Creating A New Culture: Become An Agent Of Change
Building a company culture promoting a positive attitude toward mental health is perhaps more important now than ever before. In the wake of COVID-19, employees need to be able to address the reality of the conditions we are living in and how they can impact mental health. Creating a new culture embracing the spectrum of mental health is the best way to succeed personally and professionally.
Recently, our CEO sat down with an advocate of change in the perception of mental health within company culture. In this blog, Hollywood Branded explores how to become an agent of change in company culture to support team members through difficult times from the expertise of Mental Health Trifecta's Michelle Dickinson.
A Little More About Michelle
Michelle currently serves as a leadership coach, consultant and mental health advocate and is the founder of Trifecta Mental Health, as well as a speaker and a published author of a memoir entitled, Breaking Into My Life. After a career spanning nineteen years in the pharmaceutical industry, Michelle found her true passion in helping to eradicate mental health stigmas, leading real change in how mental illness is understood in workplace cultures and within the First Responder community.
Interview Transcript Highlights
Question: I know you have a story and we'd love to have our listeners learn why you have taken on your passion project after really a total career path change. Would you tell us a little bit about that?
Answer: Honestly, if you would've asked me a few years ago if I would be a mental health advocate, I would have never imagined that it'd be true. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 19 years and when I was at my last job at a large Fortune 500 pharma company, I was nominated to give a tent talk about my story. I had a colleague who knew my story and thought it should be told. And we had a tent platform where I could tell the story, so I did. I shared what it was like loving and caring for a mother who had bipolar disorder, what that journey was like throughout my childhood and how it shaped me into the woman that I became. So when I gave this talk, it was so warmly received and I received such positive feedback.
More importantly, it opened a dialogue in the workplace around mental health. That got me really excited and it was in that moment that I got connected to the thought of, "Okay, I need to put the pen to paper and write my memoir." My story could actually humanize mental health for people, for people who maybe had no exposure to what a mental illness was like. They could get what my world was like and maybe they would have more compassion and understanding for someone with a mental illness. So after four long cathartic years, I wrote my memoir while working at that at the pharmaceutical company and I released the book and began public speaking and sharing my story, using the vehicle to actually initiate conversations around mental health that weren't going to happen. So I became an advocate. I became someone who wanted to cause change.
Simultaneously when my book was released, I was part of a leadership team within my company that was building the first employee resource group dedicated to mental health. Where we would cause change in the culture and have it be truly an inclusive environment for those living with invisible disability. I was at the helm of that and I watched what worked and what didn't work and in those culture changing efforts. And I learned a lot from that experience and came away really aware of, this is what companies can be doing to create more compassionate work so people can really be their authentic selves regardless of what they're dealing with.
Then fast forward, my position gets eliminated during a restructuring. I said to myself, "What do I want to do? Do I want to stay on this path of being in the pharmaceutical industry or do I want to really go for where my heart has been pushing me?" And that was, I want to be a change agent. I want to use all of this passion that I have and be a change agent in the world and really help there be more compassion and let's eradicate the stigma and just do my part to make a difference. So, that's how I created Trifecta Mental Health and that's what I'm up to.
Question: When you're working with a client and you're consulting, how do you approach? And how do you open the topics? And how do you ensure that this is something that people will want to address and that they're embracing it and they're acknowledging what changes actually need to be made?
Answer: I get really excited when you have a progressive leader who says, "Yeah, I think we need to do more for our people." And we have this employee assistance program and that's great, but maybe there's something else we can be doing culturally within our workplace so our employees feel more supported beyond, "Oh, here's the 800 number, go call." So I get real excited when they see it as a diversity issue, right? A diversity and inclusion issue. It's not just, we should do this. It's more of, no, what does it mean to create an inclusive culture of people with all abilities? So if they get that, then it's like, "Oh my gosh, that's music to my ears." Because then I can say to them, "That's great."
What are the policies you have in place around inclusion and around mental health? And what are you doing to have your leaders be trained on how to engage powerfully in conversations with employees around this topic. So, they're not paralyzed or totally afraid that they're going to be crossing some line. But that they're better listeners and they're emotionally intelligent, so that they can determine when you have a situation. If an employee's performance has slipped, is it truly performance or are they dealing with something and how do you have those conversations? So, I get really excited because it's like, "Okay, so now we have an opportunity. You're going to look at your policies." We're going to talk about the level of knowledge and training that your people leaders have. Because without people leaders being on board, they're the face of the company to employees. So, then I just get real excited. Then there's so many things that we could do to help alter their culture and create that space for compassion.
Question: Do you find that there are more issues with male management versus female management when it comes to addressing these or is it pretty even across the board?
Answer: I think it comes down to who's emotionally intelligent and willing to put the effort in to cultivate trust with their employee. And I don't think that you could say it's male or female because I've met some very compassionate men. Even though we think women might have more emotional intelligence. I think it's the self awareness that the leader has and the emotional intelligence that they have and just truly their level of compassion for another human being. So I mean, that's what makes a remarkable leader. Is someone who's tuned in and has cultivated that trust with their employees.
Question: What's the first step that someone can within the organization, if they have the moment and they're saying, "I want to improve." What do they do?
Answer: Yeah. So there's a couple of things. So, I would look at what is the current level of support you're providing your employees. What does your EAP look like? What are your benefits look like? You have an employee who hits crisis and are they calling the number and being told they can't be seen for six months or for three months or for two weeks? Like, no. What is the accessibility to care for your people? What are the policies that you have in place within your company that say, "We are going to be an inclusive culture and accepting of people of all capabilities and are you equipped to give them special accommodations if they need it?" If they're dealing with severe anxiety, can you accommodate them by giving them opportunities to work from home frequently? I mean, look at, we're all doing that now.
So, if they're dealing with anxiety, what do you have to do to create a space for them to show up the best version of themselves? And are you doing that? And do you have policies in place that support that? The next thing you could do is you could say, "What can we do to generate more open conversation about mental health?" Is there an opportunity to harness May, Mental Health Awareness Month or October, World Mental Health Day. To open the conversation so leaders could talk about it more openly, lead by example and create more opportunity to normalize mental health conversations in the workplace. I mean, there's so many really cool other initiatives you can do. But there's the basics of just taking the landscape and inventory of what you are doing.
Question: I'm sure there's a lot of companies that don't really know how to engage and touch base and keep their team members as they work remotely. What would you suggest that they could do for rules for that?
Answer: Yeah. I think it' s all about keeping people feeling empowered around the situation. And when I say that, I had a client say to me, "Michelle, I want to work with you once this whole Corona thing passes but I really want to support my people. I really want them to feel empowered and I know they're all nervous and they're all anxious about what's going on in the world. So could you help?"
So I pulled together a resilience webinar to really empower people around the conversation of fear, the consumption of media, what you have control over, things you should be doing every day to take care of yourself and your family. Healthy ways of living and maintaining some kind of normalcy and cohesiveness in the home and things that you can do to protect your mental well being.
I think all of those things are incredibly important. Especially now more than ever when people feel like they have no control. I try to remind folks, you do have control over your minds and what you allow yourself to consume. So, yeah.
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