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William Pitney Of FocusYOU On 5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees

An Interview With David Liu

Send meaningful care packages and treats. Each package has been unexpected and include individual and team favorites. In December 2020, I sent variety packs of ice cream. My staff and their families loved them and still talk about them to this day. This past January I sent small boxes of specialty chocolates, cookies, and other treats from Hawai’i. Every time they talk about them, my staff lights up.

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 William Pitney.

William Pitney, founder, principal, and financial coach of FocusYOU in San Mateo and Santa Rosa, California, has been serving clients as a professional financial planner since 2003. He is a member of the Financial Planning Association, Financial Transitionist® Institute, Money Quotient, and Peninsula Estate Planning Council. Committed to a higher fiduciary standard of excellence, he has passed a rigorous certification and examination process in order to earn the professional designations of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional, Certified Financial Transitionist®, and Chartered Life Underwriter®. FocusYOU delivers practical, fully integrated financial strategies and solutions to address the financial planning needs of clients.

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?

I am passionate about working with women and families to achieve their financial and life goals and protect their lifestyles. I became a financial planner after witnessing the devastating effects that poor counsel had on my mother-in-law following the death of her husband. She lost her home, savings, and sense of financial independence. I am deeply committed and work diligently to ensure others never face the same fate.

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

One of the more interesting stories has to do with fees, or should I say, reporting of advisory fees on the client investment statement. I had a client who wanted to continue working with me, but she didn’t like seeing the fees reported on the statement. She asked if there was a way to not show the fees on the statement. She said she really liked the advice and was willing to pay for it, but just couldn’t stomach seeing the fees on the statement. I told her of the regulatory requirement to report the fees.

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

Before the pandemic but especially during the pandemic set some very clear boundaries between work time and nonwork time. This has been one of the most important things to help me avoid burnout and continue to work at a high level given the challenges of remote work and working from home. Also, my team and I foster an environment where we have fun. One of our core values, that we now make explicit, is have fun, be playful, and find joy in our work. To quote a dear friend of mine who says almost daily, “If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.”

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

Prioritize relationships and hold each other accountable for individual development and creating a common team vision for the future. As the owner, I can try to dictate what’s going to happen, but team buy in is important. We develop the vision together. Then we give each team member the space to do their best work. While I want to focus solely on the work, we are dealing with people. So, allowing time for daily chitchat allows us to get to know and support each other personally and professionally. This keeps us close as a unit and allows us to adapt to changing circumstances.

One additional thing I have done in the last year was to be a lot more transparent about what happens behind the scenes financially. During our monthly and quarterly business reviews, I always shared the revenue side. Since last year, I started sharing the big picture of the expense side. Seeing all this helps everyone make decisions about how we can make changes to improve the bottom line. It’s no longer just me. The team has had some great input and we are seeing the returns already.

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

I don’t have one favorite life quote. There are many that still influence me from Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, and others. I would, however, like to share a story about my grandmother and how something she said to me during my late teens that had a profound effect on me. My grandmother wanted to be a CPA but the opportunities available to her were nonexistent in the early 1950s. During my college years, she shared many stories of the negative and hateful things she experienced. One day I asked her how and why she did not hold resentments towards others.

In a nutshell, she said, it’s their issue, not mine. And carrying around resentments towards them would harm her more than them, so she made the conscious choice not to allow those things to control her life. She said that most people never question why they believe what they believe. She said that there will come a time in my life when I would have to be kind to someone who really doesn’t deserve it, but that the undeserving person will benefit from it later in life. While I may not agree with everyone or on every topic, I am able to acknowledge the differences and recognize that it is our life experiences that influence what we believe.

My grandmother’s sharing that has allowed me to maintain a broader perspective of life and how I interact with the world. She cemented for me that there will always be obstacles in life. You must find a way around or over them. And sometimes you have to go straight through them.

And as Bob Marley said, “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.”

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 your company hasve taken to help improve or optimize their your employees’ mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Emphasis on having fun. I learned and started communicating consistently with the team that if you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth doing. When that is the case, let’s discuss whether it is a necessary activity and if it is, I challenge them to find ways to make it fun and less tedious. In addition to automating some tasks, they came up with some great ideas on how to simplify tasks.
  2. Family first. My core believe is that family comes first and provide the team the space to deal with family issues that may arise during the workday. As a result, they have less stress when it’s time to focus on work and still get the work done by any deadline.
  3. Equips each team member with tangibles that give each of them the best chance of success, including team building classes and team exercises. I recently paid for a group program that is designed to improve team performance by working on each individua’s personal development plan. We are seeing results.
  4. One that is truly impactful is acknowledging that mistakes and errors happen. But without guilting or shaming the individual. This makes it easy and comfortable for team members to communicate when something hasn’t gone well. As a result, we brainstorm solutions and errors are rare. This is amazing given the stress and chaos created by the pandemic.
  5. Send meaningful care packages and treats. Each package has been unexpected and include individual and team favorites. In December 2020, I sent variety packs of ice cream. My staff and their families loved them and still talk about them to this day. This past January I sent small boxes of specialty chocolates, cookies, and other treats from Hawai’i. Every time they talk about them, my staff lights up.

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?

When employers show up and care for their employees it creates an opportunity for empowerment, loyalty, and accountability and growth for all individuals on the team, which in turn grows the team.

I think when employers want their companies to excel, they must consider the human side of their employees’ lives. Employers should not assume that they can always push their employees through or motivate them with financial incentives. A company can accomplish big things and get the most of its employees by doing small, but meaningful things to recognize the effects of life on individuals outside of the workplace.

Having the balance of the give and take on a team level allows for all individuals to see the impact of their efforts and makes for long term employees, as well as flexibility for growth and development. The mental empowerment of an individual encourages continued empowerment of those around them, thus raising up everyone on the team, and around them.

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 or having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?

Not shaming and not speaking negatively or derogatorily about those who admit that they have mental health issues. At some point all of us will deal with mental health issues. This is a human experience.

Acknowledge that mental health is the most important thing we can focus on because it affects our collective physical and social/civic health. Understand that mental health is an invisible force that can play out in many ways. There are a variety of resources available in many communities that can support those with mental health issues.

This might seem intuitive to you, but it will be helpful to spell it out. Can you help articulate a few ways how workplaces will benefit when they pay attention to an employee’s mental health?

When an employee struggles with mental health, his or her performance, reliability, and action become questionable. What seems contrary to the employee’s behavior, could be a clear indication of a mental health issue. Simply warning and writing up the employee going through these issues will not solve the underlying problem — it will only exacerbate it. Again, when something appears off, employers should take time to ask about it rather than condemning it.

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?

I personally use exercise, nutrition, positive self-talk, mindfulness practices, and sleep to help with my own mental well-being.

It all started several years back when I noticed that there would be days when I struggled with motivation or getting things done. As I started noticing my physical experience, I realized that whenever I do not get a good night’s sleep, eat poorly, or fail to exercise regularly, I would also experience a significant increase in my negative mental chatter.

Now I use a combination of positive self-talk audio recordings and mindfulness and breathing practices as reminders that I have control over my time and physical health. The audio recordings are designed to override those unconscious negative programs. The mindfulness and breathing practices help me slow down the negative mental chatter and unnecessary spinning.

Prioritizing my physical health is the number one way I manage my mental health. The dynamic, reciprocal and interdependent relationship between my mental and physical health is profound. When I take care of my physical health, my mental health benefits. When I take care of my mental health, my physical health benefits.

I work in the communications industry, so I’m particularly interested in this question. As you know, there are a variety of communication tools such as video conferencing, phone, text, and push-to-talk. What changes or improvements would you suggest for these technologies to help foster better mental health?

That’s a very good question. I cannot say what specific improvements I would suggest about the technology, but I can make some recommendations on things I do to minimize the potential negative and enhance the positive features of the various technologies. I turn off all the buzzing, sounds, and alerts for everything that’s not necessary, so I am not constantly checking or being interrupted while I work or when I’m not working. I use the alarms to remind me of an upcoming appointment and allow calls from a select group of family and staff. Other than that, I use technology on my schedule — I do not work on its schedule or anyone else’s.

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. :-)

In my own way, and working with my staff, I have already started a movement. I created the “No-Guilt Zone®” as a space for prospective and existing clients to share freely without feeling shame or embarrassment about their money. And in many respects the “No-Guilt Zone®” is not just about money but about life itself.

Frequently, my clients tell me that facing issues and challenges about their money without guilt is a huge relief. Most of them begin our professional relationship feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about their financial future. After experiencing our process, many of our most anxious clients express greater confidence about their financial futures and start taking steps to live more fully.

We have witnessed several clients who through the years have gone through life affirming transformations. They heard lots of negative noise that amplified their sense of scarcity and insecurity. After going through our process where we showed them what was possible, they experienced a sense of disbelief. They questioned if what we showed them was possible. Over time and our being present on their journey, they began to accept that they are going to be more than okay financially. It is at the point where they embrace the possibilities and really begin to enjoy their lives more.

My employees also benefit from the “No-Guilt Zone®” because we are constantly wrapping our minds around what no guilt means now and what it can mean in the future. Together, we experience the empowerment of putting words to feelings. For clients and staff, I created this space where we do not tolerate anyone saying they are not enough. It’s an empowering space for everyone to be positive and work towards living their best life.

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

They can check us out on www.focusyou.com, IG @focusyouniversity, LI @focusyou, FB @FocusYOU

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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David Liu

David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication