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Mental Wellbeing: A Call to Action for Leaders with Michael Weston

Mental wellbeing a call to action for leaders

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Michael Weston’s moving message is sure to make you reflect on what’s most important in life. He recounts his story of working in a demanding role in the mining industry that ultimately took its toll on his mental health. What started as a normal day in 2013 quickly turned into an unnerving experience for him and his family. Michael was preparing for his commute to work that morning and was found lying unconscious on the driveway several minutes later. Following his successful recovery, Michael has made it his mission to coach leaders and team members on the importance of prioritizing mental health and well-being. This Mental Health Awareness Month, Michael is highlighting his insightful advice when it comes to actively caring and listening, looking out for your team members, and striking a healthy work/life balance.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing 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 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. Today, I’m very excited to bring Michael Weston to the show. This month marks a mental health awareness month in the USA. And so, this brings me to Michael’s story, which is an incredibly powerful story that I think every listener needs to listen to. He’s from Perth, Western Australia, public speaker, advocate for mental health, and previously was in senior roles within the mining industry until his life changed forever. Michael, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me.

Hi, Eric. Thanks for letting me join you today. Really looking forward to our chat.

Absolutely. Let’s start with your story because when you shared it initially with me, it was very powerful, really hit home. So, tell me a little bit about your story.

Sure. So just for the people that are listing 55 years of age, living in Perth, Western Australia at present, I have been happily married for 55 years. Not 55 years. I’ve been happily married for 30 years this year, three adult kids, a couple of grandkids. So, life is pretty good these days. But my career background, I worked with Rio Tinto in the iron ore sector, in mining in what’s called the Pilbara region in WA. The Pilbara is about 1600 km north of Perth, quite an arid area, very dry and hot around the 40s to 50 pluses, but a beautiful part of the world, lot of red Earth and fantastic landscapes. So, I was working with Rio Tinto for 16 years. It was a great career that I had with them. My last role with them. Before leaving the business in 2015, I was a maintenance Superintendent in a place called Damper on the coast in the Pilbara, and I was overlooking probably about 200 staff. 30 to 60 contractors would come and go every week because I was a maintenance shut overlooking two ports in Dampier. And I suppose responsibility, accountability. We’re looking after the maintenance week to week teams like fixed plant workshop, light vehicle, heavy vehicle workshops, the crane engine transport teams, and also conveyors so quite a diverse group and geographically sparse over those two ports.

So that’s a little bit of my background anyway, who I am and where I came from.

So, what happened there’s a very impactful moment. Tell me a little bit about that day and how it changed in terms of your life and the flow on effects.

Yeah, sure. I suppose the role I was in was considered back then; it was considered a burnout role. It was a very front line, was always go, go, highly remindful, demanding, highly stressful, because, you know, maintenance, shuts. We’ve all got Gantt charts and we’re on a time restraint. Yeah. And safety obviously is paramount, so you’ve got to deliver on time and obviously in a safe way. So, you had a lot of stress and demand on your shoulders, but mainly the people and the time, I suppose. But unfortunately, as leaders for me, myself, is we get caught up in this vortex of work and we just tend to just work and we forget about looking after ourselves and everything else around us, including family, friends. So, for me, I was on a slow spiral, I suppose, just starting to become exhausted. And that was clear on the day that I woke up on the 19 April 2013. And what I’m about to share with your viewers, your listeners today are I don’t actually remember anything of this day. I have no recollection of this day. So, my wife tells me we wake up like any other day.

We’d wake up at 430 every morning, jump in the shower, throw the high vis, close on. We’d chat around the kitchen table having cup, tea, bit of toast, talking about the day ahead for both of us, what the kids were up to, what sport was going on, and most importantly, what fish we were going to catch on the weekend. But my wife says, I suppose my characteristics and mannerisms quite changed that morning because I was very much a Habitat type of person and I was very non coherent, if you like, just nodding and saying nothing. But she just put that in the back of the brains trust, if you like, and thought, okay, we’ll just put that in the back and see how the morning goes. But when I went to brush my teeth and come back and kiss my wife goodbye, she could see something was different in me again and she actually asked a question, Are you okay? The reason why I’m asking is because normally in the morning I can’t shut you up and you’re just quiet as a mouse and there’s something about you that your persona. I don’t know, there’s something different.

And my message to her was, I don’t know what it is, but I feel nervous under my skin. And for her, those words were unlike me and thought, okay, so nervous on his skin. What does that look like? What do you mean? I said, I actually don’t know. She goes, “well, I’m really worried about your driving to work. I don’t want an accident to happen.” Or I said, “I think I’m okay. I think I’ve just got a large shut going on and I think I just need to get there, get the teams moving, and I think I’ll be fine.” So, I kissed her goodbye and I walked out the front door. And I was found about five to six minutes later by my neighbor lying face down on my driveway, lying unconscious, not breathing, and in his words, was unresponsive white to look at and cold stuff. So, I wasn’t in a great space. My neighbor did CPR. I came back to life, if you like, but I kept dipping in and out of consciousness. So, raise the alarm with my wife. One thing I’d like to share with people that are listening today to let people understand how much our lives in our work and consumers is that my wife, as she came out the door and she was obviously quite overwhelmed by what she was seeing, she had my head in her lap and she kept saying, this is not your time to leave.

This is not your time to die. And my wife and I laugh about it these days because if you don’t become morbid and you don’t learn from things. But one of the things I said to her was, I’m going to be late for a meeting. She even says these days, if you haven’t died that day, I was going to kill you anyway, because who says that? On the driveway, on the darkest hour, I went to hospital. I don’t remember anything of that. But I seem to come to the end of the day, they couldn’t find anything really wrong with me apart from burnout, you know, total exhaustion. So, I was told to go home and just take three weeks off and take time to rejuvenate and recover.

Wow. One thing is it seems like from what I understand, you went back to work after the three weeks. Yeah. And what happened at that stage, one of the things that I think Australia does very well, but I think you’re going to share maybe it’s not enough. Is the whole campaign around. Are you okay? Which is very much an Australian thing. It’s starting to shop in other places around the world. Tell me a little bit what happened when you went back to the workplace.

Sure. It was probably a good thing in my mind, or my gut told me not to take my work vehicle and to jump on the company bus from where we resided, which is about ten minutes away from Damper, where I work. It’s a place called Karratha. So, something told me to jump on that bus that day because I had time to, I suppose, take my time to go to work, just slowly get my way back into the Superintendent role because I had someone babysitting the role. So, I remember jumping on that bus. But the feeling that I had as that BBS came to the gates at Dampier to go through the boom gates on the C-suite, I got that nervousness under my skin again, that same feeling as I had that morning in the kitchen. The difference was between then and now was my nervousness under my skin was now external. So, I was actually shaking, and I was sweating profusely. I was sweating on my forehead. My palms could have squeezed my socks out in my work boots and filled up a cup of sweat. Horrible to turn the people listening right now if they’re eating dinner or eating breakfast.

I was really shaking externally as well. So, I was trying to take a drink of water and it was like at a drinking problem, you know. And what I was to learn later in life, I was actually having a panic attack. So, my body was actually reacting to the gates at the workplace and telling me, don’t go through those gates, you are not ready. And our bodies are amazing, our brains are amazing that actually send all these warning signs and triggers. So, if you don’t know them, it’s the first time that you’re really starting to understand what’s going on. You just move on and get over it if you like. So, I did. I just pushed on and waited for those gates to go through and I went through on the bus. I started to get quite confused from the time I went through the gate. And in reflection, this was happening over three weeks at home. So, I was starting to become forgetful in my memory. I didn’t seem to be able to problem solved very well. My spelling was really out, and I was quite a good speller if you like. Even my sentences when I was speaking, I seemed to be mixing my words up and I don’t mean as in what we do usually as humans and say hot when we mean cold.

I’m really meaning is mixing a whole sentence up and can’t put words together. So, things were quite confronting for me going back to work and listening to a superintendent who was looking after my team at the time at the start-up meeting and just couldn’t get a concept of what the hell was going on. Interesting to the people that are listening right now is if I was to try and explain this articulate this way for someone, it’s like, you know, I suppose I’ll put it in your sense, if you like in your position, Eric, is, you know, you have this podcast or you know what your business is, you know what your role is and one day someone just switches off that light and you know who you are, you know what this business formula is, but you just don’t know what to do. You actually don’t know the process. And that’s what it was like for me. It’s like someone flipped the switch and it’s very confronting when the medical fraternity are saying, well there’s nothing wrong with you apart from burnout and exhaustion. But in my gut and my brain was telling me other things so I was for sure starting to see cracks and signs throughout that time I was there, and I never actually returned to that role as a superintendent, because as months went on, I think it was about three months that I was just trying to work my way into that role.

And things got worse and worse and progress fully worse until I decided that my mental health was starting to take the client side. I actually spoke to my leader and said, hey, listen, I’d like to self-demote myself and had a conversation. And that’s what I agreed to do. I ended up demoting myself from a superintendent to a quality assurance quality control officer. So as a QAQC officer, I just went to work every day, went to the start-up meeting, didn’t understand any instruction. So, you think about this as a safety point of view. It’s pretty scary filling out a take five, that a risk assessment. But I had no understanding of what I was writing. My words were all mixed up on the page and I’d put what they call as a camel back on my back, which is we fill up with water and drink water out of and I’d walk for ten to 15K every day by myself, walking live conveyor belts and just looking for preventative maintenance. And life got very hard during that time.

I’m sure when you were going through this, what was on your mind? How are you dressing? How are your colleague’s kind of checking in in terms of how you were?

It’s a great question. So, I suppose mental health was starting to take a decline because I couldn’t do anything what I was educated, trained and confident to do anymore. And so, I thought, well, I’m starting to paint a pitch now that my doctor was saying that there’s doctors saying that I’m just burnt out. So, I just need time. But then all these things are happening to me as well. And then I had a workplace that I suppose was walking on eggshells as well because I used to be their leader, right? So now I’m part of their team and some of them are my leaders now. So, I suppose a bit of a shift in the way people are thinking and how do we treat this person? But as I try to build that rapport with everyone else, because I needed them to feel comfortable who I was. I’m just a person out here like anyone else working. And I thought, if I do that as well, people can start looking out for me as well. And I found that people always asking, Are you okay? People on the past and saying, hey, Mike, how are you?

Okay. And I’d say, yes, I’m great, but I had a facade. I had this smile on my face, go, yeah, everything’s great. But I think for me is, I suppose for me, I had a lot of stigma about what was happening to me because whilst people asking whether I was okay, are you okay? It’s actually a non-for-profit organization in Australia. It’s just trying to raise that. I suppose awareness of asking your mate and your colleague how you are, but as they say, Are you okay? Goes way beyond that. It’s not just Are you okay? Because are you okay? Is a closed question, and it’s going to get a closed answer, which they got yes or no. So, people weren’t really pulling me aside and saying, hey, Mike, are you okay? Because I’m starting a bit worried about, you know, you’re a bit forgetful or you’re biting people’s heads off. That’s unlike you. But they didn’t know, just saying Are you okay? I’d say yes, great, and I’ll go my way. Things were very much changing for me as well in my mind because I always thought that I was always raising issues with people saying, hey, I’m getting lost in plant.

I’m forgetful. But suppose people they weren’t dismissive; they’re just not understanding the situation and saying things like how old are you here? We all forget things, or at this age we all mix our words up. So, I was feeling that maybe it is just me, I suppose, but people are out there looking out for me. But it was really a brush by passive listening type of situation, not an active listing.

Yeah. And I think that’s a really important message is how do you open the dialogue? And safety is a lot of conversation around actively caring. And when you think about actively caring, it connects very well in the mental health space in terms of if I know how Michael is today, then I should say something’s a little bit different. Right. And if I really know my team, I have the ability to say something’s not quite the usual, and maybe I need to go a little bit deeper. So, I think that story is very important. What would you advocate a leader to ask? You said, livid more probing questions. What other things can they do to show that care for their team members to really check in if something is maybe a little bit different?

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In reflection now, when I reflect on my time as a leader, we’re obviously always focused on efficiencies and productivity, but at the front, obviously, safety and I reflect on my time as a leader with safety is the times where you’d be doing your observations, daily observations of how the team is working, how the job is going. And you’d come across those people in the teams that appear to have their head not quite in the task if you like. And I suppose in reflection, I look back and I think, well, it would have been a different conversation I would have today as a leader compared to them, because back then I think as leadership, whilst we had empathy and we treated people right, I think the right questions weren’t asked. So for me, instead of Eric, I can see your head’s not in the game here today. You need to pick your game up and get your head back in the game, which is not shallow, but it really achieves nothing. It’s really a kick up the bum. Whereas I think knowing what I know now is actually all I wanted when I was walking around Plant was actually someone to ask if I was okay, but take me out of that environment that I was in and it doesn’t have to be off site, but away from the noise people, because it’s very confidential and people can be very confronted by what they’re about to tell you. 

So, I think in my day now, I think I would go in that situation, pull that person out of that task, out of that team, and have a real heart to heart, one on one, and say, hey, Eric, I’ve just been watching you guys change that conveyor I can see everyone is working really well together. But I know you seem a little bit head in the clouds today. Is there anything that you need to tell me? Is there anything I can help you with?

Right. 

Because I really want your head on this task, your mind on this task, because I don’t want you to hurt yourself and I don’t want to hurt anyone else. And it’s not that you’re not going to be meaning to do that, but if your mindset is not there, if you’re not present, these things can happen. And from that you can actually start a good conversation. You’re actually leading a person into I’m glad you told me because I’m not sure if you know, but we just had a baby at home and things are not getting much sleep. And my wife called me this morning and just before I was about to start work. So, she wants me to get something and call someone. So now I’m confronted by I’ve got a work to do, but I’ve also need to make a phone call. So that would change totally for everything. It would change everything. So, I’ll tell you what, you go up, make your phone call, let me know when you’re done, and I’ll catch up with you and you can tell me that you’re ready to go. And I think by doing that, you’re showing empathy, compassion, and you’re investing in that person. 

I think it’s a really important point because somebody had shared with me even a story where a leader had found that somebody was a little bit different that morning and they were about to start some heavy machinery, fairly dangerous work. And they just checked in saying, are you okay? And I said, yeah, I’m okay. And then they went a little deeper and the person said, well, in fact, I’ve been evicted from my home last night. I don’t know where I’m going to live. Well, not the time to be operating heavy machinery and just having that conversation potentially saved a life or saved a very serious injury from happening. Just going a little bit deeper because you recognize something is a little bit different. 

And by doing that, Eric, I think you’re changing the whole team’s perception of what a team actually is, is looking out for each other. And it’s showing that, hey, someone’s got my back and I can open up with my leaders and say things aren’t quite right now. And I think we have as leaders this perception, if we give a little, they’re going to take the whole lot and like, oh, they’re going to spin one on me and they’re going to take the week off. But it’s the wrong mindset to have. You really need to be thinking in that space of what if this person has something going on and I can prevent something worse from happening? And I think we’re a better, I suppose, place for it if we actually show some interest and empathy in people.

Absolutely. And I think one of the things as well that strikes me about your story is normally, we talk about injuries that happen in the front line. What you’re sharing is you were a successful executive, successful in your role, dealing with a lot of pressures, which are common in a lot of those roles, but can also even happen when you think about safety in an office environment. Same thing. There can be a lot of pressure to get stuff done. What are some of the things that as a leader, you’d reflect that maybe you’d do differently or maybe you’d be more aware, change some of the approaches because we tend to just go, go, we get things done and whatever comes, it’s a badge of honor to get it done, which creates high stressful environments in a lot of organizations and in organizations, sometimes in the safety roles, but even in roles that are in office based environments. 

Absolutely. I think for me, the first thing was working longer hours meant I was going to get more work done. It is working smarter. The longer I work, the more little mistakes I made. The one percenter, if you like. So certainly, wherever you are in life if you’re at work, be present. But if you’re at home, be present with your family, because I was never present with my family. I’d work at work, and I’d work at home. And look, there’s nothing to say. The goal posts have changed these days. You can work at home and from work, but have those strong boundaries and have those timelines that set you up for success to say, well, you know what? I’m only going to work from 11:00 in the morning. Till 500 today at work. Why? Because I worked a few hours last night while when everyone went to bed, I just did a few things. So, you can still have that flexibility. But in a perfect sense is you want to be present at work, have your work at work, and you work at home. But we understand, even with Cove now we’re all working from home, a lot of us.

And as well, it’s really important to have those boundaries at home because whilst everyone had that perception that everyone working for the home would budge and go to the shop and down the beach, the actual truth is everyone is working longer hours. 

There’s maybe 1%, but 99% are doing more than ever before. Absolutely. 

Exactly. So, I suppose my message there as well. And even as leaders, we have leaders is to have that conversation with both your team and your leaders to say, you know what, I’m not working after 03:00 this afternoon because I’m going to pick my kids up or I’m going to play sport or a Carnival. But you can contact me between six and eight if you need to. And even in emails, hey, I’m working my hours to suit my flexibility in my life. So, it’s really about not only having the boundaries with yourself but sharing those boundaries with others. Because what we’re finding here in Australia is people are contacting people outside of all sorts of hours at home because I thought, oh, this is great. Before I couldn’t contact them at work because the office is closed. Now I can just pick up the phone and call Eric anytime. It’s really inappropriate. And so, we’ve got this silent burnout going on. The other thing with leadership as well is one thing I found is just the 1% is those little things in life that you can look after yourself. And I’m sure that people listening right now, if I said to everyone, all your listeners, hands up to all the people that eat their lunch behind their desk, and most people, when I speak to them face to face, no one says anything, they just smile and then all the arms creep up because we tend to do that as leaders.

We tend to my work is important and I’ve got to keep going. And I think we tend to think that it’s not real work, it’s work, but it’s not labor intensive because we’re behind a desk on a computer or in boardroom meetings and things like that. So, my message there is to take time out for yourself, be kind to yourself, be kind to say that I deserve this lunch break and I’m going to go out and have some fresh air and it’s amazing what that will do for you. Your brain to rejuvenate and your self-esteem and you’ll be more productive in the end. So, there’s all those little one centers that we’re just not kind to ourselves.

Great. Is there anything an organization can do to remove the Brady of honor about working endlessly. So, it’s not the organization’s responsibility fully. There’re also the individuals to shared responsibility. But there are some things in some organizations, I think it’s getting better in many places. But if you work the longest hours, you’re that person, there’s a bad one, you get the recognition, which I think also drives a sense of more hours will get me more success.

Yeah, I think there’s a couple of things there. I think what I’ve learnt is the more you give, the more they take, if you know what I mean. And I don’t mean that as in businesses being ruthless and bearing into the ground. It’s just like the old story. It’s still going to be there tomorrow. So, it’s just a bottomless hole sometimes. So be content with that list that you have for the day and say, be kind yourself and say, I’ve gone through most of that list and what I’ve done is there 100% that I can be done. My job is done today. So, from a business perspective, I think I’d like to share with you your listeners as a leader, one specific leader. I had a manager years ago that was, I suppose I really didn’t apply this myself at the time. But in reflection now it’s really made a big difference to how I see good leadership. And I remember actually working back one night. I’ve been there from 05:30 a.m. It was about 06:15. He was leaving his office and he said, hey, pack your stuff up, let’s go home. And I said, “look, I’ve just got to just finish up this proposal.” 

And he goes, “no, pack it up can’t be that important.” And I said, “yeah, I will.” And he went beetroot red, like B Troop red. And I looked at his face and I thought, “geez, this guy, okay?” And he pushed my laptop closed and he goes, “no, I want you to go home. I’m not asking now. What I want is I don’t want you to be, I suppose, what this team is about. I don’t want you to be that person in that team that shows everyone else that they’re not doing enough here. So, what I want you to do is stop. You’ve done a full day’s work. Be happy with what you’ve done. Go home to your family, rejuvenate, and come back.” So, what he actually did with me is he enabled me, he gave me that tickle of approval to go, it’s okay to have a life. It’s okay to go home. And I approve of that. I want you to do that. And I think that was really powerful because in my past role, during the days of when I collapsed, it was more of a passing by conversation of share your socials here.

Well, don’t stay too long, have a great night. And that was the conversation. So, I suppose it’s like safety. It’s like walking past something that you see, the standard you set is a standard that’s going to always be there. The standard you walk past is the standard you set. So that was my experience as previously. Just don’t stay too long. But this leader actually really enabled me by saying, no, I don’t want you to stay here. So, I think businesses, even the business I was working for, had a policy to say that you can’t work past 14 hours. But I would abuse that all the time. And I was a leader. So, I suppose they’re real admin controls. But we need leaders above us and like ourselves to say to our people, you know what? This isn’t good enough. If you’re not doing the work in the time that’s allowed, we need to have a sit down and actually break down what’s happening. Are you overwhelmed by too much work, or do you need further development? Do you need more help? And I think that’s a good conversation that you can have with your leaders saying, I’m not coping. 

I think it’s a really good point. I also like what you’re saying in terms of having your checklist of things you’re going to do that day and being comfortable that maybe I can’t finish everything on that list. Right. Give a good shot. And maybe there’s some days where you’re going to be much more productive than others, and that’s okay. The days where you’re maybe less productive, you didn’t accomplish as much as you’d hoped for because there were more distractions and more themes, or you maybe weren’t 100% focused on that day. Doesn’t mean you need to make it up with more hours necessarily. Maybe we just call it a day and start again the next day.

Yeah. And look, it’s easy to say this when we all work as leaders in different roles, in different businesses and different business models. But for example, in a plant, if a conveyor breaks, there’s iron ore that needs to keep filling ships if you like. So, it’s easy to say, well, at 600, that conveyor can stop. It doesn’t work that way. So, it’s about really having that balance and saying, okay, well, I might have to work longer this one, but I’m going to be kind to myself in the next couple of days. So, we got to look out for ourselves. 

Absolutely. Michael, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think it’s a very powerful message around broadening the role of safety, really looking at it beyond just regular safety as much as that’s important, but also exploring in terms of how it connects with mental health, because we know these things are also intertwined with each other. But I think it gives a lot of pause to listeners that are executive professionals or even people thinking about how do I extend the role and the impact of safety into other parts of the broader safety? How can somebody get in touch with you if they’re interested in having your story shared with their employee, group, or leaders. 

Yeah, I’ve got an email address so info@michaelwestern.com au and also have the same name for my website and I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook as well under my own name Michael Weston.

Thank you, Michael! Really appreciate you coming in sharing your story very powerful message as we’re exploring mental health Awareness month and really thinking about what we can do to drive the dialogue forward and also for an organization to really reflect in terms of the impact of the pandemic had and how it’s taken a toll in a lot of people’s lives in terms of their well-being. Thank you.

Thanks Eric! 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.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Michael Weston has worked in the mining industry within Western Australia for 20 years,16 years of which were devoted within the Iron Ore Production and Export industry located across the Pilbara Region (approximately 1600km north of Perth WA). In 2013, Michael was working as a Maintenance Superintendent in a highly demanding and stressful working environment. This role consumed much of Michael’s life which affected his work / life balance and unbeknown to him, life would take an unexpected turn. Life changed for Michael and his family on the morning of 19th April 2013.

As Michael was about to commute to work, he collapsed outside his family’s residence and was later found by his neighbour unconscious and not breathing. At the time, the only diagnosis provided by Doctors was exhaustion or otherwise known as burn-out. Whilst Michael survived, his ability to function in the work place and in life was profoundly affected. He and his wife Donna had spent the next 2 years searching for a further diagnosis and answers to why Michael couldn’t function as he had prior to the incident. Doctors and Specialists began investigating further into Michael’s condition, in which an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) was diagnosed. In addition to these ailments, Michael was also diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of how these ailments affected both his working and private life. A team of dedicated Doctors and Specialists then assisted Michael with his recovery and rehabilitation.

Following a successful recovery, Michael commenced motivational Workplace Speaking and Leadership Coaching, sharing his experiences and learnings with others globally which has proven to have a positive impact on others’ lives. Michael’s inspiring story is unique, resonates with a diverse range of audiences, provides a greater awareness of our Mental Health and Wellbeing by sharing his own coping strategies and how building resilience provides a positive platform towards a greater work / life balance.

For more information on Michael’s story, you can visit:

www.michaelweston.com.au

www.cnbsafe.com.au

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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.

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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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ABOUT THE GUEST

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.

For More Information: https://fridaypulse.com/

Discover More: https://www.ted.com/talks/nic_marks_the_happy_planet_index?language=en

 

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