| Career Zone -- Up your game to prepare for new normal
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Career Zone -- Up your game to prepare for new normal

By Stuart Karasik, Ph.D.

AWWA Career ZoneBrighter days are bringing us hope for moving beyond the restrictions of working in a pandemic. But before we run to our closets to see if the work clothes we haven’t worn for 14 months still fit, let’s take a moment to consider how we may interact with others in a “new normal.” 

To maintain healthy, safe environments that meet public health requirements, our workspaces will likely feature plexiglass barriers, distancing reminders, face masks, air flow modifications and reduced capacities. Policies and procedures such as staffing ratios, work schedules and budgets may be modified.

Less obviously, we may experience feelings of uncertainty and confusion about how to physically work together with colleagues, clients and the public. This can lead to unintended consequences such as distancing from and judging others.  

To prepare ourselves for a successful re-entry, I suggest we each perform an emotional intelligence check-in.

As most of you know, emotional intelligence is generally defined as the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. Take some time to consider how you can be more effective in managing your emotions, so you have a more positive impact on others.  

Here’s a checklist of some unhelpful behaviors to eliminate so you can start fresh when you return to work in person with others.

  • Living in the past. You survived the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and so did others. It wasn’t easy, and you can’t change what happened. Review its impacts if necessary when you first return to the office, and then move forward with the work at hand. 
  • Being paralyzed by worrying about the future. It doesn’t help to waste time wondering about such things as whether your vaccine will maintain effectiveness, if your job responsibilities will change, or if you’ll have to work from home again. Instead, plan for how you can best perform your job and continue to evaluate and adjust your plan as needed. 
  • Getting upset by changing circumstances. Many of us become frustrated when things do not go as expected and we must make unexpected detours and course corrections. We can keep the long goal in mind by setting smaller objectives that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.  
  • Criticizing others. While it’s easy to focus on the imperfections of others, it doesn’t help the situation. Rather, it hurts everyone involved by creating distance, tension and defensiveness. Keep in mind that we don’t always realize that people have different levels of experience and competence.

By consciously focusing on positive thoughts, you can walk into your workplace ready for a fresh start. What an opportunity!

Stuart Karasik spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s in biology, and was the training program manager for the City of San Diego. More career resources and job opportunities are available at AWWA’s Career Center and at Work for Water.