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The Importance of Checking In

By Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CAE, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, President & CEO
Published February 6, 2023

Last week, a simple message sent by a beloved Sesame Street character made headlines and sparked conversations around the globe about the importance of checking in on our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. The post on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) read, "Elmo is just checking in! How is everybody doing?" It quickly went viral. 

businesswoman talks to employee and guides her through office building.

While many respondents expressed that they’re going through a rough patch or facing personal challenges, many others sent notes back to the cute red character that were upbeat and joyful. The resounding theme in the replies however, was genuine gratitude for being asked the question in the first place.

Simple, right? It’s the power of asking others, “How are you?” and then listening to and caring about their response. The lesson doesn’t seem that complicated, nor the recommendation that time consuming. Why then, do we not make it a priority on a regular basis to check in on others and show that we care? 

Like most habits, this one takes effort to establish and maintain. Unfortunately, due to advances in technology (making texting a preferred method of communication) and expansion of remote work (making virtual meetings more common than in-person interactions), the opportunities to check in with our boss, employees, or coworkers are less frequent and more formal than they used to be. Organic conversations while refilling our coffee mugs or waiting for the photocopier don’t happen as frequently. And when we don’t interact with the people we work with on a regular basis, it can feel a bit uncomfortable to share personal information or reveal how we’re really feeling.

As a leader, I’ve made a conscious effort in recent years to be more vulnerable and not put up a facade that I’m always 100% OK. Admittedly, it took some practice to answer the standard polite question, “How are you?” with something beyond the expected responses of “good” or “fine.” By choosing to open up and share with others that I’m also just a human who is not always “alright,” I’ve given others the permission to do the same if and when they’re comfortable to do so. 

By listening to what others have to say, you can demonstrate care and concern. You may also be able to point people to resources to help with the issues they’re facing. Many employers offer employee assistance programs or other mental health resources that can support people who are dealing with concerns beyond what their manager or colleagues can assist with. 

Surveys by Gallup and other reputable sources report that people want to work for organizations that care about them as individuals and support them in and outside the workplace. There is ample evidence that performance and retention can be boosted by nurturing an organizational culture where checking in and listening are the rule not the exception. So, follow Elmo’s lead and commit to adopting this simple but powerful habit.