Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 2 months ago

Get Serious about Your Employees’ Wellness


Teresa Hopke, CEO of Talking Talent Inc., doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that companies need to get serious about their employees’ wellness and mental health. 

“Quite honestly,” Teresa says, “a lot of CEOs have their head in the sand when it comes to this issue. We need to start there and acknowledge and own the fact that organizations are playing a role in creating some of these stress-induced mental health issues.”


In her work with clients, she has seen people whose workplace stress has led them to develop alopecia and panic attacks. Teresa doesn’t countenance the hypocrisy of companies that place unreasonable demands on employees and then wonder why they burn out or leave. Corporations need to prioritize this now, she says, destigmatizing mental health, focusing on prevention and changing the way work gets done. 

In this episode, Teresa also shares a personal story of tragedy that led her to pursue her own wellness. At the time of the event, she was in a role she didn’t love. The crisis led her to conclude: Life is too short to be anything but happy. She joined Talking Talent shortly after. 


Teresa’s story runs parallel to the way the global crisis of 2020/2021 has led millions of people to similarly take stock of their own happiness at work, leading many to leave. For companies seeking to retain their workforce by keeping people well, this episode offers both inspiration and tactics to apply today.    

Episode Highlights:

  • The need for individualized approaches vs programmatic fixes 
  • How to talk to workers about their wellness
  • Breaking down stigma about mental health
  • The need to talk about prevention
  • Setting realistic employee expectations
  • Corporate and individual responsibility to mental health

Check out these resources we mentioned during the podcast:

Find every episode of Technically People on Apple, Spotify and more. Find us on our website and join the conversation on LinkedIn.

Listening on a desktop and can’t see the links? Just search for Technically People in your favorite podcast player.

Welcome to technically people, a communityconversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you by the tech recruitment platform builtin. The podcast features insights from leaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard buildinghuman centered workplaces of the future. Along the way, you'll hear conceptsthat will stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself, what's the most futureforward way to approach my people leadership? We all knowthe future of work isn't waiting around, so let's get on with the show. Hello and welcome to technically people. I am your cohost, Tiffany Myers, and I am here with our guest, Teresa Hopkey. Teresa is the CEOof talking talent ink, which is a global coaching firm. So itfocuses on improving the world of work. Great Synergy, because that is whatthis show is about. The specifically through wellness. So talking talent offers coachingprograms designed to help companies support employee well being, and I should say wellbeingat all levels, so wellness for the organization while being for teams and definitely, and you'll hear Theresa talk about this, well being at the individual and individualizedlevel. So, Teresa, hello, welcome, so happy to have youhere today. Thanks, tephany. Great to be here. So Ithought for this conversation we might do well to start with the most enormous themeof all, which is that which is two thousand and twenty and Covid it'sbeen a real incubator for mental health and wellness challenges. It's been a yearof grief, it's been a year of crisis and in the workplace, ofcourse, it has been a year of burnout. So the Kaiser Family Foundationin two thousand and twenty found that for and ten adults reported anxiety or depression. So two thousand and twenty, look backwards to two thousand and nineteen,when only one in ten did so. And it's important to know too,there are racial disparities. Almost half of black and Latin acts adults are morelikely to report anxiety or depression than white adults. So I think those areall astounding numbers on their own. But we can also bring life to numbersthrough story, and I'd like to start there because, Teresa, I knowyour personal experience with an unsatisfying job coupled with a crisis that made you rethinkwhat really mattered led you to join talking talent. So I wondered if youwould would share that story. Yeah, absolutely. I think those stats arereally staggering and a little bit depressing when we think about the fact that twothousand and twenty one hasn't really gotten any better for those stats that you've showed. But you know, I think the last months have caused people to reallyreassess their own lives. It's been a crisis in and of itself the pandemic, and I didn't have a pandemic to create a crisis for me, butin two thousand and eleven, about twenty years ago, when I was inthe midst of my corporate job and I had two small children at the time. I was in a place where work wasn't really fulfilling, I wasn't showingup as my best self and it really wasn't all that happy, and myhusband ended up having a traumatic brain injury through a ski accident in February ofTwo Thousand and eleven and they actually didn't know if he would survive the ninetyminute ambulance ride to the clinic. And so in that moment it was areal wake up call for me to realize that life is short and if Idon't wake up every day being happy, then I better re examine what I'mdoing, and I think that the pandemic has been a similar wakeup call formany people to reassess their own lives to say, you know, I didn'thave a tragedy like that happened, but what am I doing every day andam I happy? And there are different ways to live. I think thisis really shown a light on that. My story ends well. My husbandhad a miraculous recovery and you know, I left my corporate job to jointalking talent to do work that I love,...

...and so I think other people arelooking for their story to end well as well, and there'll be alot of decisions made in the next year. Yeah, so, so, firstof all I just want to say that is unimaginable and I'm so sorrythat you went through that and I'm really also grateful that you shared that withus. And you know, you hear people talk in history about flashbald moments. It was probably a flashbald moment for you, changing the pultry directory ofYour Life and of your work, and I hope and think for the better. And, as you said, it is as that the entire globe isgoing through similar sorts of reckoning, realizing the burnout and mental health issues justmaybe are not worth it on. A lot of leaders are tying about this, aware of this, anticipating the great resignation based on this. So Iwas actually sort of surprised by this research I found. It's a two thousandand twenty one research by Ginger at that MI media lab. In Two thousandand twenty one, CEOS and employees both say that yes, companies need mentalhealth support, but that is where they stop agreeing, because almost all CEOSsay that they're doing enough and only sixty nine percent of employees say the same. I guess, kind of from that huge gap in perception, can youmake the business case for those ninety six percent of CEOS that believe they aredoing enough? Well, I think quite honestly, a lot of CEOS havetheir head in the sand when it comes to this issue. So I thinkwe need to start there and really acknowledge and own the fact that organizations areplaying a role in creating some of this stress induced mental health issues that peopleare facing. It's not to say that organizations own everything and there are definitelysome mental health issues that are biological and that organizations can't play a role in, but there are so many that are stress induced and I think that ifwe can't own those as an organization, we're not going to be able tofix the problem. Because I talked to organizations all the time who think thatthey're doing the right thing. They want to check a box and put somethingin place because they know that mental health issues are a problem. So theyhave an EAP or they implement a headspace APP to help people meditate, andthen they think they've done the right thing, they've helped people with their mental healthissues. But it's so much deeper than that. That is like justscratching the surface and in reality, when you have we have to look atthe ability for people to show up and have sustainable performance over time and notburn out, and so we have the mental health and stress issues that they'reexperiencing have to be taken care of at the root level and that's the toughwork and that's why Ceeos want to just check the box, because I don'twant to have to do that really tough stuff, and so most of themwill say yes, we did something, we put money towards it. We'regood. But I don't think that they need to be sold on the businesscase. The numbers tell the story. The health insurance claims related to mentalhealth are so high and the amount of money that organizations are paying to that. I think CEOS know they have to do something. So it's not makingthe business case, it's making the business case for doing the right thing,the tough thing. Yeah, so with regard to that, you have saidit's going to require changing the way work is done, and that's definitely soundslike the really tough work for a company to do. But it's also prettybroad. So what does that look like? How can we change the way workis done for wellness? Yeah, well, it is broad and itis tough, but I think that it starts with asking ourselves if we haverealistic expectations for the employees in our organization. I just let a workshop last weekand one of the key things that people said is causing them stress andtheir inability to thrive is trying to meet the expectations of their managers and theirorganizations and feeling like they're constantly failing. And so we're always expecting people todo more with less. And when we look at some of the startup firms, some of the tech firms, if we expect people to work around theclock and then we're asking, well, why our employees burned out, there'sa disconnect and a hypocrisy there that doesn't...

...make sense. There's actually a bookcalled Dying for a paycheck and it's a really great read about some of thesehypocrisies, some of these things that organizations do where we ask people to pullall nighters and then we wonder why they're addicted to drugs and alcohol, orpeople gain weight because they don't have any time to take care of themselves andwork out, and then we don't want to have to pay for all ofthe medical claims that come along with that. So it's really a logical if youthink about the fact that we are, you know, expecting people to workthis way but then expecting them to not burn out. So we haveto restructure our expectations. That's the first thing. The second thing is thatwe can put things in place to restructure work. So some organizations that wereworking with right now are doing no meeting Fridays or they're doing no camera Wednesdays. And so just these little things that help people have a little bit ofreprieve. There's something else that you can do around it's called the twenty project, where you have employees identify twenty percent of what they're doing right now thatwouldn't need to be done or that isn't adding value to the organization and cutthat out so that then you reduce the workload to what is absolutely critical andessential, so people can focus on that rather than feeling so overwhelmed by allof the things that are on their plate. Yes, and I would just addto that something that built in has done, which is if we dogive a wellness day, it's for, say, an entire team, andI even think we've had extra days added to a holiday for the entire company. And then what that means is you don't come into the office the nextday with a trillion emails because your colleagues are off as well, and soyou can help pick up at the same time and let go at the sametime. So yeah, it's a great example, tiffany. The more thatyou put this on a team or an organization to fix it rather than havingit be on the individual. If you had to just take your wellbeing dayand then you had to manage your email. It's a lot different than saying thatthe organization is doing it. And I think all of those little exampleslike that where we can, as an organization or a team, agree tothe ways of working that are going to allow us to have sustainable performance.The organization's going to benefit and the individuals are going to benefit. Yeah,and I think that sustainable aspect is super important because there are so many companiesthat have had to make incredibly aggressive business goals. So there might be thesense of how can I unburden employees with the volume of work that's necessary tomeet these goals, if they are what they are, but the idea ofbeing able to sustain over time without attrition, without a mass exodus, is reallylooking at the long game making those business expectations actually possible in a longgame sort of way. So that is the organizational level, changing the waywe work. Tell me a little bit about leaders and the leadership level.I think that we really have to teach people at the management and executive levelsto lead differently, and I know that doesn't sound easy either. That's apretty large feat, but we have to help them get better at looking atpeople as unique individuals and really learning how to support one another and their owncircumstances. So leaders need to be asking how can I help you as anindividual? What do you need that's different from the person next to you onthe team? How can I help support you? And so I know thatsounds simple and what every manager told do, but it's not what leaders do.Leaders are so busy going about their day that I rarely hear of goodleaders who are asking their teams those questions and then actually following through on it. We can't just expect programs to fix it and and we can't expect thatwhat's going to fix burnout for you, Tiffany, is going to fix itfor me. And so we really have to get to know people as individuals. And a lot of leaders will tell me, well, I don't havetime for that, I'm busy, but really there's nothing more important a leadersshould be doing with their time than finding...

...out what their employees need to beable to thrive. Yeah, so it's about individualizing what sorts of things youcan do to mitigate so, by the way, mitigation. I know thatin terms of leadership, your proponent of their being involved in prevention, whichI don't know that we talk about enough. It's sort of always after the fact, the burnout has already happened. Tell me about some of the issuesthat you think are preventable and what kind of approach we would need to take. Well, you said it. We really need to be talking more aboutprevention. I mean prevention is attainable. For some reason we don't seem tothink it is. Every organization I talked to is talking about how to fixmental health. What I want to do is shift that conversation to say howcan we prevent it? How can we help people get ahead of some ofthe stress induced mental health issues? There are so many examples I can tellyou of people who have stress induced Lapisia, where their hair is literally fallen outbecause of the stress of their job, or who are having panic attacks ona regular basis because of the expectations at work. There is a guythat that one of our clients who literally turned yellow because his kidneys were backingup because he couldn't take the time to go to the doctor because he hadtoo much on his plate, and he ended up dying at the organization.And so these things are preventable. These things don't have to happen, butyou have to again have good leaders who are empathetic and curious and compassionate andfinding out what is going on with you. If I start to see that you'renot taking care of yourself, know is there something that I can doto help you with that, and then modeling. So if, as aleader, if I'm never taking any time to myself, if I'm not transparentabout the fact that I have my birthday coming up, I'm getting a massageand I put massage on my calendar. I walk and I put walk onmy calendar during the day, so people on my team know I prioritize that, and then I'm modeling that behavior. And so the more that I'm willingto say that I need a wellbeing day because I'm feeling really burnt out,the more my team is going to think it's okay for them to do thesame. So giving people permission to talk about that burnout and helping each otherlook for signs that we may need to be preventing some of it is important. Yeah, so this is that's, I think, relevant to my nextquestion, in which case I want to dive into a little bit more ofyour expertise, specifically around creating cultures for women and working families that foster wellbeing, because we know that covids affected women and working families just proportionately. Sothere are projections that as many as two million women could leave corporate America,and the women who are thinking about leaving, according to research, they are citingburnout as the reason why. But a mass acodus of women is goingto have implications that will last way, way, way away into the futurecompanies in the economy, they're going to suffer, but also we're going tolose gains that we've made with regard to gender equity, whatever gains we allcan agree or disagree on that, we have made. So if there isan answer there, what is it? What can companies do to prepare?Yeah, well, I think the first thing is to take it seriously.I mean, this is real and I said before that leaders are putting theirheads in the sand about some things. This is an area where they're puttingtheir head in the sand. The stats that you just gave our real andleaders have heard them, but I keep hearing them say, I know thoseare the stats, but I don't see women leaving. I don't see themexiting my organization. I don't think it's going to happen to us. Butjust because they're not leaving doesn't mean that they're not thinking of leaving, doesn'tmean that they won't leave. Many of them are thinking about changing careers.Many of them are having some of the same life epiphany that I shared inmy story and realizing life is short and fragile and if I'm not happy,then I should find something different to do. And so they're looking for what that'ssomething is and so to put a wellness program in place or give themJim membership or think that somehow putting a... APP in place for them tomeditate is going to help, it's not going to retain them. What wehave to do is get below the surface, because when I talk to women andworking parents in general, what I hear from them is that perfectionism isthe number one reason that they're overwhelmed, that they're trying to do everything perfectlybecause they have a fear of what will happen if they aren't perfect in theworkplace and at home. There's a lack of confidence that is a huge issue, guilt that is such a huge thing that people are dealing with right now. And so how do I let go of some of that guilt that Ifeel not being present at home, not being present at work, trying tobe good and good at everything and not having an energy for any of it? And then, you know, really figuring out where can I set boundaries? How do I set boundaries? What boundaries do I need? Those arethe things that are causing the overwhelm and so that's where coaching, and I'mnot just saying this because we do this, but coaching is just so valuable athelping people overcome that. There's a coaching participant we were working with recentlyand she was able to get her anxiety under control from three coaching sessions.Her family started to trust her more because she was home for them and present, and when she was there she was really present. And her work teamwas more effective because she started delegating more and started to trust them to dothe work. And so it's just so powerful when you start to look atthe individual level what's causing the overwhelm and how to fix it. Yeah,some incredibly interesting stories there. So it's about looking internally as well as companiesproviding this space for people to look internally, and I don't know that a lotof people are thinking about this internal stuff that goes on in common anation with, you know, as you said, changing the way that wework. So many women, or actually people in general. Right, Ithink I'm the only one suffering, I'm the only one struggling. To me, that is pure and simple. That is stigma. We know only thirtypercent, thirty percent of employees are comfortable talking to their managers about mental health. Again, very clear that is stigma. So it's always seemed to me thatgiving a stigmatized issue some fresh air and some sunlight can do a lot. But at least from where I said, it just seems like we're going toneed a lot of sunlight and a lot of fresh air. So whatcan companies do with regard to stigma? Well, there's probably not enough freshair and sunlight that we can shine on this. But I think you're absolutelyright. There are a lot of people who are afraid to talk to theirmanagers about it, and rightfully so. I mean, if your manager hasn'ttaken the time to get to know you as an individual, then why wouldyou feel comfortable having a conversation about something as sensitive as your mental health.We have this desire to have an inclusive culture and you hear organizations talking aboutpeople wanting to bring their whole selves to work. That's really about authenticity,about your ability to really be who you are and to show up in anauthentic way. But if you haven't cultivated a culture where managers are curious andempathetic and supportive, then you can expect people to bring their whole selves towork. They're just not going to want to, especially around a sensitive topiclike this, because they feel as though they're going to get judged. Andso in my performance may be impacted by the fact that you, as myleader, know that I have some mental health struggles, and so we haveto move away from the idea that we don't talk about this at work tothe idea that even leaders struggle with some of these mental health issues. Andif I'm vulnerable as a leader and share that with the team, if Istart to get to know the team on an individual level and ask how peopleare doing and how we can support one another, then that is going tomake a difference in how people are able to show up or not show up. We also need to normalize the conversation around mental health and that's when thestigma starts to loosen a little bit. If mental health isn't this big scarything, but it's just something that comes along with many of our lives thatand we acknowledge that stress causes a lot of mental health issues, then itstarts to normalize that conversation. Yeah,... fully, one hundred percent agreethat this is the approach that leaders and leadership needs to take, that normalizingis the key. But on the other hands, so many leaders have been, you know, trained really not to Pry, and also so many leadersthey really want to be empathic, they really want to be human centered,but when it comes to mental health and particular, they are caught between arock and a hard place because they've been brought up with this set of corporaterules and the idea is just like, no matter what, never overstep.So what do you think about that? I think we have to move intomodern leadership in two thousand and twenty one and realize that the way we weretaught isn't the way that it's going to work moving forward. So many ofus did grow up learning that we shouldn't ask about that and I hear itfrom leaders all the time. They say, well, I was taught not toask about personal things and now you're telling me to ask. That doesn'tseem to make sense. But I want to be really clear. I'm nottelling you to ask about people's mental health state. What I'm telling you toask about is who they are as an individual and how you can support them. That is going to, as a by product, be able to helpimpact the mental health state. But you don't go in asking if somebody's dealingwith mental health issues. It goes to this idea that we're getting to knowpeople as humans, we're showing our own humanity, that we're letting the teamrealize that we're not perfect, and it's about leaders getting curious, not nosy, but really curious about how you're doing. So I might say to you ifany you're such an energetic person, but it seems like you've been abit tired lately. Is Everything okay? Do you want to talk about anything? It's up to you then to decide if you want to disclose to me. If we have a good relationship, chances are you're probably going to sharesome things with me. If I haven't done anything to cultivate my relationship withyou, then you're probably not going to share with me and I'm not goingto be able to support you in a way that is going to be helpful. So if you can extend yourself as a leader and you can do soin a benign way that doesn't put people off and that doesn't make it seemlike you're in their business, then it can open a conversation for what's reallygoing on and for how you can support them. Excellent advice for people whoare maybe straddling the line between, as you said, modern leadership and andthe previous way to lead. So I want to further explore burn out becauseboy is it real, and you mentioned before. Any AP program is great, Meditation APP is Great, Gym Membership Great, but burnout is way morepervasive. Can you delve into your thinking, your philosophies around burnout? I knowthis might sound like I'm trying to overcomplicate it, but burnout isn't typicallyabout the things we think. It's not about people working too many hours,it's not about people not taking care of themselves physically and eating well. Burnoutis really about the complex set of behaviors that drive our decisions that then leadto us not being our best selves. And so when you look at thepeople who are the most burnt out, it's the ones who continue to takeon work. So, but somebody may already work sixty hours a week andyou ask them to take on a project and they say yeah. But whenyou dig below the surface, if you were to dig below and find outwhy did they say that when they're already overextended and why don't they say no? Most of the time it's because they don't want to disappoint people. Theydon't have the confidence to say no, they think that they're job is atrisk if they say no, and so we have all these unhealthy behaviors,not because people want to be working that way, it's because they don't knowhow to say no, they don't know how to set boundaries, they don'thave the confidence, and so those aren't things that you, as a leader, can fix. I mean those are individuals issues that they have to fixon their own, but you have to give them the space and the resourcesto do that. So, like I talked about earlier with coaching, it'sunbelievable how quickly those things can be fixed...

...if someone has a professional that helpsdig below the surface with them and figure out why are those patterns repeating themselves. We often tell the people that we coach who are thinking about leaving togo somewhere else because the pastor must be greener there. But if you haven'tfixed your own issues here, you're going to bring them with you to thenext organization. Those are habits you have to solve on your own. Theorganization isn't causing them. So it's this complex dynamic between the organization, themanager in the individual, all having a piece of this that they have toown and that they have to help fix in order to really address this issue. Yeah, so this idea of greener pastors, that they are often amirage because you're going to carry your baggage around. It actually reminds me ofthis book that I've that I love an adore from mindfulness teacher John cabots in, who wrote the book called wherever you go, there you are. Youdefinitely don't have to even be at all interested in mindfulness to understand what thatmeans. You are going to take yourself in your baggage wherever you go.So now, as we close up the episode, are two minute takeaway.I have so many takeaways that that our top of mind for me after thisdiscussion. One of them is just your sort of take no prisoners approach tothis. You've just been so, so completely honest about how important this is, and I'm also really interested in taking a look at the book you mentioned, dying for a paycheck, which is, I think, title with as muchintensity as the issue itself carries. So those are the things that I'mleft with after talking with you. Tell me what key points do you wantto leave our audience with? I think the first is just that we doall have a role to play in this and that this isn't easy, thisisn't a something that a program or an APP can address, that we haveto get serious if we want to actually make a difference at this and dothe hard work. In our society we tend to just want to get thingsdone quickly and this isn't a quick fix. So get committed to doing the workhere and really figure out how you can help, both as an organizationallevel and individual level, solve this. The second thing is to normalize wellnessand destigmatize mental health by talking about it. The more you get people talking aboutit, the better off we're going to be, and I think animportant piece of that is to talk about prevention. How can you help peopleget ahead of this so that they don't get to burn out? What's itgoing to look like? What do you, as an employee need from us toprevent burnout? And finally, I think just looking at this as adiversity and inclusion issue, how can we help people bring their whole self towork so that if mental health issues, anxiety is part of who I am, that I feel like I can be my authentic self and talk about itwith you and that, as a leader, I'm looking at how can I supportyou as a whole person, not just trying to get more out ofyou while you're here at work, but knowing that your life and your workintersects and that there's a spillover effect for each so that inclusion piece I thinkso many people are talking about. How do we help people bring, youknow, their whole selves to work? How can you be a whole humanat work? But it maybe it's too infrequently coupled, you know, withthe idea of wellness and mental health. I mean it's a new perspective andway to think about wellness. So, Theresa, I can't thank you enoughfor all of your insights, for your candor about what leaders really need todo and this idea that some might have their head in the sand. Ithink that we're going to be talking about all of this way into the future. So I know our listeners will probably feel the same. So if theywant to find out more about what you're doing at talking talent, what's thebest way? Well, I'm on Linkedin and so, as talking talents,you can definitely find us there, or you can visit our website, whichis talking Talentcom, and find out about... there as well. Fantastic.Yeah, and I would encourage everyone who cares about wellness to go to thatwebsite. So thank you. Thank you, Teresa so much, and the listenersthank you as well. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I'll remindyou to subscribe at technically peoplecom. So, in any case, look forward toseeing you talking with you next week. Built in is a tech recruitment platformthat's in constant dialog with leaders about the future of tech. Built in'sPODCAST, technically people, expands those conversations to help fellow futurists create and leadexceptional workplaces, environments that inspire in Demand Tech professionals to join your company andthrive. To learn how built in can help your company attract best in classprofessionals, visit employers dot built incom. You've been listening to technically people,a community conversation about the future of work. If you want to hear more cuttingedge ideas about creating humans inter workplaces, subscribe on your favorite podcast player andyou'll never miss an episode. And if you're over the moon about whatyou've heard, we'd be honored if you took the time to give us afive star review. So signing up until we meet again in the future.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (25)