Share Your Story: Humor Can Be Part of Mindfulness

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek April 23, 2020
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​Welcome to the SHRM Online "Share Your Story" series, launched for HR professionals to share their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. This story, the fifth in our series, comes from Kerry Wekelo, chief operating officer at Actualize Consulting, a financial services consultancy in Northern Virginia. See below for links to the other stories in this series

It's especially important now to support employees' well-being as they deal with a level of isolation never before experienced in the U.S. Stay-at-home orders don't just affect your home life; they also impact morale, motivation and mood, says Kerry Wekelo, chief operating officer at Actualize Consulting, which is headquartered in Reston, Va.Kerry Wekelo, chief operating officer at Actualize Consulting.

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"When we are upset at work, we may bring that home. When we are upset at home, we bring that to work. We must support our employees and their well-being, because they are everything to our organization."

Among the consultancy's well-being initiatives are weekly 30-minute, companywide mindfulness breaks. Mindfulness is not limited to guided meditation or breathing exercises, Wekelo pointed out. It also can be a good icebreaker intended to get people laughing.

Once a week, we have a firmwide Zoom call with a different theme. Anything to have a fun team moment and keep connected," she said. The theme can be a show and tell, such as the employee who displayed her knitting project, or to share a favorite joke. 

"We're having so much fun," said Wekelo, who exhibited a gadget from her jokester grandfather during the show-and-tell. The implement looks like a hammer, and inside the hammer's head is a quarter. She challenged people to tell her what it is, but no one guessed it was a "quarter pounder." 

"Now I have it on my desk because it makes me laugh," she said. The voluntary mindfulness breaks, which occur before lunch, have been a way for employees to get to know each other better, she noted. 

"I wanted to do it so it wasn't part of a meeting. I didn't want people to think they had to come to them," but people ask for them now if they don't see them on the schedule. "It's actually bringing us more closely together as a team. People need that right now" with everyone working remotely, she said. 

"It's also helping across divisions and across offices," including those in the United Kingdom and Canada. The breaks are beneficial, she added, for employees who have joined the firm since the stay-at-home orders were implemented by helping them get to know the rest of the staff.  

Another activity that focuses on humor is a Google Group where employees post jokes, memes, videos, funny stories and photos. One employee shared a cartoon of gift-wrapped toilet paper with the caption, "I have my Christmas shopping done for the year." One meme someone posted describes the shutdown: "It's like being 16 again... Gas is cheap and I'm grounded." 

Beginning April 20, Actualize broadened its annual wellness benefit to include child-related expenses, such as tutoring, at a time when many employees may be juggling home schooling and job responsibilities. Previously, the $750 benefit available to each employee could be used toward gym membership, fitness purchases such as treadmills, and classes.  

Giving Back, Showing Gratitude 

"Now is the time to support small businesses if you can, help others who lack food security, lend a hand to a neighbor and more," Wekelo said. "Our employees are inspiring us with their knack for seeing opportunities to give back."

One employee put a competitive spin on the company's remote wellness challenge: For every pushup that his wellness challenge team did, he donated 50 cents to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Meals on Wheels program. Another employee issued a plank challenge, and Wekelo created a challenge for employees to come up with other wellness activities, such as working a hula hoop. The company matched money raised from the challenges, donating more than $2,000 to the CDC program.

"Giving back can be so inspiring," Wekelo said, "and help you stay grounded in gratitude for what you have."

The company's annual retreat was to be held from April 30 to May 3 in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Given travel restrictions and isolation orders, the retreat will not happen, but Actualize will still celebrate its employees. Wekelo surveyed employees about their colleagues' contributions and created videos that will appear on the company website.

"It feels a lot more personal than an e-mail," she said, "and it shows that if you get creative, connection does not have to be lost." 

Other stories in this series:

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