I recently read about Garrison Keillor’s concept of a “storm home.” It’s a place, where you can go when you feel surrounded by difficulties and challenges. When you are struggling to deal with stress or trauma, it’s a place where you can feel safe, where you are not alone and scared, and where there is someone to help you feel whole and hopeful again. We all need a storm home at times, especially when we feel overwhelmed by stress and uncertainty, or in the moments we lose hope.
After my mom’s death, I was sad and overwhelmed with the loss. I didn’t even think of taking time away to grieve and recover. It was work that gave me so badly what I needed at that time. Work prevented my mind from the million negative thoughts coming my way. It kept me busy and it kept my mind busier. It challenged me and took away the loneliness I felt after her passing. When your experience as an employee is a positive one, your job becomes much more than just a paycheck. Recognition, a sense of accomplishment and pride, community, added purpose, fun, even sanctuary—that’s what work can and should be.
How do club leaders today build a workplace that serves as a storm home? How do we create an atmosphere to keep employees motivated and inspired, challenged and safe, and send them home fulfilled at the end of the day?
In a world that has never been more stressful, in an age of doubt and mistrust, there is a great opportunity for us to create work environments that offer a sense of purpose and meaning. This is our opportunity to more aggressively advocate for new working models that enable new talent pools, improve company performance, and encourage people’s well-being. Is this too much to ask?
Too many clubs have abused the model and treated employees as resources to control rather than as people and lives to be optimized. We see that every day but just a few react to it and try to change it. The opportunity today can be heaven for leaders who want to innovate and do good by their people, and it can be hell for those who never cared for their employees in the first place. The expectations of leadership have broadened lately a lot. Vulnerability is no longer considered a weakness, but a strength. Authenticity matters more than perfection. The clubs and the leaders who embrace these qualities, will be able to find great talent more than ever. The ones that don’t, will learn the hard way.
The first step is fostering a culture that destigmatizes mental health. Make it safe to talk about the things that lead to burnout. Be present to see if your employees are overwhelmed with work and stress or not. Better forecasting your business levels will help you staff accordingly and eliminate unnecessary stress for your employees.
Be vulnerable with your employees about your own struggles so they know it is okay to be open if they choose so. We must acknowledge that mental health is health and provide the support employees need to stay well. To combat burnout, you must make sure work is well organized, easy, and enjoyable, and employees are taking the right amount of time off to stay well physically and mentally. Encourage and support wellness activities from gym membership to meditation apps, or anything that puts the power in employees’ hands to decide what type of self-care is best for them.
Make work fun. Having fun is probably the most overlooked requirement for building a high-performance team. Come up with a challenge game every day and reveal the results and winners at the end of the day/night. Send a group text with a funny video related to a work event. Or just think of something completely out of the box and surprise even yourself.
Create a positive environment. Eliminate any negative thinking and toxic people. Create a zero-tolerance policy for that type of behavior. We all know how a single toxic person can bring the whole team down. Don’t let that happen. One of the best books I have read recently is called: “Jerks at Work” by Tessa West. It will easily help you identify the j*… at work. No matter how hard it is to maintain that, don’t ever lose hope. Keep on reinforcing positivity every day and you will see great results eventually.
Give your team a purpose. In addition to culture and compensation, leaders should also think about giving their teams purpose. If pay is what sustains you and culture is what engages you, then purpose is what motivates you. Give your employees the trust they need and the ability to execute their job. Let them see how their work directly contributes to the club’s success. And finally, let them see how their work serves a greater good.
The ability to learn is one of the most important qualities a leader can have. Successful leaders never stop learning and they never stop teaching. Whether they read books, learn new skills, study academic or business journals, learn from their employees or peers, or strive for change through innovation, they all share a passion for wanting to learn new skills and ideas. That passion is so contagious it makes everyone around try to keep up. Create an environment where constant learning and improvement spread as fast as COVID 19. Build a lifestyle of continuous self-development for your employees.
Leaders must never forget what a good working environment can do for people. When that work is dignified, challenging, and connected to purpose, it allows individuals to become a better version of themselves. When people relate this to their personal life, the whole world gets better. This is what leadership is all about, helping people fulfill their full potential and making the world a better place. We all must do our part.
So many leaders are playing small today. They have become disconnected from the people who work for them, or they see the world through a transactional lens with a focus very rationally on growth, innovation, and valuation.
Employees care more about meaning in their work, a strong sense of community, and club impact. The CEO-as-dictator era is over. Leaders need to build trust and real relationships with their employees. Too many leaders wear metaphorical body armor to the office and try to motivate people with impersonal emails on employee retention, and they are alarmed when employees aren’t moved. The best leaders are the ones who can balance real humanity, authenticity, and emotion with real results.
Is it unrealistic to wonder about the business impact of everyone caring about each other a little more? Do we really need to ask this question? It costs nothing. It produces actual results—greater collaboration, a willingness to go the extra mile, a reduction of fear, and the courage to try new things. It fosters the psychologically safe environment employees have come to expect.
Leaders can future-proof their company by focusing on employee experience. And not only by building fancy employee rooms with employee gyms but by showing genuine care and understanding for their employees. Work is not a place to get wrung out so that we have nothing left for our real home. It is not a place where people are being worked to death and burned out. It’s a place of learning and growth, community, and connection, meaning and purpose and value.
A club that is invested in the people who make it go, appreciating each person’s whole self: That’s a place we all want to be. Let’s build more communities of storm homes and lay the foundation for leadership that helps make the world a better place.