has surely taken a significant toll on mental health. Because how we are coping naturally bleeds from personal life into work life, managers need to acknowledge the current hardships facing their workforce and build them into a strategy to effectively lead in a crisis and beyond.

Proactive leaders have shown a genuine interest in how the workforce is doing physically and emotionally since the eruption of COVID-19, making changes in the workplace, offering more flexibility, and providing perks for working parents, just to name a few. While empathy may have been seen by most as just an admirable leadership quality pre-COVID, this soft skill is now a strategic imperative that companies cannot ignore.

Pre-pandemic research has shown the direct impact empathy has on productivity, loyalty and engagement. A new survey from Catalyst in the wake of COVID underscores and expands that connection. In short, it found that empathy is a must-have in today’s workplace as it’s an important driver of innovation, engagement and inclusion. 

  • 61% of people with highly empathic senior leaders reported often or always being innovative at work compared to only 13% of people with less empathic senior leaders.
  • 76% of people with highly empathic senior leaders report often or always being engaged, compared to only 32% of people with less empathic senior leaders.
  • 50% of people with highly empathic senior leaders report often or always experiencing inclusion at work, compared to only 17% of people with less empathic senior leadership.

Leaders must be careful not to confuse empathy with sympathy

The term empathy is often incorrectly interchanged with sympathy, but the two terms are very different, and confusing them can negatively impact how one leads. Empathy is the skill of connecting with others to identify and understand their thoughts, emotions and perspectives – and demonstrating that understanding. In other words, being empathetic means you are stepping into the shoes of another person and using the information you have gained from doing so to help guide your future actions. Sympathy, however, relates to feelings of pity and/or sorrow for one’s circumstances. Showing sympathy rather than being empathetic can lead to feelings of disconnect, the exact opposite of what was intended.

Establishing an environment of empathy

While C-suite and other senior leaders can set the tone from the top down by setting culture, policies and strategy, management’s embracing of an empathetic leadership style is key. This level of leadership is in the best place of hierarchy to recognize and acknowledge employee needs. COVID has blurred the lines between life and work, and direct leaders are better positioned to recognize this integration and support their teams moving forward. 

Actionable items to put the concept of empathy into practice in your workplace

As HR professionals, we are often asked by leadership how to boost productivity and retention. Our answer: embrace empathy. Below is a list of action items we recommend to our clients to help enhance their empathy skills:

  • Have open and honest conversations about work life AND personal life.
  • Demonstrate genuine concern by asking employees questions about their lives, what’s important to them and the challenges they are facing – and actively listen to the responses.
  • Start meetings with personal check-ins asking if everything is OK.
  • Inquire how the employee and their family are faring during these challenging times.
  • Acknowledge work contributions and the great job being done.
  • Express signs of gratitude.
  • Offer flexibility in terms of schedule and workplace.

Empathetic leadership enables businesses to authentically respond, something that truly resonates with the workforce. This is no simple task. Cultivating a compassionate workplace requires real effort, but doing so can enhance employees’ ability to innovate, engage and flourish, which in turn benefits the organization overall.

TLDR? In short, empathetic leadership looks something like this:

I DO care about YOU and the things you care about.

I DO care that you deliver quality work and perform at your best.

I DO NOT care when, where or how you get your work done.