One out of five Americans experience a mental health issue every year, yet most people are still afraid to open up about it in work settings. After helping her daughter through a mental health challenge, Debbie Urbanik now helps companies elevate mental health to an organizational culture imperative from a benefits choice via her business, hope@work. As a leader, do you know how to distinguish between the signs of disengagement and depression? Tune in to this compelling episode to learn that as well as tips on running mentally healthy meetings and supporting people on your team who may be battling episodic or chronic mental health issues.


Episode 34: Shifting mental health from a benefits choice to a cultural imperative with Debbie Urbanik

Shani: Hello Leadershifters, on this beautiful Fall afternoon. I’m coming to you with The LeaderShift Show with Shani from Arkansas where I’m here working with a client this week. My special guest is Deb Urbanik, who is joining us from New Hampshire. I really want to capture your attention here folks. Do you know that in any given year, one out of every five American is suffering from some sort of mental illness? It’s high time that we started having more open and honest conversations about this to take the stigma away from it. That’s one of the reasons that I’m having Deb on the show today.

Deb is a very experienced organizational culture consultant, we have a lot in common as it relates to that. In some personal experience that she’s had with her daughter over the past five years, she’s pivoted her consultant to include a huge component of helping companies become more inclusive around mental health with an effort she’s calling hope at sign work, so hope@work. We’re going to talk about that today. Welcome to the show, Deb.

Debbie: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Shani: Glad to have you. Like I said in the intro, it’s really long overdue for this conversation to happen. I feel like there’s been so much acceptance of otherness in this country and even all over the world for over the past decade or so as it relates to gender and sexual preference and race. Truly, we have a long way to go on all those as well, but the conversations are being heard and important people are taking stands and companies are doing a lot to improve diversity and inclusion and make everybody feel more comfortable, yet very little progress has been made on this front of mental illness.

Debbie: Absolutely, absolutely. Especially when it comes into the workplace. The exciting thing about this time is the ability for people to come out and be their true selves and bring their whole selves to work in most cases. What’s happening though, is that that conversation is happening and it’s growing within organizations, but the idea of being able to bring my whole self if I’m suffering from mental illness is there’s still a lot of stigma around that.

What’s really interesting, the reason that it’s become so much of a gap for me right now is because there’s been really amazing works in the culture industry as you know. Mostly over time, companies are spending a lot more time and energy really focusing on what is our higher purpose? How do we give it back positively to society? There’s been a lot of work about creating purpose statements that show the goodness that they really bring into this world. Then they’re creating values and principles that really support that.

There have been great progress, great steps taken with D&I Groups and that’s wonderful. When it comes to starting a conversation around really being able to be in an organization that says, “You know what, our people, one in five–” That means if I have a 10,000 person workforce, there’s a chance that 2,000 people are experiencing some form of mental challenge, whether it’s depression or anxiety and they’re spending a majority of their time at work. We are still at a place where there’s stigma around coming out and being able to talk about what I need in order to work well at work, in order to be productive, in order to contribute.

It’s that fear of, if I start to become vulnerable that I’m going to get passed over for promotions, that I’m not strong anymore. People will start to think of me as being weak or less than. I’m afraid to bring that part of myself to work. What happens instead, is the more you try to hide mental illness as having that be in a part my personal life as well. The more you try to hide it, the more difficult it becomes and the more anxiety that grows around it.

Shani: Absolutely.

Debbie: We have to create a place at work where it’s safe to bring that part of me to work and say, “I might need to make some adjustments for a little while. I need to do some healing.”

Shani: Right. It really should be no different than saying, “I have the flu, I need to take a few days off to take care of myself.” Or, “I broke my leg.” Right?

Debbie: Absolutely.

Shani: It should be no different. I can share from myself that I was very depressed about three and a half years ago, when I first separated from my now ex-husband because it was a really, really difficult decision. Probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life, because– I don’t even have to go into the because. I felt very conflicted and anxious and I got very, very down, to the point where it was affecting my work in terms of my motivation. [chuckles] It was affecting some of my relationships and I just noticed that the self that I knew had gone somewhere.

Thankfully, I had the courage to ask for help. I went to see a psychiatrist and was put on anxiety depressants to get me through the period of difficulty. One differentiation that I want to make sure people understand, some depression and mental illness is episodic and it’s contextual to what’s happening in your life right now and it can ebb and flow. Other mental illness is, of course, chronic, just like if you’re type 1 diabetic. You have that your whole life, it doesn’t go away.

Debbie: Absolutely. Even when you are a chronic sufferer, you can go through phases of having better mental health and worse mental health as well. You can be a productive worker and still have those episodes that come along that really throw you for a tailspin too. I still admire you. Thank you so much for sharing that story, because I think, look at yourself and look at the qualities that you bring, you’re a professional, you’re a hardworking woman, you do dynamic things and you went through a phase of illness if you will. You were really suffering and you’re treating yourself so that you can get back out there and now you’re in Arkansas and still do the goodness that you do.

What I find really interesting too is, and this is especially true of our younger generation, that a lot of the people that are presenting now with anxiety and depression are actually really high-performing people. You think of some of the younger students in college and things like that. The instances of mental illness in the youth today is much higher than it had been in the past. We know that there’s a lot of theories around, “Is that social media? Is that they’ve been overscheduled for their lives?” There’s a lot of different theories. The point I want to make is that this young generation that is coming with presenting much more with anxiety and depression is now coming into the workforce as well.

Shani: That’s right.

Debbie: We need to be ready to start to address that and to make changes so that we can start to have better conversations around that at work. One thing I want to share comparing to your story is, number one, the bravery that you had just to speak out. I think that is what is going to start to change things at work. When you see people who are– They’re accomplishing things, they’re working hard, they’re attributing but they’re willing to stop and say, “Listen, I’ve had my struggles, I’ve had my share,” and be honest and vulnerable about that. I think that makes a huge difference.

Number two, just knowing that it isn’t something that says that you’re not a good worker if you have mental illness. You can still be a stellar performer. Those two things are not mutually inclusive, right? You can be a top performer and have mental illness as well.

Shani: Yes. It’s just part of relating with other people. Everybody’s had struggles in their life. I don’t care who you are. We need to be able to talk about that. I think Brené Brown has done a really nice job of introducing the concept of vulnerability into more casual conversations in the workplace. This is one of many topics that people need to feel okay being vulnerable about. I think that it would actually be a cop-out if I didn’t talk about it, right? I don’t think I’m weak because I had to seek some assistance during a difficult time. I think A, it makes me stronger to have asked for help rather than suffer alone or without some assistance-

Debbie: Absolutely.

**Shani: -**and to share the story for inspiration with other people.

Debbie: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s another element that I want to share to this that I think is really interesting. It has to do with this idea of being willing to share and to own the conversation at work. One of the things that I found really really interesting as I was doing the culture work and then had to start going through the process of understanding mental illness better as my own daughter was going through it who’s now 23. She’s been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and she’s had a really hard time with it it’s a severe condition that she’s going through.

As I was having conversations and understanding that diagnosis, of course, I’m looking at the list of the symptoms. In my culture work we also have the conversation a lot about employee engagement. Here’s the rub that I found, this is one of the gaps that really was a wake-up for me, a leader shift if you will, that I think needs to happen. If you list and I’m going to use my little cheat sheet here but if you list the traits of a disengaged employee, some of the traits include a lack of enthusiasm or apathy. Another trait that was described was a complaining attitude which is, makes a big deal out of small things. Solitude or prefers to work alone.

A lack of initiative, just doing the basics to get by and increased absenteeism. There’s more of a tendency for them to not be at work. I line those up and I looked at the traits of depression. These traits of depression are off of the Mayo Clinic website just so that you know where it comes from [link]. The top one so where we look at disengagement and lack of enthusiasm, the Mayo Clinic says it’s a loss of interest in normal activities. We look at disengagement, complaining attitude makes a big deal out of small things, depression, irritability frustration, angry outbursts.

If you look at disengagement, solitude, traits of depression, isolation; a tendency to isolate myself. Lack of initiative for disengagement, tiredness, lack of energy, small tasks feel really big and then increased absenteeism. When you look at depression, depression presents itself with sleeplessness and also symptoms of pain that are unexplained like terrible headaches, backaches and things like that. The symptoms are so similar and then you imagine the workplace where you have a new manager who’s come in and that manager’s saying, “I’m going to impress my bosses and my team’s engagement scores are going to be sky-high.

I’m going to be looking to get rid of my disengaged employees because I want to make sure that I’m growing an engaged team and really putting my best foot forward.” You might have had a stellar performer in the past who’s gone through an episode of depression and it’s really affecting them at work and if that manager doesn’t have that awareness to say, “Is this person really disengaged or could they be going through something, could it be depression that’s affecting them?” Then they’re going to start managing that person and managing meaning, “I might start giving you some warnings or put you in a performance improvement plan.” That kind of thing.

I think we need to have that conversation too of, “Hey managers, you don’t have to solve for depression that problem is with your providers, your therapist, your professionals. What you really need to be able to do is say, “Do I have the wherewithal to think about it and understand, could this possibly be depression of a once high-performing employee that I need to really think about.”

Shani: Absolutely. What’s the attitude you’re facing out there right now as you start to have these conversations because right now I would say mental health is relegated to, “Well, as long as we have an Employee Assistance Program we’re covered.” As you and I were talking, mental health is really an organizational culture issue and we need to elevate it to parts of how we’re inclusive and empathetic and so forth just like we would be if someone came out of the closet at work or whatever the case may be. How are these conversations being received as you embark on this?

Debbie: Well I’ll tell you. One of the things, I just read an article about a really large beverage company that is actually taking great steps around mental health. The great steps that they described were, “We’re going out and we’re looking at our benefit package and we’re going to really ramp up the exposure. We’re going to do some more teletherapy and things like that.” Which is great, wonderful but they also say things like we’re going to do some manager training as well. The conversation that’s out there right now today is still largely around solutioning around it.

It’s like let’s offer some different solutions or therapies on the outside of things but what the conversation really needs to shift to is, if we are going to truly be a mentally healthy workplace, we need to create an environment where it is safe for people to come and again bring their whole selves and have these issues. Which means that we need to think of it as a cultural issue first. Before we start adding layers onto our benefits, start saying do we have cultural practices today that could actually be negatively impacting people’s mental health? When we do our projects and we look at culture, the structure that we do is typically to start with those higher-level–

You can’t dictate what a culture will be. A culture we know creates itself over time and it creates itself because of influences. Those influences can be external or internal. What we want to do is identify what do we want to have as cultural norms. What are healthy cultural norms for people who are struggling with mental illness? That is that we do things like we create openness and communication, we create a sense of belonging, we have good empathy and awareness of others. Those types of qualities are things that you want to build in and make sure are a strong part of your culture.

You don’t have to say with a label that, “This is a mental health behavior.” What you have to do is create behaviors in environments where we are creating things that are going to support people who are struggling that they’re to create that safe environment. It starts with thinking about culture and being mindful of the behaviors that will create that supportive environment. Then doing a check with your employees as you’re doing culture work to say, “We’re not just going to align people to work success behaviors. We’re going to say one of our cultural norms is that we bring our whole self to work.

What that looks like in practice is that we have these behaviors present and we are going to remove barriers to having those behaviors and we’re going to do more to reinforce them as we have the employees’ journey.” That’s the work that really needs to happen and that should happen with the employee base. It really should be we’re co-creating the behavior like the key norms that are going to help to make sure that we’re a company that really supports people with mental health challenges.

Shani: It sounds like what you’re saying is that it’s everybody’s job to make this shift. Those of us who know something about or have experienced it either personally or with someone close to us need to speak up about it and share experiences to make people understand that it’s normal and it happens. We need culture at the top, empathy key norms to make it important for this to become part of the conversation and of course to model it and we need all the people and managers and supervisors who live the behaviors and be comfortable talking about it know how to ask the right questions to figure out is it disengagement or is it depression and then what to do when you know the answer.

It’s incumbent upon everybody.

Debbie: It is. It really is. I think it is– Thinking in terms of it is almost like a form of a MeToo movement if you will. Those few people who are brave enough to get out there and share their stories. I want to let you know there’s a really great study that came out last year by the American Heart Association. They ended up with their corporate board creating a report on mental health in the workplace and their corporate board has executives on there from Bank of America and Johnson & Johnson and they shared stories. I believe it was Bank of America that had executives because they are working on mental health as a cultural issue and they had executives go out and have challenging conversations.

The challenging conversations were leaders who were willing to go out and share their story. Because leaders spoke up, groups were finding then, “Hey, if they can do it’s safe to do it here.” It is going to be that top-down, it’s going to be hugely important but then I have to also say for me it was very grassroots being able to talk about this at work. It started for me because a peer of mine we went out to dinner, I was really struggling with my daughter’s challenges she had left a large university, she had to come home. She was in a really bad state. I wasn’t sharing it with my workers a lot.

This woman when I went out to dinner with her she opened up to me about her son’s challenges and she was this woman who I hugely admired. She was this amazing dynamic strong salesperson out there and she was just one of those women that just has an aura around her when she’s out there. She shared her challenges that her son was going through, and what it was doing with her, and how it was affecting her. When she opened up to me, I was chilled head-to-toe and I finally felt like, “I can talk about this. It’s okay, I’m not alone.” I felt so alone before.

Knowing that I was in a place where someone else who I admired had struggled, it completely opened the door for me and it made me also feel that ownership to talk about it with other people too because there’s people who are just like me, who’re afraid, if I show my vulnerability then my work might come out and say, “Well, she’s not able to do these things because she has these struggles in her life.” That wasn’t the case when push came to shove and I started talking about it. I did find support, but that doesn’t happen everywhere and it needs to happen everywhere. It starts with us being brave I think.

The other thing is self-advocacy too. If you’re struggling with it as a personal challenge, the American Disabilities Act is there for you and your company has to support you. Know that if it’s hard for you to be brave, you may have to go and advocate for yourself, but you need to advocate for yourself because it is your right to have a workplace that is going to help you as you go through mental illness, as well, it’s part of that Disabilities Act, and it’s something that you have a right to as well.

Shani: Okay, if someone feels they have been discriminated against, passed over for promotion or paid poorly, not commensurate with the performance just because a company is aware- As I’m outside here in the wilderness there’s bugs flying around. -that if you feel you’ve been unfairly treated as a result of having disclosed then you actually have some stand on to make it right?

Debbie: Yes, you absolutely do have a support there and it does require, you would need to have a diagnosis, that’s part of it, but you absolutely have a right to stand up for yourself, and to expect work to help you during this time. There’s ownership on us as individuals to take those right steps and get the official diagnosis, the medical diagnosis as well.

Shani: Let’s go from culture-strategy to some more tactical things. I know you’ve got some advice for our Leadershifters who are watching and listening on how to run mentally-healthy meetings, what are those tips and tricks?

Debbie: All right, I just wanted to tell you that there’s a little story with that. I myself struggled with some anxiety challenges as I was going throughout my career and it was one of those examples of where it ebbs and flows. I had been promoted to a management position with a great company in New York and I was really excited going to attend my meetings. I walked into a management meeting, and the presenter immediately closed the door, and said, “Okay, we’re going to go around the room, we’re going to introduce ourselves, and we are going to tell a little bit about our background and get started.” Again said, “We’re going to have breaks at 10:30 and 1:00, and until then your focus is here in the room with me. Let’s go, it’s a busy day.”

Okay, doors shut. People start going around the room, and as I’m watching people go around the room and it’s getting closer to my time, this of course was triggered by a lot of things in life, but I started to panic and have a basic panic attack in the moment. It finally got to me, and I barely was able to spit out two or three words about who I was, it was very obvious that I was struggling immensely with that, and I immediately passed it to the person next to me, only accomplishing maybe two of the many steps that she had wanted me to do, but it was horrific for me. As a new–[crosstalk]

Shani: My heart is racing a little bit for you even hearing the story.

Debbie: Yes, and it was a time in my life where I was starting to have panic attacks. I had my third child, gone back to work, and all of that was contributing, and I really didn’t understand it at that point. For me it was terrifying, I didn’t understand why my body was doing this, but what a presenter, a person leading a meeting could do to make it a mentally healthy meeting for somebody who might have panic disorder would be, number one it’s possible, let the people know that this is a meeting, we’re here together to get some great stuff done, the door is going to stay open, if for any reason during the meeting you need to step out, feel free just to stand up and exit, and just come back in quietly, so we don’t disrupt people.

Then there’s also the ability instead of just doing the formal go around the room, and take off your name or worse yet, let’s memorize everybody’s name in the room and the last person has to talk and make a joke about every person in the room, let’s instead have a one-on-one, let me get to know you, let’s find 10 things in common exercise as we kickoff, and then you can introduce each other to the room. When you introduce each other, if the person is really struggling, then they can opt-out, they can say, “Hey, introduce me, and then do you mind just introducing yourself or help me to introduce you?”

You create an environment where people who can speak well in front of a group can do it, and that’s great, but if people are struggling, they feel safe to be able to get up, take a breather if they need to or know that they’re not going to be put on the spot. Other tactics are things like if you’re gathering like we as consultants often you do workshops, where you want to get people’s ideas, I was trying to make sure that I let the room know that if you are struggling and you don’t want to share an idea in front of everyone, either come grab me on a break or I give them a method to get me the idea after the session. I’m not losing because again many of these people are brilliant people who are struggling, I don’t want to lose those ideas. There’s all those tactics you can play.

Shani: Right. What I was thinking about when you were talking about putting people on the spot with this litany of questions, at least prepare people in advance like we’re going to go around and introduce ourselves, and these are the five pieces of information and I want everybody to be prepared to share so at least you can make some notes beforehand that’ll help you if you think that I won’t be able to ad-lib in the moment.

Debbie: Absolutely. I’ve been in training sessions where the trainer actually thought they were doing a good thing, and pulled a person up on stage that had said, “I’m really uncomfortable about doing that,” and made them do a mini piece of a presentation, and honestly, I think that made the presenter feel good because they thought they were helping someone, but at the end of the day the woman came over to me and said, “Please don’t do that to anyone else. That was really difficult.”

I think it’s also an empathetic awareness of again that some people struggle with this, and to let people set their tone. Let them sit in their chair if they’re going to make a point, they don’t have to stand up to make their point, let them sit if they want to. There’s ways that we can have a fun and productive meeting that allow people to present or be part of it in the best way they can.

Shani: Right, it reminds me of something I do. I keep a leadership presentation and influence skills workshop, and as you can imagine a major component of that is the storytelling skill, and a lot of times really powerful stories that we would want the employee in a professional context are very personal stories, and that’s what makes them memorable, and that’s what is engaging and it makes the connection between the presenter and other people is being able to see themselves in the presenter’s story.

When we’re doing this in the workshop, what I do is– because most of the practices people have to get up and present, but we don’t even do that until there’s a certain comfort level, but the way that I key up the storytelling is we get into a circle and also I never have more than 12 or 13 people in this class, because otherwise it starts to get too overwhelming and whatnot. We’ll have maximum, a dozen or so people in a circle which all of a sudden feels a little more intimate, friendly, and safe than sitting at the conference tables and whatever, and I go first. I share a story, where I set the tone for, “This is okay and this is safe,” and then people have their reactions, and then they feel more comfortable.

Debbie: Yes, absolutely. I think allowing yourself to be vulnerable first and show that it’s okay that’s hugely important, I totally agree with that. I think you bring another point two is that we know that in some of our roles, we have to be able to stand and present. There’s different positions that you’re in that we need to overcome, but I think that there’s ways to make sure that you’re creating environments where people feel safe to stand up and give their best and make sure they’re doing it in a place where they can be vulnerable if they need to.

Shani: Right. I think where this all boils down to is humble psychological safety, because the term psychological safety is so potent right now in organizational development and culture and leadership development work popularized by Google. They did their study, I think it was called Project Aristotle a few years ago to try and identify what is the secret sauce of our most successful team when they crunched all their numbers from reviews and engagement and feedback on managers and so forth.

They determined that the most successful teams at Google had one thing in common and it had nothing to do with the number of Harvard MBAs or engineers or rocket scientists or whatever. It was the teams that had psychological safety, meaning people felt safe to share their ideas, make mistakes without being made to look bad, to speak up even if you had a difference of opinion with the team’s leader or so forth and that there’s just an openness to different, diverse opinions and ideas and perspectives. Here, it’s like legitimately, not just figuratively, psychological safety, it is actually. That’s what I’m like I want to call it double psychological safety.


Debbie: Legitimate real-deal psychological safety.

Shani: Yeah!

Debbie: 100%. I’m reading the culture code that Dan Quayle’s– I think that this is going to be the shift, don’t you think, for the future when it comes to culture that he speaks a lot to belonging and the power of creating that sense of belonging within groups and that’s, again that sign of a strong team is when you can really create that foundation. That’s where I think that we need to shift as a culture of employers as well, is that, we are all out there, companies are trying to do their best to have that succeed, get their growth, but they need to start to think of themselves as we are people who help not only the communities by donating and doing good things in the communities, but we create these amazing communities within our workforces and they’re communities of belonging as well.

I think there’s obviously a line again that we have to be really cognizant of and that is that we don’t expect employers to be therapists, we don’t expect them to solve the mental health issues, what we do expect for them to do is to create a place where workers can thrive and everybody has a chance to thrive regardless of mental health.

Shani: Let’s get really prescriptive here- if you’ve got a manager, a leader, or a supervisor, just someone who is in charge of managing people and they want to do a better job at this, but they don’t want to make any assumptions and they’re new at it, they’ve never really grappled with this before, or they’ve just avoided it before, what are some steps that they can take if they suspect that someone on their team is in the midst of some challenge here?

Debbie: Great question. I would do two things, outwardly tactically, I would immediately look at our organizational policy so that I understand what tools are there for this person. Number one meaning I would be looking at do we have in any RG or support group? What kind of benefits do we have? Then I’d be absolutely connecting with HR because this will be a conversation that we do have to be careful about, we don’t want to invade someone’s privacy and we don’t want to be assumptive in any way. We want to be thinking about, consulting with HR and saying, “I suspect but I want to do this well and I want to support this person because if we’re a good manager we’re creating that environment of belonging and support.”

It’s a positive, that tactical work, but then emotionally myself as a manager, I would, number one, want to make sure, “Have I created a place where this person feels comfortable to approach me?” If the reason I suspect there’s a mental health issue is because of one of those descriptors of disengagement, meaning they’re appearing more apathetic, they’re out of work more often and this is someone who has historically been a positive contributor. I would absolutely, in my coaching conversations, make them feel that sense of safety to say, “I’ve just noticed just a change in your performance and it concerns me because I know you and I really feel like you’re such a strong contributor- is there anything I can do to help?”

If you open it up that way and you don’t say, “I think you might have mental illness.” You make it a positive conversation about, “I’m here for you and is there anything I can do to help?” That person if they truly are struggling, if they trust you, they may come forward and say, “Yes, in fact, I’m struggling right now and I’m not really sure where to go or what to do.” They would also want to make sure they know about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Shani: Absolutely.

Debbie: That piece would be a part of it. If you as a manager haven’t created this place of trust where employees come to you when things are going so well in their personal life, then that’s a reflection, that’s a self-reflection on you as to be what kind of manager do I want to be? I want to be someone who can get things done but I want to be someone who can create a thriving team as well. I question myself emotionally to make sure that empathy is on. [laughs]

Shani: Yes, empathy on and let’s just be real, there are some leaders out there who either aren’t incredibly empathetic, or they’re just old-school, they’re tough guys, tough girls, they can still be tentative to this too.

Debbie: Yes, and honestly, that’s where– This is where culture comes into play.

Shani: Oh my God, sorry. I think being outside.

Debbie: It’s that Arkansas air.

Shani: I think there are some allergens in the air because I wasn’t coughing like this inside.

Debbie: [laughs] No, I think that’s where culture comes into play. If we are an organization that wants to create a place where everyone can thrive, then that means that we have behaviors in place that we expect of our employees and our managers and that means that we would expect our managers to have a certain level of empathy and support. If we have a leader who is old-school, who creates an intimidating environment where people don’t have a sense of trust, where they’re afraid to speak their mind or contribute, then we have a framework in place because of our cultural, our principles, our shared principles or commitments or our values that says this is not someone who fits into the culture we want to be so that there’s ways as their leaders are coaching that they can address that.

That’s another reason why it’s even more important that companies don’t leave this off the radar when you work on culture, make sure that it’s part of parameters that we’re setting. Again, it doesn’t have to be labeled mental health all the way through it’s do we prioritize empathy? Do we prioritize belonging and support in communication and openness?

Shani: Absolutely. Well this has been an incredibly valuable and interesting discussion and I just want to summarize with a few of the key takeaways here. Let me start by saying, if there is any other – name it – that have impacted 20% of your workforce and you weren’t paying attention to it, what the fuck?

Debbie: [laughs]

Shani: This is important. I know it might feel awkward, or scary, but as we talked about, this is everyone’s responsibility to create the kind of culture where we can feel free to bring our full selves, good, bad and ugly and get the support we need because if we are ignoring it and not showing up for these people, the organization suffers. Of course, the person suffers but so does the organization. This really is a way to create a win-win.

Managers, be aware, notice, don’t just be looking out for disengagement, know now that something else could be, don’t make the assumption but it’s possible that something else is going on and the employee is depressed or anxious or has something else going on. I think your advice, just be open and when you’re in a one-on-one meeting, of course, this is not a conversation to have at a team meeting or around other people, it’s just like, “Hey I’ve noticed this and it’s unusual, what’s going on for you?” You just ask it in a compassionate way and get the conversation going. It’s not like, “Hey, are you depressed?”

Debbie: Exactly.

Shani: There’s a way to be graceful in having a conversation and making it important to create this safety and belonging and inclusivity even in meetings. Sure, these are professional business meetings and that doesn’t mean we need to forget that we’re all human beings, but to recap some of the advice that Deb gave us today, giving– not like forcing everybody to be locked up in a room. Even if the door needs to be shut for privacy reasons, giving people the permission to take care of themselves and go and come as they need to for the meeting. Another tactic would be if you think that people are going to be a little timid introducing themselves, get people to spend some private time one-on-one, getting to know each other and then introducing their partner, which is always a fun way to do things and not just create safety but it’s a little more fun than just getting up and saying, “Hi, I’m so and so and I work in the such and such office.”

Debbie: Exactly.

Shani: Because I think that one-on-one they’ll get some really interesting specific information with each other that they get to share which creates more of a sense of belonging. It’s going to be like Deb introduces Shani and she is from here and she has two cats named Delane and Kramer and suddenly there’s other people in the room with, “Oh my God, I love cats,” or “Oh, she must be a Seinfeld fan.” It’s just creating connection. I love that idea.Then also if someone is afraid to speak up, making sure that they know there’s an open invitation to share their idea offline, either after the meeting or on a break, or what have you. Those are some tips to create a logically safe meeting or mentally healthy meeting.

Let’s see, super, super important, because really this is the takeaway from this conversation you guys. If you think you’ve got someone on your team know that it’s now your responsibility to have a conversation and just open it up and before you do so prepare yourself at least the first time so you know what the company’s policies are, what the benefits are and what pulls are at your disposal and of course consult with HR because they are trained to help you make these conversations, easier for you to have and to give you all the highlights of the things that you can then mention to the employee if it does come out that they have some sort of mental illness, either episodic or something more chronic.

Ultimately it’s not for all of us, it’s for those of us who are having issues, speak openly and honestly about it, whether it’s our selves, our friends, our families it’s upto senior leaders who are craft in culture and it’s up to them to walk the talk and talk the walk, both and for everybody to hold each other accountable for it, and if you see something– I say this all the time, if you see something, say something. It’s not just in the airport, if you see a suitcase unattended. If you see something that’s not right around this issue, for example, don’t let it pass unnoticed. Escalate it, elevate it, talk to the person, whatever needs to be to make sure that people are treated right. Would you add anything to my summary?

Debbie: I think that was beautiful, absolutely and thank you so much for letting me come on and talk today, I really appreciate that.

Shani: It’s my pleasure. Good work that you’re up to and if people want to reach you, get some help at work, going in their organizations what’s the best way to get in touch?

Debbie: Okay, so right the now the website is under construction so, for now, find me on LinkedIn, Debbie Urbanik on LinkedIn, and you’ll see me out there as an independent consultant with D. Whitney Consulting which is my company and hope@work is part of that offering, so that’s great.

Shani: Excellent. Well we’ll absolutely stay in touch because I share your passion for this and I’d love to make referrals or collaborate to bring this into more organizations.

Debbie: I love it. Thank you so much, Shani.

Shani: Thank you and thank you Leadershifters for listening or watching. We’ll catch you next time on the LeaderShift show. Until then you know how to find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and of course Until next time. Mwah.

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