Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 7 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

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Welcome to technically people, a community conversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you by the tech recruitment platform built in. The podcast features insights from leaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard building human centered workplaces of the future. Along the way, you'll hear concepts that 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 know the 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 CEO of talking talent ink, which is a global coaching firm. So it focuses on improving the world of work. Great Synergy, because that is what this show is about. The specifically through wellness. So talking talent offers coaching programs designed to help companies support employee well being, and I should say wellbeing at 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 individualized level. So, Teresa, hello, welcome, so happy to have you here today. Thanks, tephany. Great to be here. So I thought for this conversation we might do well to start with the most enormous theme of all, which is that which is two thousand and twenty and Covid it's been a real incubator for mental health and wellness challenges. It's been a year of grief, it's been a year of crisis and in the workplace, of course, it has been a year of burnout. So the Kaiser Family Foundation in 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 more likely to report anxiety or depression than white adults. So I think those are all astounding numbers on their own. But we can also bring life to numbers through story, and I'd like to start there because, Teresa, I know your personal experience with an unsatisfying job coupled with a crisis that made you rethink what really mattered led you to join talking talent. So I wondered if you would would share that story. Yeah, absolutely. I think those stats are really staggering and a little bit depressing when we think about the fact that two thousand 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 really reassess 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, but in two thousand and eleven, about twenty years ago, when I was in the 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 showing up as my best self and it really wasn't all that happy, and my husband ended up having a traumatic brain injury through a ski accident in February of Two Thousand and eleven and they actually didn't know if he would survive the ninety minute ambulance ride to the clinic. And so in that moment it was a real wake up call for me to realize that life is short and if I don't wake up every day being happy, then I better re examine what I'm doing, and I think that the pandemic has been a similar wakeup call for many people to reassess their own lives to say, you know, I didn't have a tragedy like that happened, but what am I doing every day and am I happy? And there are different ways to live. I think this is really shown a light on that. My story ends well. My husband had a miraculous recovery and you know, I left my corporate job to join talking talent to do work that I love,...

...and so I think other people are looking for their story to end well as well, and there'll be a lot of decisions made in the next year. Yeah, so, so, first of all I just want to say that is unimaginable and I'm so sorry that you went through that and I'm really also grateful that you shared that with us. And you know, you hear people talk in history about flashbald moments. It was probably a flashbald moment for you, changing the pultry directory of Your Life and of your work, and I hope and think for the better. And, as you said, it is as that the entire globe is going through similar sorts of reckoning, realizing the burnout and mental health issues just maybe are not worth it on. A lot of leaders are tying about this, aware of this, anticipating the great resignation based on this. So I was actually sort of surprised by this research I found. It's a two thousand and twenty one research by Ginger at that MI media lab. In Two thousand and twenty one, CEOS and employees both say that yes, companies need mental health support, but that is where they stop agreeing, because almost all CEOS say 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 you make the business case for those ninety six percent of CEOS that believe they are doing enough? Well, I think quite honestly, a lot of CEOS have their head in the sand when it comes to this issue. So I think we need to start there and really acknowledge and own the fact that organizations are playing a role in creating some of this stress induced mental health issues that people are facing. It's not to say that organizations own everything and there are definitely some 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 if we can't own those as an organization, we're not going to be able to fix the problem. Because I talked to organizations all the time who think that they're doing the right thing. They want to check a box and put something in place because they know that mental health issues are a problem. So they have an EAP or they implement a headspace APP to help people meditate, and then they think they've done the right thing, they've helped people with their mental health issues. But it's so much deeper than that. That is like just scratching the surface and in reality, when you have we have to look at the ability for people to show up and have sustainable performance over time and not burn out, and so we have the mental health and stress issues that they're experiencing have to be taken care of at the root level and that's the tough work and that's why Ceeos want to just check the box, because I don't want to have to do that really tough stuff, and so most of them will say yes, we did something, we put money towards it. We're good. But I don't think that they need to be sold on the business case. The numbers tell the story. The health insurance claims related to mental health 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 making the business case, it's making the business case for doing the right thing, the tough thing. Yeah, so with regard to that, you have said it's going to require changing the way work is done, and that's definitely sounds like the really tough work for a company to do. But it's also pretty broad. So what does that look like? How can we change the way work is done for wellness? Yeah, well, it is broad and it is tough, but I think that it starts with asking ourselves if we have realistic expectations for the employees in our organization. I just let a workshop last week and one of the key things that people said is causing them stress and their inability to thrive is trying to meet the expectations of their managers and their organizations and feeling like they're constantly failing. And so we're always expecting people to do 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 the clock and then we're asking, well, why our employees burned out, there's a disconnect and a hypocrisy there that doesn't...

...make sense. There's actually a book called Dying for a paycheck and it's a really great read about some of these hypocrisies, some of these things that organizations do where we ask people to pull all nighters and then we wonder why they're addicted to drugs and alcohol, or people gain weight because they don't have any time to take care of themselves and work out, and then we don't want to have to pay for all of the medical claims that come along with that. So it's really a logical if you think about the fact that we are, you know, expecting people to work this way but then expecting them to not burn out. So we have to restructure our expectations. That's the first thing. The second thing is that we can put things in place to restructure work. So some organizations that were working 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 of reprieve. 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 that wouldn't need to be done or that isn't adding value to the organization and cut that out so that then you reduce the workload to what is absolutely critical and essential, so people can focus on that rather than feeling so overwhelmed by all of the things that are on their plate. Yes, and I would just add to that something that built in has done, which is if we do give a wellness day, it's for, say, an entire team, and I 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 next day with a trillion emails because your colleagues are off as well, and so you can help pick up at the same time and let go at the same time. So yeah, it's a great example, tiffany. The more that you put this on a team or an organization to fix it rather than having it be on the individual. If you had to just take your wellbeing day and then you had to manage your email. It's a lot different than saying that the organization is doing it. And I think all of those little examples like that where we can, as an organization or a team, agree to the 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 companies that have had to make incredibly aggressive business goals. So there might be the sense of how can I unburden employees with the volume of work that's necessary to meet these goals, if they are what they are, but the idea of being able to sustain over time without attrition, without a mass exodus, is really looking at the long game making those business expectations actually possible in a long game sort of way. So that is the organizational level, changing the way we 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 levels to lead differently, and I know that doesn't sound easy either. That's a pretty large feat, but we have to help them get better at looking at people as unique individuals and really learning how to support one another and their own circumstances. So leaders need to be asking how can I help you as an individual? What do you need that's different from the person next to you on the team? How can I help support you? And so I know that sounds 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 good leaders 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 that what's going to fix burnout for you, Tiffany, is going to fix it for 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 have time for that, I'm busy, but really there's nothing more important a leaders should be doing with their time than finding...

...out what their employees need to be able to thrive. Yeah, so it's about individualizing what sorts of things you can do to mitigate so, by the way, mitigation. I know that in terms of leadership, your proponent of their being involved in prevention, which I 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 issues that 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 about prevention. I mean prevention is attainable. For some reason we don't seem to think it is. Every organization I talked to is talking about how to fix mental health. What I want to do is shift that conversation to say how can we prevent it? How can we help people get ahead of some of the stress induced mental health issues? There are so many examples I can tell you of people who have stress induced Lapisia, where their hair is literally fallen out because of the stress of their job, or who are having panic attacks on a regular basis because of the expectations at work. There is a guy that that one of our clients who literally turned yellow because his kidneys were backing up because he couldn't take the time to go to the doctor because he had too 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, but you have to again have good leaders who are empathetic and curious and compassionate and finding out what is going on with you. If I start to see that you're not taking care of yourself, know is there something that I can do to help you with that, and then modeling. So if, as a leader, if I'm never taking any time to myself, if I'm not transparent about the fact that I have my birthday coming up, I'm getting a massage and I put massage on my calendar. I walk and I put walk on my 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 willing to 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 the same. So giving people permission to talk about that burnout and helping each other look 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 next question, in which case I want to dive into a little bit more of your 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. So there 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 citing burnout as the reason why. But a mass acodus of women is going to have implications that will last way, way, way away into the future companies in the economy, they're going to suffer, but also we're going to lose gains that we've made with regard to gender equity, whatever gains we all can agree or disagree on that, we have made. So if there is an 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 their heads in the sand about some things. This is an area where they're putting their head in the sand. The stats that you just gave our real and leaders have heard them, but I keep hearing them say, I know those are the stats, but I don't see women leaving. I don't see them exiting my organization. I don't think it's going to happen to us. But just because they're not leaving doesn't mean that they're not thinking of leaving, doesn't mean 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 in my 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's something is and so to put a wellness program in place or give them Jim membership or think that somehow putting a... APP in place for them to meditate is going to help, it's not going to retain them. What we have to do is get below the surface, because when I talk to women and working parents in general, what I hear from them is that perfectionism is the number one reason that they're overwhelmed, that they're trying to do everything perfectly because they have a fear of what will happen if they aren't perfect in the workplace 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 I feel not being present at home, not being present at work, trying to be 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 are the things that are causing the overwhelm and so that's where coaching, and I'm not just saying this because we do this, but coaching is just so valuable at helping people overcome that. There's a coaching participant we were working with recently and 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 team was more effective because she started delegating more and started to trust them to do the work. And so it's just so powerful when you start to look at the 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 companies providing this space for people to look internally, and I don't know that a lot of people are thinking about this internal stuff that goes on in common a nation with, you know, as you said, changing the way that we work. So many women, or actually people in general. Right, I think 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 thirty percent, 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 that giving 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 to need a lot of sunlight and a lot of fresh air. So what can companies do with regard to stigma? Well, there's probably not enough fresh air and sunlight that we can shine on this. But I think you're absolutely right. There are a lot of people who are afraid to talk to their managers about it, and rightfully so. I mean, if your manager hasn't taken the time to get to know you as an individual, then why would you 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 about people 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 an authentic way. But if you haven't cultivated a culture where managers are curious and empathetic and supportive, then you can expect people to bring their whole selves to work. They're just not going to want to, especially around a sensitive topic like this, because they feel as though they're going to get judged. And so in my performance may be impacted by the fact that you, as my leader, know that I have some mental health struggles, and so we have to move away from the idea that we don't talk about this at work to the idea that even leaders struggle with some of these mental health issues. And if I'm vulnerable as a leader and share that with the team, if I start to get to know the team on an individual level and ask how people are doing and how we can support one another, then that is going to make 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 the stigma starts to loosen a little bit. If mental health isn't this big scary thing, but it's just something that comes along with many of our lives that and we acknowledge that stress causes a lot of mental health issues, then it starts to normalize that conversation. Yeah,... fully, one hundred percent agree that this is the approach that leaders and leadership needs to take, that normalizing is the key. But on the other hands, so many leaders have been, you know, trained really not to Pry, and also so many leaders they 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 a rock and a hard place because they've been brought up with this set of corporate rules and the idea is just like, no matter what, never overstep. So what do you think about that? I think we have to move into modern leadership in two thousand and twenty one and realize that the way we were taught isn't the way that it's going to work moving forward. So many of us did grow up learning that we shouldn't ask about that and I hear it from leaders all the time. They say, well, I was taught not to ask about personal things and now you're telling me to ask. That doesn't seem to make sense. But I want to be really clear. I'm not telling you to ask about people's mental health state. What I'm telling you to ask 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 help impact the mental health state. But you don't go in asking if somebody's dealing with mental health issues. It goes to this idea that we're getting to know people as humans, we're showing our own humanity, that we're letting the team realize 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 if any you're such an energetic person, but it seems like you've been a bit 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 share some things with me. If I haven't done anything to cultivate my relationship with you, then you're probably not going to share with me and I'm not going to 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 so in a benign way that doesn't put people off and that doesn't make it seem like you're in their business, then it can open a conversation for what's really going on and for how you can support them. Excellent advice for people who are maybe straddling the line between, as you said, modern leadership and and the previous way to lead. So I want to further explore burn out because boy is it real, and you mentioned before. Any AP program is great, Meditation APP is Great, Gym Membership Great, but burnout is way more pervasive. Can you delve into your thinking, your philosophies around burnout? I know this might sound like I'm trying to overcomplicate it, but burnout isn't typically about 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. Burnout is really about the complex set of behaviors that drive our decisions that then lead to us not being our best selves. And so when you look at the people who are the most burnt out, it's the ones who continue to take on work. So, but somebody may already work sixty hours a week and you ask them to take on a project and they say yeah. But when you dig below the surface, if you were to dig below and find out why 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. They don't have the confidence to say no, they think that they're job is at risk 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 know how to say no, they don't know how to set boundaries, they don't have 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 fix on their own, but you have to give them the space and the resources to do that. So, like I talked about earlier with coaching, it's unbelievable how quickly those things can be fixed...

...if someone has a professional that helps dig 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 to go somewhere else because the pastor must be greener there. But if you haven't fixed your own issues here, you're going to bring them with you to the next organization. Those are habits you have to solve on your own. The organization isn't causing them. So it's this complex dynamic between the organization, the manager in the individual, all having a piece of this that they have to own 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 a mirage because you're going to carry your baggage around. It actually reminds me of this 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. You definitely don't have to even be at all interested in mindfulness to understand what that means. 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 this discussion. One of them is just your sort of take no prisoners approach to this. 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 much intensity as the issue itself carries. So those are the things that I'm left with after talking with you. Tell me what key points do you want to leave our audience with? I think the first is just that we do all have a role to play in this and that this isn't easy, this isn't a something that a program or an APP can address, that we have to get serious if we want to actually make a difference at this and do the hard work. In our society we tend to just want to get things done quickly and this isn't a quick fix. So get committed to doing the work here and really figure out how you can help, both as an organizational level and individual level, solve this. The second thing is to normalize wellness and destigmatize mental health by talking about it. The more you get people talking about it, the better off we're going to be, and I think an important piece of that is to talk about prevention. How can you help people get ahead of this so that they don't get to burn out? What's it going to look like? What do you, as an employee need from us to prevent burnout? And finally, I think just looking at this as a diversity and inclusion issue, how can we help people bring their whole self to work 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 it with you and that, as a leader, I'm looking at how can I support you as a whole person, not just trying to get more out of you while you're here at work, but knowing that your life and your work intersects and that there's a spillover effect for each so that inclusion piece I think so many people are talking about. How do we help people bring, you know, their whole selves to work? How can you be a whole human at work? But it maybe it's too infrequently coupled, you know, with the idea of wellness and mental health. I mean it's a new perspective and way to think about wellness. So, Theresa, I can't thank you enough for all of your insights, for your candor about what leaders really need to do and this idea that some might have their head in the sand. I think 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 they want to find out more about what you're doing at talking talent, what's the best way? Well, I'm on Linkedin and so, as talking talents, you can definitely find us there, or you can visit our website, which is talking Talentcom, and find out about... there as well. Fantastic. Yeah, and I would encourage everyone who cares about wellness to go to that website. So thank you. Thank you, Teresa so much, and the listeners thank you as well. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I'll remind you to subscribe at technically peoplecom. So, in any case, look forward to seeing you talking with you next week. Built in is a tech recruitment platform that's in constant dialog with leaders about the future of tech. Built in's PODCAST, technically people, expands those conversations to help fellow futurists create and lead exceptional workplaces, environments that inspire in Demand Tech professionals to join your company and thrive. To learn how built in can help your company attract best in class professionals, 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 cutting edge ideas about creating humans inter workplaces, subscribe on your favorite podcast player and you'll never miss an episode. And if you're over the moon about what you've heard, we'd be honored if you took the time to give us a five star review. So signing up until we meet again in the future.

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