business

Mental Health in the Workplace is everybody’s issue.

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I was asked by a friend to write something that normally would not have been a topic of choice, an area that feels very exposing. However, if I truly believe in integrity and transparency, I need to pull open the blinds of a challenge shared by many.

Time to take off the masks.
Time to take off the masks.

It all starts with volunteering… something I believe strongly in, not out of a sense of duty, but because I want to, and I know how rewarding it can be when you find the right fit.

The cause I am currently engaged with is the Canadian Mental Health Association; I believe in the work CMHA does, I can relate to the issues they deal with, and the folks at our local association deeply care about what they do, and who they do it with.

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘mental health’? Does it make you cringe? Is it something that only affects ‘other’ people? Or does it stir up feelings that are all too real…too close to home. You’re not alone! The specific area that I’m engaged with is mental health in the workplace, an issue that is very real to employers and employees alike. Did you know that everyday in Canada; over 500,000 people miss work due to mental health issues? That’s huge! Think of the impact those absentees have on the individual, their families, their co-workers, their organizations! And yes, the cost to business is in the neighbourhood of $33 billion each year. Take a read through this sobering Maclean’s article. These are people we rub shoulders with on a daily basis…and many of us are one of those people.

It doesn’t matter what you call it; stress, anxiety, burn-out…it’s the pile up of demands (personal, professional), expectations (others and our own), deadlines, conflicts, pressures that get us to the point of _______ … you finish the sentence. For me it looks like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and an inability to make even the simplest of decisions.

As a training and development professional and business professor, I speak with many people who feel like an elastic band that’s about to snap; these people are from a variety of industries, representing all generations, are male and female, formally educated (or not), experienced, and capable individuals. CEO’s, leaders, and managers be aware, these are the people who are the very core and life of your organizations…many are even sitting beside you in the boardroom.

CMHA’s Mental Health Voices represents the need for greater awareness to be brought to such matters in the workplace. If you are in a role of people leadership or run a business, this is a cause that begs your attention. If you live in the Okanagan, BC, I would invite you to attend our Mental Health Voices breakfast with Brett Wilson on November 4th. Check out the website www.cmhakelowna.com/mental-health-voices for both information on the event and ticket purchase.

No matter your location, I would invite you to take some time to think through how your place of business could be proactive about this growing area of concern and join the growing crowd of business leaders who are endeavouring to take the stigma out of the mental health issue.

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

My ‘creative’ office space…

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In my last blog I committed to do whatever I could to avoid creating cracks in my overall well being…that’s easier said than done! I can’t believe how many daily habits I am unaware of that fight against that desire.

IMG_0149
My office, office chair, view, and parking lot 🙂

A simple example is eating. My plan this week was to do research and begin developing material for a case study and summer teaching…activities I thoroughly enjoy. However, in my focused prep I loose track of time and then wonder why I can’t put two sensible thoughts together…I forget to stop and eat until my brain starts screaming for fuel. At that point I am so desperate to eat, I grab whatever is fast and convenient; sometimes my choices are good…but not always.

Then there’s the old tyranny of the urgent. I take a few minutes to check email before setting time aside for quiet reflection and meditation…you know where this is going! An hour later I’m still dealing with issues that have come up, and those led to new ‘stuff’…there goes my quiet time! Sound familiar?

Don’t get me wrong, the week wasn’t a total bust…mid-week I decided to change ‘office’ location. For a whole afternoon I sat by the lake in a comfy Adirondack chair, reading, thinking, creating…perfect! Not only did I get a lot accomplished, I ended the afternoon feeling relaxed and refreshed. 

Once again I was reminded that in order to break old habits we sometimes need a change…even if only for an afternoon. I know that being outside is what I love, especially if a lake or ocean is involved. I know that a change in scenery brings fresh thinking for individuals and teams alike. I know that when I head out on my bike (which is how I got to my ‘office’) I always throw in healthy snacks and water. I know that intentionality is key in making any change worth making.

Speaking of intentionality, I was explaining to a friend this week that my summer goal was to focus on the 3Rs: relax, refresh, rejuvenate. However, I got stopped in my tracks when she asked what that meant…what do each of those actions (yup, actions…) really entail. Great question, but I really didn’t have an answer. So, time for a little backtracking to clarify what I’m actually shooting for.

This is what I found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Relax:

  • to become or to cause (something) to become less tense, tight, or stiff
  • to stop feeling nervous or worried
  • to spend time resting or doing something enjoyable especially after you have been doing work

Refresh:IMG_0145

  • to make (someone) have more energy and feel less tired or less hot
  • to give someone more of (a drink) : to fill (someone’s glass, cup, etc.) again
  • computers : to put something, (such as a page on the Internet) into a computer’s memory again in order to show any new information : to cause an updated version of (something, such as an Internet page) to appear on a computer screen

Rejuvenate:

  • to make (someone) feel or look young, healthy, or energetic again
  • to give new strength or energy to (something)

I need to probe and ponder these definitions and think through the actual working out of these actions and how they apply to my 3R summer…hmmm!

Potential, Persuasion & Leadership

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Right now I’m sitting in a new little restaurant in Kelowna called Gratitude. Recently opened, it’s claim to fame is a menu that is gluten free, vegan, and safe for most allergies. Limited…but oh so tasty! I feel healthier just sitting here. My order…spicy root veggie soup and a toasted carrot bun with coconut butter. Very delicious.

When the server/owner delivered it to me, the salutation, ‘you are lovely and awesome’ was declared. That took me a little aback…to my shame, the first thought that came to mind was ‘now that’s a little phony…they probably say that to everyone.’ But then I thought, ‘so what if they do, how many people never get to hear those sentiments from anyone?’ Yup, slapped my own hand for that one.

So how does this connect with potential? Glad you asked. Let me guide you through my thought process. One of the courses I’m teaching this semester to third year business students is Leadership; I’m very excited to be working with these future leaders! In the first class we discussed the concept of leadership and explored the experiences of each person…interesting and often inspiring. One of the resources we included in the course pack is a Harvard Business Review called ‘Harnessing the Science of Persuasion’ by Robert B. Cialdini. The article summary states,

“No leader can succeed without mastering the art of persuasion. But there’s hard science in that skill, too, and a large body of psychological research suggests there are six basic laws of winning friends and influencing people.”

The article is adamant that this persuasion must be done in an ethical manner, and that mastery of the 6 Principles outlined can bring ‘scientific rigor to the business of securing consensus, cutting deals, and winning concessions.’

In class we watched a YouTube version of the article, and then spent time discussing it.

What we summarized from the discussion is that leaders need to setthe stage and create a reason for why people should follow them. The obvious danger is the ease with which a leader could cross over the line into manipulation…one good reason why the article stresses the need for ethical action and behaviour.

So, back to potential. I can see potential in my students, or in those I have been privileged to mentor, but if there isn’t a connection, if they don’t like me, they are less likely to give any credence to any suggestions I may offer for their growth and development. The same thing applies to any group of people or team you may lead…do they see evidence of the 6 principles demonstrated through your actions? Do you make it easy for them to follow you, or do you create barriers that in the long run will limit the positive influence you could have in their professional and personal lives?

While I initially felt like the greeting I received with lunch was phony, it did make me stop and think. If she really did know me would those be the words she would use to describe me; if not, would she maybe see the potential in me to come along side and help me grow into a person worthy of such a greeting?

It’s an oak tree!

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It’s been a while since my last blog. There are a couple of reasons for that…not the least of which being absorbed in prep for teaching my business students. One key reason is tied in with the never-ending question regarding what to write about. I can think of lots of things to say when I’m nowhere near a computer (and have just had a great cup of coffee!), or don’t have time to gather the scattered thoughts into some semblance of order. However, when a pause in my schedule presents itself, I still need to find that focus.

As always, inspiration comes from places you least expect. Our son and his family have been on somewhat of a road trip for the past few weeks. His work affords him the privilege of working

Follow @natesawatzky
Follow @natesawatzky

from wherever he happens to be…although that in itself presents problems when depending on the strength and availability of Internet connections. (I digress…). On the day they packed up the vehicle to head off on their adventure, my daughter-in-law handed me a class jar with a twig stuck in it and ask that we take care of it. Now, you have to know that our grandkids are home schooled, and are getting the most amazing education imaginable…everything becomes a teachable moment in the family, even the unending collection of ‘nature’. So, when I asked what ‘it’ was, Crystal immediately said, ‘It’s an oak tree’.

It's an oak tree.
It’s an oak tree.

After a good chuckle, I had one of those ‘hmmm’ moments. I saw a dried up twig with a couple of pathetic looking leaves clinging for dear life, Crystal saw beyond that to what it would become…a mighty oak tree with potential far greater than what we could even begin to imagine.

I’m passionate about training and development, but for me it goes well beyond the material created or the skills taught…it’s about the outcome; it’s about the people involved in the training and development. The potential is there, it simply needs to be fed, watered, perhaps pruned, and planted in an environment where it will be encouraged to growing into…who knows?

One of the reasons I love teaching and working with young business leaders is because I get to be in on the ground floor of their journey. I have the opportunity to help them see who they are and what they have to offer. I love to see the light bulbs go on as they discover their innate strengths and struggle through the questions of ‘so what?’ I love the challenging questions they present as the result of critically thinking through some theory that makes sense on paper but somehow falls short of what they have already discovered in the work world…and life in general! I love to chat with them after they have completed their first life chapter of formal training, and hear the passion bubble up as they share what’s been happening and the opportunities that they have embraced. I love seeing the ‘twigs’ grow into ‘oak trees’.

All that to say, I found my focus. Potential…plain and simple. It’s all around us, it’s in us, and it’s each of our responsibility to develop. How does that happen? Who are the

Rodin's 'The Thinker'
Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’

people we choose to spend time with to foster that potential? What do we do when ours’, and others’, potential is being squashed? So much to probe and ponder!

“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom