Mental health is still a taboo topic in the workplace. It’s high time to shift our mindset to what we can systematically do to provide a healthier environment in the workplace. Today, Laura Putnam joins us to discuss how we can take a meaningful, connection approach to well-being at the workplace. Laura explains the importance of wellness and how to make people realize it matters. Laura also touches on how the pandemic took a toll on people’s mental health and awakened the systemic racism and other prejudices going on.
Quotes from Guest
- We’ve really suffered in terms of our social connections.
- real recognition that well-being and health actually matter to the bottom line
- If people are not well, the business is not well.
- How do we leverage the workplace so that workers are healthier and able to be their best self because of their team?
- Maybe the workplace itself is driving mental health issues.
- Mental health is still a taboo topic in the workplace.
- The thing we can all do in the workplace is awakened compassion.
- Our culture is built around an individualist mindset.
- There is no me without you and the only way forward is together.
- Each of us needs to be asking ourselves the question – am I loved and am I loving well?
Listen to the podcast here
Making Wellness Matter To The Bottom Line With Laura Putnam
Meaningful, Connection Approach To Well-Being At The Workplace
I’m speaking with Laura Putnam. There are many ways to pronounce a name and it is not my strong suit to get it right. Even the desire to get somebody’s name right ties somewhat into our conversation about how we want to be professional, how other people perceive us, how we feel like we fit in and what our strengths and weaknesses are in a professional environment. Your focus is on wellness in the workplace, which I find fascinating on several levels.
I was sharing with you how part of me feels a bit out of the loop on that subject because I am an independent contractor freelancer. I mostly work for myself. I have clients and many of my clients have a team around them. I get a peek into that environment. Some of my clients have teams whom I collaborate with. It feels a little bit like the traditional workplace.
For the most part, I have a lot of agency. I have flexibility, a lot of freedom and choices in how I work, when I work and what work I do. I developed that over a long period because I didn’t feel that comfortable in a more traditional work environment. I have worked in retail and some corporate environments. I have done a lot in the creative field, given my past in the film industry. I was in offices in the film industry that felt quite corporate. Even though they are based on creativity and designed to entertain people, there was still that dynamic of the corporate environment that I did not feel great in.
I could go on about all the reasons but this idea around getting things right and fitting in comes up like the simple things of, “Did I say someone’s name right? How do I look to them? How do I show up? Do they perceive me as professional and effective?” Those are some of the things that I have struggled with in my professional career.
Laura, I love to start our conversation by hearing about the common things you hear from people in terms of their mental health-related struggles, whether that is self-esteem or a more clinical mental health challenge they have. It also could be physical too. The physical side of wellness plays a big role in how we feel at work. What do you see in the past years? How has that been influenced by current events like the pandemic?
We all had this moment in which the pandemic became real for us. It was when I went to the grocery store and there was no toilet paper. I was like, “This is happening. This is weird.” It may have been when the NBA shut down or Tom Hanks tested positive. It may have been a bigger thing, like the day that my kids were sent home from school, the morning that I woke up and couldn’t smell my coffee or when I lost my husband. I’m not saying that that happened to me.We all had this moment in which the pandemic became real for us. Click To Tweet
The pandemic has impacted all of us. For some of us, it was a minor inconvenience. For some of us, it was a ticket to more freedom and a positive experience. For others, it represented the greatest loss that you could have. While the pandemic has been universal in terms of it impacting all of us, it has impacted each of us incredibly differently. We are all trying to come to grips with the fallout from the pandemic and all that came with it because, as we all recall, it wasn’t the pandemic but recall how once the shutdown started happening, a couple of months later, we had the George Floyd murder. We had this giant awakening around systemic racism.
We have had this confluent of events, all kinds of changes in the economy. I often characterize the second act of the pandemic and all that came with it as the toll on our mental health. What I see in the workplaces I’m working with is each of these workplaces coming to grips with that in terms of how they help their people, not only on a physical level but also on a mental level as well as all the other dimensions of well-being. Things like financial, career, social or community well-being. All of those multiple dimensions of well-being have been impacted. In some ways, they have been impacted positively. In other ways, they have been impacted negatively.
One of the things that people who are working in office environments get to work from home. People like you and me get the benefit of working for ourselves where we have that level of autonomy. Suddenly all these office workers began working remotely and they got a taste of freedom and flexibility in where, when and how they work. They got the flexibility of being able to show up for work in their pajama bottoms or boxer bottoms. I saw this funny statistic that half of the people who are working remotely were not even putting on their pants. If you are having a Zoom call or a meetings call, there is a 50/50 chance that the other person on the other side doesn’t have their pants on.
That has been a big boom to our well-being on an emotional level, having that freedom. However, on the flip side, we have suffered in terms of our social connections. Not only are we have fewer of those incidental interactions that we have when we are in the workplace but we have also gotten out of the habit of interacting with others. We have become a little bit more insular. All that time of the shutdown broke us of the habit of engaging with other people. Not surprisingly, rates of loneliness have gone way up and have continued to stay high.
This is what I mean by this remote working/working. All the pandemic that is come with it and where we are has had both positive as well as negative effects. One final thing about this. From my vantage point, in terms of a positive that has come with the pandemic or a silver lining that has come with it is the real recognition of every leader and organization that well-being and health matter. They matter not only to people but also to the bottom line. As we all experience firsthand, if people are not well, neither is the business.
I will start by saying I am typically one of those people that does not care that much about what I’m wearing below the camera line. I’m still in my pajamas. I will switch it up and sometimes think, “Am I going to stand up for some reason? If not, I will wear whatever I want in a different top.” It brought back memories of when I first started working for myself.
I quit my last full-time job in 2010. I continued to work part-time in retail for a few years after that. I have this distinct memory of what it was like to start working from home and I didn’t know how to do it. I feel this compassion for people that several years later, we are going through that same thing of like, “What do I do? Am I allowed to sleep in? Can I start the day whenever?” All of these thoughts come up.
It is interesting because, over the years, I have thought a lot about things like sleep. I can start my day almost entirely whenever I want. Occasionally, I have a client that needs to meet earlier. I have scheduled everything, including the show, based on my preferred sleep and wake times, which are a little bit different.
Part of the reason I struggled in more traditional jobs is I’m not a morning person. Getting up at 7:00 AM was challenging for me. I need to get dressed and get in the car. Especially several years ago, there wasn’t a lot of remote work happening. All of my jobs were in person. I had to go commute, get somewhere and live in Los Angeles with the traffic. Even when I lived in San Francisco, like yourself, it was public transportation. All this stuff and the stress that came along with that felt like I had to conform to the way of doing things despite the impact on my mental health.
When I finally left my last retail job and structured work at the same time, I had a moment of massive anxiety. I was experiencing what I thought was a panic attack because my employer sent me the schedule. In retail, for anyone that is worked or is working in that field, a lot of times, you don’t get to choose your schedule. That was the case at that job. They sent me my schedule one day and I guess it was a panic attack. I was feeling all these intense emotions, feeling true panic and feeling out of control. That led me to leave that job because I thought, “This is not working for me. I cannot continue to lose sleep over this job.”
Even though I liked the job and it was scary to leave it, I had to prioritize my well-being. I had perhaps even the privilege to do that. You mentioned some important things, Laura, about systems in general. Not everybody has the privilege of being able to leave a job, even if it impacts their well-being. Something I would love to hear from you as a follow-up is, can everybody prioritize their well-being. Is that truly a privilege?
The first thing is to recognize that as much as the pursuit of better health and well-being has been framed as an individual pursuit. All we have to do is take “personal responsibility” for our health and well-being and we will become our best selves when that runs counter to what the actual reality is. My experience is when I share with people the myriad of ways that the environment and culture we are in work against our pursuit of well-being.
Furthermore, there are systems within these environments and cultures that benefit some more than others. Making the pursuit of better health and well-being better is easier for some and a lot harder, if not impossible, for others. I have found that when I call that out for people, people feel an enormous sense of relief because suddenly they say, “This is something much bigger than me being unmotivated, lazy or not prioritizing this. It is a much bigger picture.”
I teamed up with a DEI expert, Karen Catlin and the author of Better Allies. She and I talked about this idea of wellness privilege. Do you have wellness privileges? Looking across these six domains of well-being, whether it is physical, emotional, social, career, financial or community, in what ways do you have privilege? For example, we hear the tip a lot, “Get out into nature to improve your health and well-being.” It’s easy.
Considering that 100 million Americans don’t have easy access to decent green spaces or speaking to something that you are bringing up at the beginning, “Do I get to come to work as my full authentic self?” I have seen lots of White, middle-aged men in leadership positions who get to show up as their quirky, weird selves and there is an enormous amount of bandwidth for them to do that. Everybody else has to mask a lot of parts of themselves. That becomes even more complicated when we factor in things like gender, race and sexual identity. The list goes on about how much we get that privilege to show up as our full authentic selves.
We have been studying the state of the American dream and in particular, I have been fascinated with Raj Chetty’s work. We need to be looking at the state of access to well-being. There is a clear connection between the conversations we are having around diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and well-being. As long as we continue to frame up health and well-being as simply an individual pursuit rather than a collective one, in my view, we are not going to make a change.
That is why I’m so inspired by the work that I’m doing, which is, given that, how do we leverage every workplace so that every person who works, whether it is in-person or virtual and particularly if they are working for an organization that they are healthier because of it or dropping down a level, everyone is healthier and more unable to be their best self because of the team they are part of and their boss.
Similar to you, I had a moment with my last real job, which was I was a teacher. I left because I quit. I had signed my contract to come back the following year. After I left school for the year, I went into a deep depression. I was walking around this beautiful lake with my sister. My sister turns to me and goes, “You don’t have to go back.” I said, “I have already signed the contract.” She said, “You can break the contract.” I did.
In my case, I left my boss. I didn’t leave my job. I left the principal. I had this specific situation in which I had to make an appointment for my eyes. Believe it or not, I was at risk of going blind. The latest appointment I could make, which was during the week, was at 1:00 in the afternoon. I had to think through, “How do I do this?” I carefully thought through, “The best day to do this is on Wednesday afternoon because this is when we have our professional development day. This way, the charter school where I’m working won’t have to pay to bring in a sub. My students won’t miss out on any class time.” I went through this whole process.
When I submitted the little requisite form I had to submit to get permission, it came back to me a month later saying, “Denied.” Even when I spoke to the principal about this, I was like, “Let me tell you my whole thought process that went into this.” He said, “I still stand by my decision.” I went on to say, “Let me get this straight. If I had lied and simply called in sick that morning, would I have my pay docked?” He said, “No.” That was the moment in which I left my boss, not my job.
The point being is there is an opportunity here for us to be able to begin taking more of a meaningful collective outside approach to bettering our health and well-being. One of the ways that we can do that is by leveraging every workplace by empowering every leader and manager to reposition themselves as multipliers of well-being.
I don’t know if I have ever heard the term multipliers of well-being but it is powerful and you are touching upon many important things. It lit me up to hear you talk about the lack of equality or address the fact that not everybody is in the same position. That was part of the reason I asked that question to you because I used to believe that if you are not happy, you can switch jobs. If you are not happy, quit.
I saw you also did an article about quitting jobs. I realized more in the past several years when I started learning how I could become a better ally or an ally, to begin with. I’m not sure if I could have considered myself one. I didn’t know that much about racism. I wasn’t able to identify it within myself or even fully observe my privilege until the past several years when it was brought to the forefront for many of us. One of those was I didn’t realize that not everybody could quit a job if it was impacting their well-being. Not everybody, based on their circumstances, can turn down work. There are many situations in which somebody might feel like they have to stay, even if it is detrimental to themselves.
This whole notion, “Do you get to quit your job,” is a privilege. The article you are referencing was terrific in the New York Times written by Christina Caron, a journalist there. It is called Should You Quit Your Job? She asked for my input on speaking to this question from a well-being perspective. One of the things that I appreciated about what she did in this article is she did acknowledge that this in and of itself is a privilege to be able to quit your job and what can you do if you are not able to quit your job.
A starting point for better-addressing well-being is to start to ask some real questions. One of the real questions I have been asking of leaders takes us to a related topic, which is mental health in the workplace. How do we tackle the taboo topic of mental health in the workplace? I tell the story of how there was one naval ship that in 1 week had 3 suicides. This was on the heels of the military. In particular, the Navy has invested heavily in both mental health as well as suicide prevention.
This same story eerily repeated itself in April of 2022, whereby 1 ship, 1 week, 3 suicides. There was a psychiatrist who was interviewed for the 2019 New York Times article that covered this incident in which he suggested that it might be better for us to tackle this topic of mental health in the workplace and address this topic of suicide prevention by addressing the environment itself. As opposed to identifying the individuals who are “at risk” and connecting them with the resources they need, which is the standard protocol and approach to addressing this taboo topic of mental health in the workplace. We treat it as an individual issue.
We are going to identify those individuals and connect them with the resources as opposed to acknowledging maybe the workplace or environment itself. One in which there is toxicity tolerated, one in which there is unreasonable time pressure. The workplace itself is driving some of these mental health issues and even suicides.
One of the questions that I ask of leaders and managers that I work with because they are the key influencers in the workplace, is the real question, “Is your workplace a naval ship in the making? Is your team a naval ship in the making? Is the workplace itself generating some serious mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and even suicide?”
I wonder if it is now more so than ever. Going back to where we started, the evolution, is mental health becoming more of an issue or is it that we are finally not seeing it as taboo? Was this always around us or has it gotten worse?
It is both. Statistics show that measurably, it is gotten worse, for example, in terms of our mental health. Rates of loneliness have gone up, as I spoke about. More people are reporting they are resorting to substance abuse because of stress. Other people are reporting high levels of anxiety. There was a Boston University study that came out showing that rates of depression have tripled since the onset of the pandemic.
This is happening internationally, where we are seeing millions of added cases of depressive disorder as well as anxiety disorder. This is very real. At the same time, we are becoming more aware of mental health. There is more room to begin to be able to talk about it and people want to be able to talk about it. There was a Monster Intelligence survey came out showing 91% of Millennials surveyed reported that they want to be able to have conversations about mental health with their boss. There still is a disconnect because yet another survey that came out from Paychex right around the same time shows that over half of employees are afraid to talk about their mental health with their boss.
That is a bad combination. As much as mental health is becoming normalized, I would say that it is, A, still a taboo topic in the workplace. B, there are still the vestiges of these outdated notions that when we come to work, we “check” our emotions at the door as if we can even do that. Instead, hopefully, someday, we will start to move in the direction of somebody like Chip Conley. When he was CEO of Joie de Vivre, which is a boutique hotel chain here in California, he nicknamed himself the Chief Emotions Officer as a way to signal to everyone, “Yes, bring your full authentic self to work, which includes your emotions. Let’s bring those forward and talk about it. Let’s create an environment here in which emotions are part and parcel apart of our workday.”Let's create an environment in which emotions are part and parcel of our workday. Click To Tweet
I would love to hear any insight you have about both sides. How can the manager, boss or anyone not more on the employer side support that and become the chief emotions officer? How can the employee develop a comfort level with that? Imagine there are a lot of synergies that both have to happen but maybe one has to happen before the other can happen at the same time.
It depends on your personality and workplace. If you are a confident and forward person who doesn’t have a lot of risks, maybe you have privilege on whatever level, maybe you can approach your manager, boss or employer and say, “I want to be able to talk about these things.” My guess is most people do not fall into that category unless it is the manager or the boss that needs to lead with that first. Is that true? How do both people cultivate that environment?
There are two things here. One is feeling like you can talk about it. Does that come from what is signaled across the organization? What is normalized across the organization? It is more of an outside issue. What am I comfortable with as an individual? Some individuals don’t want to talk about their mental health but that is one piece of it. The other piece is uncovering the root causes that are driving the issues in the first place.
It is great if somebody feels comfortable talking about how they feel so much pressure at work. They have to do the work of three when they are at work. Let’s take healthcare workers, for example. They can talk about it but nothing is done about the issues that are driving it in the first place. It is both of those things that need to happen.
My suggestions, starting with leaders and managers, number one is, I call it, flood the beach. What do I mean by that? There is a wonderful story of two people who are walking on the beach. There are all these starfish that have washed up on the shore. If these starfish stay on the beach, they are going to dry out and die. As they are walking, one of them keeps picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the water. Finally, the other one turns and says, “Why are you doing that because there are all these starfish over here?” The first one picks up another starfish, throws it back in the water and says, “For that one starfish, I made all the difference in the world.”
That is an incredibly inspiring story but that has been our approach to dealing with mental health in the workplace. We pick up one starfish at a time and throw them back in the water, which is great for that one starfish but what about all the other starfish? This is why we have to shift our mindset to, “What can we systematically do to flood the beach so that there are no starfish that are left out to dry?”
The second thing that leaders need to be thinking about is uncovering the root causes, such as, is there issues like work overload. Are there things like perceptions of unfairness? How do we do this? Are there huge discrepancies in what people are getting paid within the same organization? Are we going to address some of those key issues? Those senior leaders need to start to model, show some vulnerability and develop some policies that start to address some of these root causes. Every manager needs to be empowered to become that multiplier of well-being.
The three key steps for every manager to become a multiplier of well-being as opposed to being a gatekeeper, inadvertently getting in the way of their team members’ engagement with their well-being, is to lead by example, albeit imperfectly, speak to talk about well-being and talk about it in a human and personal way. Three is to create some team-based systems that start to normalize well-being within the context of the team.
Finally, the last thing we can all do, no matter where we are positioned within the organization, is to awaken compassion. If there is ever a time that each of us, no matter where we are positioned, needs to be making the extra added effort to start to notice the people around us, how are you doing as a human being, not just as an employee? We can all be doing that.
We can do that extra added effort to give that person a hug or notice that somebody is feeling left out. Even if the meeting is happening virtually, we know when somebody’s feeling left out. Notice if one person never gets to have their voice shared and another person is always dominating the conversation. These are the kinds of small interpersonal moves that we can make to awaken compassion across the workplace. We might think that those little things don’t matter but yes, they do matter a lot.Compassion across the workplace needs to be awakened. We might think that those little things don't matter, but they do matter a lot. Click To Tweet
It is incredibly helpful to hear it framed that way. It feels empowering and hopeful to me. It reminded me of a couple of resources that I’m curious if you are heard about. I’m into tech software and AI. I saw an AI tool that was designed to support the ladder. Given many of us, myself included, are spending a lot of time online having meetings and if you are working from home.
There is this AI tool called Meetra. It is designed for companies to be able to reconnect. That is their tagline. What they do is create leadership recommendations and build stronger team connections. The algorithm analyzes the meeting to see how much time people are getting and how they are connecting. It gives all this data.
I’m intrigued by things like that because it feels easy to let something fall through the crack. To not notice that somebody might not be contributing much might be quiet. You might think, “It is them.” It is going back to that individual mentality of like, “They will figure it out.” Let them be themselves but your beautiful point of how the leaders in these team settings need to set that environment and notice things because not everybody is going to notice it about themselves or feel confident sharing it. That tool was a neat way to look at things if you are struggling with them. The other was a lot of the things you that have shared reminded me of a book I started reading. Are you familiar with Tara McMullin?
I’m not but I’m going to check that out.
It is such a great book and you are in alignment with the things she is saying. I am only about six of the way through the book. It is called What Works: A Comprehensive Framework To Change the Way We Approach Goal Setting. It is centered around the goals but I have been reading it to better understand well-being in a work environment. One of the things she touches upon is the individualist perspective or a mindset of you have to figure it out for yourself. You have to be resilient. That can create issues with mental health because people start to feel they have to change to fit in, be successful, reach their goals and keep their job.
People feel a lot of not-enoughness and comparison traps. I’m curious if you see that coming up in your work. If people are feeling lonely, which is another side effect of the individualist culture of people feeling like, “Since I’m in charge of myself, I have to do it all on my own. I can’t collaborate or reach out to other people.” I wonder if that is also connected to anxiety, depression and burnout, which is another keyword. Maybe people feel like because they are so responsible for themselves, they have to take on more work. Does any of this ring true in your work and research?
Our culture is built around this individualistic mindset. A rugged individual is a part of being American and our identity. I spent several months living and working in a small village in Ghana, West Africa. One of the first questions they asked me when I arrived was what day of the week I was born. At the time, I had no idea and I don’t know if you know what day of the week you are born but they have a tradition there that you are given your day of the week name when you are born. You go by that name for two weeks and you are not given a Christian name and the individual name until you are two weeks old.Our culture is built around this individualistic mindset. This idea of individual freedom is perhaps so much a part of being American and part of our identity. Click To Tweet
What ends up happening is that a lot of people go by their day of the week name. That effectively means there are 7 names for girls and women and 7 names for boys and men, which is unfathomable to us. The name there represents more about how you are integrated into the community as opposed to how you stand out as an individual.
It was such a profound mind shift for me that they needed to know what day of the week I was born to give me my name. My name was Efua because I’m a Friday baby. They call me Efualala for Lala. I had not even thought about a name as a way to symbolize. What matters most is we are together as part of a community.
Something that an a-ha moment from the pandemic is that if there is anything that we have learned from the pandemic, it is that my health and my well-being matter to you and yours matters to me. There simply is no me without you. The only way forward is together. Whether we are talking about getting through the pandemic or how we rise above all of these mental health issues that are coming front and center, this has to be perceived as a collective issue as opposed to an individual one.
The chapter I finished reading talked about the rugged individualist and there is a little history on it from one of the presidents. It pointed out some of the political things and how much that impacted us. It was Herbert Hoover who coined the phrase rugged individualism. It has been a long time since America has been centered around that.
America influences a lot of other countries due to the way that we trade goods and how the finances work. The politics are impacting things. The financial structure impacts the world. It is so interesting to hear perspectives about how other cultures are doing things differently and how we can bring that to those of us who are in the United States or different countries outside of that.
It also reminds me of something you had said you wanted to talk about that I was interested in, which was around human trafficking. When we speak about a community coming together to make a difference, I feel like that is a subject matter that I don’t know much about but it hits me to the core hearing about it. Laura, you were sharing with me about a specific company or was it the line of work they were in that was related to human trafficking? Can you re-share that with me and the audience?
I want to first address what you were starting to say in the first part of this question, this idea of going global. This is step ten in my book, Workplace Wellness That Works. How much we can learn by crossing borders to see what other parts of the world do that in many cases, are long-standing wisdom that we have to relearn and this western industrialized way of how we live is contrary to our well-being. It is also applying a multicultural lens. It is important. I want to note that quickly and something that I write about in Workplace Wellness that Works.We can learn so much by crossing borders and seeing what other parts of the world do. Click To Tweet
This whole issue around human trafficking was something that I was awakened to. I was speaking at an event that was hosted by the Pipe Line Construction Association. This is a consortium of companies that are in the business of laying these pipelines. One of the things that were a huge awakening for me that I was not aware of is that, apparently, these pipeline construction sites are targets for human trafficking sites. This is where the organizers of these human trafficking set up shop because the people who are working at these sites are often men and away from home for months at a time. They are isolated. This is a prime target for these traffickers.
What I was so heartened by was the fact that the Pipe Line Construction Association is fully acknowledging what is happening here and they are taking action. They are training all of their people around what is happening. They are activating them to take action, intervene and know the signs of what to look for. If you see that RV set up over there, that may be a human trafficking site, for example.
They are empowering them to step in and stop this from occurring. I had no idea how prevalent this is. This is something you might see when you go to a truck stop. This is another place that one of the people there was saying, “If you see a mobile home set up there, that may be one of these trafficking sites.” All of us need to become more aware of this crucial issue and where it shows up. It shows up in places we might not imagine.
Thank you for touching upon that. It pointed out the ignorance I have and gave me chills thinking about it because sometimes, it can be in plain sight but unless we are educated on it, we don’t notice or we ignore it. We don’t know how to take action on it. It ties into this idea of me versus we. Sometimes it is tempting or it feels like all we can do is take care of ourselves. When our bandwidth is limited, we don’t feel we can support others. We can even start to learn how to support others.
Another big reason why we have to work on our well-being is that it can expand our capacity to help others. It is the cliche idea around the oxygen mask. Even if we want to help others, we have to start by helping ourselves. Work is such a big part of many of our lives so we have to consider that. If we are spending most of our week in some work capacity, we can’t afford to ignore our well-being in that place.One big reason why we have to work on our wellbeing is because it can expand our capacity to help others. Click To Tweet
It is a place where most adults spend the vast majority of their waking hours. This is why it is important for us to reposition the workplaces. It’s not just a place where we work but also a place where we can get well. Alongside, the oxygen mask analogy works well, particularly if you are a person of influence. This is something I’m always sharing with the managers that I train. I have trained over 15,000 managers and leaders through a workshop called Managers on the Move, as well as through an online course through LinkedIn learning called Managers as Multipliers of Well-Being that I delivered.
The message is investing in your self-care may feel selfish or putting on your oxygen mask first may feel selfish. It is one of the most giving things that you can do because it signals to your team members that it is okay for them to do the same. You are giving permission to them. I would take it one step beyond that, which is we each need to be that role models for one another. There is a well-documented phenomenon known as the social contagion effect, meaning that my behaviors never happen in isolation. Rather they create a ripple effect for better or for worse, in which they influence not only my friends but my friend’s friends and even my friend’s friend’s friends. It goes out from there.
If you were in a position of influence, your ripple effect is only greater. Even beyond that, we need to be thinking about reframing things like investing in your self-care to team care. When we are talking about our mental health, emotional well-being or social well-being, we can’t do this alone. One of the longest-standing studies to date is an adult development Harvard study. This has been running for many years.
They had been studying Harvard grads. They look at their life. How long do they live? How well do they live? What are those key factors? The number one factor was social connections. Each of us needs to be asking ourselves a question, “Am I loved? Am I loving well?” This moves us away from this, “Am I loving myself,” to, “No, am I loving myself in the context of others? Am I loving others as well? Are they loving me?” That is the greatest predictor of not only longevity but also the quality of life.
What a pivot to put love at the center of work because a lot of people believe they need to cut off emotions. When they go into the workplace, it is not about love and connection. It is about every man for himself. To be a good team member starts with you as the individual, which still makes sense and fits into all of this but what could change in a team environment if people did feel love from one another?
Many statistics speak to what you are talking about, which is ironic. A lot of these leaders and managers, in particular, feel like, “I’m not going to work to make friends.” Here is the reality. If you have not just a friend but a best friend at work, you are seven times more likely to be highly engaged in your work. If you feel a sense of trust and there is trust within your team, that team is twelve times more likely to be highly engaged in their work.If you have not just a friend but a best friend at work, you are seven times more likely to be highly engaged in your work. Click To Tweet
A study was conducted out of Google in which they found what the teams do best. They are the teams that have a high level of psychological safety. In those teams in which there is relative shared airtime, there is not that one person who is dominating the conversation all the time. It is a team in which the team members check in with one another. They are paying attention to those social cues. They are making sure everybody feels psychologically safe. They feel safe to take interpersonal risks within the context of the team where everybody feels heard and they are part of the team as opposed to a few.
What the issue becomes is it is less about individual performance and how an individual does in a little vacuum. It is more about how we work together. Those high-performing teams often don’t have the “highest performers.” It is more about those mediocre performers. They happen to work well together. It is less about the ideal individual and more about the ideal team and even about the ideal workplace.
Even though it is about the team, considering that individuals are reading this episode, I would love to know before we wrap up, what is one thing the individual could do after reading this episode if they want to see these changes happening in their workplace? Where is the starting point for them?
The first suggestion that I make, the first of ten steps to transform your organization to infuse more vitality and well-being into your organization, is to shift your mindset from expert to agent of change. You need to channel your inner Oprah and think, “What would Oprah do to influence people?” I don’t know anybody who has had more influence, particularly around health and well-being, frankly, than Oprah Winfrey.
You need to go out there, get the expertise and read the science but even more importantly, it is about how you start a movement of well-being. Everybody can do that. One of my favorite examples of this is I went into Kimpton. I was asked to deliver a talk about I have a topic called Born to Move, Told to Sit. Movement is one of the best things we can do for our bodies and brains. We are born to move. If you think about it, we are told to sit at every corner we turn.
The first thing you hear when you come into somebody’s home or office is, “Have a seat.” Everything in our culture revolves around our chairs. It is the first thing we teach our kids, “Sit and be still.” We have effectively created this massive biological cultural mismatch. We are biologically programmed to move but we are effectively culturally mandated to sit. That is a big a-ha moment for every individual.
It is getting us back to some of the things we were talking about at the beginning. It is recognizing how much our environment and culture is conspiring against healthy choice such as being more active. It is not about me as an individual deciding, “I’m going to get more active.” I’m going to shift my internal dialogue from, “I’m going to take personal responsibility for my health and well-being,” to, “Given the world that I live in, the organization that I work for, the team that I’m on and the boss that I work for, how do I become my best self?”
I think about those things that are working in my favor. I have a boss that never sends late-night emails, for example. That makes it easier for me to turn off my devices at night. I can leverage that in my favor. I have a boss that always runs at lunch. I know it is okay for me to get up from my desk and do the same thing and be more active. I feel like I have more permission.
The point being is we can start from that place of like, “What are those currents that are working in my favor versus those currents that are working against me? How do I leverage the ones that are working in my favor? How do I navigate around the ones that are working against me and acknowledge those? How do I, in turn, become an agent of change?”
I was starting to tell this story about what happened at Kimpton. I had given this whole talk about how sitting is the new smoking. We hear about this a lot. One of the participants took it upon herself to set up a little standing station for herself in the company kitchen. All these people would come in and be like, “What are you doing?” She was like, “Sitting the new smoking. I’m setting up a standing station for myself here.” Lo and behold, her peers started to do the same thing. They started to construct their little standup station.
This started rippling outwards and eventually, the company adopted a policy that if you wanted a standup desk, you could get a standup desk. This is a great example of how somebody who is not necessarily a manager or a leader can still start a movement for well-being. That all comes down to that one tip of how each of us can shift our mindset from expert to agent of change.
I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up this episode because it is so inspiring and empowering. It is an actionable thing. That doesn’t mean that it is easy. It might take some brainstorming and trial and error. It takes a lot of confidence-building to start there. Knowing that you can do that and hearing that beautiful example is wonderful. It also triggers in my head like, “I can’t wait to stand up. After we wrap up recording, I’m going to go stand up and stretch.”
Even if you work for yourself, these things can be hard. They are great reminders. I keep thinking about how I can influence people around me. Even though I’m not in a traditional work environment, I can still be an agent of change. I can talk to my friends about these things. I can share this episode and your book. I can start giving people some ideas for themselves. Like that starfish example, you gave. That beautiful visual story of how much of a difference you can make if you shift your actions a little bit and your perspective. It can go such a long way for yourself and others.
Laura, you have delivered many words of wisdom and done it in such an approachable way. You are considering the barriers and obstacles people have. You are helping them work around them. That is phenomenal. I’m deeply grateful that you have that element of inclusivity because I have realized, especially when it comes to work, that there is a lack of awareness around privilege. I contributed to that in the past. I no longer want to be part of that. I want to be aware of all these different circumstances.
I find that incredibly valuable about your work and your knowledge. You include that in how you speak. Thank you for that and everything you have shared. Thank you so much again, Laura. This has been delightful and what a great way for me to continue on the day of work I have after this interview. There are lots to consider as to how I can be an agent of change. Thank you on a personal level too.
Whitney, you are already being an agent of change. Thank you so much for having me as a guest. I loved our conversation.
- Laura Putnam
- Better Allies
- Should You Quit Your Job?
- Joie de Vivre
- What Works: A Comprehensive Framework To Change the Way We Approach Goal Setting
- Workplace Wellness That Works
- Pipe Line Construction Association
- Managers on the Move
- Managers as Multipliers of Well-Being
- @LauraPutnamAuthor – Instagram
About Laura Putnam
Laura is the CEO and Founder of Motion Infusion, a San Francisco-based well-being provider.
Author of “Workplace Wellness That Works,” she has also written for and been featured by MSNBC, Forbes, The New York Times, US News & World Report, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and NPR.
With a mission to get people and organizations “in motion,” Laura is a frequent keynote speaker and has worked with a range of organizations from Fortune 500s to government agencies and academic institutes to nonprofits.
She is a former urban public high school teacher, public policy advocate, international community organizer, dancer, gymnast and is now a movement-builder in the world of health and well-being.
Laura teaches at Stanford University and was the recipient of the American Heart Association’s “2020 Impact” award as well as the National Wellness Institute’s “Circle of Leadership” award.
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