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Brandy Payne: 5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees

Culture lives at the level of the team, so it’s important to think about how you interact with your team, and how they interact with each other. Communication is critical — listen to your team, ask them questions, and care about the answers. Where possible, seek solutions and compromises. There are operational and business realities that you have to take into consideration, but the more that you can meet your team where they are, the more you’ll build a loyal, engaged and productive team.

As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandy Payne.

Brandy Payne is a Workplace Mental Health Consultant who helps Leaders build Mental Health at Work so their teams are more resilient, productive and able to do great work.

She specializes in working with leaders who want to prevent burnout, and get to the root of what’s going on with their teams, so they can focus on the big picture and what really matters to them and their business.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

In 2018, I told my boss that I would be leaving my most favourite job that I ever had. I was an elected representative in our Provincial government, and the favourite job was as the Cabinet Minister responsible for mental health and substance abuse in Alberta.

I was on the brink of burnout and I knew something had to give. I couldn’t see the workplace changing, so I decided to leave. It was a heart-breaking decision, and one that I knew so many other people were making in workplaces all over the world. It’s a preventable problem, and I show companies how to make sure it doesn’t happen to them.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The thing that had the greatest impact on me was when my second child was born, a little over a year into my term of elected office. I was only the second female MLA or Cabinet Minister in Alberta history to have a baby while in office, and the first was only five months before me. At the time, I was travelling from our home in Calgary to the capital in Edmonton almost every week, leaving behind my husband and our school-aged daughter, along with all of my social supports of friends and family.

Like many high-performing, high-demand jobs, politics can be emotionally draining and hard on one’s mental well-being. As much as I loved the work, at one point I realized that the trade-offs to my mental well-being weren’t worth it. This experience cemented my desire to focus on workplace mental health, and making sure people had the supports they need at work and at home.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Two things that are important but easier said than done. First, make sure you’re taking breaks during the day. Checking your phone in the washroom doesn’t count as a break. You need time, even just five minutes, to step away entirely. This is the best thing you can do for your mental bandwidth and to avoid burnout.

Second, find out what you need to stay at your self-care baseline in stressful times, even when you have little time or energy. Making sure that you’re taking care of your physical, emotional and spiritual self, even when you’re strapped for time, is really important. We each have a different level of what we must have — for some it’s making sure we get seven hours of sleep each night, or one phone call with a loved one, or stretching for 10 minutes each day. Experiment with what works for you, and then when things go haywire and the pressure is on, do every single thing you can to make sure you’re getting that must-have amount in.

For example, my ideal is going to yoga in a studio three times a week, sleeping eight hours a night, getting a 30 minute walk outside each day, and seeing one friend a week. But I also know I can get what I need from 20 minutes of stretching three times a week, seven hours of sleep, a daily 10 minute walk, and texting my best friend if that’s the best I can do that week.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Culture lives at the level of the team, so it’s important to think about how you interact with your team, and how they interact with each other. Communication is critical — listen to your team, ask them questions, and care about the answers. Where possible, seek solutions and compromises. There are operational and business realities that you have to take into consideration, but the more that you can meet your team where they are, the more you’ll build a loyal, engaged and productive team.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel,” by Maya Angelou.

As I’ve learned more and more about mental health and mental well-being, this quote has become even more powerful to me. At the end of the day, we all want to feel supported and cared for. Each and every one of us is able to share that with the people around us — at work and in our personal lives.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

It’s important to check in with your team to see how they’re doing and what their concerns are. Everyone has different challenges and different needs at this time and it’s worth taking the time to check in with people and find out how they’re doing, rather than guessing. This will make sure that any supports or programs you roll out will be meeting the needs of your team. Many of my Clients have been doing short employee surveys, with a focus on how people are feeling, as well as what kinds of supports they would like to see from work.

While an employee survey is a great way to get a pulse check on the larger group, that one-to-one conversation with a supervisor or manager is essential for people to feel like you care, and that you’ve got their back. You can learn a lot during your one-to-one conversations. One manager I worked with had a habit of starting any meeting with a few minutes of chit-chat about how we were doing, how our families were, and asking about our weekends. It was a great way to build rapport with each of us, and also gave her a sense of how we were doing instead of getting stuck in the usual How-are-you/I’m-fine exchange that doesn’t actually tell us anything. Asking about things they’re looking forward to this week, or a moment where they felt appreciated or understood in the last week are also great questions that help managers dive a little deeper for how their team member is doing and how they can better support them in the future.

A lot of the companies I work with have been focusing on sharing information and strategies that employees can use to support their mental wellness, particularly around stress management and burnout prevention. You can use the information you learned in the first step to make sure you’re tailoring any workshops or training for what is top-of-mind for your people, and providing supports as they’re needed. With so many pressures on our mental health, it’s important to have many tools in our toolbelt, especially since what works best for me might not be what works best for you. My most-requested workshop is about burnout prevention, where we talk about ways to both deal with the stressors at work, and how to manage your own stress response so that you’re better able to handle the things that life throws at you.

Another really important piece is figuring out where you can be flexible, and where you can’t. A few months ago, I was talking with a Manager who wasn’t sure what to do with a team member, who wasn’t going to be able to work 9–5 because her child was immuno-compromised and would have to be doing at-home learning this year instead of at-school learning. This team member was going to need to be on-call for learning support for their child, and juggling that with her work hours. The manager didn’t want to lose the employee, but also couldn’t have her completely unavailable during business hours. With my guidance, we put together a must-have plan for each of them — what hours were critical for work and for being on-call for school work, as well as how they would plan for work to get done outside of those hours. Since both the manager and the employee were flexible on some pieces, they found an agreement that met both their needs.

Lastly, it’s important to think about workload management and prioritizing tasks, as well as making a clear plan for how this information will be communicated between managers and their teams. One of my favourite tips is to ask each employee to send you their top three priorities for the next week by mid-afternoon Friday. You can ask for a simple, bulleted list with just the task name, or you can also ask for a bit more detail such as where they expect to be by the end of next week or if there are any pieces of information missing or work they’re waiting on from someone else. By getting this info from everyone, each and every week, you get a chance to see both what your team is working on and to re-prioritize the list if needed. Maybe there’s a different item that should be on the Top 3 list, or maybe #1 and #2 need to be switched. By making this a routine part of the week, it makes it a lot easier to talk about priorities and to shift them around when you need to.

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

The Covid19 Pandemic has done a lot to shine a light on the importance of mental health, and we’ve seen so many studies and reports coming out over the past several months that highlight the need to act to support mental health both in the workplace and at home.

In my work, I talk a lot about the business case for supporting mental wellness, and for identifying and addressing the factors that negatively impact mental health at work. These include things like leadership and expectations, workload, organizational culture, the way colleagues treat one another, and more.

The research shows that employers who support employee mental wellness and follow a Mental Health at Work Strategy to address some of the underlying factors experience higher employee engagement, higher levels of resilience, higher productivity, lower turnover, and reduced costs related to medical leaves and absenteeism.

If you have talented people that you want to keep in your organization, you can’t afford to ignore this.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?

Responding with empathy and compassion are the most important parts in my experience and from the research I’ve seen. I hear from a lot of people who are worried that they’re going to say the wrong thing to someone who is struggling with their mental health. If you respond with empathy and caring, the words matter less than the feelings behind them.

It’s important to reach out to people who you’re concerned about — often, people who are struggling won’t reach out because they don’t want to be a burden. It’s also hard to come out and say “I’m struggling with my mental health” or “No, I’m not doing ok.” So, when you reach out, let them know you’re thinking about them, and that you’re there if they want to talk or if they need support.

It can also be helpful to make a concrete offer of help. For example, with a work colleague, you may say “You seem to have a lot on your plate right now — how can I support you with X Project?”

For a friend, you might say “I’m going to the grocery store later — can I grab some things for you while I’m there?”

Asking in this way helps to give a concrete option and communicates a genuine desire to help. It also gives the person a chance to say something like “We’ve got X Project under control, but could you spare some time for Z Project” or “I’m good at the grocery store, but do you want to grab a coffee later?”

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

It can be so tricky to develop healthy habits, especially when it’s so much easier to stick with the habits we’re used to. For me, I’ve found it helps to make things routine as much as possible — I like to pick a default time and then a backup time, in case the default time doesn’t work one day. I go for walks at lunchtime, but on the days that I have a meeting over lunch, my backup walk time is 1:15 pm. I have regular yoga class times that I go to, and a backup time in case something comes up.

It also helps to plan ahead and book the time off in your schedule, to protect the time.

Making sure that you have time to rest and take breaks from work, and are getting enough sleep can also boost your bandwidth and ability to follow-through on the habits you want to build.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

One change that has made a huge difference for me is building time for a 9-minute meditation practice each weekday morning. When my alarm goes off (ok, fine, when it goes off the second time), I hit the snooze button and then pull out a meditation cushion from under my bed. I sit there quietly, focusing on my breathing until the snooze alarm goes off, then I go about my day. I’ve found adding that brief meditation really helps my focus and stress levels for the day, and it’s really easy to fit in since a) it’s first thing in the day and b) my alarm clock doubles as my timer.

I also have a regular yoga practice, which is helpful for my mind and my body. Ideally, I’m able to catch a class at my favourite local studio three times a week, but when my schedule is extra packed, I find that a 20-minute at home session three times a week works great.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Goodness, it’s so hard for me to narrow it to one book as I am a huge reader. I’m actually on track to read 115 books this year!

If I was to pick one that I read this year, it would be Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu. It’s packed full of great information and practical advice for women juggling their careers with parenting.

One passage that really stood out to me was when she talked about a boss that would email on weekends, and then she would spend the weekend responding to those emails. When she worked up the nerve to talk to the boss, the boss’ response was “Why should I respect your weekends when you don’t? I’ll send you emails when it works for me. It’s your job to respond when it works for you.”

To me, this perfectly captures the Catch-22 that we find ourselves in when it comes to weekend emails. Yes, the boss never SAID she needed a response asap, but she also never said it was ok to wait until the next working day. This is why it’s so important to set communications norms and expectations. If her boss had been upfront that emails don’t need an immediate response, Dufu probably wouldn’t have spent weekends responding to them. By not stating the expectations, this created stress and conflict that could have been avoided.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could do one thing, I would eliminate all of the stigma around mental health concerns. I would make it ok to not be ok all the time. And I would make it easy to access the supports we need, when we need them.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

My website is www.brandypayne.ca, and I blog regularly there. There’s also a link on the website to download 5 Tips to Support Mental Health Right Now and sign up for my weekly newsletter.

I also post regularly on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/brandypayne.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Entrepreneur, angel investor and syndicated columnist, as well as a yoga, holistic health, breathwork and meditation enthusiast. Unlock the deepest powers

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