48. A Paternal Shift + Leading in a Mental Health Crisis

Episode 48:  A Paternal Shift + Leading in a Mental Health Crisis (Summary)

Are you doing right by the new dads on your team? Why it might take bosses to tear down an inaccurate antiquated belief that still lingers in the workplace. Plus, how do bosses lead through a mental health crisis that has always existed but is now manifesting itself in a huge way across the country? There’s a lot ahead now, on Boss Better Now.

Links:
To learn more about Joe Mull, visit his website ​Joemull.com​.
To hear more from Joe Mull visit his YouTube channel​.
To learn how to invite Joe to speak at an event, visit ​Joemull.com/speaking​.
To check date availability or to get a quote for an event, email ​hello@joemull.com​.
To explore options for coaching from Alyssa Mullet, visit ​Joemull.com/coaching​.
For more information on the BossBetter Leadership Academy, visit Joemull.com/academy.
Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.
To leave comments, ask questions, or to message us visit our Boss Better Now Podcast Facebook Page.
Connect with Joe on Instagram.
Connect with Joe on Twitter.
Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

*Full transcript under the comments below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Transcript – Episode 48: A Paternal Shift + Leading in a Mental Health Crisis

Joe:
Are you doing right by the new dads on your team? Why it might take bosses to tear down an inaccurate, antiquated belief that still lingers in the workplace. Plus, how do bosses lead through a mental health crisis that has always existed, but is now manifesting itself in a huge way across the country? There’s a lot ahead now on Boss Better Now.

Alyssa:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. Please welcome speaker, author, and father of three, Joe Mull.

Joe:
Apple, Audible, Amazon, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, YouTube, whichever platform brought you to us, BossHeroes, welcome to the show, and thank you for the chance to spend a few minutes nurturing your boss soul. Boss soul? Boss’s soul. There’s an apostrophe in there that goes somewhere, but it’s not entirely clear to me. Nurturing your leadership soul! It’s something like that. Please welcome my co-host, professional coach extraordinaire, Alyssa Mullet.

Alyssa:
It’s me! Don’t get me started on the whole plural possessive blah, blah, blah. I don’t have…I don’t have the capacity. Plus, I’m too excited about today’s episode. So yeah…

Joe:
We’ve got a lot. It… Yeah! This is… This is kind of a loaded episode with some, some big things to talk about. Let’s dive into that then. And this, this first segment I wanted to get into this week — some things that have been going on in the news. But, let me first start with a story. So, my daughter recently turned 11. If you think back to the time change weekend in November, that was her birthday. And it just so happened that on the day of her birth, it was also time change. So, when we went to the hospital, my wife went into labor at midnight, and Lily was born at 9:30 in the morning. And when people see that they say, oh, so you, you labored for nine and a half hours. And she’s like, no, no, 10, 10 and a half actually. Cause 3:00 AM became 2:00 AM that night. So, we always remember, we always associate the falling back, the time change with Lily’s birthday. And, you know, with her birthday, I … every time her birthday comes around, I always kind of think back to those first few weeks, right? My first kid — it was the first time I became a father. And I so remember having to go back to work right after she was born and not wanting to be there. I remember I couldn’t wait to get home. I remember feeling like man, this mammoth life event just happened, and we are responsible for the care and feeding of this little human. We have absolutely no idea what we’re doing. And so, hey wife, just, you know, good luck. Don’t forget to let the dogs out. I’m going to go to work. It just felt crappy. And I remember just wanting to be around for every moment with Lily in those first few weeks. And I got two weeks off for paternity leave under the guise, I believe, of FMLA. I think it had something to do you with, like caring for your partner and your…

Alyssa:
Family member. Yup.

Joe:
Baby. And we were, you know, we’re lucky there was no C-section, right? Because it would have made things a lot harder. And I think I would’ve gotten a little more time for that under FMLA, but I can’t say that for sure, because I’m not an FMLA expert. And I always think about that. I always remember that feeling of, I don’t want to be here. I want to go home and be with my kid. Well, two things happened recently, Alyssa, that seemed to have brought discussion of paternity leave back into public consciousness.

Alyssa:
Hmm.

Joe:
The first is that our current Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, took leave after adopting twin babies with his husband. And the second is that paid parental leave has been a central component of recent legislation that is being debated in Congress. And I think there’s an opportunity here for us to talk about what a differentiator this can be for workplaces who are trying to attract the best talent, but also if we want to truly be a BossHero and create the conditions for people to thrive, we have to understand that some of the beliefs we may hold about how men want to show up after the birth of a child need to be reevaluated. And so, before I turn this over to you, cuz I know you’re ready to go.

Alyssa:
<laughs>

Joe:
Let me start with this- the whole Secretary Buttigieg thing. I just don’t get the kerfuffle, right? The man and his partner adopted twin babies. He took paternity leave because you know, babies! And there’s been a lot of debate and discussion in a variety of conservative channels over this. Over whether he should and whatnot. And mixed in among this was, what I believe, the dumbest tweet ever. I don’t know if you saw this. Guy named Matt Walsh, who was a conservative blogger when Pete Buttigieg just took paternity leave tweeted this. And I quote: “The thing about paternity leave is there isn’t much for dad to do when the baby is a newborn, especially if mom is breastfeeding. His main role is to take care of mom as she recovers but of course, that doesn’t apply to Buttigieg so I’m not sure why he needs paternity leave at all”. This might be the dumbest tweet ever until he doubled down because he got attacked in every direction on Twitter about how important it is for young parents to bond with their newborns, et cetera, et cetera. But he doubled down and then he published, which is now the second contender for the dumbest tweet ever with this. And I quote: “People are saying dad needs paternity leave for “bonding time.” Sure, a week or something is fine. But the baby isn’t going to bond with dad much until he’s a little older. And we shouldn’t be paying cabinet secretaries to stay home for two months for “bonding time” anyway.” Before I stab myself in the eye with a pencil because of how ridiculous these are, let me take a breath, turn over to you and give you a chance to react to what you just heard. And just because we’re not a political show.

Alyssa:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joe:
Let’s react to it through the lens of creating the conditions for people to thrive in the workplace and understanding how men really want to show up for their newborn kids.

Alyssa:
So, well, I can honestly…I’m not on the Twitter. I…you know…

Joe:
You’re on the TikTok, I’m on the Twitter. Go ahead.

Alyssa:
I’m on…Yeah.

Joe:
Between the two of us, we’ve got it covered.

Alyssa:
Here are my thoughts. In terms of how we can look to these stories and these experiences for the betterment of us as leaders and humans, period, belonging to the human race. My first thought is that we have to look at the biases that we hold specific to caregiving. Period.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
It is absolutely an outgrowth of the patriarchy.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
And I’m not going to go off. I won’t go off. Okay?

Joe:
You can go off a little bit.

Alyssa:
It is absolutely an outgrowth of the patriarchy that there is no paternity leave.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
Paid paternity leave. Now…

Joe:
Can I…I don’t want to derail you for a second.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
But let’s…

Alyssa:
Go for it.

Joe:
It’s a travesty that there’s not paid parental leave period. Full stop.

Alyssa:
Correct. Absolutely. And, you know, for those of us that, you know, I’m obviously a few years removed from, you know, administering FMLA, but just to give a little bit of a background so that folks understand the logistics of what we’re talking about. FMLA is the Family Medical Leave Act. Okay.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
And for employers with more than 100 employees, they are required to give FLMA, okay. That is unpaid time.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
It is a protection of your job for up to 12 weeks based upon specific events. Okay? It does not infer any kind of payment. Now your employer may have short-term disability or something of that kind, which if you are the person giving birth, you then may be qualified for short-term disability – STD. Not to be confused with anything else that that may stand for. Okay. And that would give you payment for some of that time that you are off under FMLA. But FMLA and payment are absolutely…

Joe:
Separate. Right.

Alyssa:
Okay. So that whole…

Joe:
And your company may also have a policy that requires you… Did I jump the gun? Is that where you’re going next?

Alyssa:
No… no… no. Go for it.

Joe:
If you have a bank of sick days and you’re taking an unpaid FMLA, you simultaneously must take your sick days.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
This, so this was my situation, right?

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
My employer required that I get paid through my sick days because I was out.

Alyssa:
Yep.

Joe:
You know, I couldn’t bank them and keep them and hold them just in case. Like, what if there was a complication? What if the child had a medical issue down the line and I wanted to hold onto that time? They… So, isn’t that interesting? We are not required to pay you, but you are required to take any assets that you have accumulated relative to paid time.

Alyssa:
Yeah. So, there’s this whole thought pattern number one of, as leaders in an organization, you have to be acquainted with the structures and the organization processes of this whole thing. Okay. So, number one, educate yourself as a leader, as to what your company policies are should something happen even if there’s not a chance of it happening on your team who cares, educate yourself. You need to understand what these processes are, what the protections are afforded to your employees under…

Joe:
Such a great point, Alyssa. Like, so many leaders will just outsource it to HR and say, we’ll call HR. They’ll walk you through. No. Be an advocate for your person and understand what it is that they’re going to be told to be able to help translate for them. Thank you for saying that.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Number two, it is, if you are in one of those roles within the HR spectrum of your organization, you’re already well acquainted and understand the policies and the logistics that go into administering FMLA, now’s your time. Level up. You gotta start advocating for the elimination of policies, like what you faced, Joe, of you have to use your sick time, right? In order to take that time off. No. If we’re gonna allow people to take the time, then we’re gonna allow them. If we are not offering paid time, in and of ourselves, for paternity leave, then let them have that time unpaid. Do not force people to use their vacation or their sick time, because they are probably going to need that whenever baby is sick.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
Whenever, you know, something happens down the line. So that’s the other part is wherever your piece of the puzzle, level-up on it with education or advocation. Okay. The third part of that, that apply to every single one of us, is to understand our own bias and make it more conscious in terms of dismantling it. As I spoke to about the, you know, for me, it, it absolutely came from, you know, the, the small town that I grew up in very religious-based where…

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
…the man is the head of the household. The woman, you know, stays home with the kids and takes care of the babies. And that’s what your roles were. That is not, that is not the case. And whenever you think you’ve gotten over, okay. Yeah, I understand. That’s not the reality. There’s always more work to be done because we’re applying these biases, just like that gentleman (I’ll call ’em a gentleman, even though he doesn’t sound too much of a gentleman, right?).

Joe:
Not quite.

Alyssa:
Tweeted the, you know, these are the things that we have going on in the back of our minds, whether or not you agree with what he said or not. You can see the error in judgment because we do not understand what is going on in anyone else’s life. Whether it is adoption, whether it is, you know, through you know, a surrogate birth, we don’t know. And so, for you, anyone to assume that just because they may have gone through a similar process,

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
That it should be the same for someone else? No, that’s not the way that life works.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
That’s not the way that we dismantle systems of bias by assuming that everyone else’s experiences are the same as ours. That’s not how life works.

Joe:
And then, and then running it through the lens of whether or not you approve or you think it’s necessary.

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
Absolutely not. If we’re, as leaders, trying to create the conditions for people to thrive, then we need to hear people when they say I’d like to take this time, or I’m having this life experience, or I, I… it’s important to me to be there. Our role then becomes that advocacy role that I mentioned.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
Which is how do I help you get everything you need within whatever systems or processes, or protocols exist here in our company?

Alyssa:
Mm-hmm.

Joe:
And if the systems and processes and protocols in our company are obstacles to you getting what you need, how do I advocate for the dismantling of those systems, processes, and policies here.

Alyssa:
Yep.

Joe:
At our company. You know, the biases that we, that you alluded to Alyssa are being brought into public consciousness and they’re being named. And, and what’s really excited is that they’re, they’re being advocated for, with research. And so not long ago, just a few weeks ago, there was an article in the New York Times called ‘What paternity leave does for a father’s brain’.

Alyssa:
Hmm.

Joe:
And it described a lot of the research around the astounding physical changes that occur in the emotional centers of the brain when men are permitted to be there more in the early weeks of a child’s birth. One study found that when fathers took paternity leave, actual parts of their brain, the emotional centers of their brain, grew physically in size. Another study found that when fathers took paternity leave, their children reported closer relationships with their dads nine years later. Some of this research is being pioneered, I found a gentleman online, let me get his name here. He’s a professor at Ball State University named Richard Petts who found that only 5% of new dads take at least two weeks of parental leave. And he’s been studying this issue. He was drawn to it when his first child was born. He was stunned when he was told by his employer, that if he wanted to take more than a couple of days off to care for his newborn, he would need a medical note saying his wife was unavailable to care for the child. Talk about patriarchy. So, you know, the benefits and the advocacy for these kinds of policies are not just around the benefits to men and to newborns and to relationships. A study that McKinsey released just a couple of months ago, pointed to a range of benefits, of course, stronger bonds, but also stronger bonds with their spouses and partners. And actually, household finances are shored up because the onus isn’t only on women to take time off, to care for children.

Alyssa:
Exactly!

Joe:
Right?

Alyssa:
Yup!

Joe:
We know women pay the penalty in the workforce for having children, right?

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
With a sliding back in compensation. And in terms of professional career growth. And what this study is saying is when you give men paternity leave, you actually help slow down that kind of penalization that women experience by having these kinds of policies. The study found I have it here mom’s income rose about 7% for each month that a child’s father spent at home on paternity leave.

Alyssa:
Oh, oh, man. If there was ever like a, to do you want to dismantle the patriarchy men, male leaders?

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
Those that identify in the male. I could not more deeply urge you. You want to do something? Advocate for yourself. Advocate for parental leave. Advocate for paternity leave paid through your company. Advocate for dismantling the stereotype that giving care is less than. That this isn’t part of what you demand and desire for your life to be rich and full by dismantling that stereotype of you don’t want to be that guy and take time off, right?

Joe:
Yes! That men aren’t equal partners in the bonding that takes place in the early weeks of childhood or that they don’t want to be or see a need to be. I would argue that nearly any man you ask about that wants to be, but maybe feels trapped between what they want and what they feel like they should say or ask for.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
Based on the policies or perceptions that exist in the organization. And, and I kind of want to go one more level macro. This is not just a — like — we’re talking about paternity leave because I think that’s a really important aspect of this. And it’s, it’s been in the news a lot lately.

Alyssa:
Mm-hmm.

Joe:
But just parental leave, you know, and, and you talked about advocating for it and advocating for it across every imaginable kind of relationship.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
Same-sex relationships, trans relationships, adoption, birth. I mean, any, any other, any kind of circumstance where someone is stepping into the role of parent for the first time, for the 12th time, doesn’t matter.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
At the core of this, if, if you’re a BossHero, I believe your goal should be to never ask an employee to make their job more important than their family.

Joe:
To say we want your work experience to compliment your life, not dominate your life — to be in a position to have the full life that you want to live. And so, as your boss, I’m going to do all that I can to never ask you to make this job more important than your family. Now there might be moments where that’s not possible. But if we make that, the goal, that really shapes how we support people and advocate for them and shape policies, right? This is a sexist institution that men aren’t…this idea that men aren’t needed to be equal partners in those early weeks of childbirth and child-rearing. And that’s part of what needs to be torn down. And if you are the kind of boss or employer who says, we’re going to try to never ask your job to be more important than your family, you’re actually creating a competitive advantage in terms of being able to attract and retain talent.

Alyssa:
Oh my gosh, I got the chills, the feels, all the things, man. You know, that’s it! That’s the energy! Not making the job more important than your family. Like how many of us have felt torn? Not on exception.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
But by the rule that, that has been the case of our entire professional careers, where we have had to put family down here and work ahead of that. Be the kind of place where no one has to make that choice.

Joe:
Yeah. And just to put another bow on this, I just want people to understand what an astounding outlier the United States is when it comes to not having paid parental leave. The US is only one of five countries in the world that do not guarantee paid family leave. The others are Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. Ever heard of those?

Alyssa:
Nope.

Joe:
Nearly every other country on Earth has some form of paid family leave. When I was pulling data for this, I ended up on a Wikipedia page. You know, we gotta be careful what you confirm on Wikipedia. Other things that stood out to me when I was scrolling are they had a chart of every country in the world. And they had all these columns D describing the different kinds of paid parental leave and the United States. And it says, NA| NA| NA|NA across every box it’s startling.

Joe:
New fathers in France can take 28 days of paid leave. They’re mandated to take seven … new fathers in France are mandated to take seven. “Mandated” isn’t that an interesting choice of words. Right? Love it. The new fathers in Japan can take a full year and they get their full paychecks for up to two-thirds of that time. And we could spend, you know, we could do a whole podcast series on paid family leave — and, and the, the importance of it. There was a federal law passed a few years ago called the federal employee paid leave act that guarantees up to 12 weeks of paid leave for federal employees for birther adoption. So that’s a good start for our federal employees. There are also nine states that have passed some kind of paid leave legislation, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island also.

Joe:
Oh, and Washington and the District of Columbia. So, they all have passed some kind of paid leave legislation. So, I know right now a lot of organizations are having conversations about the kind of contemporary benefits that attract and retain talent. This has to be on the list. It has to be. And in the conversations that ensue, you, you will hear some of the patriarchy that Alyssa is talking about. You will hear some of the entitlement folks who think, why should we pay people for this? And what we have to understand is it’s the most backwards, tired, antiquated thinking. And that’s the kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. Well, we want to hear what you think, friends. Sorry. Alyssa, go ahead. You had a final… final? No, no, no?

Alyssa:
I, I was just literally drinking, drinking in the <laugh> drinking

Joe:
In the hope drinking… in the hope. Yes. Well, as always, we welcome your comments. Observations, questions, drop a comment in the box below if you’re streaming this online. And as always, you can send us an email over to our show’s email account, which is bossbetternow@gmail.com. So let us hear from you on this.

Joe:
We’re going to lighten things up for a moment with our Camaraderie Question of the Week. As you know, on every episode of our podcast, here, we bring you a question you can use at meetings to facilitate connection and build camaraderie. This is important to do when bosses build camaraderie, you actually reach some wonderful benefits on your team. And we build camaraderie by making it easier for people to find things in common with each other that don’t have anything to do with work. When we access each other’s humanity teams collaborate more effectively and perform at a higher. So, here’s our question, Alyssa: What is something you’ve kept forever, but really should throw away?

Alyssa:
A general blanket statement – my kid’s stuff. Okay.

Joe:
Okay.

Alyssa:
Specifically, his teeth, his baby teeth, like, he’s not, I mean, he’s seven, so he’s not even actually done like losing the teeth yet. Yeah.

Joe:
But I…I guess I’m supposed to keep him, so I, I just do, I don’t know, is that not what people do? I, I know people who keep it forever. Just,

Alyssa:
Yeah. Does everybody have a drawer full of teeth? Like, I’m not quite sure. I don’t know.

Joe:
And are not a serial killer, right? That’s Dexter … your own children’s teeth. Let’s… let’s make a qualifier. Do you have a drawer with your own children’s – byproduct of the tooth appearance – teeth?  Any other human teeth? —  Different problem.

Alyssa:
Oh my gosh. Yes. Important qualifiers. So glad you’re here to make sure our audience has clarity around that.

Joe:
Clarity matters.

Alyssa:
So yeah, my kids, in general, but specifically the teeth

Joe:
Yeah. I, I feel that we, we have like the keep forever box and it’s like the 11 keep forever boxes, which is like, how many kids’ drawings do you save and how many kids’ clothes and how many kids’ favorite toys that they snuggled with for three years? You know? Yeah. That’s, that’s tough. Cuz, I tend to be sentimental about those things. Yeah. I’m a sentimental person about some of that stuff. And so, our, our basement continues to become more crowd

Alyssa:
<laugh>

Joe:
<laugh> so I assume

Alyssa:
So. Is that your stuff too? Is that your stuff too?

Joe:
You know my answer to this question when I saw it, something I’ve kept forever, but should really throw away my answer is wood.

Alyssa:
Oh, because, well, you never know when you’re going and right now though, I mean, truly that is like gold sitting, wherever you have it like you better lock it up. Don’t tell me where it is. Cause we’ll come for your wood.

Joe:
See, this is, this is why we’re friends like you and me immediately understood you completely immediately were like, yes, scrap wood. Like what if you need to build a birdhouse and you can’t get out to the store? Absolutely. I don’t know why, but I always like to save these scrap pieces of wood. Like what if someday there’s a camper in my driveway and we need to put some wood behind the tire. So, it doesn’t roll down our completely flat driveway.

Alyssa:
Yep. I, you should not throw that away. Keep that I’m… I’m totally in the hoard. All the wood.

Joe:
I have wood <laugh> plywood. I have two by fours. I have treated lumber. I have molding. I have like shims and Masonite. Like why am I, I saving all this stuff. There is no, use…

Alyssa:
Might need it. Cause you might need…

Joe:
Thank you for having my back. All right. All right. Well, I sound like I’m wrestling with it, but you’re like, no, you need it. I need it. Keep it. I think so. All right. That’s the Camaraderie Question of the Week.

Alyssa:
Are you planning a meeting conference retreat or event? Why not invite our own Joe Mull to be your keynote speaker?

Joe (Recording of a live event):
How many people here who supervise have had their time, attention and energy devoured by someone who is not committed? If yes. Say yes. Yes.

Audience Member:
Amen!

Joe (Recording of a live event):
And an amen. See, like I said,

Alyssa:
Joe teaches leaders, how to boss better and cultivate commitment in a way that is funny, captivating, and filled with takeaways.

Joe (Recording of a live event):
Do you believe that these people are coming to me and telling me that I’m sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong?

Audience Member:
Oh my gosh. Wonderful. Really engaging and thought-provoking, which is really great with lots of good tools to take home. You felt present like you wanted to lean in. You didn’t want to pick up your phone and scroll through Facebook.

Alyssa:
Whether your event is virtual or in person, your audience doesn’t want another boring 60-minute lecture. They deserve to learn and be inspired by a world-class program they simply cannot turn away from. That’s what you get, guaranteed, from Joe Mull.

Joe (Recording of a live event):
We can all agree. We want our employees to care and try. But care and try isn’t about competence. It’s about commitment. And commitment can’t be bought. It can only be earned. Your number one job as a leader is to cultivate commitment.

Alyssa:
For more information, visit JoeMull.com/speaking.

Joe:
All right, Alyssa, I have a question that came to us from one of the folks who’s been following me online for a while. We have our BossBetter emails that we push out twice a month with a variety of articles that I write and videos that we produce and that’s all free. And so, I get to communicate with a lot of different folks from across the country. And so, Linda sent me an email, I think it’s been about two months ago and, as you’ll hear in a minute, it’s a pretty awful situation for her team. And I did not bring the question to the podcast I had…I just felt like I don’t want to take this situation that they’re dealing with and, you know, have it feel like we’re leveraging it for content on the podcast.

Joe:
Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it didn’t… didn’t feel right. So, I responded privately to Linda and, and shared the advice that she was looking for. But she asked a big question in this email that I kept thinking about. And so, I circled back to her last week to check in on her and asked her if I could share her email on the show. Now a few months later in an effort to go a little bit deeper on the big question that she asked. And so, here’s the email: “Joe. I reach out to your team with a heavy heart. As my team had a young employee commit suicide. We are working through all that. This brings with the team. I sit here in the early hours of the morning, and I think, how do we do this? How do we lead through a mental health crisis that has always existed, but is now manifesting itself in a huge way across the country? And honestly exploiting our mental health gaps and weaknesses. My company has all the EAP programs, staff check-ins, et cetera. And while we understand mental health is dependent on many factors that may be out of our control at a company, I can’t help but think we need to be doing something differently as leaders in this crisis. But what does that look like? I know this is a heavy topic, but I’d love if you could respond on your podcast, shed some light on this issue. And I thank you for all the encouragement you provide each week. Linda.” So, when I initially wrote back to Linda, you know, I, I shared some advice with her in the aftermath of this awful tragedy that her team was going through. And just in the interest of, of transparency, I’ll tell you a little bit about what I told her initially.

Alyssa:
Mm-hmm.

Joe:
Which first and foremost was I, I’m not a therapist, I’m not a psychologist, I’m not a mental health expert. So, I, I would be very hesitant to give any advice in that regard. What I, I suggested to her was that in the immediate aftermath of this, she find a way to bring those kinds of professionals to her team on-site, actually putting people in the room and giving them a chance to just talk and ask questions. I advised her to make sure she was constantly sharing with her team, that it was okay to not be okay, and that people were going to have to, we’re going to certainly be dealing with it in a variety of different ways. And then the third piece of advice that I gave her was as people are struggling with how to process this and what to do, I have seen teams come together to try to do something for the family or do something to support the cause of suicide prevention as a kind of outlet for their emotional distress, and that if she was looking for a way to help the team process, that maybe that would be something to think about. But that’s advice for the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. The question that Linda is asking though in this email is bigger, right? About even when we put all these EAP programs in place, and we’re constantly checking in with our staff, with so many folks dealing with so many different kinds of mental health distress, should we be doing something differently? And I wanted to just explore this with you, Alyssa, because I will tell you that I’m not sure that I know the answer. What do you think?

Alyssa:
Yeah, so as someone who also is not a therapist and routinely says that as part of my initial spiel with every single coaching client, that coaching is not therapy, and as someone who a hundred thousand percent could not be more pro therapy/mental health, and is involved in therapy myself, where my heart/mind/everything goes is this concept of being more trauma-informed. And I actually Googled, you know, the phrase trauma-informed leadership. Now there’s plenty of stuff out there about trauma-informed care.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
And certainly, you know, you’re welcome to, to read up on that and understand the tenants of trauma-informed care just for your own knowledge, not to administer it to anyone. Okay. But the, what I got back on my Google search of trauma-informed leadership I thought was, was important to give the discussion some, some structure, which is that it is a way of understanding that there is an emotional world of experience. I, and when it triggered in the workplace, each person responds according to the extent of their own emotional scars and trauma and emotional capacities.

Alyssa:
And I thought that that was so, insightful in that while specific to this event, the same event happened to everyone on the team. They experienced this shocking horrific loss. Yeah. But every single person’s and ability and capacity to process that loss is solely based upon all that individual has experienced by way of their own trauma, their own experiences in life. And so, we have to be really understanding of the fact that just because X happened to everybody does not mean everyone happens to X the same way. Mm-hmm <affirmative> we all experience it differently. So, I think that that’s the first understanding that we need to come to as leaders is that number one, we are all outside of acute events. Like this is a horrific one, where there’s a plethora of traumatic events that are happening, but the pandemic in and of itself has been triggering of trauma for so many of us.

Alyssa:
And whether that’s because you’ve been isolated and lonely, or you’ve been abandoned or you’ve, you know, had these feelings of discontent with humanity or whatever it is, we’re all experiencing that in some form or fashion, some of us are more, you know, open about that. And some of us are not. And I think that if you want to be the kind of leader that people connect with… in a very real way, and you are someone that can, is this being authentic to who you want to show up as in the workplace, I would really just encourage you to lead by example, share your experiences of what resources you are using to become more trauma-informed and processing your own trauma. That doesn’t mean you got share, oh yeah… whenever I was seven, this is what happened to me. That that does not mean that… that does not mean that… I’m just saying, share. Yeah, I’m currently in therapy and I’m finding it really helpful. Or this is the resource I went through in order to get this hookup through EAP. And I’ve found this, you know, online program that has really insightful for me. Those are the kinds of things that I think are real true opportunities for us to become more trauma-informed and thus better leaders, better humans.

Joe:
I love how you’re framing this as being trauma-informed. It’s a… it’s a tacit acknowledgment that the experiences people have both at work and away from work shape, who they are, how they show up at work and away from work. And if we keep going back to that kind of standard that I always use around the role of a leader, which is to create the conditions for people to thrive. Yeah. Then we have to understand that trauma influences that. But so too does the role we play in creating safe workplaces that allow people to overcome that. So, you know, as bosses we can and we should own a lot, I think we have to be about to what degree mental health of our direct reports is one of those things, right?

Alyssa:
Mm-hmm.

Joe:
And mental health is a continuum right on, on the, on one end are things like stress and burnout and exhaustion. And you move along that continuum to things like languishing and depression. And you continue to grow in seriousness of issues, things like addiction or neurosis or chemical imbalance, and the farther up that continuum, you go, the more sophisticated the support I would think needs to be for the person mm-hmm <affirmative> who, who is struggling.

Joe:
But I think we have to be careful that as bosses, we need to always care about the person over the position. This is sort of a… a standard core value that I think advocate… that I advocate for. We always care about the person over the position. But that doesn’t mean we become the person’s therapist. That’s not a good, healthy role to play. We are not qualified to be that person. The role that I see bosses playing is to try to be a connector or a door opener. Right. And Linda’s email talked about, we have all the stuff, we have the EAP programs, we have the, the constant staff to check-ins. And so, it sounds like they’re, they are trying to open doors and be connectors for people who maybe are struggling.

Alyssa:
Mm-hmm.

Joe:
I think what has changed a lot in the past year and a half is what do you do when the trauma is created by the work.

Alyssa:
mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Joe:
Right? We see so many folks, especially in healthcare, especially essential workers who have had so many deeply, emotionally challenging experiences that they are suffering from a kind of workplace PTSD yeah. As a result of everything that they’ve gone through. And so, I think you could argue that our responsibility does change a little bit when the trauma is taking place at work. And so, yeah, in, in either case, whether someone is experiencing mental health struggles because of issues unrelated to work, or because of issues that were brought about by the work, in either case, what I would suggest is most important, and that is, is maybe the answer to this question. How do we lead through an ongoing mental health crisis is an ongoing commitment to psychological safety? Know the research on psychological safety in recent years has exploded. What does it take to create a workplace where people feel safe, where they’re not going to feel ridiculed for speaking up for having a difference of opinion for having struggles, where they can ask for help, where they can say, I am not okay.

Joe:
Because, just like Linda said, we can have all of the resources in the world, but if people don’t feel comfortable taking advantage of them, they don’t matter. If they don’t feel supported taking advantage of them, they don’t matter. If they don’t know they exist because the boss hasn’t noticed that someone seems not themselves or might be struggling, and the boss doesn’t have the skill or the knowledge of how to initiate that conversation to say, hey, I care about you. And so, I’m going to say this out loud. It, it is no judgment, but, but you seem like you’re struggling. And, and I’d like to suggest and make sure you understand some things that may be available to you that maybe aren’t on your radar. How can I support you? How can I help you? Cause you know, we’ll have some bosses who will walk right up to the door with their employee and say, hey, listen, if you, if you need these resources, why don’t we… here….

Joe:
I’ll pop the speakerphone on right now, let’s call them together. You know, do you want me to step out of the room while you have the conversation? I’ve got the number right here. You know, sometimes we need to, to think about how we walk up to that door with folks, and we open that door for them, but above everything else, it’s, it’s the, the constant ongoing work that leaders and their teams must do together to create psychological safety. I mean, at this point, that’s all I got. You know, I, I don’t know how else you do it.

Alyssa:
Yeah. We’re all out here and trying to do our best. And some days that best is going to show up in a way in which it is broken beyond repair in that moment. And I think if the conditions exist within your workplace of what you’re talking about, psychological safety, yeah. That’s a safe space to be broken — even just for a bit.

Joe:
Yeah. And I think it’s really important that we help bosses understand that their role is not to be the fixer. It’s not a, it’s not a role you can take on, you can’t fix people at best. You can be a noticer; you can be a connector. You can be someone who cares, who encourages, who supports, who advocates, but you cannot take on the responsibility of fixing the people around you. It’s not going to happen. The things that we’ve talked about here — in, and around this question and this issue around creating psychological safety and advocating for people that’s the role I think I want to share as a, a wrap-up to this conversation, the follow-up email that I got back from Linda, when I checked in with her, I asked her, you know, how are things going with her team? What has she learned? What is the approach that her team is taking? Here’s what she said: “Joe, thanks for checking in. We’re moving along with a newfound awareness of the mental health of our employees. If it would help others, I’ll share what we have done so far in response to our situation. Right away, supervisors and I had one-on-ones with all the closest team members to the individual and checked in on each other during one-on-ones. We identified another staff member we felt was in trouble and we are assisting to find inpatient treatment for him. We’re providing him with the necessary time off by covering his duties and using temporary placement staff. We are also assuring him that he still has a job when he is ready to come back. Our CEO and leadership team hosted an all-staff meeting with a clinical psychologist.

Joe:
He was very engaging and made the group feel comfortable by starting out with, Hey, we’re all crazy. And everything sucks right now. And then he used an anonymous polling platform to discuss a set of questions around our biggest stressors in work and outside of work and how we’re handling and coping with stress as a leadership team. Some of the answers were really difficult to hear. Some of our employees’ shared struggles with basic food, shelter, health, and personal safety. Our CEO was visibly shaken by what was shared. One item that was uncovered during the discussion was that while leadership feels responsible for some of these struggles, the therapist was clear in pointing out that this isn’t all on leadership and that leadership has struggles too. He said this isn’t a leadership problem. It’s a human, it’s a human problem. These activities have spurred important dialogues about mental health and that sharing problems with each other is okay. And that there are some real tools for resiliency that people can use since then, our employees have been observed, actively reaching out to each other, offering help, and with a confidential listening year, she goes on to describe some emergency funds that they’re creating. Some food bank. The work that we’re doing and some work that they’re doing as a team to better understand suicide. Um, she says, I hope we can begin to give people back some hope and give them the tools that they need to change their situations.

Joe:
Linda, your circumstances are more painful and difficult than I think any of us can imagine. But in the aftermath of this, I think you’ve also given a real gift, not to the people on your teams, but your willingness to reach out to us and share this story and share the follow-up around what you’re doing. And to try to prompt some discussion with us here on this show and our audience. I really think that there are going to be an innumerable number of conversations taking place on teams and with leaders because of the work that you’ve done there and how you’ve shared it with others that are going to potentially save lives. And so, in the aftermath of everything that you’re going through and aftermath, isn’t the right word, because you’re obviously still going through it know that we’re rooting for you.

Joe:
And we really thank you for your willingness to share this with others and to continue to drill down on the issue and to just think about how we can support people and meet them where they are in a way that acknowledges the constant mental health struggles that too often live behind closed doors. Hmm. Thank you, Linda. Well, that’s our show BossHeroes. We hope that you know, despite this being a heavy topic it’s an important one and one that requires ongoing conversation. And so, if you want to share your feedback, if you want to ask additional questions, if you want to leave comments, please do so and know that we greatly appreciate all that you do to care for so many. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

Alyssa:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember, commitment comes from better bosses. Visit JoeMull.com today.

Related Posts

Previous
Next