276: Navigating Workplace Change and Stress, With Chris Young

August 22, 2023

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Dr. Pelè: 

Hello happy people. Welcome to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Hello everyone, this is Dr. Pelè with the Profitable Happiness Podcast, and today I have with me a fellow Austin Texan, the Director of Workforce Development at the Texas Department of Transportation, Chris Young. How are you doing today?

Chris Young: 

I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.

Dr. Pelè: 

It's a pleasure to have you. I know we're somewhere in the same city, but I just love to meet people who are learning and development experts like yourself or human resources experts like yourself, because we can get down into talking about some human stuff that's important. So you know, chris. On that note, I'm going to ask you to maybe lead us off with your definition. In your years of experience working with people at the workforce level, what is the number one challenge that you found that you know you have to help out with in your line of work?

Chris Young: 

Well, there are a lot of challenges, but I think most recently we've really seen that changes in the workforce and being able to adapt to change really quickly, being resilient, dealing with high turnover more work than anybody's ever had in the history of contemporary United States history that's probably the biggest challenge. Is change always coming at a faster rate and with more things changing every single day?

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, no, and there's got to be some psychology somewhere about people not liking change very much right, absolutely. And so, you know, getting them to sort of maybe have some compassion around themselves, their own sense of struggle toward change is an important thing, because I know that's an important topic for you. But, on that note, you know, if change is the challenge or the problem or whatever it is people are dealing with, give us a sense of how you, chris Young, became the guy that helps to solve this problem. And, by the way, let me just tell you something On your LinkedIn, you have something very cool. You are he, him and y'all which is a Texas thing, right, y'all?

Chris Young: 

I think y'all is a great contribution to diversity, equity and inclusion conversation that we, as Southerners and Texans, should be proud of. Yeah, they contributed something to that conversation, absolutely.

Dr. Pelè: 

And it all works great. It works perfectly. It caught my attention. I was like that's kind of cool. I haven't seen that one before. So tell us. What is your story? How did you get here? How did you become, in my opinion, the hero that helps people find this compassion and become human again at work? How did you become that guy?

Chris Young: 

Well, I've always been in public service. So since high school I started in the military, went to school and then even continued to work overseas with the US State Department as a diplomat, and I came back from overseas and worked as a consultant in the private industry supporting public agencies. So I've really always been in public service. And then, coming to the Texas Department of Transportation, where I've been for eight and a half years, you really get a chance to see that what you're doing impacts everyone in the country, in the state, in your local community.

Dr. Pelè: 

Wow, so you, basically you've walked the walk is what you're saying. You, literally you're here. You're a veteran of this field of human, I guess, difficulty. But let's talk about the idea of change for a little bit, because I do agree with you. It's such a big challenge, in your opinion. How does what is it? Why don't we like change?

Chris Young: 

I think that when it comes down to biology and psychology, we're all creatures of habit. What is familiar, what happened yesterday, is what we're counting on happening tomorrow, and when that gets challenged in the workplace or our personal lives, that creates stress, bad stress and good stress. I like to highlight to people that there are two kinds of stress. We only focus on that one word, stress. But the other word in English is you stress E-U-S-T-R-E-S-S, so it's got two different versions of stress. And so those are good stresses, like when you're excited about a birthday party or you're excited about getting married or having kids or taking on a new role. That's also stressful, even though it's positive. So I think that we're hardwired as humans that when any change comes, to view it as a stressor and we have that stress response, which is a trauma response of freeze, flight or fight in that order. And so that happens. Even in something as simple as a project management meeting where somebody changes the scope on you. All the way up to we're getting married tomorrow, that's the same reaction in your body.

Dr. Pelè: 

Oh my gosh. One of the reasons I love doing podcasts is I just sit back and learn, because you've just taught me something I never knew before. Of course, you're a work psychologist, that's your thing. But I didn't know that stress is actually defined in the literature that way. But I tell you one thing a lot of people also don't know that happiness also has two definitions. They think of happiness and they usually think of the rah-rah version, like hey, let's be happy. And then you know, and let's get the ping pong table in the foyer, all that stuff, and that's actually called hedonistic happiness. So, in the same way, the other kind of happiness that is more related to engagement is called eudiamonic happiness, and it's also starts with the spelling EU. Just like, just like you stress, there you go. So I'm like OK, wait a second here, this is so cool. No, no, but I love the way you define that because, wow, that gives us a new lens to look at stress and to think about. You know, maybe not everything that's bothering us needs to bother us. Maybe it can be helping us. Is that kind of how you're seeing it?

Chris Young: 

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's when it comes to that concept of happiness and I talk about this with other people, leaders and really anybody in the people management business is that in this day and age, you have the choice. You're going to talk about one or two things. You're either going to talk about happiness, healthfulness, mindfulness, being present at work, or you're going to talk about burnout, stress, turnover, increased cost of benefits. You get to choose which one of those you're going to talk about, but you are going to talk about one of those things. Yeah.

Dr. Pelè: 

Absolutely, and, whether you like it or not, those things may not seem like they're connected, but they are connected to the bottom line, and I think we're kind of in an industry of intangibles, where we just talk to leaders about these concepts soft skills and people go well, that's soft, I want the hard stuff. Give me the one that gives me dollars. That's a great point. Yeah, how do you help leaders embrace what you and I have embraced, which is these soft skills are not that soft, they're pretty darn hard. They are solid, they get results. How do you help people understand?

Chris Young: 

that Absolutely, and that's a core challenge in the learning and development field and in the HR space, because we're constantly trying to prove a negative. So we tell people, hey, you've got to go to this mandatory safety training, and the responses always well, why do I have to do that, nobody's gotten hurt. But then I have to say, well, nobody's gotten hurt because you went to the mandatory safety training. I would much rather try to have that argument with our leadership rather than the reverse, of them coming to me and saying someone got hurt, now we need to address it. So I think in the HR space we also have that challenge of when things are going well. That's when the leadership comes in and says well, things are going well, why do we even need this function? Why do we need to talk about happiness and wellness in the workplace? Everything's going OK, right now.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, yeah, no, I hear you On that note. Let's get into the how. So someone's listening to this. They are either a leader at an organization struggling with well, how do I help people with these intangibles and get them to create high performance? How do I get my hands around this? What is the how? Do you have a favorite number of steps that you take people through in your learning and development approaches? Or do you have a favorite story of a time that you helped to actually create the change that is required? How do we solve this problem is really my question, I think.

Chris Young: 

Yeah, I think if we're talking about this in a work context, then almost every organization has some sort of change management process or they have some sort of project management framework, and nothing I'm saying negates that. So anything that I say doesn't mean that you're going to turn around and a listener is going to say, oh, we can't do that at our organization because we follow the seven step model or anything like that. But everything we're doing is just a generalized framework for real change management and really human performance, and that's what we're talking about. All of our companies, all of our organizations are made from people. So everything that we're doing is the people management business and it's sometimes it's really simple. And so for us in the learning and development sphere, we have a lot of different models, but probably the most well known model is the add D model, addi. So the analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation of training, which it's not a it's not a real, you know, stepwise process, but it's something you can layer onto a project management framework and really address all the house of what you're trying to do to enhance human performance. And I think that's important to emphasize because we know that in contemporary American society we're really geared towards the bottom line and being productive, and most of our organizations will ask us you know well what's the return on investment of this. So we really have to apply that lens that we're talking about performance, and that's one of the things that I emphasize in the learning and development sphere is that when we're talking about adult learners, we're not talking about education, we're talking about training, and those are two different things. Education and training are two different things. Education is about exploration, it's about personal growth, personal development, and it takes a long time, whereas training is about addressing performance gaps. And that's why sometimes training doesn't always feel so friendly is because the organization has determined hey, we're just trying to fix a problem, Everything else is outside of the scope of training and you've got to get that somewhere else. So that becomes a challenge for us in the learning and development sphere.

Dr. Pelè: 

And boy, I've actually experienced that challenge because, you know, in my days as an executive coach and also actually at Dale Carnegie training too, I can tell you one of the biggest problems is this idea of how do you transfer the learning that people go through in the training class or whatever, into actions that produce dollars and cents like that. What is it? 80% of I think it's 80% of all training is wasted because people aren't transferring learning into action or something like that. Right?

Chris Young: 

Because all sorts of stuff about that, and that's a real simple one. So you can argue about that all day long and I'm sure some of your listeners will hear 80% and they'll start freaking out and they'll ask you for a source and all that stuff. If you ever get challenged on that, I would always go back to Ebbing House. So the. Ebbing House, forgetting curve We've known since.

Dr. Pelè: 

I was about to ask you about that?

Chris Young: 

Yeah, we've known since the 1890s. This is probably a cornerstone of psychology. Yeah, if you don't apply what you've learned in any context, after about 30 days it's almost completely gone, and that statistic is held up over time. So even though things change in our technology world, human brains haven't changed that much in about 100 years.

Dr. Pelè: 

Wow, I don't know if you saw me get excited there, because I actually currently I've built my life and career around the idea of the learning curve versus the forgetting curve. I mean, I think that's a piece you know. I'm going to write this down what do you call Ebbing House?

Chris Young: 

It's Ebbing House.

Dr. Pelè: 

Ebbing.

Chris Young: 

House, forgetting curve, if you google that anywhere or search anywhere. You'll always find it, because it's been around since the 1890s and we've reinforced it over and over and we've seen it. We know this happens.

Dr. Pelè: 

I know I've checked out. You know my forgetting curve came from different books and sources that I learned it from, but I'm going to go check. This Sounds like it's kind of an original source of this. Yeah, absolutely yeah, wow, well, you know. So here we are. People learn things, people go through change management and now we have to help them sustain it, even after you and I are off of the podium, as they say, or when the workshop is over, and then we think about these strategies, you know, like spaced reinforcement and all the stuff about the forgetting curve. Do you have any special programs or maybe I shouldn't say programs stories that you can share without you know you don't have to reveal names or anything like that but that you can share of where you've implemented something like this and maybe you had a good result on one of them, and maybe not so good results, and why? You know, give us some context on trying to do this stuff.

Chris Young: 

Sure. So I go back to that model that we use for training and development, the Addy model. The last stage is evaluation and a lot of folks in our industry they really get caught up on evaluation because evaluating training is hard. Like I said, sometimes we're trying to prove a negative. So when you see that people didn't get injured or people didn't get hurt or people aren't quitting, it's hard to tie that all the way back to the training and say that hey, this training intervention is what led to these positive results. That no one really notices it makes it really hard. I think most people when they hear about training and evaluation they immediately think of those smile sheets at the very end of class that everybody gets that says did you like the training? Was the venue comfortable? Did you learn something? I will tell you, as a learning and development professional, those things at the end of class are largely not useful for us at all. I mean they'll tell us if there's a problem with the air conditioning, but I'm not really going to know if there's been a successful transfer of training until you take it back and do it. So that makes evaluation really hard, because when people leave a training class they think it's gone in the past. But, if we follow up 30 days later, 60 days later, and we follow up with the managers and supervisors to say have you detected a change in the performance? Has this metric that you were worried about changed since that training event, Then we can make an inference that what we did may have had some impact, Even if it was just the fact that we got them out of their environment, because I always capitalize on the Hawthorne effect as well. So we know from the Hawthorne effect that when people know they're being observed or measured, their behavior changes. So it doesn't matter what you did, but if they know that you're doing something, then their performance changes. And maybe that sounds a little weird or dystopian, that you know you're being watched so you behave differently. But it's also an opportunity to really embrace the positivity of that concept and say that if your people know you're investing in them, that you know what they're doing and that they're engaged and that you're checking in with them you're not surveilling them but if they know that they're being helped and supported, then we know from the Hawthorne effect that there's going to be a change.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, oh, my goodness, I mean that was a masterclass in not just the ad-y model, but just learning and development in general. I think learning has to. Why is it? Let me just ask you this question why is it the training and learning and development gets cut first whenever companies are downsizing? It's like why, I mean, that could be the most important.

Chris Young: 

That's a great question. That's a great question. It's kind of the same way that people assume that sales and marketing get cut first from an organization because when we look at it from a leadership position, they're looking at well, who's performing operations, what's critical to our operation, and kind of those supportive functions get lost because they're always challenged to prove the negative. So if the CEO says we're making great sales, so why do we need marketing? Why do we need to buy more ad time? We're selling stuff, it's going to take them three or four months before they realize that cutting that advertising and marketing budget is really hurting them. That's the same thing that happens with HR and other cost centers and organizations is we can add to the efficiency equation, but we're constantly challenged to be our own cheerleaders so that people don't forget that the perfect training that you ever got was training you never knew you had. And if you never knew you had training. It doesn't have a dollar figure attached to it.

Dr. Pelè: 

Chris, something that I know is important to you is this idea that work is a human business, and I'm wondering I wish more people felt that way, or I shouldn't say people more leaders, because, let's face it, it starts from leadership. In fact, I had a leader once in an organization no names will be shared, but she is a CEO of this company and she actually said to me we don't have any time for all this emotion stuff. Right, just get the job done and let's move on. All these people with their emotions, just, and I'm sitting there going okay, I shouldn't be here, because this is to me, emotions are pretty much the whole point. I mean, what's your take on things like happiness and employees and their well-being and their emotions? What's your take on?

Chris Young: 

that that's a great question and I really come to this from the position of public service. This is something we think about a lot in public service and I bring this up because we all know that concept of bringing your whole self to work and you've clearly articulated that you've had CEO in past who didn't expect you to bring your whole self to work. You just showed up, you do the job and you get out and in a perfect world that would be exactly how it is. It's a very transactional relationship In public. We understand that concept of bringing your whole self to work, but we also recognize there are limitations. So being a public servant working for the public, for everyone in the state of Texas and really everyone in the United States, I recognize that I cannot bring my whole self to work, that I have personal opinions, I have political views, I have religious and spiritual views that do not belong in a public workplace. So we're fortunate in that we understand there are very clear lanes in the road between what you're supposed to do at work as a public servant and what you cannot bring into the workplace. So that really forces us to have the conversation of saying you know what are you bringing to the work and because you cannot bring your whole self to work. How are we striking that work-life balance where you can be exactly who you want to be on your terms, on your time, without conflicting with your workplace role? So in public service we definitely have that forcing function that forces us to say, hey, what is your work-life balance, so that we make sure you're happy and healthy and you're being fulfilled in all aspects of your work and not just what's happening right here at the workplace?

Dr. Pelè: 

That's interesting. I never thought of organizations like yours in the public domain, if you will as being different in that way, but now I can see that this is almost government. It's a government function. Yes, this is a. In fact, on your LinkedIn, you've got something that says opinions are my own.

Chris Young: 

Absolutely. We're very clear about that. We're here to serve all of the traveling public and not just folks that fit in with our world views or politics. If you get caught up in that, where that becomes so much of your identity that you can't leave it away from the job site, then public service might not be for you. And so we definitely have that dynamic and that forces the conversation of how are you balancing work with life? Government changes, administration changes, politics changes. If that's going to impact how you perform on the job site, then we need to address that in some form or fashion, and that's part of our whole well-being.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, you know, I heard somewhere from one of my favorite motivational speakers. I think his name is, I think it was Les Brown that said this. He said that and I don't know, I can't quote him for sure but he said that the most heart attacks in this world happen on Monday morning at 9 AM. And the question is why? Well, you know time to go back to work.

Chris Young: 

Exactly, exactly. Those are the real things.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, I think you know, after sort of based on your, you've really parsed down a recognition of these work-life balance issues. Sure, we can't bring our politics to work, but how do we help people bring their happiness to work so that they, you know, we can reduce these heartbreaks in the morning on Monday?

Chris Young: 

Yeah, absolutely, and I mean there are plenty of cliches that we recognize that. You know, problems are just opportunity in disguise and that attitude is everything, and anything you can fit on a coffee mug is usually the stuff we see on LinkedIn and other posts. I think it really. It really comes back to having those one-on-one connections with not only the people that are in your chain of command, the people that you work for, but the people around you in work, and I don't think we've done a very good job in the HR world of understanding how all of those different factors of engagement come into play. So we know from you, know recent popular studies, that you're less likely to quit a job if you have a friend at work or if you have someone you can talk to at work, and you're less likely to leave an organization if you have constant interaction with a certain supervisor or a manager who responds to your needs. And so I think, recognizing that we have to have those human connections at work and they don't have to just be up and down, they can be left and right and so encouraging team dynamics and making sure that you understand that you're not all by yourself when you're in an organization by definition, you're not an entrepreneur, you're part of an organization, and reminding folks that they have support, that they're not the one that has to be up at 9 pm on a Saturday, that there's another 300, 400 people in the organization that can help. I think having constant reminders that we're all part of a human society is important for us as leaders.

Dr. Pelè: 

Awesome, awesome. So, chris, let's talk about you. What are you excited about? You know we've talked about work life balance. What do you do when you're looking to have fun outside of work and or do you have any projects that people might be interested in learning about that are coming up?

Chris Young: 

So we've done a lot of cool stuff at the Texas Department of Transportation, so I'll start with work stuff first. So, we've been exploring the use of virtual reality and augmented reality in our training events. Because of some of the simple biological things that we've talked about already. So we talked about If you put googly eyes on your camera when you're a computer, you're more likely to engage with the other person on the other end of the zoom call, even though you know their plastic eyeballs. It changes your behavior at a very basic level of biology. So so we know that and we've used that when we're constructing our virtual reality training. So we worked with the University of Texas is Dallas and a and a really talented Team that had what they refer to as an artificial human laboratory, and so we've come up with management and communications training that uses Scenarios based in virtual reality, so that we could give that to the workforce in new and different ways and they could feel safe, knowing that it was a fake environment, that they could make mistakes and that they weren't role-playing with somebody, that they would get a seed walking down the hallway Five minutes from now. And so we were excited to take on those projects and and really Help further the academic research when it comes to what virtual reality training means for us in the future. And wow, that's been exciting. Over the last two years We've been working on that project and I'm very proud to be part of an organization that's looking that far into the future for innovative approaches to do things better, faster, more efficient for the state of Texas, so that's been exciting on on a professional level and on a personal level. I I do a lot of work in the in the yoga community in Austin and and. I've had the fortunate opportunity to bring some of that back to the workplace. So I work for the Texas Department of Transportation and that is my job and I work in a in a very physical workforce. So any opportunity that I can bring something related to safety, physical development, personal development into our workspace to reduce injuries, to reduce downtime, to make people feel better about their bodies and To be able to exercise that compassionate self forgiveness, I'm always excited to bring that in.

Dr. Pelè: 

Wow, that is so cool. How can people find you online? What's the best way to to get in touch with you?

Chris Young: 

The best way to get a hold of me is via LinkedIn, so I'll respond to everyone, except for robots on. I mean, we, we see a lot of that and we know it. Yeah we happen. But yeah, if anybody is interested in learning more about me or what I'm doing at the Texas Department of Transportation or what we're doing for learning and development for HR, by all means reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Dr. Pelè: 

Well, chris, I have to say first of all, it has been an honor just to meet Someone who you're just tracking on the same level of all the things that I've learned and that I want to keep learning About how we help people get into the compassion zone, as you like. To talk about compassion, helping people. Remember that this is a human business, work as human, and I just love the way you think about these things. Thank you so much for being a part of the profitable happiness podcast. Thank you Thanks for tuning in to the profitable happiness podcast. For more episodes, visit dr Palaiscom. And remember get happy first and success will follow.