Workplace MVP: Robyn Hussa Farrell, Sharpen and Nancy O’Brien, Experience Happiness
Host Jamie Gassmann welcomes Robyn Hussa Farrell of Sharpen and Nancy O’Brien with Experience Happiness, both of whom lead innovative companies working to improve mental health and wellness in the workplace. “Workplace MVP” is underwritten and presented by R3 Continuum and produced by the Minneapolis-St.Paul Studio of Business RadioX®.
Robyn Hussa Farrell, CEO, Sharpen
Robyn Hussa Farrell, MFA, E-RYT, Founder and Chief Executive Officer for Sharpen, extends knowledge in building large-scale initiatives to listen closely to the stakeholders, individuals with lived experience and clinicians to ensure all voices have been incorporated into prevention of mental illness and substance use disorders. For nearly two decades, Robyn has been building collaborative relationships between state agencies, educational systems, public health, and researchers across the U.S. to increase connectedness and primary prevention for communities.
Hussa’s tiered model for teaching mental health, population health, and prevention in schools has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. She has built mindfulness-based stress reduction initiatives that incorporate trauma-informed Resilient Schools frameworks in the state of South Carolina. Robyn served as an advisory committee member for Way to Wellville/Rethink Health Community Engagement and Listening Campaign and served as SC Youth Suicide Prevention Spartanburg County coordinator through the SC Department of Mental Health Office of Suicide Prevention. She founded four companies, first an award-winning NYC theatre company, Transport Group, which earned the prestigious Drama Desk award its first 7 years of operation and celebrates its 20th anniversary. Robyn and her husband Tim met as award-winning artists in NYC almost 30 years ago and have directed over 3,000 films, live events and educational programs through Sharpen and their production company, White Elephant Enterprises.
Healthy communities are made up of healthy individuals. Sharpen provides a cost-effective and flexible platform that: Provides easy access to research-based, standards-aligned, and award-winning content for mental wellness, enhances, extends, and expands the reach of therapists or counselors. connects and coordinates local and regional community resources, provides data to improve resource utilization, and builds individual, family, and community capacity, competence, and confidence to navigate successfully in these uncertain times and in the future.
– 15 years research
– Suicide prevention focus
– Self-guided CBT available 24 hours a day
– Highly customizable
– 200+ experts in 450 modules
Nancy O’Brien, Experience Happiness
Nancy is passionate about researching, developing and sharing innovative tools to enhance and measure well-being. Prior to co-creating The Happiness Practice, Nancy spent years on the leading edge of massive innovation and change, serving on the IBM change team to transition the global business from manufacturing to services. She has also shared her deep experience design and management expertise with many clients by helping them develop and implement bespoke strategies.
Experience Happiness was born out of the recognition that unhealthy stress and burnout—a virtual epidemic in today’s fast-paced global marketplace—is impairing people’s ability to embrace change, cope with challenging situations, feel truly happy or even take on One. More. Thing. We help people and organizations thrive through happiness. They offer The Happiness Practice (THP) to empower leaders to proactively cultivate individual and organizational happiness while measuring Return On Happiness (ROH) at the individual, team, and organizational levels. THP is a transformative life practice proven to simultaneously reduce stress/burnout, increase happiness, and build engaged, high-performance cultures of wellbeing that are strategically empowered to attract, retain, and optimize talent.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX Studios, it’s time for Workplace MVP. Workplace MVP is brought to you by R3 Continuum, a global leader in workplace behavioral health crisis and security solutions. Now, here’s your host, Jamie Gassmann.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:00:27] Hi, everyone. Your host, Jamie Gassmann, here. And welcome to this edition of Workplace MVP. In March of 2020, many workplaces faced a major disruption when they shifted from onsite to remote work. At the time, many likely felt this was going to be a short term change and they would be back to normal in no time. Little did we know, a year later, we would still have remote workers. And, now, looking at what our back to the workplace work environment will look like.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:00:56] Leaders are again faced with making unchartered challenging decisions that will inevitably have an impact on their organization and people. Do they stay remote, come back into office fully, or take a hybrid approach? And then, there is the behavioral impact of changing how we have interacted with coworkers over the last year, from being in isolation to now in-person. This shift that workplaces are facing creates yet another disruption for workplaces as they navigate these changes and the challenges within. In particular, the challenging of supporting employee wellbeing in this new work environment and what the impact will be on the role of the leader.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:01:37] Today, we have two wonderful MVPs to celebrate who are going to help provide some insight on this topic, Robyn Hussa Farrell, CEO and Co-Founder of Sharpened Minds, and Nancy O’Brien, Co-Founder of Experience Happiness. So, our first Workplace MVP is Robyn Hussa Farrell, CEO and Co-Founder of Sharpened Minds. Welcome to the show, Robyn.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:02:01] Thanks so much for having me, Jamie.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:02:02] So, let’s start off with you telling me a little bit about yourself and your company, Sharpened Minds.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:02:11] I am the Founder and CEO of Sharpened, which is an evidence-based platform that improves behavioral health outcomes for communities. We created this after working in the trenches for 15 years in research. And we’re just so excited to be here and grateful to you all.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:02:29] Wonderful. And you have a very interesting career journey. Can you share with us how you’ve moved from entertainment industry into the behavioral health industry?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:02:38] Yeah, it’s quite a segue. My career began in New York City Entertainment in the theater, where I actually produced a rock musical about a family going through a really difficult mental health disorder. And that led into working in K-12 schools with an interest in primary prevention of mental health disorders. And I saw an alarming number of students and families revealing they were struggling with very little resources to manage it.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:03:05] So, I started connecting with researchers in public health and prevention to use the craft of storytelling to connect more evidence-based programs to schools and families. And that ultimately led me to building a platform to connect the content to specific audiences and use data to inform the decisions we use in terms of behavioral for health in communities.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:03:29] Great. And, now, these programs that you built, I know you’ve mentioned K through 12, but there’s some other groups that you build those for, like within businesses and also certain kind of industry specific areas as well. Can you tell me a little bit more about those different programs and how they operate when somebody is utilizing them?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:03:49] Yeah. So, there’s kind of two elements to the programmatic feature within Sharpened, they’re the tech component and then there’s modular content. So, I’ve been working with my husband, who’s also from the media world in New York City, to develop evidence-based modular content. And we do that with robust partnerships. So, it’s all about increasing access to the evidence-based best practices, but also featuring those documentary styles, race of resilience, that we know decrease [inaudible] stigmatization barriers that often prevent an individual from connecting to treatment.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:04:27] So, the Modular Content Library, not only documentary style films, but all 15 different elements that we’ve published in peer reviewed medical journals has shown to increase engagement with appropriate treatment, but also community connection. So important to normalize that conversation and increase connectedness. And so, our system sort of does all of these different components using primary prevention best practices.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:04:58] Great. And in looking at those, you know, when you say the documentary – I know when you and I connected before – you mentioned that they have a very peer focused support. And I know we kind of shared specifically, like, veterans that might be dealing with like a PTSD or other mental health concerns, that they’re built to specifically kind of address that with individuals that have either gone through it or understands the world. So, in your opinion, how does that help to enhance the behavioral health support that they’re receiving? And that engagement part of it that you talked about, how does that make a difference in how people respond to it?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:05:39] Well, Jamie, we’ve seen actually through research that, we have gathered over 80,000 response forms from both parents, from educators, from individuals with lived experience. So, we know through data that by sharing stories of resilience that decreases that shame. It helps an individual know that they’re not alone. It kind of normalizes the conversation around mental health. But it’s also a safe and appropriate way to connect that individual to care.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:06:11] And so, with your example that you gave of the veteran focused content, we worked with a clinical psychologist from the VA who developed over the course of four years peer-to-peer veterans stories of resilience. And what we saw through our research with the veteran population was, not only that the veterans wanted to engage more with treatment after they saw another veteran, but more importantly, the spouses or the care providers. So, when we built out certain content streams that were spouses and veterans sharing in a safe and protected environment their stories, we saw an increase in connectedness. And those are best practices for not only building resilience and mental health, but also for suicide prevention.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:06:56] Yeah. Definitely. And looking at, obviously, over this last year and in any time frame, really, and looking at kind of trends and shifts, is there anything in particular that you’re seeing with your clients or within the industry that you serve that you’ve identified in your research that leaders should be aware of?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:07:19] So, overall, of course, in the last year, we’ve seen an uptick in consuming best practice interventions on mindfulness, mindfulness-based stress reduction, anxiety, understanding the conversation around the neuroscience around anxiety, but also childhood trauma and maltreatment. We’re talking a great deal and seeing a great deal around adverse childhood experiences. So, naturally, those, on a broad brush stroke, have been what we’ve seen in terms of our data.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:07:48] But we also know that individuals are not only interested in accessing care for themselves, but they need support for their family members. So, ensuring we have age appropriate and audience appropriate content for the family member has been something that we’ve seen, especially in the last year.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:08:06] And then, in our medical student vertical, we actually saw really interesting data point where medical students were actually seeking out directed content on a more regular basis. So, we learned through medical students that, for example, you’re in the throes of a mental health disorder or a substance disorder, you may be less likely to be seeking than earlier on. So, the earlier we can screen and intervene, we’re seeing their success.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:08:37] Great. So, in looking at that earlier intervention, what can leaders be looking for? How would they be able to spot, is their proactive measures that they can take to be monitoring for that?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:08:52] Yeah. So, leaders should know first and foremost that you’re not alone and you don’t have to do this alone. Right? The news has been highlighting — in the last year, especially with this mental health pandemic. But just know that there’s been research and best practices over the course of five decades, at least, in the world of neuroscience. And there are systems and frameworks in place that can support you. So, that’s number one, know that there are folks that can support you.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:09:18] And to that end, we have collaborated with R3C and with Nview to offer consultation to leaders of larger corporations, so that they can actually understand the benefits of early identification screening, primary prevention work that can actually support their employees in the long term.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:09:40] And so, looking at that, in that preparation of the leaders, as they’re starting to look at this new work environment, you know, what are some things from your opinion that they should be considering and building into that preparation approach?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:09:53] I think that it’s about increasing community connections as much as it is increasing access to treatment like mental health counseling. So, there are all kinds of ways that you can do that in following best practice. We can also start normalizing the conversation on a daily basis. So, driving content on a more scheduled – again, following best practice guidance, those are ways that increase resiliency, it decreases the stigma, it engages everyone kind of into a normalized conversation that mental health is as important, if not more important, than our physical health.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:10:36] Now, I’m sure there’s a lot with that career journey that you just explained to us and then also looking into the great work that you’re doing at Sharpen that you’re proud of. But what are you most proud of within your career when you look back?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:10:50] When I look back, I think that it’s the partnerships. It’s the people doing the grass work, research and interventions for families. I’ve had the great honor of working greatly in a resilient schools community, working with foster families, working with experts and researchers in childhood maltreatment. And I am so grateful for those community partnerships and for the professional collaborations that we have. So, I mean, there’s so many things I’m grateful for, but those partnerships really mean the world to me.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:11:26] Wonderful. And if somebody wanted to get in contact with you, how could they go about doing that?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:11:32] Sure. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m also sharpenedminds.com. You can access us there and please reach out, we would love to collaborate.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:11:41] Awesome. Thanks, Robyn. Our next Workplace MVP is Nancy O’Brien, Co-Founder of Experience Happiness. Welcome to the show, Nancy.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:11:51] Oh, thank you, Jamie. And thank you, Robyn. It’s a pleasure to be here with you both this morning.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:11:57] Great. And just like with Robyn, why don’t you start off with telling us a little bit about yourself and your company, Experience Happiness.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:12:04] Yeah. Like Robin, I didn’t plan on this to be part of my career. Unlike Robyn and other entrepreneurs, my dear friend and business partner at Experience Happiness literally set out to save our lives. My first job out of college was with IBM, and I was one of the two females that were hired in the Omaha, Nebraska office that were not secretaries. So, you could imagine. And then, I was also part of the change team at IBM when we were moving from manufacturing to services. And that was really interesting, that was an 11 year change plan, we got there at nine. And nobody but Dow Jones and Nasdaq can tell you when you get there.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:13:00] And then, when I was still at IBM, I got introduced to this idea of customer employee experience design and experience management. I’m like, “Oh, finally. That’s me.” And then, through the course of life, I ended up really becoming an expert in experience design and experience management. And what I learned was, you can’t have a really great customer experience unless you have a really great employee experience. So, that kind of shifted some things.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:13:33] And when my dear friend and I sat down for lunch one day, we could check all the boxes on wellbeing. I mean, at the Gallup Well-Being Index Work would have been out, we would have gotten an A-plus. We were doing purpose driven careers. We had flushed 401Ks, if anybody remembers those days. We were so healthy that, for me, my physician actually said, “I don’t want to see you for five years because this is a sick care system, not a well-care system. Like, stay out of here.” I was Volunteer of the Decade at my kid’s school. And I had plenty of friends and family.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:14:16] But the reality is, my friend and I looked across the table from each other and we realized that we were suffering from suicidal ideation. And we were doing everything right. We were going to yoga. We were meditating. We were healthy. We were happy. And what we know now that we didn’t know then is, we were suffering from the 16 signs and symptoms of burnout.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:14:45] And, really, I remember the day I got off the plane one evening, like, at midnight, there’s not that many people that are in the airport at midnight. But I was one of them. And I remember calling my boss at the time and I just said, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.” So, really, we needed to heal ourselves. We weren’t getting counseling. We were getting some therapy. And if anybody gave us another gratitude journal, there was going to be a situation.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:15:19] And I want to be clear because Robyn just spoke so eloquently about mental health. So, I just want to be clear, we’re talking about mental wellness. We are not in the mental health. Our solution called the Happiness Practice is an evidence-based behavioral health solution that helps people no matter kind of where they are on the spectrum. And I think we’re all on a spectrum of some sort. I don’t think any of us are exempt, and most of us will go undiagnosed. But we can always improve our behavioral health and our mental wellness. So, really, Jamie, we set out to save ourselves,
Jamie Gassmann: [00:16:00] And it took you on an incredible career journey and took you to creating the Experience Happiness, which is now you have that ability to help other organizations. So, can you tell me a little bit about how those programs work within an organization?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:16:17] Yeah. And I’ll give you just a little bit of context. So, you know, Lyn and I are kind of innovators, researchers, and strategists. So, the first thing we did is, we needed to redefine happiness because we had it out there. I’ll be happy when the kids get the grades, right? We get this next contract. I get this promotion. My husband remembers my birthday. I mean, whatever it is.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:16:43] And so, the first thing we did – and I’m going to invite your listeners to try this on – is we redefined happiness, which is this, happiness is our innate ability to locate and cultivate our serenity and our excitement about our life, regardless of outside forces. And there’s a lot of outside forces. So, we redefined happiness and then we kind of like, “Well, that’s happiness.” And it’s inside of each of us how do we cultivate it. And then, we came up with the five principles of happiness, and blah, blah, blah.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:17:24] And now, what we offer to people of all walks of life in education settings, in corporate settings, in community settings is the Happiness Practice. And it’s essentially called a practice. It’s not a program. It’s a practice. Just like brushing your teeth is a practice or yoga is a practice, what not. And you learn and practice each of the five principles for 30 days because that’s the time it takes to create new neuropathways. And simply put, by practicing this practice, you become more open minded and more open hearted. And you travel the longest journey we all take, the 18 inches from our head to our heart. And in doing so, we are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually more optimized.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:18:19] And I can see in an organization having more of that openness as like a team probably builds collaboration, understanding probably a little bit more grace for each other. Is that typically what you see when you’re working with that?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:18:32] Like, we worked with the fabulous emergency department at Hennepin Health Care on the heels of a gang shooting. So, we not only had burnout, but we had trauma there. And it was really interesting because one of the nurse leaders said, “You know what? We used to be good at teaming, but now we have each other’s back.” Because like Robyn was saying about Sharpened Mind, you learn this life practice at community. Right? And so, you start to see that no one is exempt. Like, stuff has happened to everybody all the time, no one’s exempt.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:19:13] And what you learn in this community is that, we’re all students and teachers of life and you learn to apply the five principles of happiness to Thanksgiving dinner, your sixteen year old, your work colleagues. And having that sense of, “Oh, my God. We are all human beings doing the best we can.” And you start to walk this path of self-love and self-worth together.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:19:46] And as you know, Jamie, it was so great because we’re so thrilled to have R3 Continuum being one of our partners. When your leaders offered the Happiness Practice to all of your employees as a gift – really, it was a gift – 80 percent of you and your colleagues engaged in that. And we have the only evidence-based behavioral health system that has a measurement applied to it. So, we actually measure and track shifts at an individual level. But, two, also department and organizational KPIs. So, your leadership was able to see since the burnout went down and the happiness went up, revenue improved, operational expenses were reduced, and net income was improved. So, this is a business case, right? I mean, all of the businesses really, at the end of the day, are the humans in it.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:20:48] Absolutely. And we’ve connected earlier, so kind of piggybacking off of that point about people and businesses, you know, looking at the last year, some of the things that we talked about previously, you mentioned that within the last two months, you’ve seen a shift that you’ve noticed within organizations. Can you share with me that shift that you and the potential impact that organizations might have from that?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:21:19] Thank you. And, really, Jamie and Robyn, chime in here if you’d like to. But you mentioned something earlier, Jamie, about leaders. So, here’s what I’m feeling and seeing out there, is, there’s three major shifts happening that really are shifting leadership’s role in this new world. Because we have five simultaneous crises happen. So, this is a whole new world order for us.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:21:51] So, leaders have three new responsibilities that they need to really step into. One of that is really making employee wellbeing one of their top priorities, and it’s a shared responsibility. Unlike employee wellness, which is, “We’ll offer weight loss. We’ll offer smoking cessation. We’ll offer EAP.” That’s an individual, like, I have to choose if I want to quit smoking or lose weight or blah, blah, blah. Wellbeing is a shared responsibility. You’ve got to have the environment where people feel safe and belonging. And you also have to offer a variety of programs, if you will, because no two people are the same and no two people are in the same place on the journey.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:22:36] The other thing that leaders really have to do is, help people adjust to the accelerated rate of change. Like, what we were doing Monday is not what we’re doing on Thursday, and that’s the new reality. And, now, the nice thing about people who are authentically happy, they respond to change more quickly and more easily. So, again, we’ve got to optimize the human beings, so that we don’t have a major crash to our human system.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:23:16] And then, the third thing is, there’s going to be a lot of upskilling and reskilling that takes place. I mean, aren’t you ready for your robot? I mean, really, I think we’re all going to have our personal robot in the next year. And AI is going to come on and all these things. And it’s like, “We’re going to have to learn how to program our robots.” You know, that’s just one example of the type of new skills we’re all going to have to develop, no matter where we are in our career.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:23:49] And leaders aren’t used to doing those three things. They’re used to putting the burden on upskilling. “Well, you get the degree then apply for the job.” No. I mean, the degree and the education system, it’s not going to keep up with the new skills that an employee needs now to respond and react to a work situation. And I think the other thing leaders need to make over arching is, leaders don’t have to have the answers anymore. They have to keep leaning into the question, what works now, what’s the problem, but what’s the opportunity.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:24:28] And so, I think it’s a really exciting time. I think if leaders lead into these three shifts, they’re going to feel more fulfilled. Because aren’t leaders all about lifting people up anyway and helping people be their best? And aren’t organizations about creating wonderful opportunities for their employees? Everything else is just kind of like noise.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:24:56] Yeah. Definitely. And you can see that in organizations and some of the other, you know, news articles and media that you’re seeing in that area in terms of helping employees, empowering employees, supporting them. So, definitely you can see that with organizations in that new work environment. So, the same question that I asked Robyn as well, I mean, you’ve had, obviously, an incredible journey. In looking back over your career, what are you most proud of?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:25:30] Oh. That I made the shift from being a human doing to a human being. That has been everything. That has made me a better mother, a better friend, a better colleague. Like, when I ask you how are you, I want to know. And that, I’m most proud of that.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:26:06] Wonderful. And if somebody in our listener pool wants to connect with you, how can they go about doing that?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:26:12] Yes. So, it’s easy, email@example.com. And you can also go to our website, experiencehappiness.biz And we have a free and confidential happiness and burnout assessment you can take. So, check in with you. Take a moment and see how you are.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:26:36] Great. Thanks so much, Nancy. So, we’re going to take a moment and just have a word from our sponsor. Workplace MVP is sponsored by R3 Continuum. R3 Continuum is a global leader in providing expert, reliable, responsive, and tailored behavioral health crisis and security solutions to promote workplace wellbeing and performance in the face of an ever changing and often unpredictable world. Learn more about how R3 Continuum can tailor a solution for your organization’s unique challenges by visiting www.r3c.com today.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:27:13] So, now, what I’d like to do is bring the two of you back together and I have some questions for the both of you. So, starting out with you, Nancy, you shared that employee wellbeing has to or is moving to a new territory of being a shared responsibility. So, from your perspective – and then, Robyn, I would like to get your thoughts on this as well – how might that look within an organization? So, what are some things that might need to change or be incorporated to allow for that to happen?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:27:46] So, I think one of the big shifts we’re experiencing right now is, we’re shifting from paying attention to employee engagement, how do employees feel about the company, to employee wellbeing and having the organization understand, really, how well are their people. And then, needing to sense and respond to that. Like, you can’t just do the one size fits all anymore. You’re going to have to dial-in individually. So many things are becoming personalized, we know this as consumers. Employee wellbeing for organizations is going personal as well. Like, my challenges and my opportunities for growth and expansion are different than the two of yours. And it’s changing, literally, daily.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:28:41] So, employee wellbeing, it’s tempting to put it in the H.R. bucket as an organization. But I really encourage it to be a C-suite driven initiative. Because at the end of the day, the most important asset an organization has is their people. And, now, that we’re in this hybrid, if you will, work environment, you’re going to have to have this be a shared responsibility. Because the organization can make sure that their spaces are physically safe, make sure everybody’s got the technology they have. But the humans have accountability to be able to check in with themselves, to say, “Should I go into the office today or should I stay home?”
Jamie Gassmann: [00:29:36] Yeah. Definitely. Robyn, how about from your perspective?
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:29:41] Now, we just did a couple of days ago this week, a focus group with some H.R. executives on global wellbeing and resilience in the workplace. And one piece of data that I think is relevant to this conversation – and to everything, Nancy, that you have said. Yes, I’m a huge fan. I’m so excited about this idea of really giving presence to our employees from the C-level all the way throughout – the challenge in the piece of data from the focus group this week was simply how can [inaudible] our executive, possibly, with 50,000 employees be there and be present and be able to do it on their own? And the answer is, of course, they can’t.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:30:32] So, creating a community, not only from the C-level, but throughout the culture of these enterprise companies where we’re asking each other, how are we doing? Getting the conversation started around mental wellbeing, but just life wellbeing. What are you doing today to do an uptick on your self-care? What are you doing in our world? We measure all of this through a resiliency scale that’s validated against perceived stress outcomes. So, how are you doing with stress? How you do management? It doesn’t mean you need to go talk to a licensed clinician, per se. There are folks in between that can on a daily level, we can just actually have these conversations.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:31:15] And I love Nancy’s point about making sure the leadership are modeling that, right? If we see it, we are going to be more likely to do it, not only at the workplace, but at home with our kids and with our loved ones.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:31:28] Great. And so, from the work that the two of you do, what are some of the changes that you feel employers should be readying themselves for? What that new workplace is going to be like post-COVID? And the employees, really, looking at it from like the employees that are coming back to that work environment, what are some things that they should be doing to ready themselves for that? And maybe we’ll start with you, Robyn.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:31:53] I think, number one, first and foremost, we want to be mindful of risk mitigation and doing it in a way that actually gets this conversation going. So, employers can do the assessment and the screen that Nancy was referencing. Knowing the baseline of how your employees are when they come back to work, whether it’s in office or hybrid, checking in with them. And of course, there are evidence-based ways to do that.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:32:23] We partner with the gold standard screening company Nview Health. They run over 17,000 clinical studies around this. So, there are ways to do it that are appropriate and safe that helps you get a baseline. And then, doing some type of daily or weekly intervention, meaning mindfulness-based stress reduction, all of the literature around improving happiness outcomes. We call it building protective factors. So, we focus on eight primary protective factors. Certainly, mindfulness and resiliency are within that. But there’s all kinds of ways that you can deploy safe and appropriate content as an intervention that supports all of the wellbeing of the employees that you’re working with. So, those are just two ideas right off the top of my head.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:33:12] And how about you, Nancy?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:33:13] Well, I love everything that Robyn is suggesting. And, now, I have to put my experience design hat on for just a moment. Because it’s really interesting for me to see a dozen articles a day on return to the office, return to work. And the thing is, we’re already in the shift. There’s no return happening. We are evolving to the new reality right now. And we are social-emotional creatures, and mental health is an epidemic and loneliness and a sense of belonging are the key symptoms that we’re seeing.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:33:59] And so, from an experience design perspective, I would say, if you’re scheduling an hour Zoom call, schedule 90 minutes. Because what we’re missing is when we see somebody walking to and from the lunchroom or the coffee nook, we’re missing that, “Oh, my God. What happened to you? You’ve got a cast on your arm.” And we’re missing the story of, “I fell down, you know, carrying a bag of groceries,” or whatever because we’re only getting above the heart. So, we’re missing most of the data we count on as human beings for only getting 10 percent of the data we need.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:34:49] So, what we need to do is spend that extra 30 minutes, if you will, 15 minutes before a call and 15 minutes later, “How are you doing? What’s going on?” Because that’s what we’re doing at Experience Happiness – we just had an all team call this morning. We got people in Finland and, you know, people in Oklahoma and California. We’re doing all the time zones – the first thing we do is, “How are you? And how is your practice?”
Nancy O’Brien: [00:35:17] And it really helps each other to say, “You know what? I’m working on principle number three, release control to be empowered.” It helps us understand where you are. And sometimes the agenda that we plan for the meeting changes based on what we’re learning about the humans that have come together in this time. And then, the other thing we’re missing on the back end is, you know, how if you have a meeting, you walk out with a couple of people and say, “Hey, let’s follow up on this. Let’s follow up on that.” We’re not doing that.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:35:48] So, what we need to do is bring back those human needs that we have and create the space for them in this wonderful reality that we actually know now that that myth of work life balance was always a myth. And no matter who we are, we’re bringing all of that to every aspect of our life. We bring our work to the situation with our kids. We bring our kid’s situation to work or community environment. And I think we have to acknowledge our humanness and how humans operate as social-emotional creatures. We’re the only species on the planet that has a conscious.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:36:49] Interesting. So, for the both of you, just one final question, for all the leaders that are listening out there today, if there was one takeaway action item that you wanted to leave them with that they should start doing now, if they haven’t already, for this new work environment or just even in general, what would that take away be? I’ll start with you, Robyn.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:37:18] Okay. So, I’m going to bring this to a level of conversation that speaks very close to home. I direct the Suicide Prevention Task Force for three counties in the state of South Carolina. I’ve been doing that work for four years with researchers. I mentioned a focus group we had with H.R. executives from global companies. The conversation around suicide is a real thing and it’s a scary thing. And, now, executives are faced with, “My goodness. There’s a whole host of mental health and substance use challenges that are staring all of us in the face.”
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:37:55] I want to go back to the point I made earlier, which is, there are best practice ways of getting those conversations started. To Nancy’s really great point about encouraging your employees to share their stories, this resonates so much with me as both a storyteller and someone who thrives on helping individuals tell their stories. There is a model that’s evidence-based for suicide prevention and it is called Stories of Strength.
Robyn Hussa Farrell: [00:38:23] And one easy, quick, awesome way that you can actually engage your employees in the conversation is to ask them who are the sources of strength in your life? Let’s talk about them, call on them, perhaps even contribute a video of one way that they overcame adversity during COVID. And what were the sources of strength that pulled them through these crazy times that we’re in. So, leaning into it rather than letting fear be your guide and, again, following the best practices that exist because they’re out there.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:38:59] Beautiful. How about for you, Nancy?
Nancy O’Brien: [00:39:03] So, just like the flight attendants on the airlines would say, “Put your own mask on first so you can help each other,” I would invite you to really understand that as a leader. No matter if you’re an untitled leader, but you’re still a leader in your community or your home or whatnot, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of you so you can take care of others well. There is data out there that says that 90 percent of leaders are suffering from burnout. And burnout unaddressed, unacknowledged, unmedicated can lead to suicidal ideation and suicide.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:39:55] So, I think the most important thing that leaders can do is model the desired behavior that we are all accountable and responsible for cultivating our mental wellness. And, you know, there’s about to be eight billion of us on the planet. Here is a nice thing, if we were supposed to do life alone, there wouldn’t probably be eight billion of us.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:40:23] So, you know, it was really interesting. I really spent the last year in Detroit with my son, who a year ago – and I won’t go into details – everything you read about is what he was experiencing. I thought, “Well, he doesn’t need to be alone. I could get in my car and I could go there.” And thank goodness I had my own practice. Thank goodness I was able to love and support him, but knowing it’s his own journey.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:40:57] And it was interesting because last week, I just happened to reconnect with, like, six people I didn’t talk to you for a while. And they said, “Well, what’s the last year been like?” And I, basically, shared with them what my year has been like in this wonderful journey with my son that I’m so privileged to be part of. And they’re like, “Me, too. Me, too. Me, too.” Every one of the six people I talked to had a 20 year old child who was going through something similar.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:41:29] And so, Robyn, to your point of sharing, an old version of me, the human doing, would probably not have shared that. But the human being, I shared here’s what’s going on in my life. You know, it might look like I’m put together because I happened to shower today, but I got this stuff going on. And it was so interesting to realize that my experience was really no different than these good friends and colleagues of mine.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:42:09] Yeah. Great.
Nancy O’Brien: [00:42:11] So, share your story. And it doesn’t have to be a pretty one.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:42:18] I love that advice. I think that’s a great one, because I think through those stories, we’re able to learn a little bit more about each other, which gives us the ability to have a little bit more understanding and grace for each other as well. So, thank you both for letting us celebrate you, and for sharing your stories, and your great advice, and your insights with our listeners. We appreciate you. And I’m sure your organizations and staff do as well, as well as your clients that you work with.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:42:48] And we also want to thank our show sponsor, R3 Continuum, for supporting the Workplace MVP podcast. And to our listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you’ve not already done so, make sure to subscribe so you get our most recent episodes and other resources. You can also follow our show on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter @Workplace MVP. And if you are a Workplace MVP or know someone who is, we want to know about them. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for joining us and have a great rest of your day.
About “Workplace MVP”
Every day, around the world, organizations of all sizes face disruptive events and situations. Within those workplaces are everyday heroes in human resources, risk management, security, business continuity, and the C-suite. They don’t call themselves heroes though. On the contrary, they simply show up every day, laboring for the well-being of employees in their care, readying the workplace for and planning responses to disruption. This show, “Workplace MVP,” confers on these heroes the designation they deserve, Workplace MVP (Most Valuable Professionals), and gives them the forum to tell their story. As you hear their experiences, you will learn first-hand, real life approaches to readying the workplace, responses to crisis situations, and overcoming challenges of disruption. Visit our show archive here.
“Workplace MVP” Host Jamie Gassmann
In addition to serving as the host to the Workplace MVP podcast, Jamie Gassmann is the Director of Marketing at R3 Continuum (R3c). Collectively, she has more than fourteen years of marketing experience. Across her tenure, she has experience working in and with various industries including banking, real estate, retail, crisis management, insurance, business continuity, and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mass Communications with special interest in Advertising and Public Relations and a Master of Business Administration from Paseka School of Business, Minnesota State University.