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Contact Center Leaders: Secure Your Oxygen Mask First

pamphletEarly this year before the pandemic, I was on a plane with several coworkers headed for a work conference in Washington, D.C. I was in my seat, talking excitedly to a teammate about all the sightseeing I wanted to cram into our short trip, while simultaneously posting photos of the view from my plane to social media. The flight attendant safety video went into the usual instructional safety speech explaining where the emergency exits are and what to do in the case of a water landing. When they got to the section of the safety speech that talked about oxygen masks, I stopped scrolling on Facebook and looked up at the screen where the flight attendant was presenting.

I’d heard this spiel before but it was as if I was hearing it for the first time. It went something like this:

Air pressure in the cabin is being monitored. In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag may not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.

Up until this point, I would have said it was selfish to take care of me first. I’m the leader, it’s my responsibility to put others on my team before me. But now a stranger was expecting me to take care of my safety before attempting to take care of others.

When I stopped and thought about it for a moment, I wondered why I wasn’t already doing this in every aspect of my life. This was great advice; I felt like I was being given permission to take care of me!

Contact centers are places of high stress on the best of days. When things go wrong (when not if), such as call outs, technology troubles, or even attempts to continue business in the midst of a pandemic, unprecedented levels of pressure can be placed on both employees and their leaders. As leaders, it is up to us to keep our teammates motivated, refreshed, challenged, and engaged. However, we won't be up for the gig if we, too, are exhausted, lack motivation, or have become disconnected from the work we do.

An example of good leadership is modeling the behaviors we wish to see in our teammates. By taking care of ourselves, we reinforce the importance of wellness to our teams. Below are five areas I choose to focus on to help improve my mental, emotional, and physical wellness. These tips have been helpful for me, and may help you, too!

Get enough sleep

I’ve heard the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” plenty of times over the years because there just always seems to be too much to do and never enough time, but I understand how critical a good night’s sleep is to help with rest and rejuvenation. The Dalai Lama said, “Sleep is the best meditation.”

Make sure to move around (every now and again)

During the day, stick some earbuds in and rock out to a few tunes to help you feel motivated. Or choose to take advantage of the few short moments in the elevator at work to dance like nobody's watching. I like to listen to music and dance around my house while I’m getting ready for work in the morning. Going for a walk during a lunch break or after work can also do the trick.

Laugh (a lot)

When I was in high school, I saw an advertisement in an Entertainment Weekly magazine. The advertisement said, “Laughter is the best medicine. Unless you’re really sick, then you should call 9-1-1.” I ripped the page out of the magazine and taped it to my wall. It’s moved with me from home to home since then, and it now resides in my kiddo’s bedroom. The advertisement reminds me of the importance of laughter and finding joy in all things. Laughter soothes tension, improves moods, and even releases endorphins.

It also feels really good to make others laugh. I highly recommend it.

Pay attention to what you put in your head

Positive self-talk can enhance confidence, boost performance, and improve one’s mood.

Leadership is about helping others recognize the greatness within themselves. If I am more confident, I can share that confidence with those I lead. When negative thoughts fill my mind, I find it most helpful to turn those thoughts into positive ones by reframing my thoughts. If I’m feeling unproductive, I remove those feelings of inadequacy by reminding myself of all I’ve accomplished during the day and finding something to be grateful for in my life.

Find a hobby (unleash your creativity)

Hobbies are activities we do because we want to, not because we have to. Creativity enables us to look at things differently, and to solve problems in new and innovative ways. Whether it’s reading, writing, painting, or any hobby, these activities give us an outlet to enjoy our passions and release tension. One of my favorite hobbies is to play the ukulele; I’m definitely a novice, but I love it.

Changing habits can feel uncomfortable, and it’s easier to ignore what’s different than it is to change our habits. Give these steps a chance, and I bet you’ll feel less stress and healthier just by taking a little better care of you.

Just as the flight attendant instructed me to put my mask on first, I’m empowering you. The best we can do as leaders, and people, is to take care of ourselves - physically, emotionally, and mentally - in order to support the people in our lives counting on us.