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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp

On this episode of the Culture First Podcast Damon sits down with Professor Jane Burns and Adam Smiley Poswolsky to discuss how to talk about mental health in the workplace.

Professor Burns is a Board Member of the NDIA, Committee Chair at Open Arms Veterans & Families Counseling and formerly involved in Streat and Beyond Blue.

Adam is a keynote speaker on workplace belonging and the future of work as well as the author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness. He also writes for Harvard Business Review and his TED talks have amassed over 2 million views.

In this episode you'll learn:

  • The foundational level of knowledge everyone needs to understand a topic as complex as mental health
  • What the research is showing us when it comes to the global loneliness epidemic
  • What role does the organization and company culture play in positively and negatively impacting mental health
  • How a manager can play a critical role in supporting the mental health of their team
  • The questions you can ask your team members to better support them to talk about mental health

This is an incredibly important episode and one that we hope gives you a better understanding as well as practical actions to take to create mentally healthy workplaces. If you or someone you know needs help, please use the following resources as a guide. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, please call the emergency services in your local area.

Mental health resources:

This page contains a wide range of mental health services around the world.

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Episode transcript

DAMON KLOTZ:

So today, on the Culture First Podcast, we are here to talk about mental health, friendship, loneliness, and community. And I wanna start this episode by saying that this is a unique episode to put out and to tell you why I want to start with a little bit of a backstory. You know, in 2015, I just joined Culture Amp.

I was living in San Francisco. I moved out there by myself, and I wanted to create physical community for people in the culture and community. And, you know, I created this thing called the people geek up. It was events that we held all around the world. I was physically flying to them to create spaces where people in Vancouver or Austin, Denver, London, Paris, Amsterdam, could come together to talk about something that mattered to them.

And it's interesting to sort of reflect on the overarching conversation about mental health and friendship and loneliness, because I feel like community plays such a large role in how we feel connected to other people, how we feel connected to things bigger than ourselves.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And this conversation is unique because this is actually a follow on conversation from a different community event that Culture Amp ran. So those people geek up used to require me to physically be somewhere around the world to run them. Then our teams grew and we had people all around the world, running them. Then we created this thing called Culture First chapters and chapters are a place where someone locally in your community can gather people, either in person or mainly online these days to come together, to have a conversation with people in your local community and every now and then we run a global chapter event where we speak about a topic that we think is relevant for the whole world. All the chapters that we have around the world at Culture Amp. And at the end of 2021, we spoke about mental health in the workplace.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And that chapter event flew by the conversation was flowing. There was a lot of people who were clearly calling out for saying like, this is a topic we wanna speak about. This is a topic we have questions about. So I've actually invited both of the guests and who were at that event onto the culture first podcast to continue that conversation in the year 2022. So that's how we got here. So to start, I'll start with you, Jane, to professor Jane Burns.

You were at that event, you are now here in conversation with me today. To start, I'll rattle off some of the titles that you have. So people have some background context for you and, you know, you're based here in Australia. So this might be some Australian context, but you're a board member of the NDIS, you're a startup advisor committee chair at the open arm, veterans and families counseling. And you've also been involved in street and beyond blue. So I think it's, you know, clear to say that you are an expert in all things when it comes to mental health. But if a curious 10 year old walks up to you and says, excuse me, professor Jane Burns, what do you do for work? How do you answer?

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

Well, I have an 11 year old, a, a 12 year old and a 15 year old. So I basically, I say my job is to try to keep people mentally fit healthy and well, and like your body, your brain needs to exercise and you need to keep yourself connected. You need to keep yourself engaged. You need to have passion and purpose. And they're the conversations I'm actually having with my kids. Now you talked about your experience in San Fran. I know I went across in 2004 and had a really lonely time. It was hard work, but each time you came together as a collective group and we were heartless fellows, you just had this amazing rapport with people. And it was that physicality. I think if anything, the pandemic's just sh this massive light on the fact that we are, we are by nature creatures that need to come together. And I know certainly my 12 now, 13 year old daughter Holly really struggled during the lockdown and Melbourne's been horrific. We've had six of them, you know, 250 plus days stuck in a bedroom doing zoom calls. And you know, as a young person, a 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 year old, that's when you're building your friendships. And that's been really tough.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. I think having this conversation with someone based in the us with smiley than yourself here in Melbourne, which had, you know, like, is it still the world's longest lockdown or is someone overtaken Melbourne?

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

I think we're still winning that race. yeah.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. It's unfortunately, and race that you don't want, wanna be winning.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And then so smiley for you. If someone was to look you up online, they might find podcasts that you've been guessed on. Ted talks that you've given. I think one of your Ted talks has multimillion views. Is, is that right?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah. about the quarter life crisis.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yes. The which yes, I'm probably not that I'm probably living to 120 something, but I probably listen to that one again, you're an author. So you have all these things, right? You have a lot of things that people are probably like, wow, like that guy that that's interesting, but this curious 10 year old walks out to you, and none of those things mean anything to them. How do you explain what you do?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah, I'd say I try to make people feel more connected in their, in their work lives specifically kind of focused on their career, their jobs, their work, how they spend their time, how they spend their days, feel a little bit more connected, a little bit more engaged, a little bit happier and kind of fight the loneliness epidemic that we're feeling very much in the United States in Australia, throughout the world. That was actually very much an epidemic before the pandemic. All of the data shows that you know, loneliness was, was on the rise prior to 2022 thirds of Americans were lonely that's data that was taken before. If anyone even knew the words coronavirus or COVID 19.

And a lot of studies have shown that loneliness rates have only increased, especially among young people, especially among parents, especially among women and, and working parents and working mothers throughout this time. So that's what I've been focused on especially the last two years.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So I think based on the experience that your children had, Jane, I'm sure they probably have some follow up questions for smiley. So I will do my best to ask those questions on behalf of your children today. The other question that I always ask to kind of, you know, get to learn a little bit more about the guests. It's a question that I encourage people to use, and they're one on one, because it's a question you could ask every week and get a different answer. So the question is, if you really knew me today, you would know. So Jane, how would you answer that?

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

If you really knew me today, you would know that I have a 15 year old son who is nonverbal lives with syndrome and autism. And, and you talk about loneliness. I think, you know, he can't connect through voice. He, he probably won't have a job. But what's been profoundly interesting during the lockdown is he's probably the most connected kid I've seen. And he's got these three incredible carers who love him. And I say that with the greatest of respect, because they have been here day in, day out, they take him out for picnics.

They've connected him with other kids with similar disabilities, and that to me, and, but it's made a massive difference in their lives as well. So one of the girls, Ella, I was chatting to her on Friday. We did a bit of a Q and a session with the workforces that have been impacted by COVID. And her story about Angus is she was so lonely during lockdown one, she just felt sad, like sad and lonely and just disconnected. Couldn't do her work experience. There was no uni. And then Angus came into her life and other kids like him, and she said it, she just, it made her happy and it made her feel connected and it made her feel like she had real meaning and purpose.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. It's, you know, I think we, we're gonna touch on this throughout this episode, but like, I know everyone's got their own story with this as well. And sort of like how they've been, I guess, battling this both at a human level, but also in a professional context as well. And smiley today, you know, obviously we've met a few times before, but if I was to ask you today, if I really knew you, what would I need to know?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah. I think if you really knew me, you'd know that, you know, I think my image publicly is one of someone who's very happy and smiley. I mean, my nickname is smiley. My birth name is Adam, so my mom did not name me smiley. Although she approves of the name, she still calls me Adam. But I'm, you know, an outgoing person, an extrovert.

I think, you know, people assume that I'm pretty happy go lucky, and I'm generally a pretty positive person, but I also struggle a lot, you know, with sadness, with loneliness, with feeling isolated sometimes and disconnected. And just to kind of normalize that, you know, and especially, I think, you know, in the research for my book, I realized that you can be totally an extroverted person and still feel lonely. It's the subjective feeling. It's an emotional state, it changes, right.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

You can have lots of social connections, especially lots of social connections online and still not feel that depth feel that con that connection that you're looking for and that gap of, you know, where you're at and what you want, or what you desire or what you think you desire, that's loneliness that subjective gap. And so I struggle with that. And just to normalize that as, Hey, you can, you know, be someone who everyone's like, oh, you're smiley, you're bringing the party. Like I see you at the events, you know, Damon, you're hosting these events, you know, you're the social glue of a, of a friend community or, or, or at work or with, or, or in your neighborhood, whatever. And you can also be lonely sometimes.

And that's okay. And actually talking about it and being open about it allows other people to be real with their feelings. And to talk about this more, I think, helps us feel more connected. So it kind of starts with being a little bit open, vulnerable, real so that other people have that permission slip as well.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Well, I think that's a perfect segue into me asking myself this question, which is, and I guess if you really knew me today, you would know that you know, when we held this event originally, I was a panelist and today I'm a, I'm a host of a conversation, but I'm also partaking in the conversation. So if you knew me, you would know that I'm trying to balance both of those two things and learning how to ask myself questions or when to partake and when to just play host. I think if you also really knew me, and I know, you know Jane, our workers overlapped in the past, but I'm a co-founder of a men's mental health charity here in Australia, which really focused on sort of suicide prevention and awareness in for Australian men that came out of working with social entrepreneurs in Australia.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And for me, it was very personal due to my dad's severe depression and suicide attempts. It was a way for me to channel energy into something that I saw impacting my family. And then when it comes to loneliness, you know, like I haven't spoken too publicly about this, but like the last 12 months was this incredible like a lot of people who I mentioned this to are waiting for the book to come out. But you know, I found myself halfway through 2021 with my us work visa expiring at the same time that Australia's border was shut.

And I couldn't physically get back to Australia to renew my us work visa, and I couldn't get into Australia. So like the place where I lived, like, which was my home for seven years in America, couldn't keep me and the place that is my birth home, wouldn't take me.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And I found myself basically very quickly having to pivot my entire life. You know, I had established friendships, relationships, house, car things, life tasks, and very quickly I found myself having to move somewhere else. I had to move to another country and wait for a flight to Australia. And I found myself living in Mexico City from August until November in a place where you know no hablo Espanol is putting it lightly.

So, you know, like for me, it was like, I was literally watching a society for five months and I couldn't partake. I was listening to conversations and, I like I would pick up words every now and then, but it was really hard. So, you know, for me, it was really interesting to be an observer of a, of a society without partaking in it, which was this weird form of loneliness.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And, you know, since then I've now come back to Australia and, you know, for me, one of the most constant things throughout that time was my workplace was my culture and colleagues was my team. And they kept me feeling very connected, but it's been interesting to come back to Australia for the first time. It'd been two years since I'd been gone and, and things like that. So yeah. Now Australia is this different form of loneliness because I feel disconnected from this place a little bit as well. So anyway, this is not a live therapy session. This is a podcast. So I thought I would just share that little bit of context with both the listeners, as well as the two of you.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

What, what was, what was something that kind of kept you going in, in, in some of those hard moments or during that time, was there like a, a group, a a book, you know, a, a podcast, like what, you know, just some of the things that kind of kept you excited and connected, engaged.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. I think one of them was so col amp has a budget for you to pick your own learning options each quarter. And I put the budget from H two of last year towards Spanish lessons. So I said, if I'm going to be here, I should like try my best to partake in society. And, you know, not just be sitting there like a, you know, a fish outta water, every time someone asked me, like, do I want a bag at the grocery store? I'm like, I can learn that I can learn BSer I can know what that mean.

And I can say, see, or, or, you know, and, and whatnot. So my teacher gave me a lot of connection. She had a lot of empathy for the situation I was in, you know, I met with her twice a week, did my best to, you know become conversational in Spanish.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And then I think the other thing was just trying to see this obstacle as, as this opportunity, just to learn something else about a different society in different life. And I you know, I came back and one of the first things I wanted to do with my family was sit down with my brothers and my mom, and watch the film cocoa and talk about Mexican culture and Mexican heritage and like the importance of family and acknowledging, you know, death and ancestors and stuff. And they've sort of come back and they know I'm always referencing Mexican things cuz it had such a big impact on me. So I think connecting to a different society in a way that I probably never would've as a tourist was something that I think gave me a lot of energy for a more holistic life.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

Mm. And dam. And that's about physical connection in, in that, you know, brand new city where, you know, no one, you can't speak a language. How else were you able to use, obviously through tech, you know, connect back to your Australian family, your work colleagues. Cause I'm also, I I've been after listening to you and that story, it just flagged with me so many different things, you know, young guys on their own, who, who have been in lockdown, who've had no connection, no friends or you know, people separated from their partners. I know one of the together AI guys his partner was here working as a nurse in Melbourne. He was in Sydney, you know, a, a tech guy in his, in his apartment doing his technology. And I just looked at I'm like, that's just so tough. And then his family were in regional, I think either new south Wales or Australian capital charity. So he couldn't see his family and you're just like, this is hard work for people. Yeah. and it's really tough when overlay that with no language. Like I just, it just blew my mind when I heard your story. I was like, man, that's tough.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. Look, I, I certainly spent a lot of time connecting with family and friends and trying to keep them kind of informed. But I think, you know, one of the things that we'll touch on is that like, I guess the surface level of technology conversations and how deep you can really get, and also how much you're willing to admit when you are struggling or what's going on. If you're in a professional or personal setting, like for me, one of the biggest ways I felt more connected to my family is not, you know, these deep conversations or the big Christmas event. It's like, it's the hallway conversations with my 18 year old brother. It's him walking in and rating my wardrobe for sneakers or clothes. You know, it's like all the little things that you get to do in person that really keep you connected. And I also think about the workplace, like the amount of colleagues who have come on board, done a full 18 months, worked on a project and then go off to another team or another company I'm like, we never even like rub shoulders.

DAMON KLOTZ:

You know, we never sat down side by side to kind of like right. Build a project together. And I think that was something that, you know, I think companies will continue to wrestle with is that need for physical connection, bringing people together. You know, I know just yesterday I spoke at a conference with a colleague who I had met once very briefly in December. And I feel like the ability for us to sort of turn something around very quickly and produce a presentation for a customer in a short period of time was because I'd met him once. And we had some level of connection of Herby were as a person. And I think that's something that we're gonna, you know, continue to wrestle with as companies and society is how much, like how quickly can we get past surface level friendship and connection in this new age that we're living in?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah, this is can, if I can just jump in cuz I do, you know, a lot of, you know, talks on kind of the hybrid workplace and you see a lot of people sharing data around how productive remote work can be hybrid work and most. And it's true. Then, the majority of the data shows that the vast majority of employees are happy with remote work. They prefer being at home. The majority of the time they'd rather be at home than in the office. They still wanna go back to the office, but not all the time. 80% of workers prefer remote or hybrid work compared to just all in person. And, and at the same time, you're also seeing people showing super high rates of disconnection at work. I think 70% of employees right now are, are disconnected at work from their teams. So it's on the we're, we're saying one thing.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

And at the same time saying the thing that would actually prevent us from achieving the thing that we really want. So I think it's a real challenge. And I think that there was this big push and you know, there's a lot of advantages to hybrid work. I don't think it's going anywhere. I think the future of work is very much hybrid, and you have to design intentionally for connection, both working virtually and take advantage of those times, whether it's two days a week, three days a week, two days a month that you're in the office. So that it's really, really intentional. And that you're really designing for connection at almost every level of the employee experience from onboarding to training, to regular meetings, to praise recognition, appreciation all of the stuff that you know, that is important. And I think that it's taken for granted people assume, oh, they're gonna connect they're they're, you know, they're by their desks or they're on a zoom call, they'll connect. And that's just not the case or not in the way that we, that people really need to connect with that depth, that vulnerability that deepening.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

Yeah. And I, I, I also wouldn't mind jumping in here around hybrid work. I mean, we've had office across Sydney and Melbourne, and it's really hard when you've got the Sydney office in the office together and you are on a call trying to connect with people and you just don't, but you just cannot do it. It's so tough. And our guys have, have purposely made an intention that they'll come to Melbourne will go up to Sydney. But it does create this disconnect of those that are in space together. And those that are on call and not in that physical location. And then I think the hybrid workplace again, yeah, great for white collar, great for people who can be on a zoom call, but you look at, we did again, this Q&A with hospitality industry. I mean, they can't, there's no such thing as a hybrid workplace for those guys you know, care workers, mental health care things have gone online in zoom, but you still need that physical connection and care to actually help someone understand that you're empathizing with them.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

The disability care workforce I've talked about, you know, it's a gig economy, it's, it's a non-connected community. And yet I've seen that group come together. Like they're incredible in the support for each other. And the girls look out for each other and you know, of all the people that we chatted to, they were the group that seemed to be doing the best in connection in connecting because they physically have to be together. So I think there's something to be said about yeah, hybrid workplace. Everyone thinks it's a great thing. But the stress levels and the lack of connection. And then the global survey, which has been done around executives, 76% were stressed and you're going 76% are stressed, man. That's, that's a, that's a big group of people. And when you're stressed, what do you do? You make poor decisions. You, you can't lead. You know, you, you really struggle to actually create an environment that is psychologically safe for people. And so there's a lot of complexity in this whole pandemic and the both the good, the bad and the ugly and what was coming out from it.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Definitely. Yeah. There is a, I think at the heart of that is like, this is one of the reasons why the, the modern day HR role is so complex, cuz you are experienced designers, you are thinking about pandemic policies, public health care, like public health policies. And yeah, look, I, I think one of the things that I always try to bring to this podcast is a broad perspective of someone who has worked in multiple countries and regions. But also anytime I get caught up and just wanting to talk about virtual or remote and like, you know, knowledge workers, I always get reminded very quickly that my father is a recipient of the N D I S here in Australia. You know, one of my brothers is a care worker who cares for people, you know, directly in the community and works face to face. And it takes people, places.

DAMON KLOTZ:

My mother is a age care nurse and you know, she's in full PPE gear. So that's why when I talk about like the mental health things that we know we need to be discussing in the workplace, it's like definitely one part of this is gonna be people trapped in their homes or in share houses in a bedroom for the last two years. And the other part is frontline workers who are there dealing with, I guess the societal issues that we're kind of touching on. So Jane, I think it's important for the audience to maybe get, I guess, some foundational context just about the topic of mental health as we then gotta discuss maybe actions leaders can do to create more mentally healthy workplaces. But you know, as an expert in this subject, when I just say the term mental health, how do you describe that at its call level to someone?

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

Yeah. And look, it's a, it's a really good question. Cause I think 20 plus years ago, just as beyond blue was starting, mental health was thought of as mental illness. So someone with depression, someone with anxiety, someone with psychosis or someone with a drug or alcohol problem, I think that the fast forward 20 years people are now talking about mental health and wellbeing in the same way we talk about physical health and wellbeing. So this idea that it's holistic, it's whole of mind and body, you know, you're not disconnected from your body, it's people and planet. It's the connections that we feel. And I know the early research around sense of belonging, sense of connection, meaning and purpose. They are the foundational, you know, absolutely. The building blocks of wellbeing. And yet when you hear, and I don't know if it's an Australian thing, smile, I'd be interested in the us.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

But mostly when we talk about mental health in this country, we talk about services and you know, needing to have psychological services and, and clinicians available to support people with poor mental health. I'm far more interested in how do we, as a society, support people to be mentally healthy, fit and well, and how do they engage in that society? Even if they're living with a mental illness or they're living with a disability. And I think what's been profoundly impactful and interesting is this big push from the wellbeing Institute. And now the well building Institute, which is looking at this intersection between people and planet and you know, mentally healthy people.

They, they do, you know, they, they, they're not always happy. That's, that's the whole thing, you know, it's, it's a roller coaster. It's called life. It's, it's tough and it's challenging, and it brings with it it's challenges, but it's how you build up your resilience around that. And I don't say that in a warm, fuzzy resilience way. I say that in a, you know, who are your connections? Where do you find your purpose? How do you find your people? How do you support each other when you are going through difficult, challenging times? And particularly if you live with a mental illness, how do you keep yourself mentally fit and well, because you can, even when you are struggling,

DAMON KLOTZ:

I love that. You said it was a shift from wellbeing to what was the term that you used

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

Shift from illness to wellness and a shift from poor mental health to mental fitness? Yeah. Like flights, physical fitness. If you, you know, you don't go out and run a marathon like where you can, but you're not gonna, you're not probably gonna do particularly well. And you end up with with, you know, blood all over your toes and you know, your torn tendons, mental fitness is the same. It's, it's like a muscle you've gotta keep working it and, and trialing and testing the things that work for you and the things that help you connect and smiley. I was interested in your view, you know, as an extrovert I'm super extroverted. But same thing, you know, you struggle with day to day life. I know when Angus was born with down syndrome, I had no connection. It's the loneliest I've ever felt, even though I had a brand new baby and I was a part of mum, a mum's group, I didn't tell anyone he had down syndrome.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

Like how bizarre is that? It took me about three years before I actually felt even comfortable with my own skin, with the fact that I had a child with down syndrome. And then suddenly he was diagnosed with autism. That was a whole new world of pain. And then he lost all of his words. It's you sort of go I'm, I'm super connected. I've got lots of friends, but sometimes you just have an experience which just keeps you completely on your own, regardless of how many friends you've got or, or your partner or whatever they're going through. You're just on your own and lonely.

DAMON KLOTZ:

I think the other thing that you mentioned was wellbeing to well building, which I think is a really interesting one, especially cause I think a lot about, I guess, how companies position programs and initiatives inside of companies and like, like language matters. So I think for anyone listening, who's talking about, you know, their initiatives, like sometimes the language that we use around putting out these programs to support our employees, it can actually help change the perception of like, this is not just about what, like, what is my state of being, but what is my state of building?

How do I, what am I gonna be doing if I'm accessing these resources to continue to build up levels of resilience and understanding, and awareness and tools you know, to, to combat things loneliness. And I think smiley, I'd love to kind of hear from you from like a, you know, obviously we're very focused on sharing anecdotes and stories, but also research. And you did yeah. A lot of research pre pandemic for this book. You, you actually, you know, you started writing this book pre pandemic. Now, you know, your book, you know, friendship in the age of loneliness comes out during the pandemic. Like have you seen a change in some of the things that you track in terms of the, the studies that were coming out about loneliness, you know, from before the pandemic to now? Or is it, is it consistent?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah, to me, the data that I've seen, it's only gotten worse. So, you know, I mentioned two thirds of Americans are lonely, including 80% of gen Z, 70% of millennials. So that's the vast majority of young people. One in five people have no close social connections. So that's a study that came out that just in 2021. So it, you know, in the middle of the pandemic, something that I know will be not a surprise to you given your work around men and, and male friendship, but 15% of men have no close social connections at all zero.

And you know, that that's correlated with, you know, increased risk of, you know, bad things, whether it's stress, anxiety, potentially, you know, violence, suicide, all of these things, drug addiction. And so this is a really big issue.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

And then on the flip side of it, right? The thing that is really interesting is that, you know, when people do have this sense of belonging, you know, at work beyond work in their lives, it literally cures loneliness. It literally saves your life.

You know, so loneliness is as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day on the flip side, having social support increases your chance of survival by 50% literally saves your life. . But just to like, you know, just to sharing some, some data that research that Cigna did Cigna, I think has done one of the largest loneliness studies, at least in the United States, they did it with UCLA when you don't have to hide your true self at work you're nine points, less lonely. When you have a best friend at work you're less lonely when you have shared goals with your colleagues and kind of feel like you're part of a team you're less lonely, eight points, less lonely when you have the sense of work-life balance, when you can actually leave work at work, your seven points, less lonely.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

And I think, you know, that last one I think is really important. And I think companies often throw around work life balance, and self-care is kind of like perks and marketing. But what that's really saying is when people have less work, like we have to be really clear about that. You know, it's, you know, it's when you assign less work, when there's more people on the team, right? When you hire more people or assign less work or both of them, that's what we're talking about here. When people fully feel like they can actually manage what they need to do, and then they're not, you know, going home at five or six o'clock or logging offline for 10 minutes to eat dinner and then logging back online at seven, 8:00 PM, because think about it. What would you be doing at seven, 8:00 PM eating dinner with your family, going on a walk with a friend, spending time with a loved one or a partner going on a date, trying to meet people in your neighborhood or meet people online, not working . In other words, if you're working, you're just gonna maintain that kind of sense of dread potentially even if you like your job. So really kind of taking that seriously, I think is really important.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Which, you know, at an organizational level, I think more than ever, like I said, you know, earlier, you know, we need to be designing like, so when I think about company culture, I think about your values. So the things that your company stands for multiplied by the behaviors and the behaviors, both shadow and golden side behaviors that exist inside of a company.

And I think that's why having this kind of tenants that you and these stakes in the ground that a company believes in, ends up having a massive impact on society. And that's why I always look at my work as like, part of me feels like a consumer based thing. So I look at like why people do what they do and why they buy products that they buy and look at, you know, and be involved in communities. Cause I've always been fascinated by people, both inside and outside of companies.

DAMON KLOTZ:

But I feel like where I spend a lot of my time thinking and writing right now is because, you know, the role of the container of your company has this ripple effect on societies. And one of the things that we've lost is that like, people like it's been interesting watching TV shows that where you see like people saying, oh, we're moving to Chicago because you know, mom got a job there. Like now, now that's gone, right?

Like we're physically choosing our locations based on where we want to live the communities we wanna be involved in the society that we choose to partake in. Not because the job tells us that we have to move somewhere. I know a lot of people who are changing jobs are basically just searching for remote only roles, roles, where remote is the option. So like, you know, there is this kind of effect that, you know, organizations have on us, but also it is becoming this virtual experience.

DAMON KLOTZ:

You know, you're going from your big screen on your laptop to your small screen on your phone. We are spending so much time kind of connected, but disconnected, which I think is why, you know, this loneliness epidemic and the mental health epidemic, a lot of people are saying will be the thing that outlasts the pandemic. It's actually the ongoing behavioral changes that we've seen inside of companies in inside of society. I know Jane, you've spent a lot of time looking at psychological safety, but also like claims inside of companies when it comes to, I guess, mental health. What are you seeing in that space when it comes to the actual impact of loneliness and mental health in the workplace?

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

Yeah. So, and, and smiley, I couldn't agree more with things like job control and job demand. But also, and I think Damon, onto your point around, how do you create psychologically safe workplaces and so pre pandemic? We were really focused on wellbeing and productivity within the workplace and we could see the claims just skyrocketing around psychological claims. So things like bullying, abuse, victimization and you're seeing it now.

Every time you turn on the news, the seven 30 report last night, there was a woman who'd been abused by a judge, young lawyer coming through. And so I think there's, there's key things. There's as leaders, as boards and executives, you are responsible for the culture of your workplace. And that's not just about having a wellbeing policy in place. It's not just about having yoga or, or, you know, everyone's talking about the banana and the apple.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

It's not bringing in a wellbeing program and expecting that to tick the box. It's actually asking yourself the question from top down and bottom up. And we've had great conversations with our regulators here in Australia from work safe. What does it actually mean to walk the floor and to understand who feels safe in this workplace and who is supported in this workplace? And do we have a culture of acceptance of diversity? You know, the data's come out really clear Rio Tinto's report by Elizabeth Brodrick, you know, last week around psychologically safe workplaces fly and fly out who didn't feel safe, women. I think they had something like 20 sexual abuses and, and rape over the five year period. Like it was horrific indigenous didn't feel safe. Didn't feel safe to talk up, felt abused, neglected. You know, it's a brave thing to put that report out, but scratch the surface.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

And I think every workplace, it doesn't matter whether it's mining, manufacturing, frontline workers. You know, we talk about our policy and our ambulance and our paramedics and age care and disability care workplaces can be great havens and they can be incredible for connection and finding meaning and purpose and friendship.

They can also be psychologically damaging and they can absolutely destroy you and workplaces should not destroy people. And so I think we need to be much braver in calling out where it's going wrong, why it's going wrong as a board member, you are actually criminally negligent. If a person is exposed and has some sort of psychological health issue, we know, and I'll quote Martin Campbell on this. He's the heads of work safe authorities here in Australia. It's actually less expensive for a workplace to deal with someone losing their finger in an industrial accident than it is to deal with a psychological health claim.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

And often people who expose exposed to trauma in the workplace, which is often, often insidious and hidden. You don't see it, you know, not being invited to meetings, having meetings on days when you, you're not working. You know, they're, they're, they're not things that you would put your finger on and go, oh yeah, that's, that's really bullying and harassment that person's called me a, you know, terrible name and treated me poorly.

They're the insidious things that we don't see, but once people are exposed to them and they're constantly exposed to them and they end up psychologically unwell and take time off work, it's much harder to get back into the workforce. The claims cost so much more than a physical health claim and they're on the rise. So I just think if you are a leader, an executive and you don't care about your workforce, then you are on a road to nowhere.

DAMON KLOTZ:

You're touching on something incredible points about like one, the overarching business need for people to understand this. Like, you know, whether it's the financial ramifications of dealing with some of these claims and, or, or, you know, the support you need to provide to employees, but also just the intentions of like, what sort of a company do we wanna be like, what do we actually stand for? How much of our values and the things that we put on the internet or, or, you know, put in a brochure are real.

And how many of these things are like underneath the surface. And I think one of the important connection points in this conversation for people to think about is that a lot of this can also start with a culture of where feedback is given and received, where there is psychological safety to actually have hard conversations where, you know, people don't shy away from saying, I don't understand this.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Why was that decision made? Who's gonna be working on this. Where are the resources? A lot of this starts with some of those microaggressions that you kind of mentioned Jane, around how these things play out and then, you know, the trickle on effect. And like I know like literally just yesterday I was speaking at a leadership conference of a big retailer here in Australia, and we were actually talking about the need to understand the previous work experiences of their junior retail employees to help unpack some of the PTSD that they might have from having a toxic workplace culture as their first job experience.

And we were talking a lot about, you know, a lot of people here in Australia work at fast food places. And they were like, oh, this person came from this place. This place had really good training, really good manager development people who would be hire from here act actually, you know, do really well at this company.

DAMON KLOTZ:

People who came from this one, there's a lot of things we need to unpack. And I think, you know I had mental hearts on this podcast once and she, you know, speaks a lot about, you know, being okay with like unpacking your stuff at the door when you enter a new company and like talking about some of the PTSD that you've had, so that your managers and your leaders know about, like, what do you need to succeed in this new role and being open about it? I'd love to hear smiley from you, like how some of this is sort of resonating with you or what you are seeing directly from companies.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah. I mean, I think what Jane, I really agree with what Jane said. I mean, in the us you know, there's a cook cold, did a study with HBR that found, you know, probably not surprisingly white men and white women have the greatest sense of belonging in terms of their median scores, black women and Asian women have the lowest 97% of black respondents in the us so that they fail preferred a fully remote or hybrid workplace. And only 3% wanted to return fully in person, which tells me that the majority of black workers do not feel safe at work, right. When they're spending more time potentially in, you know, company of their manager and their, their their colleagues, which tells me there's not psychological safety for the most part in the workplace when it comes in many cases to race and gender.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

So that's the big piece there is that, you know, people needing to feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other, if you don't feel safe as who you are based on your background, based on who you are, you can't have psychological safety period. So if you don't have not just the diversity piece, but the inclusion piece it's impossible. And, you know, I think that, you know, Jane mentioned, you know, this idea of, or I think you mentioned idea feedback, and I think that that's true modeling, curiosity asking lots of questions. I think it starts with just being, you know, you can be yourself , you can actually be able to be who you are. You can be seen for who you are, you can be seen for your unique contributions and you that you feel seen and heard.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

That's I think the, the building blocks here feeling seen and heard, not feeling like you need to hide or cover who you are, is the biggest piece here. It's kind of the building blocks. And then you can get to kind of some of the, you know, the higher stuff around, you know, being proud of your organization's values and purpose and contributing, and you know, this idea of meaning and purpose. But I think the, the kind of the, the bottom there, the bottom of the pyramid is, you know, feeling safe, feeling safe to be, to, to be who you are.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. I know. You know, when we talk about flexible work environments or like, you know, understanding your employee's needs, like a lot of this does come down to someone's individual experience and what they need in order to succeed at that company. And when I think about, you know, equality, a lot of that really is like, I know companies need to put out generalist policies because that's how, you know, companies work. You, you create things that you believe in, you put them out there, but like at your, at your core managers play this role of deeply understanding their employees' needs. And I, I had a really good friend in the us share with me once pre pandemic that she had chosen to be a remote employee for the last five years, as a, because as a woman of color, she felt safer working remotely, not having to commute, not having to like, worry about microaggressions in the office, not like she said, I can't deal with that BS anymore.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And I'm just gonna be a remote employee, cuz this is what I need to succeed in whatever organization. And I'm just not gonna do that anymore. And I think when we think about the modern workplace and one of the things that the pandemic has shown us is that it's proven that organizations can find alternate ways for people to succeed at work based in your environment and whatever we can do to, you know, ensure people are set up for success.

But rather than just have blanket policies saying, this is how we all must work because we saw a study still learn about the individual needs of your team and what they need and what they need for their own mental health, for their own psychological safety. Cuz I think that's critical and their conversation's worth having.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

I'd also add there Damon, the, one of the things that I'm finding really refreshing and interesting. And, and again, I've be interested, smiley and your views on this happening in the United States, but there's a big movement here. And I don't know if it's because of the national disability insurance agency and the funding available, but this importance of actually having different abilities within the workplace.

So, you know, neurodivergent you know, you actually get a whole, it's not just a benefit to the person. It's actually a benefit to the team. You actually get different opinions, you get different ways of thinking. You know, as for a very short period of time, I was interim CEO for a company that was supporting people with downstream getting into the workplace. And so some of our big, you know employers were looking at well, how do I actually structure the workplace so that people with down syndrome who have very different learning needs and different ways of engaging, how do I create an environment where they can come to work and be their true, authentic self?

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

You know? And, and not all people with down syndrome are happy and smiley. Like there's sort of there's complexity. Even in that, like you've got to don't, don't just put a blanket brush on or we'll fly. We will employ people who are neurodivergent will employ people with down syndrome or will employ people, you know, in a, in a, you know, with a physical disability, actually you've gotta think about authentically, what are the differences of people and how do we create cultures that actually say your authentic self is important.

We want you to turn up and be your real person. And we want you to feel safe, to speak up if you see something happening and if you don't feel comfortable with it, call it out. And maybe that's hard, you know, I've, I re I remember as a young person coming through, you know, I came through medicine and I was doing a lot of work within the political space. It was hard as a young woman to put your hand up and go, actually this looks wrong. And so, you know, hats off to, to Britney Higgins and, and the women of the world, grace tame, you know, who are actually putting their hand up and saying, there's something wrong here. And it's a power differential, but it's not just about gender. It's actually about difference. And that's really tough to get your head around.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah. I think what we're seeing is, you know, the shift in kind of, you know, company first or, you know what the board thinks or what the mission statement or the values in the eighth, four of the conference room that no one's sitting in, the Val going from the focus being there and the emphasis there to what the people want, right. And a people first approach and flexibility is just listening to your people, which sounds so simple, but it's all well and good to talk about mental health and self care. And it's another, you know, and, and how, you know, you value that and that's your mental health is important to our culture.

And then when someone says, Hey, I need to leave early at three. I can't make that call. I have to go pick up my kid or, you know, my, you know, mother is sick.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

I need to, you know, do that tomorrow. And then you say, I, I'm sorry, you can't, then don't talk to me about mental health or self care. You're full of crap. Right. And that's flexible work. It's not, oh, what's our return to office policy or nine to five or four days a week or five days. It's actually not that it's being flexible to what people need and understanding that's gonna change. And I think, I hope that that's what the lesson has been for a lot of companies, especially even, you know, more rigid companies or traditionally more traditional companies in, in the last two years is seeing that and experiencing that and realizing that, you know, if you really want to retain talent and top talent and have a really diverse, high performing dynamic workforce that you need to practice that in action. I remember someone telling to me, like in a virtual world, actions speak a lot louder than words, right?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Like how you treat people, what you do for them, how you show up for them goes a lot longer than the, the kind of policy right on the website or the email you sent out, or what you posted on Instagram, or, you know, nobody cares. It's like, what did you do for them? Like, did you let them take a couple days off when they needed it? Did you let them, you know, not get something done on time because on time would've really compromised their mental or physical health or, or the mental, physical health of a loved one.

DAMON KLOTZ:

I think at the heart of a lot of what we're talking about here. And what I've loved about hosting this podcast is like, this is not a podcast just for HR people. This is actually the podcast that a lot of HR people send to managers because managers are the ones that like nearly everything we're saying is like the manager can better understand their employees, their manager. So, and we know more than ever, that has been one of the hardest times ever to be a leader of people. So I thought maybe to bring this conversation home, I think anyone listening would be very aware now either, you know, before this, or because of this episode about how important mental health is in the workplace and, and the impact that it can have.

But I thought, I end on a question for each of you and you have a different persona that you can kind of answer it for either the individual employee or the manager. So smiley, I might start with you. So for the individual employees who are like listening to this and saying like, I want to be able to build better connection and combat loneliness, you know, what tips do you have for people?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah. Great question. Can I just say something on the HR piece real quick? I have so much empathy for HR directors, HR managers, HR leaders. During this last time, I have always been, you know, an HR champion and I was, you know if you watch any of my talks or listening to anything I wrote or said before 2020, I was always like HR represent like HR is underrated HR in the C-suite HR should be paid more like, this is not, this is the future as HR. These are the people, people, they're the hu human resources, literally human capital. They know their people, and they're in charge of motivating them and, and getting them excited and knowing their hopes and dreams. But I think in the last two years, we've seen people that are already slammed with actually doing their job now have to take on basically another whole other job of essentially like healthcare logistics , you know?

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah. In, in the most cases, right? Like, is it safe to return? Like, do people need tests or masks or the office or what the policies and who's gonna be, and when, and it's just like, so I just wanna just give a shout out to all of the HR folks that either have stayed in their job or have switched jobs and are, and are just keeping at it and are really in my, in my opinion, the bread and butter of kind of, you know, every job in a company is important, but I, I just have a special affinity for HR folks, all always, but especially in the last two years, but in terms of being people, officer became the chief pandemic officer. Yeah. I had an article about the chief friendship officer. I actually pitched it to Harvard business review. They didn't take it with that subject.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

I had this, that title cuz they said, it's not realistic. And I said, I know it's not realistic. I didn't expect everyone to hire a chief friendship officer, but it was supposed to be kind of provocative. Like chief people, officers now have so much on their plate. We actually also need a chief friendship officer. Who's literally just in charge of connection and making people foster deeper relationships and friendships. But you know, just on the employee level, I think, you know, it's kind of that it starts with you. So it's kind of, I really do believe belonging connection. Yes. The, the, the company culture sets the tone; the executive team sets the tone. That's all important. And a culture of belonging is everyone's job. A culture of friendship is everyone's job. And I really think that, you know, the simple act of thinking, you know, that every interaction you have can be a little bit longer, a little bit deeper, a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more caring and approaching it from that.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

So if you have a conversation with someone, maybe a new employee, maybe someone that's onboarding, maybe they're onboarding virtually, maybe it's, they're younger. Like how, who can you connect them with? You know, what book can you recommend? You know, what can you, what piece of wisdom can you give to them? Like how can you just take that little interaction of, oh, very nice to meet you. I hope to see you around or like see on the next zoom call and just a little bit deeper.

So that there's that just moment of recognition, moment of memory, moment of mutual support you taking an interest in them goes so long, goes such a long way that, and just appreciation, appreciation, appreciation. I think we totally underestimate, we think that everyone's getting appreciated enough.

That is not the case, you know you know especially E everyone, whether, you know, care workers, hospitality workers, you know, I just think like you're seeing all these studies down with people, you know, getting mad on airplanes and yelling at, you know, servers and restaurants and it's just, which is just despicable.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

And then to just be the person that's like, thank you for waiting on me tonight at dinner. Right? Thank you for being my flight attendant. Thank you for the work that you do every day. You know, my colleague, you know, my coworker here's what I appreciated about, you know, how you showed up this week just goes such a long way and like sets a model for other people to do that and not to yell at other people which is how, unfortunately, some members of our society, you know, they are under-resourced.

So it's, it makes sense. You know, like there's a reason why people are reacting that way. They're tired, they're stressed, they have anxiety. It's been a pandemic. They're nervous about themselves. They're family members. That's why they're behaving from a place of, of scarcity, but it's not appropriate. And to show the kind of a, a better way to treat other people, I think is one of the better things we can do.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Couldn't agree more, yeah. To create a better world of work, or you also need to create a better world and, you know, appreciation. Isn't just from the people that you work with. It's also from, yeah. The people that, you know, that you in interact with, and that might be the appreciation someone needs that day, that puts them above the line for their mental health, which I think you know, it's a small act. Now on the flip side of that, Jane, there might be a manager listening who has spent, you know, a lot of time going, wow.

Like, I don't know how to approach talking about mental health in the workplace with my team. What advice do you have even for someone who wants to do within a team meeting or, or during one-on-ones to feel like they have the coverage to be vulnerable and have those conversations that are so important.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

So I was gonna answer Smiley's question. So now I'm, I'm, I'm back. I'm like, oh, cuz I was gonna go, you go really hardcore. These are the behaviors, the thoughts, the things that we're okay with, these are the things we're not okay with. And we need to be able to feel safe, to put our hand up and say bad behavior should not be rewarded. And often you see bad behavior really rewarded.

Then I think what smiley talked about, you know, those, those more human connections, those softer approaches that vulnerability and authenticity. So as a leader, I think all of those things are true. It shouldn't just be the younger worker, the, you know, the more empathic worker, the more outgoing worker as a leader, I think you have to walk the talk and talk for talk, you know, you can't put forward a mental health plan and a policy.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

If you actually don't really, you know, give a crap about your people. So the best leaders I've seen are those that actually get out and ask people, you know, how is it what's going on? They're the ones that understand that a workforce can be under extreme Dures and stress. And, you know, I think about again, the, the mental health workforce, the first responder workforce, the care workforce, like they are experiencing some horrendous stuff and yes, it's pandemic related, but it's also just the nature of the job that they've got. So as leaders understand the pressure points for your workforce and understand how you can mitigate those pressure points.

And part of that is making people feel valued for the job that they do. Another part of it though, is really putting in place those simple tasks that make it easier for people to connect. So making sure that you give people time to ask about, you know, how was your weekend, how was your day, how you really feeling acknowledge how tough it is.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

I think some of the best leaders I've seen are just ones that come out and say, this is just terrible and it's tough. And we're in a pandemic. And, you know, we had the example of toilet paper here in Australia, like people being abused cause they, you know, they were, they weren't stocking the shelves with toilet paper. I mean, that's just really hardcore behavior, but acknowledging that that's really poor behavior and it's not acceptable.

I think they're the things leaders should be thinking about, you know, what is okay and what is not okay. And how do I support my people to actually have a voice and call out, you know, and speak up about poor culture. And often I think leaders are so busy being leaders. They forget to actually get down in the, in the grass and have a look at what's actually going on and things like absenteeism and presenteeism. I mean, it's, it's classic, you know, they're the, they're the sure of sign symptoms and, you know, turnover of staff that you actually don't have a good culture and you gotta do something about it. So be brave, be brave would be my final piece of advice.

DAMON KLOTZ:

I'm not sure if anyone's writing about this, but like just the term that came to mind was like, yeah, like psychological bravery at like an individual level at a manager level at an organizational level. Are you brave enough to go that little bit further a one on one and, and actually ask the question, how are you more than once to see if it elicits a different response to be able to bring up something and saying like that behavior towards our colleagues from a consumer is not okay or towards one of your fellow employees is not okay. You know, I know this is hard.

I know one of the reasons I went into the mental health space was to encourage men to have hard conversations that they typically avoid about mental health and suicide. And I think it's still hard in the workplace. We risk feeling like we might be reprimanded if we talk about something about our job performance or why we're struggling.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And I just ask for brave leaders, brave employees to say that maybe this is the workplace where this is gonna be okay, I can talk about it. I can actually have these conversations. And if it's not like call that out or find places where you do feel safe because I, I really believe rightly or wrongly, we get so much meaning from our work or our workplace. And it's important that we put ourselves in environments where we do feel that safety and call out the ones where we don't so that we can change that for other people in the future. So yeah, I just wanna say thank you to the both of you for partaking in this conversation. I'm sure this is a conversation we'll be having many more times at Culture Amp events and on this show because it needs to be constant. It needs to be something that we feel comfortable talking about. And I just also wanna thank you both for your own vulnerability in sharing your story. So any parting words or, or moments of gratitude towards the other person, maybe something you learn from each other.

PROFESSOR JANE BURNS:

I'll go first smiley is like a walking encyclopedia effect. so I always, I, I always just love the fact that you can reel off every statistic and then make it real and human. So I love that. And then Damon, I mean, I've obviously known you for quite a while and, and watched your work. Again, I think that authentic vulnerability and actually calling it out for what it is you know, is incredible. And I, I do think there needs to be brave leadership in this space and, and I love the term psychologically safe and brave. I think that makes a lot of sense.

ADAM SMILEY POSWOLSKY:

Yeah. Thank you both. Thank you, Jane, for the work that you're doing, your leadership it's really inspiring. And I really wanna kind of go deeper on some of the research that you all have done. And Damon, I, yeah, I always love talking to you. I feel like you're so thoughtful on this and really respect the work that you're doing specifically around men and, and male vulnerability and men's work men's friendship I'm wanna go deeper in that space. It's so important. It's like a whole other category that goes even, you know, it's actually quite related, you know, because UN for better or for worse often for the latter, so many of our leadership especially in a corporate context is men.

And there's a lot of overlap there between some of the toxic stuff that, that comes out of men, not having vulnerable, safe places where they can be in touch with their emotions. So yeah, that's a area that the society is permeating, you know, every aspect of society. So I'm inspired by the work you're doing there and really appreciate you both. And, and the work that you do every day

DAMON KLOTZ: if this has brought up if this conversation has triggered you anyway, if this has brought up anything that you would like to discuss in the show notes, we will have a range of resources for either yourself or things that you can share with your colleagues. Like we said, you know, it does take bravery to talk about mental health in the workplace. This is an important subject. And at the heart of it is company cultures, leadership feedback, and feeling like you have the ability to not only use your voice, but also share your voice and, and what's happening. So thank you again for everyone who's listened and we look forward to seeing you on another episode soon.

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