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Happiness Index for Safety and Mental Health with Nick Marks



Happiness in the workplace matters for sustainable wellbeing, safety, productivity and business outcomes. It predicts if teams and organizations are building a better future. Today, our special guest Nick Marks shares his insights on psychological safety and mental-wellbeing, two critical drivers of safety outcomes. He also addresses skeptics by demonstrating how feelings connect to data.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I am Eric Michrowski. Today I’m very excited to have with me Nick Marks. He’s a statistician with The Soul. He’s got 25 years working with organizations to improve happiness, quality, quality of life and organizations in general. A phenomenal speaker has also launched a tool called Friday Pulse. We’ll get into that very soon. But Nick, welcome to the show. And I’d love to hear from you a little bit about your passion, how you got into all of this, and how you became a statistician with a soul as a client once called you.

Yes, it’s one of my favorite client quotes. So, I think in some ways what it captures is I’ve got this slightly odd mix. And yes, I am a statistician, but my mother was a family therapist and I trained as a therapist when I was young. So, I sort of have these soft people skills as well. And it probably becomes inevitable that I become the guy that starts measuring people’s experience of life, their happiness, their well-being.

It took a long time to evolve into that. You know, I did a lot of work on sustainability, quality of life, health statistics first and then slowly moved into that area. And I used to work in think tanks. So, I used to advise the Tony Blair government and then the David Cameron government on how to measure well-being and let a lot of work there in a very exciting time in the 2000s where the British government started to take this very seriously.

And then about seven, eight years ago, I started to think about businesses and moved into that area. And so, I now have a business called Friday Pulse, which measures and improves employee experience. And that’s what I do now.

That’s phenomenal background. So, one of the themes that’s incredibly important when you’re trying to improve safety outcomes is that or even wellbeing and all of those components is this element of psychological safety within the business. Can you share a little bit about your thinking, your research and what you’ve seen around the importance of psychological safety and maybe some ideas on how to drive it forward within businesses?

Yeah, I mean, it’s a phrase I think coined by Amy Edmondson and certainly popularized by Google. And it’s really trust. It’s the it’s the you know; trust is really about consistency of behavior. And, you know, in a team when, you know, if you’re going to experiment, you’re going to be innovative, you’re going to collaborate, and you need to have the freedom to express yourself and the security that you will know that you won’t be that that that the spirit of your motivation for doing that will be recognized even if the outcome doesn’t show exactly where we are.

So, it becomes more about process and about how we do that. And I think that psychological safety and of course, you know, if you’re in certain parts of the world, physical safety, I mean, there’s still parts of the of the developing world where physical safety, workplace is not guaranteed, you know. So, but, you know, we’ve actually luckily got legislation in North America and Europe where those things are covered. But it becomes really important people’s experience, because, you know, just like if you’ve got a parent who’s very unreliable, inconsistent, that’s actually the worst type of parenting.

And it’s the same. It’s the same. Same with the boss. I mean, you know, if you don’t really know if the boss’s mood is always going to change or this or you suddenly get an earful for something which you weren’t expecting to you, even when you get praised for something we would expect to, that inconsistency is very difficult to deal with. So, it’s about consistency. It’s about reliability. It’s about support. And there’s lots of evidence that, you know, when that when people are in those environments that not only that teens going to the people, they enjoy working the more and they go hand in hand.

I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s the only cause of people’s positive experience, but it’s a very significant one.

Interesting. So, the other element is that we’ve talked about when we had our conversations together, is that this element that feelings are data. Can you can you share a little bit about and have that element? And is it real? Is it being it tangible? I know a lot of leaders I’ve talked to over the years, particularly operational leaders, doubt the reliability of that data. They don’t even necessarily see it as real, tangible data. So, share some thoughts and insights on that.

So, the expression feelings that they have for me comes from both of those sources. I mean, it’s in some ways a sort of mixture between that statistics and unhappiness. And I. Actually, this is actually the draft title for a TED talk. I was going to do last year, which obviously got canceled because of it. But, you know, my idea really is that is that are our feelings. Firstly, just from a purely neuroscience perspective or psychology perspective or even evolutionary perspective, feelings come before cognition.

So, beings, animals, organisms were in a sense a sentient before they were cognitive. And we needed to feel whether we in the right environment. So, in a sense, our feelings give us information about whether a good fit in our environment had a very, very basic biological level. So, you know, we you know, we can feel creeped out by something without really knowing what it is. The sensation is there before we’ve got the awareness about precisely what it is so we can feel, you know, we can feel secure in an environment without really knowing exactly why.

And that’s because that’s how feelings work in the organism. And in that sense, can we turn them into data? What is data? So, data can be quantitative. It can be qualitative. You know, it could be different types. I, I statistically try and capture that data, which would have just basically a very simple, good, bad signal. So, I’ll ask people things like, you know, have you felt at work this week where you very unhappy to very happy and you get into one to five scale or whatever and people can answer that question.

They can think, oh, this week, yeah, it was a good week. You know what week it was a bad week. And they give you an answer on that. And that’s what I mean by turning feelings into data in this sense, that you can put a number to it. And when you do that, you get very interesting time trend data that by asking about time specific period, you see the ups and downs. And the reality is we’re not happy all the time.

That actually would be kind of dysfunctional because you would be overriding the thing. Sometimes can be bad. The environment changes. You know, it would have been pretty weird to have been exceptionally happy in March this year.

Really? Yeah.

And, you know, and she has been really hard, hasn’t it? You know, and it’s like so it’s perfectly fine to have a goal that you want to be happy, but to also accept the fact you’re not going to be happy all the time. There are not conflicting things to want to do.

So, you touched on the march and feelings and you’ve done some analysis of data through the last several months. How has it revealed? What was the main takeaway that you saw across multiple different organizations?

Yes. So we basically we ask all across our client base, you know, that question. And we basically provide data for team and senior leaders on people’s experience of work. And we do it in real time. Real time. We do weekly in saying, you know, this is how people’s weeks have gone. So, we’ve been we’ve got 52 well, we haven’t quite got 52 measures this year. We’ve got like forty or fifty, whatever it is we’re up to now.

And so, we can see the whole trend through the year. And what we had was a perfectly normal year in January, February, March. I mean, January doesn’t tend to be the happiest months anyway. You’ve just come out of the Christmas period. So, it’s always a bit suppressed after that. People are happy after Christmas to come back. Oh, well, you know, the weather’s pretty bad and its certainly Europe, certainly in England in January, February, you know, it’s the worst time of the year.

So, you know, people aren’t most happy, but, you know, starting to pick up in March, then, you know, the week beginning on the 12th of March, you know, we suddenly had I mean, I was working in London in the beginning of the week. The underground was normal. She was normal. And by Thursday, you know, half of the traffic had gone. It was extraordinary just to see it drift away from us.

And then, you know, the next week we had our lockdown and it was very, very scary in March and it hit our data, all our clients, it plummeted. And then we still a slow climb back up again. But in those first weeks, you know, there was a lot of pressure on H.R. departments, everybody to scramble home. You know, have you got the right equipment? Can we support you? How do you do that?

Everyone is, you know, worrying about their mother. You know, the kids, whatever they worried about. Suddenly kids were home from school. There’s a huge pressure. And all of that comes out in our data. And then we basically see a slight return back to where we were over a period of several months. But then it’s never got back to quite where it was. We’re still we’re still five, ten points down. We sent our data 100 scale.

Chirikova the average was seventy. It’s now 65. So, we’ve seen a drop over that time. A significant drop, actually. But, you know, not as bad as it was in the week, you know, with the Caved strike where it’s more than fifty. So, you know, it’s a big impact and you need data every week to see that. So, you can imagine it as a graph. And of course, we see that.

And lots of our clients, they have setbacks. Teams have setbacks, individuals have setbacks, but they have a global setback. I mean, we never see again, I don’t think is just huge, huge impact. Yeah.

Let’s hope we don’t see it ever again. Yeah, I certainly hope so. I’m a CEO. I get this. There’s regular data point, this pulse on my business. What can I do with that information? Because some might argue it’s too much information. How can I use that to shift? My decisions, my actions, and even if you have some examples from the last few months how it’s helped organizations and businesses would be phenomenal.

Yes. So, the way that we help people use the data is that we feed it back to the right level of the organization. I do think that the best place to act is at the team level. I’m sure it’s the same for safety and everything is that it’s the people you work most closely with. You know, can you rely on the people around you and you work together? Can you have the same goals and collaborate? And what we basically do is feedback data, a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data.

So, we think feedback you how, how what’s the score? Last week when we also ask people, you know, what’s going well for you last week, what hasn’t, and they still allow people to build on what’s gone and deal with what hasn’t. And it’s getting into that weekly flow of people’s work by doing a little and often that you make the most changes, you know, you make that you basically get them talking about their experience. And then that validates that it’s actually useful to listen to people’s experience.

And basically, everybody in an organization is kind of like a sensor that’s sensing everything around them. It’s like that that data was never collected before. You know, it’s that there’s knowledge like whenever there’s a sort of big corporate failure, when they do the investigation afterwards, people within the organization knew something was up. They hadn’t. The data is very rare that something hits, but that totally blindsided. There are people that know and, in a sense, you need to gather that data in a way and encourage people to share not only their successes, but their concerns, because it’s valid to have concerns about what’s going on.

You know, and if you collect that quickly, you can act on it quickly. And I think that’s what most organizations try and do in some way is be responsive to what’s going on. And we have a product that helps platform that helps with that. And we’ve seen lots of different examples. You know, I mean, the issue is covid and working from home was it’s so variable, the experience for people. Sure. You know, people like me whose children are left home and I, I, I live with my wife, who I not only love, I like you know, I enjoy spending time with her.

So, it wasn’t a difficult spend time with Zoya. Some people, you know, my sisters got divorced in covid. I mean, that would be a horrible experience. Yeah, well, three years too late in my opinion, but that’s a different matter. But, you know, but, you know, and other people was stuck at home with young children, which was very, very difficult. Three or four. My team have got children under the age of five and they were driving them up.

The wall wasn’t about their work. They just were a very difficult. So, there was different things that we needed to do. And of course, when you’ve got a bit of data on that, you can start thinking about how, how, how you did. And then you’ve got teams that are struggling. So, you know, I mean, my organization has not been adversely affected by covid. I mean, we’ve had to change. We’ve had to pivot.

I had to lay off some people that were doing events work, but we’ve actually recruited into other areas. So, we’d have to do some changes. And but it hasn’t been a disaster. But if your inhospitality you know, it was right the way across the board. It was you know; it’s just appalling. And if you’re in businesses depend on that or you know, so it’s how do you respond if large organizations have got sections, one sections that haven’t.

And it’s how do you differentiate your policies towards those people? And we’ve you know, we’ve got clients that have done, you know, brilliant work in this area, really, really helping people, you know, cope with it. And I mean, even in my organization, we’ve gone to a four-day week, for example, because I think boundaries between work and life so collapsed and burnout is such a big issue with people working from home and remotely.

They haven’t got that human contact. But they also, you know, just works with their sort of, you know, working for them. I’m working. I’m you probably are. You were completely you know, it’s like how when does work stop? When does life start? Becomes harder. So, I’ve actually just made a bargain with my employees that let’s work hard for four days and have three days off and do other things. And, you know, that’s quite a radical policy.

We can do that in my field. It doesn’t always work with something because it’s 24/7. So, it’s how are you how you look after you employees, I think is changing very dramatically.

Absolutely. And I think what you shared is consistent with all the organization I’ve seen. For some people, it’s been phenomenal. So, for me, the secret blessing is I normally spend almost all my time on a plane and now I get to spend time at home enjoying kind of experiences with my wife. Like you said, it’s a very different experience, but I see others who are constantly trying to balance home schooling and all of those components all at the same time and trying to do work.

And they don’t necessarily have a partner that can help, but it’s a very, very different experience. But it gives you insights on how I can lead, how it can drive change, how it can drive impact on the themes that are relevant for my workforce at this point in time when one of the themes I’d like to explore. Law is the impact that you can get from a mental health standpoint, because we know the link between mental health, mental wellbeing and safety, overall safety culture incredibly linked.

Unfortunately, not all organizations are talking about that link. More and more are trying to drive visibility, awareness to the importance of mental health. What’s your thoughts around mental health, well-being? And would you be able to gather from a pulse within your business?

So, I mean, mental health is. Still a lot of stigma around it and there’s a lot of work going on about destigmatizing it, but this is just a story from just two years ago. I know I spoke at a conference on a group called Minds at Work here in the UK who do a lot of work on mental health at work. And a fireman went off work for being injured in a fire. And he was off work for six months and 100 colleagues came to see him.

He then had stress two years later and one colleague came to see him and was still terrified of that sort of, you know, mental health breakdown, breakthrough, whatever it is. And it’s and it’s an issue that is starting to change. I mean, you know, we see it we see it being led probably sometimes. Yes. At work, but we also see it being led in the sort of celebrity world, like there’s a band, little mix.

I don’t know if you got teens who are interested into them, but one of them has decided to retire from the band for mental health reasons. And it’s not getting paid. It’s getting really supported out there is basically saying, yes, you need to look after yourself. That’s what you need to do. And so, I think we’re talking more and more about it. And it’s becoming more and more accepted and it’s more accepted in the work. But the issue is it feels, you know, a little bit frightened of it because they’re frightened of their own mental health.

They’re frightened if we stopped going forward, you know, would we fall over? I think Einstein once said, you know, life is like riding a bicycle. If you stop paddling, you fall over. And it’s just a feeling that if we don’t continue, will, you’ll suddenly collapse. I think that’s really unwise because I think when the end happens is burnout happens and, you know, burnout tends to be from people who engaged in their work, but they go the extra mile.

That isn’t the same as mental health. It’s a different issue, but it’s a problem. But mental health, I think it’s about working with people. There’s a lot of new neurologically atypical people, particularly in tech businesses and whatever like that. You know, probably 20 percent of the population are what we could call neurologically atypical, you know, and that’s a lot of the workforce. And so, it’s often brilliant, all sorts of things.

They just need some different boundaries. And I don’t really understand why. I think this straitjacket of, like, you work from nine to five or ten to six or so over time is going I mean, I he doesn’t actually work for us anymore. But I had an employee who really did struggle every few months with something. But, you know, I just used to say to him, we need two days off. You have two days off.

And I knew he’d make it up because he didn’t, he wasn’t irresponsible. He just was just, you know, couldn’t get out of bed that day. And you don’t help it by sort of saying, pull yourself together. That’s not how you do it, by being kind and compassionate to them and, you know, and talking. Yes. About the business needs. But, you know, but also about what their needs are. And it’s a sort of dance between those two.

It’s you know, it’s like employing I mean, I’m going to say particularly women, but it’s parents with young children, really. But, you know, I’ve had a lot of people have maternity leave or have children, you know, during you know, during my time working people. If you if you’re kind to them, they come back and they give you everything. So, it’s being enlightened in your leadership. And doing a mental health is the same really in the you know, it’s accepting that people’s anxieties, their panic attacks, it’s depression.

This is something that they’re living with. It’s not something. And it does get triggered by environments in that, you know, if you put too much stress on them or put them in a team that you know really doesn’t help, then, you know, it’s going to get exaggerated. But you can work with it, you know, like one of the supermarket chains in the UK. They work with a lot of people with depression. And you know, what you don’t want to do is shove them at the back of a dark warehouse because that’s basically going to make their problems worse.

If you put them in a bright light place where they can interact with other people, which might be, you know, in the car parks doing trolleys, it might be helping pack bags, it might be doing shelves, whether in the light they’re much better. If you put them in a dark warehouse, they’re not going to do well. It’s understanding what the triggers are for them, listening to them and working with it. And people tend to thrive when they feel cared about.

So, and I I’m you know, that’s definitely the side of the fence I’m on. I know that other people some people have other views on that. But I think that we can work with people from all walks of life. And if you if you respect them, they respect you back 95 percent of the time and the five percent of time they don’t. Well, then deal with it. You know, let’s assume the best. And then occasionally you deal with the things that they work.

Yeah. And I think with the pulse that you’re advocating is you’re getting a sense for themes within the business that are emerging so you can better adapt and be more enlightened. In terms of your comments before that last question I want to throw, we talked about feelings or data. How do you deal with a skeptic? Because I’ve come across. Engineers, though, say it’s not real data perception data input of that nature is not real data. How do you overcome that challenge?

Well, I mean, one engineer is a brilliant to talk to about this because they understand feedback and if you start explaining to them in analogies, they can hear about, you know, basically a thermometer, a governor in a steam engine, whatever is a feedback loop, just basically through the and steam engine, you know, where more steam goes through and it starts closing the steam. And it’s basically a feedback loop. Emotions are the same in lots of ways.

Some of them are positive reinforcing. Some of them are negative dampening, but they’re basically helping us act efficiently in the world. And so, it is data, it’s not the same data. So, you know, when you when you’ve got so-called objective data, you know, you’re counting physical things. When you have subjective data, you’re using scales. You’re using things which basically people are giving you a sense of the difference. So, when I ask people how have you felt at work this week, I give them five response codes.

Very unhappy, unhappy. OK, happy. Very happy. If I can answer that. We don’t know precisely three to the four is the same as from one to two. In fact, I can tell you, isn’t the data quite well? It is, but it is ordered. The data is ordered. And so, you can work with that data, which just you have to work with it differently. You also have to understand you’re not maximizing.

People often think that you’ll take any variable going to maximize your optimizing with subjective data. You know, actually, you don’t want people to be not you don’t want them to be. It’s unrealistic for people to be very happy all of the time. You actually kind of want to know when they’re feeling very happy and you want to know when they’re feeling happy and want to know when they’re feeling OK. And that is data is feedback and it’s learning. I mean, the whole way that organizations and us as individuals is that we learn, we learn.

So, we need to have feedback that helps us learn. And I use that’s how I use the data. And so, you know, we create effectively what we call happiness KPI for business, which is this data weekly team happiness. And it’s a people metric for people, for organizations and organizations don’t have good people metrics. They tend to have what we call lagging indicators like; you know, how many people didn’t turn up for work, how many people left us, or do we do an engagement survey once a year, which gives you a snapshot experiences really fluid.

It’s not a snapshot. It’s not even a series of snapshots. You know, you could have done a snapshot in February this year and then three months later and three months is a really frequent pulse survey. You know, your set up march, you may well, you just basically see almost a flat line. You’ve just missed the whole dramatic, interesting part, you know. And so, you know, by taking data more frequently, you get that fluidity.

And basically, our experience is fluid. It’s always ebbing and flowing. It’s you know, you can you can take people’s I mean; I measure weekly because that’s convenient. It’s good for work. But, you know, sure, you could measure people’s experience through a morning and you’d have it going up. You could measure it through an hour and it’d be going up and down your year, a lifetime. You know, there’s different wavelengths if you want to do of it.

So, it absolutely is data. It’s data that’s correlated and predicts things. We know that people who have more good weeks and bad weeks are happier at work, are more productive. We know they stay longer. We know they’re more creative and innovative. We know that they have a better safety record when they go back to that, because if you care about the machinery you’re working with or you care about your colleagues, you know, you take care and you and you avoid you deal with risks and you avoid you avoid things getting out of control, which, you know, most accidents are a series of errors, aren’t they?

And if you’ve got that communication and collaboration, well, it works out better. So, you know, it’s not only is it data, it’s useful data and it predicts future good outcomes. So, I take it seriously. It’s my opinion.

I think that’s phenomenal. Last starting point you launched recently a tool called Friday one. Can you share a little bit about what it is and how it can help businesses?

Yes. So, Friday one is, say, Friday Pulse is the business we have, which creates platforms for teams and organizations. So, we wanted to do something that was for individuals. People always ask us how can we do something on our own? So, we’ve created Friday one, which is basically a sort of an individual. These are the key drivers to happiness at work. How are you doing on it? So, if you’ve ever taken one of those tests, like six personalities organize breaks, you do them and give you a report back, that’s the same thing, but it’s context.

So, one of my critiques of those sort, the personality test, is that their context free. And actually, we change personalities, we change who we are. We change how we feel, giving context. So, our context is very specific to your work and it’s your work now when you fill it out and basically, we ask you how you doing on the five big drivers which we call which are which are about relationships, about fairness in the system, about autonomy, about learning and about purpose.

So, we call those connect, be fair power challenge, inspire. So, you ask three questions on each and some demographic questions. I give you benchmarks and you get a lovely report and it’s to help you reflect. On your work and how you doing, and that does form part of our Friday post when we do it for whole organization, but this is just a free tool for individuals to do and have fun with.

And can they track themselves in terms of time and how they’re progressing, or is it a one-time snap?

It is a one-time stop, which is why we called it Friday one. And the reason we haven’t done that is also to keep our problems of storing people’s data with a free tool. And you do get into, you know, sort of things like we decided we do a snapshot. We may we may do something tracking, but we you have to get a little bit you have to get a little bit fancier with that stuff. And so, at the moment, it’s a snapshot and you can say the PDF and do it again three months later and look at it.

But we don’t hold your data in any way. We didn’t want to get into that really. And you just go to Friday, one dot com and, you know, take the test. And it’s just that’s it’s just free and fun to use.

Love it. Well, thank you very much, Nick, for taking the time for connecting, sharing your thoughts, their own feelings and the impact on the business and great insights in terms of how people can shift from week to week, from day to day from hour to hour based on the context, the environment they’re in.

Thank you very much indeed.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

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Nic Marks, Founder & CEO, Friday Pulse

Described by one client as a “statistician with a soul”, Nic has been working in the field of happiness and wellbeing for over 25 years.

In 2010 Nic gave a TED talk on his previous work in public policy, which has now been watched over 2.3million times. Named as one of the Top Ten Original Thinkers by the IoD’s Director Magazine, Nic’s work was hailed as one of Forbes Magazine’s Seven Most Powerful Ideas in 2011.

As Founder and CEO of Friday Pulse, Nic shares his creative thinking with leading organisations on how positive emotions drive productivity and profit.

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Mental Health & Suicide Prevention in Construction with Kathleen Dobson



In recognition of World Mental Health Day, we are in conversation with Kathleen Dobson, Safety Director at Alberici. She shares some critical insights on Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention in Construction. The learnings relate to so many industries. Gather some insights, reflect on how you can apply these to improve the safety of your workplace and make a difference!

Read about Mental Health: 


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. My name is Eric Michrowski and today I’m very excited to have with me Kathleen Dobson, who’s the safety director with Alberich. She’s here to talk to us a little bit about suicide prevention and awareness in the construction industry. Kathleen, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you part of the conversations. Oh, thank you so much, Eric. It’s my pleasure to be here. Kathleen, to start out, if you can share a little bit about your journey and how you got into safety and really, you’re passionate about the topic we’re going to talk about today on suicide prevention. Absolutely. Thanks. I started out as a hospital based registered nurse, and after about 15 years in the hospital, I ended up working for a manufacturer as their occupational health and safety nurse. And some of the roles that the nurse had were not very traditional. For example, I was responsible for managing confined spaces and I was responsible for conducting aerial lift training and for truck training, things that I really didn’t have experience in. And so, I. Educated myself, got some training, and as I was is that was developing my training programs, I was asked to participate in safety audits again, something that I wasn’t really familiar with, but I really enjoyed. And when that position ended, because, you know, the company downsized and so on, I found myself with several different experiences, hospital-based nursing, manufacturing, a little bit of safety, a little bit of training. And I was fortunate enough to find a job with Albury’s constructors who recognized that I understood behavior-based safety and some components of construction. So that’s kind of how we got to where I’m at now, you know, back 20 years ago and really my passion for suicide prevention. I’ve had several friends and relatives who have committed suicide. One was a registered nurse, colleague of mine. She was probably one of the first people that I knew that had taken her own life. My husband’s cousin, my own cousin. And so, there’s I think it’s it shows that almost anybody can be affected by suicide. And about five years ago, I heard a presentation from a group called the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. And I said, wow, that sounds great. And I and I found that one of the organizations that I belong to, network, which is the National Association of Women in Construction, as well as Tom, as well as talk, the Association of Women and Constructors were both involved pretty heavily in this in this process. And when I went to network to ask them how active and how involved we were, they said not very they were lending their name more than anything else. And I said, well, we need to do more because this is a real crisis in the industry. People are dying every single day, much more so much more so than falls in electrocution and being struck by vehicles on the highway. But we never we don’t talk about it and we don’t recognize it. So, both talk and network have put together position statements. And since they’ve been doing that, I’ve been advocating for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. That’s phenomenal. Can you share maybe a little bit about why it’s so important in the construction industry, some of the elements that make it perhaps more prone to suicide and the risk associated with it? Oh, sure. Well, in construction for many, many years is really an institution with a pretty narrow view of who belongs. So, gender, race, religion and ethnicity are all concerns. And if you were in the building, trades in your family were not part of the generations of workers. You’re really an outsider until it’s proven otherwise and. So, people who are outsiders, obviously are not included in in the day-to-day companionship, relationship, the camaraderie, the community that the construction industry offers, and if they have issues and honestly, there’s probably 40 or 50 percent of people in the United States who at one time or another have some sort of a diagnosable mental illness, whether it’s, you know, I mean, it could be depression that that’s temporary or could be depression. That’s long term and overwhelming. But the construction industry has been having been made up of very stoic men mostly. And the industry is recognized for high hazards and taking risks and being the tough guys. If you’re injured, you just kind of suck it up and you go on with your business and. So those are just some of the reasons why construction gets impacted, because we don’t, we don’t share our feelings. We are we are taught really to not. Suffer, you suffer in silence and that and that just the overall attitude, nothing can happen to me and. We’ve got this this real sort of macho image, right, about the about the industry, these are traits that are that are in quite a few other industries as well. There’s no doubt that. But all of this also has an impact in terms of overall health and safety, because if I’m not well, in some way, shape or form, I’m not going to show up with potential on the job. And other things can also happen, which can impact myself and also my peers. Can you could you show me maybe a little bit more about why businesses need to do more? I often have heard in the past, which I think is completely wrong, that business shouldn’t start dealing with mental health themes and issues. Tell me more about how you remove the stigma and why it’s so critical for businesses to drive change around suicide and suicide prevention. Well, I think I think you use you mentioned a word that I don’t like using, and that is stigma because stigma places the places a negative impact on the individual. If you’re stigmatized, you are often negatively looked at in you with your group. And we really should not we really shouldn’t put blame on people because they are depressed or they’re in pain or are there or they may have another issue that that has caused them to suffer with their mental health. Right. And I think it’s and I think it’s important that we talk about it. You know, another situation that has happened in the industry is that we’ve brought on board and recruited many, many, many people who have transitioned out of the armed services. And a lot of those individuals, especially if they have seen action in in a war zone or some sort of a conflict, they suffer from post-traumatic stress. And so, the triggers on the job site, loud noises, shouting, can trigger a stress reaction. If we talk about it, if we talk about it, it becomes very commonplace. And I can’t I can’t take credit for this. But one of my colleagues said if we can talk about prostate problems and psoriasis. We can talk about mental health and suicide prevention. And I think that I think that, you know, as we see from years ago, no one ever said the word cancer. And because there was that that that view that, oh, you know, there was something bad about that. And so. Once we started to recognize there’s nothing bad about it, we can help people who have cancer, we can we can help them transition through the different phases of the illness, even if it is deadly to them. They need they need our support. They don’t need to be isolated and ostracized. And I think that our ethic, our individuals who are having mental health crises should also be treated the same way. They should not be isolated; they should not be ostracized. And it takes an individual who has a keen eye and ear for listening to their fellow workers and cheering, hearing them talk about situations, their families, what’s going on in their lives, and as well as, you know, that sort of inflection that they’re hearing, how they’re doing their work. And if we can educate our first line or front-line supervisors to make them more aware of what to look for, patterns to look for, if people are kind of going down that that path towards suicide, I think we’re going to save a lot of lives. I think that’s so important. It’s part of the work environment is a huge part of each person’s life. And the more people are aware of signs, the more they’re prepared to address these issues, have conversations, the more positive impact we can have overall. So, I think this is incredibly important what you’re doing in that space and really trying to create more awareness around it for businesses. So, on that topic, what can businesses do to drive real impact around this? Well, you know, we talk about having employee assistance programs, and I think that they’re great. However, most employee assistance programs are designed to assist people in a in a traditional work setting, in an office setting, I believe. I don’t think they’re often equipped to manage field workers because they don’t understand what the field workers going through. They don’t understand the aches and pains that they have at the end of every single day. And how those aches and pains then can transition into another trigger, which is overuse of prescription medications and an addiction to those prescription medications. So, I think that having an employee assistance program is great. I think that the people involved with employee assistance programs need to get out onto job sites to see how workers are and how the work is done, because nobody’s going to call in employee assistance program if they don’t trust that that their conversations are kept confidential and that and that there’s no way for it to get back to the human resource department. Because are they going to put a little checkmark beside my name or a little asterisk when it says Kathy made a phone call to the AP and she’s known she’s concerned with her finances or she’s concerned with her marital status or she’s concerned about the addiction that she has. So having an AP program, I think getting families involved just by sending home material, it doesn’t have to be really focused. It can just say something like, are you OK? And if you have if you have a problem, here’s a number to call or here’s a person to talk to. Right. I’ve seen I’ve seen job fairs or, you know, where people bring in their families to celebrate a project. And there’s some vendors there, you know, they have some gateway is they have some games for children. And occasionally you’ll see a table set up, nobody behind the table, just pamphlets and information about substance abuse and alcohol abuse and mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Those tables get cleared out all the all the information gets taken and it can be a family member or it gets taken by the individuals themselves because they don’t have to directly say anything to anybody. Again, having a supervisor trained and aware so that they can. Be what we call a gatekeeper from the field to from the field to a to a helping environment to that to the suicide lifeline. No, to just say, hey, how are you doing? And can and continue to probe. Because when somebody when somebody typically ask you how you’re doing. Oh, yeah, I’m OK. But if that person says, you know what, you just don’t seem like yourself, you seem as though you’ve got something weighing on your shoulders. Do you want to talk about it? And sometimes that it gives people the opportunity to open up at that point. That’s really important. And I know when we’ve talked about on the up side before, there’s some organizations I’ve seen where the EP has gone to the next level, where they also have peers that are part of the organization that that were previously front-line workers are still front-line workers who take part in this. So that that seems to address your point around people that understand the work environment. So, with some skills around it, I think the theme of the supervisor awareness and understanding is so critical because that’s a person that’s going to interact the most with a team member that and they have a chance to check in. And on Australia, they had an annual campaign that’s are you OK? And it’s really around helping broach the topic, the conversation and speaking about it in all organizations on a regular basis around the importance of mental health, mental wellbeing, but also in terms of suicide prevention. We agree. And I think that by asking somebody, do you feel suicidal? They’re not going to go out and commit suicide. They’re going to recognize that as a as is a helpline that they could utilize. One thing I wanted was the one thing that I wanted to point out about having front line supervisors, being those individuals who can really make a difference. I read I read an article over the weekend, a gentleman by the name of Calvin Byers. He is he’s really a thought leader. He’s really been on the forefront of addressing suicide prevention in the construction industry and mental health awareness. He said, you know, nowadays we have to focus in on people’s eyes because we can’t see we can’t see expression any other way. And sometimes you can see in people’s eyes the sadness that’s there when they when they are suffering with an issue. Wow. That’s really, really important point. And I think in terms of really connecting with that, that means you’ve got to be comfortable making that eye contact, having a conversation, be looking for potentially signs of challenges that may be happening. Exactly, and, you know, as I said, our supervisors are not always they’re not always the most. People, persons on the job site, you know, a lot of times they are right there, the people there to get things done, they’re not the people that are on site to kind of. Coach and guy, you know, give the old hugs and tell them that people are doing you’re doing OK. Exactly. And I know just a couple of days ago, there was World Mental Health Awareness Day, and there was it was looking into it just before our conversation. And I found a staggering statistic from the CDC that just talks about the relevance, importance of this. They said that this was done just over the summer and said one in 10 Americans had considered suicide the previous month, about twice as many as in twenty eighteen. So, the problem, obviously, was with social distancing and the pandemic likely pointing to this increase. But the other element is young adults, eight to twenty-four. The proportionate proportion was astonishing. It was one in four. So just really such a critical theme now and in construction, but in so many other industries are really in the space of health and safety. Yeah, and, you know, you talk about the one in 10 and how that number is really increased, I think that, you know, because we have been so isolated and in in our own homes and away from our community and our and in our people that have always given us comfort. You know, if you if you had problems at home before, they’re probably not going to be any better because you’re there all the time. Exactly. And, you know, when you when you address the children that No. One in four. That’s really that’s frightening. And it I think that that really looks at the issues that surround the culture that the children are in, the intimidation, the harassment, the bullying that that that child get. That’s really that really becomes a psychological that really has a psychological impact on them. You know, as an adult, sometimes we can deal with that. But when you’re a child, you have no idea how to how to deal with somebody who is always putting you down because of your height, your weight, your inability to do sports because you’re a nerd, whatever the case may be. I mean, there are there are hundreds of different reasons why children are ostracized or picked upon and children don’t know how to deal with it. That be really well, to the next mix theme I’d love to explore with you is really what can you do about this? So, you’ve talked about what organizations can do, but what can an individual who listens to this, who has awareness, has what is it that you can do to make a difference in ultimately people’s lives? One of the first things that I would that I would recommend is for people to download the Lifelines for suicide prevention on their phones and in and in there, and then they’re messaging. You know, so that if you come across somebody, you can readily say, hey, do we need to call this number or do you need some assistance with just finding some support? And if we advocate and if we can advocate for people. I think that’s really, really important, you know, the suicide lifeline number, by the way, is 800. Two, seven, three. Eight to five, five. And the and the lifeline number is seven four one seven four one phenomenal resources to have it at your fingertips. If ever you come in, come into a situation where you’ve got to have a conversation, do something about it. So, thank you for sharing that. And any other suggestions for people in terms of a difference they can make, either in terms of if you know somebody that that might be contemplating or you’re not sure how to approach the conversation or even if you want your organization that your part of this are really embracing that something needs to happen. I think I think really just opening up the conversation is the first real key step in all of that. And just being able to ask that first question, are you OK? All right. There’s many, many, many ways that an individual can help and support. But, you know, just by being an advocate, if you’re on the job site, find, find and download some posters, some suicide prevention, some suicide prevention posters. Ask your company to offer workplace mental health screenings. Get the AP involved or community mental health professionals in so that they understand and know the workplace and the culture of the company, and I think it’s important also for us to recognize that if somebody has a mental health issue when they come back to work. Neither they nor their problems should be ignored. You should be able to talk to them and say, hey, welcome back, we’re glad to have you back. But if you if you continue to have an issue, I’m here to help you. You know, thanks for trusting in me. I’m on your side. That’s really important. And I thank you for everything you’ve done in terms of creating awareness around this, in terms of helping organizations start embracing in terms of the role and how they can make a difference. I really appreciate you coming on the show to speak more about this critical topic around suicide awareness and prevention. So, thank you so much, Kathleen. Oh, sure thing. And just one more reminder, everybody takes that checkup from the neck up. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Kathleen Dobson is a 21+ year veteran of the construction industry. As Safety Director for Alberici Constructors, she has responsibility for and supports their automotive, heavy civil, mining and industrial processes divisions. Kathi is engaged in project start up and provides sites with ongoing evaluations, audits and training when needed. Kathi is zealous regarding safety of workers and believes that everyone should be able to say they have the right PPE, the right training and the right environment in which to work. She is active on several national committees where she focuses on standards, advocacy and influencing the construction industry.



Mental Health in the Workplace Post COVID-19: Impacts on Safety with Dr. Madison Hanscom



Dr. Madison Hanscom shares some alarming recent research on Mental Health in the Workplace through the current COVID-19 context. She touches on the impacts on Worker Safety and provides some tangible strategies that organizations can implement to support in difficult and challenging times. This is such a critical topic that is too often missing from the Safety and Executive dialogue. This episode of the Safety Guru also touches on individual strategies that can help leaders and listeners in addition to the broader organizational context. Listen in!


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, I’m Eric Michrowski and welcome to The Safety Guru today. I’m very excited to have Dr. Madison Hanscom with us, who’s going to talk to us about a really important topic in these critical times where we’re starting to emerge from the current covid-19 Black Swan event. A topic we want to talk about is around mental health and mental health in the workplace, particularly in this new context that we’re in medicine. Thank you so much for joining us. I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got into work on safety.

What’s passionate about the topic for you.

Yeah, thanks for having me, Eric. I yeah, I first got into worker safety in graduate school. I did my Ph.D. in psychology that stands for industrial and organizational psychology, which is a study of human behavior and psychology in the workplace. And while I was in grad school, I was offered to complete a concentration in occupational health psychology. And so, I did this and I was a trainee with the math, which is the Mountains and Plains Research Center, which is a NILESH funded research center. And it was history ever since they taught me so much about worker health, worker safety and all the evidence-based approaches behind making the workplace safer for everyone. And that if that’s my passion right there, making the workplace better, improving the workplace for everyone, that’s excellent.

So, what’s the current state when it comes to mental health, particularly in light of all the recent events?

So, well, studies and polls are coming out showing that we have more mental health issues in 20, 20 than in previous years, people are experiencing a lot of emotional distress. There’s a study that came out recently showing that compared to twenty eighteen, those sampled this year in twenty were eight times more likely to fit the criteria for serious mental illness. And it also showed that some groups are struggling more than others. So, in that twenty eighteen survey, only four percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 reported serious mental distress, whereas in twenty-eight the same group was much higher.

It was at 38 percent, pretty bad. And this is also similar for people in their 30s and early 40s, too. But those differences were just a tiny, less tiny, bit less different. But so that group 18 to 29 is really standing out. And it’s especially true for those who have younger kids at home. So, they passed out the sample to look at those with kids and those without. And there’s another gap there as well. So other polls are showing really big numbers to those.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing that fifty six percent of US adults reported that stress related to the covid outbreak has caused them to experience negative that negative effects on their well-being and mental health. So, this is like issues sleeping, increased alcohol abuse, worsening chronic conditions. And these numbers are worse for frontline workers and their families, as well as those who have experienced some type of income loss. So, it’s really kind of looking at those groups who are suffering frontline workers, those with income loss and those who are just trying to juggle everything and have kids at home.

Wow. That’s really horrible, horrible news to hear in this context, because there’s just layering all sorts of different complexities into the workplace, into people’s overall well-being through this pretty significant crisis. So clearly, we have a problem. What does it mean for workplace workplaces and for safety specifically?

Yeah, so it definitely spills over. Right, so when people are experiencing stress at home or experiencing stress at work, there’s an opportunity for it to kind of spill into the over into the other domain. I mean, like when you have this full bucket and one, it just has to go somewhere. So, for one prolonged stress alone, it’s highly related to other issues down the road, like cardiovascular disease or obesity, sleep problems, concentration impairment, things like that.

So clearly, these things are all influencing occupational safety and worker’s comp claims, especially those things like sleep and memory impairment. They’re highly related to safety incidents. And we all know when your minds on the job, this can lead to safety issues. So, of course, it’s good to consider ways you can support employees during this time. It’s the right thing to do and it’s also a good business decision.

I completely agree with you. And we have to really also remember how much people have on their shoulders right now and how it can influence their minds at work, particularly when it comes to the impact on focus. When it comes to safety, I would imagine this has a significant impact. So now let’s shift to people who are working remotely, working from home. One thing that I keep wondering is why there are more mental health issues with so many people are teleworking, which we hear makes them happier.

Yeah, so it seems kind of contradictory, right, so you’re right on both accounts, fretwork does make people pretty happy, though, to contrast that many people are not doing their best right now in terms of mental health. So, I don’t have the perfect answer to that question, of course, because people are still kind of collecting data and really understanding what’s happening this year. But what I would imagine a huge variable, what the circumstances are that when people are working from home right now, the conditions are not ideal.

I’ve spoken with a great number of individuals working from home with their kids, for instance, and it’s just totally not a normal situation. Typically, when people are working from home, they would only be working. They’re not also focusing on home schooling. Their kids are stressing out about their husband who lost his job and covid, or stressing out about getting sick or not having paper or wondering if their jobs are going to be there tomorrow and things like that.

So, the uncertainty around everything is just not helpful.

And I would say even from some of the people I’ve spoken to, not everybody has a proper working environment for work. I mean, I spoke to some people that were in the midst of renovations as it started. So, they didn’t even have our house or a kitchen, others who never really worked from home. So, they never had a proper desk. So, they’re working off the kitchen table or off a sofa. So, ergonomics is bad. But I’m sure there’s also a lot of stresses at home as well.

I’ve been hearing stories just like that. Yeah, it’s difficult just to completely transition without warning and all of a sudden, your whole work life looks completely different.

Absolutely. Because when I first started doing remote work, it was an intentional choice. Right. So, I’d invested in the right that’s the right ergonomic setups, the right environment. So even the choice of House was conducive to do this type of work. I’m sure that isolation also is not helping. Can you maybe double click on this a little bit as well?

Oh, exactly. Studies have shown that remote work can lead to perceptions of professional isolation and loneliness in general for some people. And right now, with social distancing, it’s completely amplified. So, yeah, I would say that’s a huge factor contributing to all of this distress as well. People are really social animals. We need each other. We need to be surrounded by other people. And the fact that so many individuals who are used to being surrounded by other people at work every day are now sent home and they’re sent to work from home.

But then on top of that, they can’t hang out with their family and friends as much as usual because of the whole pandemic situation. So, it’s been really hard on people, I’m sure.

And some of the coping mechanisms that people had with challenges they had in their personal lives as well before are not as easily accessible as well. So, I’m completely convinced. Absolutely. Mental health is a critical point right now, a critical point of discussion that organizations need to have internally. Also know it’s a good business decision to be concerned about the well-being of your employees. I’ve alluded to it before in terms of the impact of mental health, in terms of ability to focus on the job at hand, which is then also going to keep you safe or not safe.

Right. Because if you’re not able to have all you focus on the work in front of you, you’re more likely to get injured and it can be a split-second decision. Let’s think a little bit about what leaders can do for their employees. Can you share maybe some thoughts on that?

Yeah, great, so if you’re a leader or any type of supervisory position are definitely things you should think about. I love the analogy that we wear personal protective equipment to deal with physical hazards. But right now, we also need to be thinking about mental acuity. So, we need to be dealing with invisible hazards we can’t see. And first and foremost, as a leader, it’s so important to prioritize your own mental health, so similar to how you put on your oxygen mask before helping others on an airplane.

You should take care of your mental health in order to best help others, because if you are struggling psychologically, it’s likely you’re not as effective as a leader. You might be struggling, being perceptive or empathetic towards your own employees. So, you have to make sure that you’re doing OK first. And this really pays off because, you know, and Eric, when we talk about good leadership, something we talk about so often is role modeling. So, when you’re acting is a role model for good mental health practices.

This goes a long way because it signals to employees what’s important and what they should care about. And it also helps to break down the stigma, which is actually the next one I would want to touch on is removing the stigma around mental health as much as possible. And it can be tough. But, you know, it’s all about letting your employees know that it’s accepted and it’s encouraged to discuss and prioritize your mental health. One way you can encourage them to think about their own mental health is to let them know you take care of yours, too.

So, you know, connecting with them with the resources to can be a good way to touch base about it. Something else I would recommend is to build a culture that supports recovery. Recovery and downtime are really important for happy and productive workers. And you can take this kind of a step further by thinking about it. What are you doing to build that climate around recovery? So, for example, there’s an APA study showing that companies that encourage people to take their vacation, their vacation time and to disconnect during that time have employees who come back feeling much more motivated, more productive than companies who are not really encouraging, or those companies that kind of make employees feel guilty about taking time off.

And the next thing I would suggest, considering is offering a lot of empathy and active care at work. People really like it when you take a genuine interest in them. Remember to check in with your employees regularly about their life outside of work and try to track their experiences so you can kind of celebrate victories with them or grieve losses. Something I really like to remember is let’s say you have an employee who has a mom in the hospital or somebody who has something really exciting with maybe give have a child graduating.

It’s really easy just to set a calendar reminder for that or to have like a little journal where you jot those things down and then you can know when to reach out to someone to circle back around and things like that being there. Yeah. And the next thing is making sure you offer as much schedule flexibility as you can. And I totally understand this is not applicable to all jobs, but, if possible, try and structure work and deliverables to accommodate the possibility that life might interfere with work, especially right now.

Everybody needs something different. Some are caring for young kids. Some are caring for old parents. Some just want their normal schedule back. So as much as possible, just giving people flexibility and control over how their work is done is going to really help people balance everything. And I know have gone on for a long time. But I guess the last thing I’ll mention here is something really useful for those working remotely now is understanding boundary management. So, this is all just about checking in with your employees so you can help them build a schedule and an environment that supports the work for them to feel productive, refreshed, happy, all those things and let them know that it’s all right if their preferences are kind of different from your own.

For instance, if you like to send emails at 10 p.m., but this is out of normal work hours for your company, reassure them that there’s no need to respond to the next day, that you just like checking in on the evening, because the whole idea here is to reassure people that they’re not on the hook for a twenty-four-hour workday when they’re working from home because we’re all human and we need to rest.

Great, great points and potentially even possessing a delayed send, which I’m not necessarily notoriously good at doing, but you can now schedule that your email to go at a later time. So those are great tips for leaders. What if somebody isn’t a leader and they’re curious about things that they can do for themselves or potentially even a loved one?

Yeah, yeah, so that’s a good one and I’ll start with an interesting one, which is stick it out in nature more because more and more research is coming out to support the fact that nature is really good for us. Something as simple as going for a walk is really good for stress relief. And spending time outside improves our ability to focus and is really good for our physical health, too. So, if you live somewhere where it’s safe and easy to go out on a walk, maybe without running into huge groups of people, I would go ahead and get out there.

And let’s say that’s not an option for you or you’re not comfortable doing that. Maybe try bringing nature into your living space. So, research also shows that moving light patterns like, you know, when the sun comes in through your window, through a through tree branches and stuff like that, or it’s really calling to our heart rate, keeps us focused. Maybe hang out on your porch more often or closer to windows, open the windows, things like that.

It can really kind of light in your day and help to regain your focus there. And I know a lot of people are trying to reconnect, reconnect with nature right now.

Right. I can imagine. I remember reading specifically, even within nature. There was something about walking in a forest that was even more impactful and I can’t remember what it was, but that between walking nature by a lake as an example versus Infowars, that apparently there is something about trees and the smell of the forest that was even better, also helpful for from a creativity standpoint that shows up in a lot of the creativity, creativity, literature as well. 

Yeah. And then the less manmade stuff you can be around, the better. So that makes perfect sense. And yeah. So, the next thing you can do for yourself is to limit screen time. So that’s also related to nature and kind of to limit news intake. And I mean, this kind of speaks for itself. Spending too much time engaging in media coverage through polarizing stories. You can kind of just be a stressor on its own. And.

Shifting to another concept here is remembering to support one another, so of course, this is really fundamental to mental health, but it’s all about reaching out and checking in with your coworkers, ask them about how they are doing outside of work and make this a regular habit, not just a onetime thing that you do or a onetime reference you. Yeah, you really need to think about the nuances associated with your culture to say, are you working in a Macho or kind of a male dominated culture? And I say this because there are certain industries like this where people suffer silently more often. And we know suicide rates are high for industries that are dominated by men like construction. So, it’s important that you kind of reach out and check in with how your coworkers are doing, because you might make a huge difference in someone’s life by doing that.

Great point. I remember construction came up, firemen, police officers, all professions where there’s a much, much higher suicide rate. And it reminds me of a bit of a theme in Austria. They did some really good campaigns around this topic and it was introducing a simple word, which was, are you OK in introducing the common language within organizations to encourage check in at key points throughout the day and over a period of time, just really reinforcing that?

Yeah, I think that’s really related because along similar lines, you shouldn’t suffer silently either. If you were having a difficult time, speak up and ask for support or help or try advocating for yourself independently. That makes more sense in your scenario by maybe speaking out some resources like therapy or someone you trust. And too many people suffer silently and really wish that they’d done something sooner. So, I can just really make or break your experience. And finally, I save this one for last because it’s extremely important.


Yeah, it seems really obvious to people and it’s to focus on health care. So, you know, even though it’s obvious it’s the first thing to slip through the cracks when things get stressful. But so much research supports the fact that a good routine, eating well, sleeping eight hours a night can hugely impact your success and your mental health. So, yeah, even though you’re probably rolling your eyes at this obvious one, I have to put it in here because it’s such a good reminder that so many of us need, especially because if we fall off the wagon, things just get really hard.

Thank you. That’s really good feedback, really good recommendations and ideas for everyone. So, what if somebody is wanted to seek some therapy, some support, but isn’t comfortable leaving the home, given everything that’s happening? Any thoughts about virtual therapy around this?

Yeah, that’s a great, great thought. So, telehealth has definitely shown to be effective and people should look into that if they think it would be helpful for their stress or their anxiety or anything going on right now. And one example of a company doing telehealth well right now is better help. And it’s worked well for a lot of people.

Accent is definitely a much better idea to seek out now and do it remotely rather than putting it off. I’d like to wrap up our conversation by talking about burnout. It comes up often in conversations. I recently had a question from a webinar attendee who’s worried about burnout on her team. She said she supervises a team that has intense workload right now because of covid-19 changes, and she’s getting word about burnout. It’s clear her team members are feeling overwhelmed, like there isn’t an end in sight.

What would you tell her?

Yeah, it’s definitely a hot topic right now, and her concerns are a good one, especially because if it’s true that her team is feeling burned out, there’s a lot of long-term negative consequences because burnout is deep, it’s pervasive. It comes after a lot of prolonged stress and it really affects job performance and affects everything down to the bottom line in the company. So, thinking about productivity is a smart idea. And to start the tips that I kind of discussed for leaders, for individuals are all good for burnout.

So, I would think about those. But I would also think specifically about the stressors and your specific work environment and what you can do to build resources to meet the demands. This will really depend on the job and the nature of the work. But an example of this might be to think about how things have changed lately in terms of workload. So, let’s say your team is used to producing 15 reports a week, but now it’s up to 20.

It might be a good idea to introduce some type of resource for this new demand, like it might be adding another employee to the team to distribute the load, maybe hire an intern or build more flexible deadlines or just something else that will help to reduce the stress. Because if things are changing and they’re not going away, there has to be something in place to help to adapt to that. And along similar lines, when things get really overwhelming, like there isn’t an end in sight.

It reminds me of some research that’s been done showing that when people feel underwater, it works really well when we give them bite sized bowls or small wins, because when you’re drowning in a ton of long-term uncertainty, it’s so easy to lose sight of goals. And psychologically, we love my goals to keep us motivated. They keep us engaged. So even though there might be long term goals associated with getting the company recovered or whatever, it might be used to break these down as much as possible.

It helps people connect what they’re doing every day to something bigger, to the bigger picture. And so, some people have done this with white boards, like in hospitals, like with daily wins and progress charts and things like that. But this can also be done virtually, too, if your team is remote right now as well. So just something to think about, like really breaking things up as much as possible.

That’s phenomenal. Just if I may, unless I have two other tiny questions, which I’m hoping you might be able to expand on a little bit at first. One is I’m wondering if you noticed this, somebody around you. So, you talked a little bit about what can I do as a leader? What can I do if I think I want to seek some help? What should you do if you see somebody around you that seems to be exhibiting signs?

What should be your role? Should you reach up to somebody? Should you have a conversation with them? I know you’re not a clinical psychologist, but that’s a topic that’s come up a few times in conversations with people in terms of if I notice something that seems off, somebody is not acting like they normally do, what should I do?

Yeah, I think I think it’ll of course, it’ll kind of depend on the nature of the relationship that you have with this person. But, you know, if you feel close enough to this individual, I would recommend going and talking to them first yourself, because you don’t want to put them on blast in any way and you don’t want to talk to their supervisor or kind of go around them in any way. I would just approach them really kind of on a friendly level.

You don’t even have to approach him as a coworker. And maybe if they don’t open up immediately, just give them just let them know that you’re there to talk. And I know every situation is going to be different, but just being there for someone can really go a long way.

So even just checking and saying, are you OK? How are you feeling? I notice you seem more tired or more whatever the symptom might be. Would that be a good approach?

Yeah, I think it would, yeah.

Lastly, at the front end, you talked a little bit about some demographics that were hit harder. So specifically, those, I believe, under the age of twenty-nine, as well as kind of more front-line workers. Any thoughts around intervention approaches or would you keep it agnostic of that? Because it seems like there’s definitely a bigger impact on within certain population groups. And I’m wondering if there’s any research that shows the why behind it or even if there’s a different tactic around those groups.

Yeah, and I think a big reason why these groups are struggling so much when you look at these different surveys, when you’re looking at this data, is because of those factors such as job loss, younger people are more likely to use or lose their jobs right now. They are more likely to have children at home or younger children. Having older children at home is not as stressful. So, I think I think thinking about things like that and, you know, my default is whenever you’re going to offer resources or you’re going to offer interventions, my default is to make it equally accessible for all employees because you never know who is going to want it and you never know who’s going to benefit from it.

So, it’s a good idea to make it accessible for everyone. But if you are going to kind of target interventions for certain people or reach out to see if anybody needs support, you know, the numbers show those groups definitely could use that support.

Interesting. Well, thank you very much for your time and for sharing some great ideas, this is such an important topic that is not getting as much attention as it should. And there’s so much that leader can do. Those resources you can draw from. You’ve talked about a few of them, a lot of employee assistance programs within organizations also have some support resources and sometimes some webinars or speakers that can come speak to the organization. So many resources out there, but thank you so much for talking about such an important topic.

Thanks for having me.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.

For more on Workplace Mental Health and Safety:

Please join our upcoming Webinar: Stress, burnout and loneliness with Dr Madison Hanscom on Jul 16, 2020 12:00 PM EDT at:

2020 has been a difficult year, and the impact is reflected in the recent increase of mental health issues. The implications are widespread — mental wellbeing is a critical business success factor.

Join Madison Hanscom (PhD, Chief Science Officer) with host Eric Michrowski (CEO, Leader, Public Speaker, and Podcast Host) for a webinar to discuss the issues and resolutions. We will explore the impact of stress, burnout, and loneliness on your employees and company. Strategies to prevent and cope with stress, burnout, and loneliness during these challenging times will be offered.

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Madison uses her expertise in organizational science to diagnose problems and build solutions. With years of experience in applied research, Madison uses her knowledge in statistics and research methods to design and administer assessments in the areas of safety culture and operational excellence. Madison enjoys translating data for practical use and working with clients to create better workplaces. In her role, Madison manages the Science Team, Propulo’s division for academic and research partnerships. Madison and the Science Team ensure the practices and products at Propulo are evidence-based by translating empirical research into practical application. 

Prior to joining Propulo, Madison has received several awards for applied research, and her research programs have been funded by NIOSH. She has authored publications focused on best practices for performance appraisal and performance management, occupational safety, aging and diversity at work, and more. Madison has also worked on multidisciplinary teams to diagnose problems and produce transformative organizational solutions in the areas of safety culture, psychometrics, leadership, employee motivation and engagement, and more in a variety of industries.

Madison holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology with an emphasis in Occupational Health Psychology from Colorado State University.