Get Reworked Podcast: What You Can Do About the Mental Health Crisis at Work
In the past year, an invisible virus amped up anxiety and worry and threw workers into months of isolation. On top of that, long simmering tensions exploded into a blaze of social protests, and the presidential election and subsequent storming of the U.S. Capitol showed just how divided society has become. The result is a perfect storm of conditions to sap employee mental wellbeing.
In this episode of Get Reworked, Andrew Shatté, pyschologist, author and chief knowledge officer at meQuilibrium, shares why companies need to get serious about mental health and start having real conversations about mental wellbeing at work. The reality is that less than a third of employees will come out of this experience stronger and more resilient.
Listen: Get Reworked Podcast Full Episode List
"There's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't strive for 100% of those people in our workforce to come out of this stronger if we take steps now and do the right thing," Andrew said. "And I think organizations right now are staring down a choice point and they do not want to be on the wrong side of history here."
Highlights of the conversation include:
- Why we're due for a renegotiation of the social contract between employers and employees.
- Managers' role in employee mental wellbeing and how to help them identify how to help.
- The seven skills to build a more resilient mindset.
- How the skills we learn now will help with the continued transformational change ahead.
Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak wonder just how awkward their face-to-face interactions will be as pandemic restrictions ease. Listen in for more.
Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].
- Andrew Shatté on the web.
- Andrew's company, meQuilibrium.
- TEDx Video.
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
Mike Prokopeak: Hello and welcome to Get Reworked, your guide to the revolution of work. My name is Mike Prokopeak and I'm editor in chief at Reworked.co.
Siobhan Fagan: And I'm Siobhan Fagan, managing editor for Reworked. At Reworked.co, we're dedicated to covering the people, the culture, the technology and the infrastructure that makes up our quickly evolving workplaces.
Mike: Get Reworked is our podcast, brought to you by Simpler Media Group, where you'll hear from industry pioneers leading the way into the future of work, reshaping not just how we work, but also why. We're excited to bring you conversations about best practices, workplace trends and key technologies that support the modern distributed workforce.
Siobhan: Hey Mike.
Mike: Nothing like an abrupt beginning. So we're in the midst of, what, our 14th month of remote work and I think we just demonstrated that our social skills are lacking.
Siobhan: I already was the person who spoke too much to the barista before all this happened because I've been working from home for so long, but I fear how I'm going to form complete sentences when I actually have to see people face to face.
Mike: That is a concern I'm sure a lot of people have right now because of where we're at with vaccinations and people starting to feel like there's a bit of an opening up of things. And a lot of companies now saying that they're going to return to work. That feels good. But it does come with some caveats. You know, we've kind of gotten used to the way it's been the last year. And now we're going to go through this whole cycle of change all over again.
Siobhan: I admit that I'm kind of happy that I don't have to go back to an office. But I know that I will be returning to society in general. I feel for those people who are returning to office. In a way I'm jealous, I miss human beings. The anxiety definitely feels real on my side.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, we definitely have to start talking to people face to face again at some point. It's inevitable.
Siobhan: Does that mean you and I have to meet in person one day, Mike?
Mike: One day. One day, yeah. Well, we are talking about this moment of change again, and sort of having this ability to adapt to change and be resilient because we have a great guest on our podcast today. Andrew Shatté is the chief knowledge officer and cofounder of meQuilibrium. He's also a fellow at the Brookings Institution Center for Executive Education. He was a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently on the faculty of the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona.
He's really well known in the circles of psychology and has actually written a number of articles in peer reviewed journals, and is the author of a couple of books, The Resilience Factor: Seven Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength in Overcoming Life's Hurdles and meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer and Happier. He's, I think, a pretty engaging speaker and I think the topic of mental well-being and resilience is one that we all could use a little bit of today. So are you ready, Siobhan?
Siobhan: Mike, I am. But can I say one thing?
Mike: You may.
Siobhan: Let's Get Reworked.
Mike: Ah, you stole it from me.
Welcome to the podcast, Andrew.
Andrew Shatté: Thank you so much, Mike. It's a real pleasure to be here.
Mike: We're at a pretty unique moment in work. And you told us at Reworked, in a story that we did back in March, something pretty dramatic. You said, "I couldn't have come up with a series of events that could rob us of our resiliency the way 2020 did. It was a perfect storm of disasters." Can you explain a little bit what you mean by that?
Andrew: I sure can, and I still stand by that statement. It was a perfect storm of disasters. And, Mike, I've been in the resilience business part time since 1984 and full time since 1992, so I thought I had seen it all and maybe even done it all. But there was nothing like the 15 months or so that started in March of 2020 and is continuing today. And I think it's the combination of factors in addition to the nature of each and every one of those adversities with which we were struck.
So beginning with the global pandemic, which obviously changed the way we're doing work, changed the way we're doing life. Completely turned our lives upside down certainly in terms of the workplace, but also in terms of our kids in education, our worries about our health, the health and wellness of our relatives. And then throw into the mix what happened with George Floyd and the awakening that that caused in us and our tendency to look inward at our moral compass and ask ourselves some really tough questions about what kind of country are we.
Now it's easier to get through something like a global pandemic if you're really sure of yourself as a nation. And I don't think we were. And that caused a lot of people a lot of consternation. And then we came into the presidential election cycle. There was uncertainty going in, there was uncertainty during, there was uncertainty coming out. So any one of these factors would have rocked us.
They're coming and piling on, one after the other, was that perfect storm. Then we had the invasion of the Capitol building, which said to us, you know, this, this whole presidential election thing isn't even done yet. And then emerging out of the year, a lot of people kind of pinned their hopes, Mike, on 2021. I think a lot of people had said, 2021, is going to be different. And you know what it wasn't. It turns out the finish line was moved, the goalposts were shifted, we didn't yet have the vaccine out there, our lives are the same as they had been.
And I think this is the perfect way to mess with the human mind. As I said, back in March, if you took the nefarious, evil side of me with the knowledge of resilience that I have, and said, "Can you design a year that would really optimally rob us of resilience?" I couldn't have done better. It's the uncertainty, the ambiguity, and the sheer piling on of adversities, Mike.
Mike: So what's at stake? I mean, if you kind of draw this out, what's going to be at stake at the end of this. Because there is one argument to be said that, okay, resiliency is built by going through trying circumstances and you come out stronger. That's sort of the thing we'd like to all believe about ourselves out of that. But what is at stake if it's not strength and unity that comes out of these kinds of circumstances.
Andrew: The stakes are absolutely huge. And I would like to think that people come out of these events stronger, the data don't tend to support that hope. So if we take a look at really big events that have happened before, maybe not to the same scale as what we're going through over the last 15 months. But if you take a look at a 9/11, which really shook us as a nation and shook our economy, if you take a look at the Great Recession, in which certain periods at the height of the Great Recession, something like 2,400 families a day were losing their houses to foreclosure, it was an economic and social and psychological tsunami.
Under those circumstances, what we see is about a third of people come out stronger, for reasons that we could talk about, but about a third of people come out the same as they went in and about a third come out weaker, permanently so, scarred emotionally, psychologically, mentally, and will never be the same again, they'll never be restored. And I think that with an event like this, we run the risk of having that 1/3 who come out stronger by chance alone, getting whittled down just because of the combination of these disasters.
Siobhan: So Andrew, if we can put this within the workplace context, when we look at those stakes, when we look at those kind of statistics, where you're saying that the amount who come out stronger might be even less than 1/3, what are the implications for the workplace? And how did the last year change the conversations that we have about our mental health in the workplace?
Andrew: It's a great question. I don't think that the pandemic changed the direction in which we were heading. We were heading to more remote work. But it was an accelerant and an exacerbant, and it caused change at a pace that the human mind doesn't desire. And it gave us sort of a mental whiplash. So I think that's, in essence, what was happening to us.
But the statistics here are really quite telling. For example, even between June 2020 to December 2020, burnout in our workplace is up 52%, worry is up 15%, sleep troubles are up another 20%, motivation has gone down 30%, positivity has gone down 36%, the physical symptoms of stress have gone up 32%. Now, people don't come out stronger when they're experiencing this unless we help them, and that's the key. There's no reason why we should leave this to chance.
The conversation that you mentioned is a critical one. We need to be talking about mental health, mental wellness, and then we can preserve that 1/3. In fact, we can do even better than that. There's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't strive for 100% of those people in our workforce to come out of this stronger if we take steps now and do the right thing. And I think organizations right now are staring down a choice point and they do not want to be on the wrong side of history here.
Siobhan: Andrew, could I ask you, because we have a lot of language that we use in these conversations, and it sometimes gets a little fuzzy what exactly we mean. So would you be able to just give brief explanations of what we mean when we say mental health, or what you mean when you say mental health vs. mental wellbeing vs. some of these other factors that we discuss.
Andrew: I think mental health is sort of an umbrella term that talks about what's going on for us mentally, emotionally, psychologically. This is going to include things like, to what extent are we happy, are we engaged, are we resilient vs. burnt out, lost motivation, disengaged. It's going to reflect in terms of things of our even our Net Promoter Scores, how into our jobs and our workplaces we are vs. resentful and basically disengaging.
It's going to take a look at things like productivity and performance on one end of the scale. And you know, most people, it's the law of averages, it is a bell curve. Most people are somewhere in the middle where they're getting by. They might be walking wounded or they're doing okay, but they don't feel great.
And then you have some who unfortunately, are far down the left hand side of the bell curve. And these are people who are literally struggling with clinical anxiety and clinical depression and we've seen spikes of this. Predictably so, you cannot go through what we've been through and not have a spike in these clinical disorders.
But at the other end, and I do see these things as being a continuum. And now we're talking more about mental health rather than mental illness, and we're talking about mental well-being. Here, we're talking about really optimizing potential, making people stronger, increasing their resilience, making them happier, or guiding them to be more happy, helping them with productivity and performance and a sense of meaning, mission and purpose.
So I see all of these things, I acknowledge that it's kind of a grab bag and a loose collection, but they all fit under the umbrella of mental health and mental well-being.
Mike: You brought up mental illness and that's obviously something that is a clinical condition. That's something that an employer has a responsibility, just as they would with any other health related issue to help employees grapple with, find treatment for, those sorts of things. But the other areas, the grayer areas when you start getting into mental health, talking about mental health and mental well-being, a lot of managers I don't think have been trained to think of that as their responsibility. Is it their responsibility? Is it the employers' responsibility to really to take some responsibility for the individual employee? Or is that more the individual employees? Where do you fall in that and why?
Andrew: It's a really interesting question. And I will go back to something that I think is even more foundational than that and that is the social contract between an organization and its employees. And let's acknowledge the fact that beginning predominantly in March of 2020, conditions changed enormously. We had always, and again, COVID didn't change our trajectory, it just accelerated it and exacerbated it. We were heading towards more remote work anyway. We were certainly heading towards a corporate culture where you were constantly wired in and expected to be so, where the so-called line between life and work was blurry at best, disintegrated at worst. And yet, that social contract had never really been renegotiated.
You've heard the accent, I'm originally from Australia. My dad, he rose to be second in charge in his organization in Australia but every year we would take four weeks vacation and we go traveling around the country in our cars. There were no smartphones, there was nothing there that could keep him wired into the organization. They couldn't have gotten in touch with my dad if they wanted to, and he certainly didn't want them to. And he'd get back four weeks later and check in on Monday morning and you know what, the bricks and mortar was still there. Everything was still standing.
Now certainly, there's probably a middle ground between what my dad did every year and what we're asking our people to do now. But I think we need to renegotiate that. I think we need to say, hey, look, we're expecting your lives to be wrapped around our work. So how can we then not say that we have a responsibility for your greater life? And I think we are seeing that kind of renegotiation, and might be happening implicitly, but we're seeing it. And I've got to say how gratified I am to see that even at the level of the C-Suite in 2020, 2021, we've had conversations, open conversations about mental health, mental wellness, mental well-being resilience, and how we can better take care of our people.
So I do think that we need to understand that the whole person comes to work. This was a trend that we're moving towards anyway, this has accelerated it. And you're right, this means that we are going to be adding responsibility and onus to our managers to be the first line of defense in this. But there's also an accountability with the independent contributor, the employee, him or herself needs to get more involved in taking care of themselves. This isn't just the organization's responsibility. But I think it's important for all of us to be looking out for each other.
Siobhan: Andrew, you bring up an interesting question of balance here, though, because you're talking about the employees obviously taking responsibility for their own health, which is always going to be the case. But at the same time when you discuss that work world that your father had and the wonderful four-week vacations, that's not an option for most employees. So while the companies might be getting more involved and offering wellness or say yoga or some things along those lines to help this well-being movement, are they actually structurally fixing the work conditions that are creating the burnout and stress in the first place?
Andrew: Great question. Some are, some are not. And again, I would say those who are not are going to be found out to be on the wrong side of history. You know, we have a phenomenon known as Glassdoor. We have millennials and post-millennials coming into the workplace, they have a very, very different view of what work is in the context of their lives. They are more nomadic and they will vote with their feet. And we've seen organizations that are having difficulty attract good people because of their previous track record.
So just selfishly, I think organizations want to be involved in this. They also selfishly want to be involved in helping with mental health and mental well-being because it has clear impacts on productivity and performance. So, you know, one of the interesting things I think, that we've seen over the last year is that even CFOs are touting the benefits of mental health and mental well-being because they know it's going to impact the bottom line.
But apart from all of that, it's also just the right thing to do. It's the human thing to do. You are correct. People may get two weeks of vacation a year, and they may be afraid to take those two weeks. Many people are worried that if they take more than a week at a time, people are gonna say why don't we employ that person anyway, we don't kinda seem to need him or her. So I think that there's a lot of internal pressure placed on us to allow the organization to violate our work-life balance. But I think it's also an expanding corporate culture that's demanding more of our time and more of our lives.
The organizations that are on the right side of history here are doing things to change the very organizational culture. They understand that they want to build a culture of resilience and they're doing that. And interestingly, some of the early adopters here are in the financial sector, which has been hardest hit by internal critics. You've seen this recently in the news that relatively junior financial consultants have been criticizing their organization from within because of the hours that they're working. And those organizations are taking steps, they're saying, okay, no Saturday work, no Sunday work. There's going to be limits to how connected we are even going to allow you to be. And I think that's a really smart step.
But we also need to be talking about mental health and mental well-being. We need to be de-stigmatizing that conversation. We need to be able to talk about our mental health and wellness the way we would talk about a strained calf muscle or a sore elbow because really there isn't any difference. They get in the way, they make us unhappy, they impair us, but we're not we're not at that point yet for sure.
Mike: That point is an important one, because I don't think we are, and I still hear kind of the voice in my head from early managers when as I started to be more responsible in a management capacity, and they would say things like, you know, you're their manager, not their mother. How do you as a manager strike that balance? I mean, are there specific ways that I should step in in this moment when it's this way and maybe not in another way? Are there guidelines? Are there frameworks that you have for how managers might be able to approach those sort of difficult conversations and individualize them even more so?
Andrew: Yes. And you're right, as I like to say, you said you're not their mother, I like to say, hey look, this isn't daycare, you're a manager but you are to some degree responsible for your people. Now, this has expanded because of COVID-19. When we were all together in-person, physically present in a workplace, we had HR representatives who were able to say, you know, give out culture surveys, find out hotspots, work out where things were going wrong, find employees who are having a tough time. All through the hallways, they would see things about EAP and benefit offerings that they could access. We don't have that now. And in fact, really the only person who is seeing these folks are their colleagues in the team, and their manager on Zoom calls every day.
So at meQuilibrium, which is the organization that I represent, we started to realize ... I'm a clinical psychologist by training ... even early on in the global pandemic, that there was going to be spiking in clinical depression, clinical anxiety and other issues of mental health and mental illness that would come up. We would reap this unfortunate harvest some nine months or 12 months down the track. And that's exactly what we saw.
So we took steps then to work out, how can we put together a little primer, a little white paper, a little how-to, an instructional guide for frontline managers on a Zoom call to just get a sense that someone may not be doing okay. And that could be as easy as downturns in their appearance. They don't seem to be taking care of themselves. They've gone webcam off even though the guideline is webcam on and they've done that for the last three, four meetings. There's an agitation, an irritation, a frustration that they didn't see in that person before. There's a constant need for reassurance which indicates a worrying that they didn't see before. These are the kinds of things that we've encouraged people to be on the lookout for in themselves, as well as in their colleagues, and certainly if they are frontline managers and having contact with these people routinely to be able to detect that as a manager.
Siobhan: So when we look at where we are in the workplace, right now we're at a fairly, I don't know, it's nerve wracking, it's exhilarating. It's a combination of many things. But we've just gotten through this 15-plus months of the pandemic, many of us are vaccinated, many people are contemplating or already returning to the office, which brings with it a whole new set of anxieties and wonder if you can even interact socially anymore without the comfort of the screen in between. So what can companies specifically do at this point to ease that transition for everyone, for managers and employees alike?
Andrew: Well, you're exactly right. Ain't the human mind an amazing thing? This is why as a psychologist. I've just been fascinated by the human mind and never tire of it throughout my career. The interesting little foible of human thinking that I'm referring to right now is our tendency to zero in on the negative and not see the positive. We did this when we were being sent out to remote work. All of us were like, well, this is terrible, I'm going to miss my colleagues and I used to use that commute time to learn a foreign language and now I'm sitting here, I'm trying to educate my kids. I got the kid and dog fly by. I can't really balance work and life because I'm taking these Zoom calls from the end of my bedroom, and this is just going to be terrible. Everything was so great when we were in person. This is going to be awful.
And now that we're going back, everyone is saying it was really good here. I had more time with my kids. I felt like I had more work-life balance. I'm gonna get back onto that freeway, this is going to be terrible, I'm going to get into that workplace. Maybe I'll be safe, maybe I won't. And the fact is that there were real pros of going remote work, we just didn't see them. And there are real pros of going back, and we're currently not seeing those either. So one of the first things we need to do is to make sure that people are seeing the pros and cons of both going back and staying.
But I do believe again, and I'm crossing my theories here dramatically, but the idea of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, this is an important one for us to think about right now. The first thing that organizations need to do is to try to ensure the physical safety of their people going back into the workplace because this pandemic is not over. I'm vaccinated too and that's great. But we have what 30% to 40% vaccination rates depending on the state. We do know that the virus is still out there. I'm in Phoenix, Ariz., I looked at the tab today, we've added cases. So it's not a done deal. And yet we are moving back into the workplace. I think it's probably timely. But we need to make sure our people are safe and that's going to involve all of the kinds of recommendations that have been handed down to us for a safe workplace.
But then there's also psychological safety. Physical safety and psychological safety don't often match. We've lost social skills. You're exactly right. I watched this with my kids. I have a 9-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter, and recently my 9-year-old son had one of his first in-person play dates. And these kids were a disaster with one another. They've known each other for years, before the pandemic they got along famously. This was like three year olds interacting. It was just like a series of dueling monologues. These are my rats. They're my pets. Here's my Lego toy. I saw this movie the other day. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen. And I don't think we're much better, to be honest. So we're going to have a lot of that tension.
There are a lot of things that we can be doing. But what we need to be doing is recognizing again, and I'm beating this horse, but COVID didn't change our direction. It exacerbated it and accelerated it. So I believe that what we need to be doing is basically universally training people in the skills of resilience moving forward because they're going to be needing to take care of a lot of stuff, transformational change that was on the docket anyway, and it's going to continue to be on the docket, even when we get this pandemic defeated.
Mike: As you're describing your son and interacting with his friends, that that's the way I feel quite often, right, Siobhan? And actually this podcast you and I, right? I like M&Ms. What did you have for breakfast today?
Siobhan: Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel.
Andrew: The number of times I've heard this too, it's really quite remarkable. I've been on a Zoom meeting and someone will say something like, you know, Rene Descartes was a great philosopher. And then the next comment will be you know, that reminds me that I really shouldn't think about buying a new car and I'm like ...
Mike: Pulling the threads of conversation, pretty much completely unthreads everything.
Mike: So back to that training question. So training and resilience. I want to hone in on that because I think that's where people can really get some takeaways from this conversation. When we were talking about managers you talked about, there's a simple awareness building that you can train managers to be aware of what's happening, more open to seeing what's happening, and aware of the cues. What other things do you recommend that organizations train people on in order to create this culture of resilience?
Andrew: We need to understand that there is a competency model that comes along with resilience. Now, I've been delighted to be studying this concept of resilience, as I said part time since 1984, full time since 92. But in 84, I just graduated from college and I came out and I think you and your audience should know this, know the caliber of person that you're dealing with here. I started out studying law and then dropped that, started studying politics, dropped that, and ended up with a degree in philosophy. So I think that says a lot about me and the wisdom of my judgment. So basically, as I say, to my kids, do as I say, not as I do.
But this meant that I was unemployable. And I finally got a job in the only organization in Australia that would have me, which was the Australian Government, and ironically, the Department of Social Security. And we were in an economic downturn at that point. So lots of people were losing their jobs, to being fired and downsized, and were coming into my department to claim unemployment benefits. So I interviewed these people, I was their frontline.
And I began to notice that these hordes of folks that were coming in, some of them would dust themselves off and get out there and find a job or at least begin to look for one, whereas a lot of people just became helpless and hopeless and languished. And I became fascinated at what made the difference because it didn't seem to be obvious to me. You'd have some people who presented fantastically and they would go away and fall in a hole, and you'd have other people that you would think, oh my goodness, I don't know if they're ever going to be able to bounce back, and they did.
So basically, I've been able to distill out the essential ingredients that make up resilience since that time, and I know that there are seven competencies, each one of these can be measured, and each one of these can be boosted. And I think now is the time for us to think about shoring up the skill set of our people by providing everyone with the rudimentary set of resilience skills.
Mike: So what would be some of those rudimentary skills? If you could give us a couple of examples of those.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. So these are the seven things we know are absolutely critical to being a resilient human.
One is being able to stay calm under pressure. The other is being able to stay focused under pressure. To be able to do good problem solving, which means seeing all the causes of your problem and working out which you can impact and which you cannot. Learning from your past experiences to develop a sense of self-efficacy and mastery going forward. Having a sense of optimism that is reality based; pessimists do badly, over-optimists do badly as well. Having empathy, being able to understand how others think and feel so that you can build a social support network among people that buoys everybody when times are tough. And then finally, having that growth mindset, that ability to see the opportunity and a challenge and to be able to grow from it.
Now, these seven things really, since the early 90s, we've been able to measure and we have the technologies to do that. And we understand that what impedes each and every one of these seven are habits that we develop in how we think or thinking styles. And as a psychologist, I've been able to document all of these thinking styles that get in the way of resilience and then teach people simple skills to recognize this style and get around it. And we've had great success with this process. And we're at a point, I think, in workplace history where it really does behoove us to think about equipping everyone with these very, very foundational and essential skills.
How McDonald’s Drove Productivity Through an Elevated Employee Experience
In the new remote/hybrid workplace, work/life boundaries are blurred and workplace stress is a top driver of mental health needs.
How to Future-Proof Your Employee Experience Strategy in 2023
A framework to navigate through economic uncertainty
Challenges to Efficiency in 2023: Your Employees Need the Digital Workplace of the Future
The era of asking employees to do more with less is upon us
The Essential Role of Communicators in Fostering Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace
Join us for practical insights on how digital communicators can support employees to thrive in the digital workplace
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
Mike: So you talk about learning these things and so my assumption is that you believe these things are learnable, and I know that that's a core to this. But is there a point where you're at such a deficit in many of these areas, after 15 months of pandemic, after seeing the social unrest and it really personally affecting you or even potentially your own personal safety? How do you build back from a point where you're at such a deficit that it may feel hopeless?
Andrew: There is a lot of hopelessness and helplessness out there, but one of the again, one of the amazing things about human beings that keeps me endlessly fascinated is our capacity to bounce back, our will to succeed, our will to thrive, it's really essential in all of us. And what we need to do is just to remove the obstacles for people to be able to get there.
Just to give you a very concrete example, people have been through the emotional mill, the emotional roller coaster, We've experienced times where we were incredibly anxious and then times when we were incredibly angry, times when we were really frustrated and times when we were really sad. Guilt, shame and embarrassment have entered into the equation in ways that it hasn't before because we in the west don't tend to do guilt, shame and embarrassment. Well, guilt we've become quite accomplished at but shame and embarrassment we don't tend to do. And one thing, we feel like we've just been the helpless and hapless recipients of this emotional barrage as if they're just the emotional fallout is an essential part of the very adversity.
And one way that we can just help liberate people here is, in the many webinars that my colleagues and I have done over the last 15 months, is to say let me help explain why we've been through this emotional roller coaster. Anxiety is an emotion that comes up when we have thoughts about future threat. So when we get hit by a global pandemic, that's the first place we're going to go, we're thinking down the track our physical health and the physical health and wellness of our families. Future threat thoughts dominate. And guess what, for good measure our negatively oriented minds will heap on extra future threat stuff just for good measure so that we end up feeling more anxious than even the adversity warrants.
And then we're gonna get angry, we're gonna see something like what happened to George Floyd, and that sense of a violation of rights is going to really create a big sense of anger in us. And then guess what else, suddenly we're trying to work from home, we're trying to do it all, we're managing work and life and not doing a very good job. And we're frustrated, because frustration is an emotion that comes up when we believe we don't have the resources to get this done.
And then we start to feel sad because sadness comes up when we have thoughts about loss. And loss has been a very common pattern here because we're thinking life will never be the same again. People are saying, you know, I'm really letting my kids down. I cannot provide them with a sense of normalcy. And that sense of violating the rights of another is what creates guilt. And then we don't think that we're doing anything very well, and everybody can see it, our spouses are seeing that we're not doing life well. And our bosses are seeing that we're not doing work well. And that leads us to lose standing in front of others. And embarrassment is an emotion that comes up when we believe that we've lost standing.
And then when we look at our own internal standards of how we're doing, and we say, you know what, I'm just really not cutting it here. I'm not being the dad I want to be. I'm not being the employee I want to be. Then we start to experience shame. And we heap more on than what the actual adversities required, as much of a perfect storm of adversity this is, our minds do a fabulous job of making it worse than the reality.
So when you start to explain why we've gone through the emotional roller coaster, why one person is experiencing anger because their violation of rights people, whereas this person over here is experiencing more sadness because their loss, then people start to think there could be a way out. And we can teach them skills to get around that thinking, what we call the emotional radar, a way of scanning the world. In a couple of minutes, we can teach that skill and then people are just not taking their emotions and their thoughts around their emotions as seriously as they were and they see a way out. This is a very concrete strategy that we know works and works in the long term.
Mike: Yeah, what about when the manager is the one who doesn't necessarily, isn't capable of grappling with those emotions and those feelings about themselves and perhaps is in a spiral and you're on a team with that manager, and you know, there just isn't a way to sort of help them get through that? What do you do when you're in that sort of situation?
Andrew: You know, we teach people that the skill here is really quite simple. And they can have a conversation with a person that doesn't even feel like they're doing a skill and suddenly their emotionality goes down.
Now, I can give a great example, using my kids. You know, in the morning my daughter, 15, tends to be more of an anxious person, particularly socially anxious. And you know, in the morning, I can see, you know, she'll say things like, "My stomach's really killing me, Dad, and I'll be like, okay, in my head, I'm thinking she's anxious." So one of the classic symptoms and so I know that that anxiety is there because she's having thoughts about future threat.
And I just say to her, what's going to go wrong today, kid, give me the whole litany. Give me a whole list of all the stuff that's going to go wrong. And then she starts to say it, I'll get there and someone will mock me for what I'm wearing. And then I'll get a grade back in, it's gonna suck. And then I will have an argument with one of my best friends at recess.
And I'll go like, "How many times does this ever happen in a big clump?" "Never." "OK, go to school kid, here's your lunch, have a good day." And I've just planted the seed, I pulled her future threat thoughts out of her head helped her to see them because once we pull them out of the head, they don't feel as real. And then you just watch that emotionality go down and do the same thing with my son.
My father taught me how to be an anger guy and I've had the great honor of handing that down to my son. And you know, I can just say, I can see that he's angry. And I'll say to him, You know what, your sister doesn't owe you that. I know you want it to read to you but she's not a reading machine. All we have to do is say that because I can ballpark what he's thinking and once he's confronted with his own thoughts, the emotion will go down.
We can do this with everyone around us. We can just understand the map between what we think and what we feel, start a conversation. These thoughts feel way more real when they are just rambling around inside our own heads. Once we write them down or someone else says them out loud for us, or we say them out loud to ourselves, they just lose that luster, they lose that sense of reality. And this is the way we actually train people to look after themselves, their colleagues and even be able to manage up with these basic skills of resilience.
Siobhan: So they say that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Clearly you see opportunity coming out of this. What do you see as the big opportunity now for organizations moving forward?
Andrew: I see an opportunity for individuals and for organizations to come out of this. As I mentioned, the law of thirds does tend to apply here. That is that a third will come out stronger, a third weaker and a third the same. I do believe that the evidence says we could be looking at a diminished third, coming out stronger just because of the nature of these events. We do not need to leave this to chance.
Now I think one of the things that individuals need to do is to start to do the work that those who came out a third stronger out of the Great Recession did and that is a few things. Firstly, they looked back at how they got through and they basically wrote themselves a mental how-to guide for future events. This is how I got through this. These are the strengths I used. I used my ability to connect to others. I used my ability to appreciate the good as well as the bad. I used my ability to analyze a problem well and work out what I can impact and come to peace with what I cannot impact so that I wasn't grinding my gears on unchangeable stuff. And this built a sense of self efficacy with a how-to guide that they could take into the next adversity.
They also just totally looked at their values. I've just been through the mill, I've been through the wringer. What does that say about me? What does it say about me and my job? Am I doing the right thing? Am I living my values, am I living in ways that are getting me closer to what I want to achieve vs. farther away? And we saw a lot of people reprioritize their work in their life as they came out of this. And I expect people to do this as well. So that's just a couple of things, I think.
And I think there's a calibration. I've had the great fortune of working with a lot of our wonderful men and women in uniform who get actively deployed and see themselves and find themselves in combat situations. And they experience life or death situations. In some cases, unfortunately, they see colleagues die in battle. And they come back with a sense of what's important in ways that people like you and I will never be able to grasp. And in their heads when an adversity comes up, they're saying, well, at least no lives will be lost.
And going forward, we have the capacity to say when we hit against a re-org or a downsizing or a merger or an acquisition or a transformation in business model, or all of the kinds of things that we were experiencing before COVID-19 and will again, we can say to ourselves, well, no lives will be lost in this. You know, I've got through this constellation of calamities that was 2020 and 2021. So I can get through this.
And then I think organizations need to create a culture of resilience, and this involves a few things. It involves being able to talk about mental health and mental wellness and mental well-being. It means making sure that the EAP, the employee assistance program, is really beefed up on these things. It means de-stigmatizing these things so that people are open to talk about them. It means equipping people universally in their organization with a set of skills that will help them moving forward.
It means at the organizational level ensuring that the nine essential leadership values that we know create a resilient organization and allow the resilience of their people to emerge are in place. And these include things like leading by example, mentoring, integrity, fairness, openness and transparency. We need to make sure that the organizational values are actually what they practice rather than just what they preach. And we know that's not true. Every organization in the Fortune 1000 has a website with values. But do they actually put those into practice day in and day out? Certainly integrity of system, fairness, making sure that diversity, equity and inclusion is practice and not just preached. These are just a handful of things among the many, many, many things that organizations can be doing to create that culture of resilience.
And if we work from both directions, from bottom up and top down, then we create sort of the optimal resilience process. And I think that's what we need to do. Because after the pandemic, we're gonna go back to business as usual which was deep, constant transformational change.
Mike: Well that's, I think, a good spot to pause for a minute. One thing we like to do with our podcast, Andrew, is to do a little thing we call underrated/overrated. And we'll throw a few concepts at you and you tell us whether you think that that concept is underrated, overrated. Feel free to give a little bit of explanation. If you want to pass on it. That's fine, too. Are you ready to play with us?
Andrew: Yes, sir.
Mike: All right, I'm gonna throw the first one at you and then Siobhan will jump in. So the first one I have for you is the concept of happiness. You go to the bookstore or you go to the library, there's a whole section devoted to happiness. But is that concept of being happy, underrated or overrated?
Andrew: I'm going to cheat on the game a little and say it's rated it exactly where it should be. There's so much on happiness. You're exactly right. And it is an extremely important concept. I don't think we need another book on happiness. I think that's covered. So I think it's exactly where it should be. But with the caveat that we don't mean glad, happy, rah, rah, I'm dancing now and drinking a beer, which is my concept of easy happiness.
I think it's a deeper concept. It's when our values are aligned and centered, when we have balance in our lives. I think it's when more important than even those, it's when we have a sense of meaning mission and purpose. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher wrote about happiness. And I think happiness in the way that the Greeks spoke about it, a deeper kind of concept, that's worth pursuing.
Siobhan: Next up for you, Andrew, it's along the same lines as happiness only a little bit different. How about willpower?
Andrew: Siobhan, this is a great one. Willpower is underrated. We tend to worship talent, we see that in the athletes that we adore. But it's really effort that makes the difference in whether people are successful or not.
The only thing that I would say about willpower is we need to dig deeper. Because willpower is in and of itself not the answer. There are deeper issues. Willpower comes about because we have a sense of hope. We keep trying, we keep persevering, because we have a sense of hope. Some people have hope, some do not. Why do some have hope and others not? Because some have run out of problem solving capabilities and others have not. Why? Some people run out of causes and others do not. Why? Because some people develop styles that lead them to focus in on the things they cannot change. And others tend to focus in, they've just learned it by chance to focus in on the things they can change.
Now you can have an enormous amount of willpower if you keep seeing possible solutions. That's what we need to help guide people to. That's what I want my kids to learn. I can't teach willpower. I can teach perseverance and persistence by teaching them how to do good problem solving so that they only give up when they are absolutely sure that they cannot change the problem.
Mike: Alright, Andrew, meditation and mindfulness apps. One thing that we didn't quite get into in this conversation is just the massive amount of venture capital that is being put into businesses that are focused on mental health, both from the employee point of view but also on the consumer side. So there are lots of apps, there's lots of technology that's available to help with mindfulness, with meditation. Do you feel like a lot of these apps are underrated or overrated?
Andrew: Overrated, and happy to go on record saying so. Meditation is a really powerful, stress relieving force. So I don't want to dis meditation. Mindfulness is also an extremely powerful tool. And in all of the trainings that I run, to help people deal with their stress and help people improve their resilience, meditation and mindfulness are really important parts of it.
Mindfulness, I think though, cannot be the mindfulness brand that says, Get those nasty thoughts out of your head and don't confront them. I do believe we need to confront those things. So I think that these have a place. But I do not think they are a destination and a terminus because I believe that if used in isolation, they run the risk of being more Band aid than solve. And I think what we want to do is get at the deeper underlying forces that require us to be meditating and to be mindful, the kinds of stress that's in our life, a greater sense of balance. And to do that, you've got to go into thinking styles. You've got to go into the ways that we have developed thinking that are leading us astray. And you've got to go back to those seven competencies that make up resilience.
And ultimately, you want to be boosting calm and focus and problem solving, realistic optimism, self efficacy, empathy in that growth mindset. But these apps on top of that serve a very, very useful function. In isolation I become a little more skeptical.
Mike: Alright, I've got one more for you, then Siobhan will close us out. So we're recording this in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Month, which I think is important. It's probably a great awareness building thing. But are these sort of events thinking about mental health awareness month? Are they underrated or overrated, from your point of view?
Andrew: It depends on the organization. But I think largely underrated. I think these kinds of periods serve an extremely important role in making us all more mindful of the fact that mental health matters and that lots of people are struggling. And we know for a fact that right now, one in 20 people are experiencing clinical depression, and that's going to go up. We know that 20% of people experience clinical levels of depression across the course of their lifetime.
So we know that these things really do matter. And some organizations do a marvelous job because they use this as an opportunity to create their own languaging around this, to develop really concrete skills that people can use to help understand their own mental health and where that might be going off the rails and to help see that in others. They also use this month to re-evaluate their EAP and make sure they've got best of breed in there to really help their people.
For others, it's a rubber stamp. It's a checking of the box. But more and more I'm seeing that organizations are taking this seriously. And if any good is coming out of the disastrous ill that was 2020 and 2021, it's that as we mentioned earlier, even at the C suite level, we've got people taking these concepts seriously. We've got people taking the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion seriously, perhaps for the first time in a long time. We're not just box-checking anymore. We're really trying to get to the heart of these really big issues. And that's a really gratifying thing for someone like me who's been an old hack in this business for such a long time. It's a really, really gratifying thing to see, Mike.
Siobhan: Andrew, this final question was actually inspired by something you said during your TEDx talk which I watched in preparation. So our final, final option in the underrated or overrated category: Jiffy Pop popcorn?
Andrew: Jiffy Pop popcorn is an essential ingredient in dealing with the kinds of adversities that we've been facing. As I mentioned in my TED Talk, Jiffy Pop popcorn, and I don't know whether we should be naming brands here, but certain streaming apps were absolutely invaluable. And certainly on demand TV, which it was back then got me through it.
The only problem with Jiffy Pop, and watching endless Lifetime movies, was that I wasn't facing the real challenges that I should have been facing. And the fact is that I'm in the training industry and that was one of the hardest hit industries in the Great Recession, Siobhan, as you know, and I fell into a bit of a funk myself, even though I'm the resilience guy. What I should have been doing is really connecting to those around me, re-evaluating my values, connecting to positivity. And more than anything else, as I mentioned in that Ted Talk, is connecting, reconnecting to a sense of meaning mission and purpose. Now, I learned from that. And so as I was going through the events of 2020, I didn't spend a lot of time on Jiffy Pop, or streaming Lifetime movies, I spent more time on thinking about positivity, on gratitude, on really being grateful that I had this, you know, I normally would get on a plane every week and miss time with my family. I haven't been on a plane since March 7 of 2020. So just recasting these events and re-evaluating my priorities. So I learned from the Great Recession, but I still have a very, very strong soft spot for Jiffy Pop.
Siobhan: I'm glad that you actually could both use it as a crutch perhaps at one point and now still see the value independently of that. So I'm happy to hear that.
Andrew: It certainly beats other kinds of vices. As I said early on in April, May of 2020, when I was on a Zoom call with a colleague. I said, it's 9 a.m. here, is it a problem that I'm drinking a beer? And he said, Well, you know, you're Australian, probably not. I said is it a problem that it's my fifth? And he said that could be a little more worrying. And I said, is it a problem that I just said to my 9-year-old keep them coming kid? And he said, yeah, we need to get you some help. So against the backdrop of that, Jiffy Pop seems awfully innocuous
Siobhan: AOK with the Jiffy Pop. So Andrew, I know that our listeners are going to want to learn more about you, they're going to see some of these resources and watch the TED Talk. So where can they find you online?
Andrew: Well, absolutely, if they go to andrewshatte.com, they're going to see a lot of information about the essential ingredients of resilience and the skills of resilience. There's also a link from that website to the TED Talk. In addition, if they go to meQuilibrium.com, they're going to find a lot of resources there as well. That's meQuilibrium.com. I'm a founder of that company and serve as its chief knowledge officer. There are great resources there as well, Siobhan.
Siobhan: Thank you so much, Andrew.
Andrew: It's a real pleasure. I've enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for inviting me.
Siobhan: So Mike, did Andrew change your mind about you're a manager, not a mother?
Mike: I don't know. I mean, I'll probably hear that voice inside of my head because it was just sort of ingrained in me for most of my life. But I think the fact that he talked about how our lives at home and at work are so intertwined. This was the case even before we all went to remote work. We talked about sort of that blurring of the work-life balance, but even more so now where they are literally intertwined does put a different onus on the manager. You know, we expect people to be connected, we expect them to be, if not 24/7 work, expect them to check in on their own time. So that should also come with a heightened level of support. And that's not mothering, it's just good management. So yeah, I think I think I'm coming around. How about you?
Siobhan: For me, it was the general practice of kindness towards yourself and others, where he was talking about all the different reactions that people had over the last year, and how even talking through them can help you both be a little kinder to yourself, and also understand what your fellow workers go through. It sounds really straightforward but it also sounds like it would be a powerful exercise for an organization to go through.
Mike: Yeah. And to be a little bit patient with each other through this next phase of awkwardness as we're suddenly face to face with one another again. Like everybody should look at it and say, You know what, we're all coming out of this extended hibernation period. So let's just give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Siobhan: Maybe we should all wear T-shirts that say "Non Sequitur Alert" or something like that.
Mike: "Awkward Conversation Ahead."
Siobhan: Exactly! Can't wait.
Mike: On that awkward note, it's always great to talk to you, Siobhan.
Siobhan: You too, Mike.
Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.
Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us and we'll see you next time.
About the Authors
Siobhan is the editor in chief of Reworked, where she leads the site's content strategy, with a focus on the transformation of the workplace. Prior to joining Reworked, Siobhan was managing editor of Reworked's sister site, CMSWire, where she directed day-to-day operations as well as cultivated and built its contributor community. Connect with Siobhan Fagan: