Season 1 Episode 3
Intro Welcome to share public health, the Midwestern public health training centers podcast connecting you to public health topics, issues, and colleagues throughout our region and the country highlighting that we all share in public health. Thank you for tuning in to this series focusing on mental health. In this series, we will explore mental health through the lenses of schools, public safety, and the business community. Be sure to check the notes to get links to resources mentioned in the podcast.
Maya Chilese Good morning everyone, this is Maya Chilese from the Midwest public health training center with some more wonderful guests for another podcast series today. I’m wondering if before we kind of really dig into the conversation if I can ask my guests to provide a bit of introduction about themselves. So, who would like to start? Just say a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what made you interested in participating in this podcast?
Nina Richtman Hi, my name is Nina Richtman and I work for Corteva Agriscience. The reason that I was really interested in being a part of this podcast is that over the last couple of years we have implemented a variety of different types of programming around workplace mental health and we want to be able to share that for other employers and employees. Because, our way, the way it all happened was a grassroots movement within our organization. So we want to reach employers, but we also want tor each employees to say you can make your workplace better.
Maya Chilese That’s great, Nina, thank you.
Don Woodruff Hi, Don Woodruff. I’m with Woodruff construction. We have offices in Fort Dodge, James, Iowa city, and Waterloo. We are a general construction firm with around approximately a hundred and seventy-five employees and we’ve been in business for over sixty years.
Maya Chilese Thank you so much Don. So, I am really excited to hear a little bit more about the work that you guys are doing to integrate behavioral health, mental health into your workplace environment. Worksite wellness has long been a public health strategy and a great way to be able to reach the general community through individuals and families in the workplace environment. So, I’m really grateful for your time joining us this morning. I’m wondering if we could start perhaps just saying a little bit more. You included where you work in your introduction, but if you would say a little bit more about your business and then how you got started with worksite wellness, if you will. More specifically, how did mental health become a part of that in your workplace environment. Nina, would you like to start?
Nina Richtman You bet. So in 2016, I, along with a coworker of mine, started an employee resource group for individuals with disabilities, or supporting family or friends with disabilities, or those that were just interested in being allies to that community. In 2017, that group chose their topic. Every year we pick a topic, a theme, to center our programming around and we chose mental illness to be our year-long theme. The reasoning for that was just that mental illness is the most common of all disabilities and so we thought hey, that’s a great place to start. We’re a new group, we want to have a focus, so that’s what we’re going to do for this year. We planned a variety of different programming around that including things that were in the education spectrum, outreach, support, and did a variety of programs which I can talk to you about in more detail if you’re interested. So that was our 2017 year and one of the big things that we took on that year was trying to get an all employee mental health awareness program going. So that being a program that by default would help those that are living with mental illness by just having a baseline level of awareness for all employees. So that was, that was kind of our big mission of the year, and the way we approached it was our employee resoruce group found the options and then we presented them to leadership, asking for approval and support for that programming.
Maya Chilese Great, Nina, thank you. Don, what about you?
Don Woodruff Yes, we came around to bringing it to the forefront of mental health. That is, we’re a member of the Construction Financial Management Association, and the last several years they’ve been emphasizing mental health and discussing it and getting programs in place. It’s also part of our core values as our family, both our work and our at-home life family. We started asking employees why they were missing work or why we’re having low productivity. So instead of doing a corrective action plan with them, we were trying to get to the root cause of the issues, getting down to why. Some said they were struggling with depression and others said they had other issues. Somebody even had financial issues and we address that through some financial workshops. But, back to the topic, we started helping them set up appointments, giving them resources, providing them websites, even just an ear to listen to them. That’s really helped us a great deal moving forward with promoting mental health.
Maya Chilese Don, that’s incredible. I appreciate hearing that and it’s really wonderful to hear a business that’s really family-centered, so thank you for that. I’m curious then, for both of you, what challenges did you find when you were first trying to kick off your efforts? Nina, I heard you describing that, you know, that yours was really born from a resource group, so it sounds like that was employee-driven, and then you brought some options to leadership. I’m wondering what challenges you might have experienced, either just in the group trying to kick off the program, or in leadership response, or did you run into any particular barriers?
Nina Richtman Leadership response was great. We didn’t have any problems there and we came to them with a particular program in mind and all the details, so really all they had to say was yes. In terms of the challenges that we faced, there is an ongoing challenge with the actual implementation of the program because it has to be easy for managers in order for them to jump onboard and really make it a part of the culture of their group and part of what the group does. So, that was kind of why we chose the program that we did was because it was already created, it was easy to use. It just works as sort of a five to fifteen minute presentation or activity that they can do with their groups at the beginning of a group meeting once every month or two. So, you know, that was the easiest thing we could find and also met the needs of what we were hoping to address. The problem or challenge still has been implementation, just getting the resources into the hands of the managers, getting the managers to present the materials. But we are a very large company, so it’s, you know, there’s not as many people to drive the initative, to get the, you know, interaction with each of those managers to explain the program and make sure that they have everything they need. So, we’re doing the best we can, but it’s the process.
Maya Chilese Yeah. Nina, did you have or the group have any community partners that you reached out to or that were particularly valuable when you were looking for resources or ways to connect to other providers in the community?
Nina Richtman Yeah, so the program that we’re using is called Not Myself Today and it was created by the Partners for Mental Health and it’s a Canadian nonprofit. They were really incredible from the beginning because they’ve worked with over five-hundred companies in Canada and we were the very first US company that approached them about using their materials, and they were so excited about that. So they were a great resource and very helpful to us in getting this program up and going. The other organization that i reach out to was NAMI, and NAMI also has so many resources and they do have a workplace program, but it’s in more early stages. So just a few companies had used it and it required a little bit more development within your company to really get set up to meet the needs for your particular business. So we didn’t go with that one just because it involved a little bit more, you know, input on our side and we didn’t really have the HR resources to support it at the time. But, you know, that’s why it’s nice that there’s options out there because we were able to find something that worked for us and the sort of nees that we had and also the capacity that we had. But, I would say both of those were great resources, very helpful, and you know, just fit. NAMI provides so many additional resources, so that’s something that we share with employees that are wanting more information or, you know, looking for more programming outside of the workplace.
Maya Chilese Nina, thank you, that’s really exciting to hear about the Canadian program. I’d be interested to see that curricula. That’s really cool. And then to see how it might have been implemented or even if you had to make any revisions to make it more culturally relevant, I guess I might say, for an American workplace environment.
Nina Richtman Yeah, the thing that’s pretty interesting is that the statistics parallel each other. So, the Canadian program, of course, has Canadian statistics associated with it so in some of the presentations and some of the materials, that’s the reference point, but NAMI actually has statistics for the US. So we were able to compare and really the numbers are quite similar. So as we were distributing materials and resources to people internally form the Canadian program, that’s really waht all we had to add to it was the NAMI statistics that show for the US. We are actually – we piloted this program for US and Canada because we do have some Canadian locations as well, but we are really hoping that at some point, some day, that the Canadian organization will release something in other languages so that we could also have it be for our international locations.
Maya Chilese That’s amazing. That’s fantastic. Yes, I appreciate your comparison point about the prevalence rates and I think that’s fair to note that prevalence rates related to mental health are fairly common actually across the globe, although conditions sometimes can vary ine very environment. But it’s important to note that mental health doesn’t necessarily just mean severe mental illness. Don made ane example of some people just saying, you know, they might have been experiencing some depression. So sometimes those things can come along because of some current circumstance or whatnot, so that’s really valuable. Thank you for that. Don, what about you? We were kicking off and Nina was talking a little bit about any challenges or barriers that they may have experienced in implementing their program. I heard you talk about the family core vlaues that your company represents and that you were attuned to people’s needs and wated to go right to employees and then respond by providing some resources. Did you expeirence any barriers also when kicking off some programming or connecting to other community resources? What was your experience?
Don Woodruff The challenge that we face with our employees is the stigma that discussing mental health brings. It’s still somewhat of a taboo subject to speak and we are trying to bring that in the forefront or into the light. So whenever we have the entire company, whether it be our safety picnics in the summer or holiday parties at winter time, I take it upon myself to discuss that openly amongst the group and to encourage them to seek help if they need it. So the stigma portion is something to overcome directly with our employees. We’re not as far along in our journey, but we’re trying to make inroads and we’ve reached otu to community and family resources in Fort Dodge, as an example, to help us with some other programming, some other means with which to make accessible to our employees – a little more help.
Maya Chilese Don, thank you for that. I really appreciate the example that you provided about just integrating at every opportunity to address stigma and that’s still a very common problem across the country and I would assume so for other countries as well. We certainly are aware that the stigma against severe and persistant mental illness is very present, but even for people who might be experiencing light depression or generalized anxiety, those things can be really difficult to admit and certainly people are afraid to do so in the workplace environment. So I really appreciate hearing your intention to be able to address and minimize the stigma around that by bringing those things out into the open. Nina also had mentioned NAMI. So just for our listeners, I just wanted to make sure if you weren’t aware of what NAMI stands for, that’s the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a great resource. That organization is national and there are chapters in nearly every state. So you should have a chapter, at least a statewide chapter, if not even some local community chapters in your area. That organization was created and continued to be sustained by people who have experienced mental health challenges in their lives. So people that we might consider having lived experience, if you will, and can provide a lot of great resources as well. So, a question both for Nina and Don, what do you feel like has been the response overall from employees? Don, you talked a little bit about stigma, but just in general for people who may have participated in some of the programming or just the overall receptiveness to your company providing these kinds of resources.
Don Woodruff It’s actually been very receptive, especially when we as leaders openly discuss our own challenges or challenges of our loved ones. More people have started coming forward and asking for help. There’s even been employees bringing coworkers and telling them they need to get some help, which has been enlightening.
Maya Chilese That’s great, Don. Nina, what about you?
Nina Richtman I would say that it has been very positive. We’ve had a lot more ability to have discussions. So, what does that look like? It’s managers reaching out to find out the best way to handle a situation or it’s a coworker saying “how can I better support my coworker?” There’s also been people that have reached out to say, you know, “I’m personally struggling with this” and just allowing people to be more open about it, and really to be able to show that people are not alone and that it impacts more people than we realize. I think it’s been good just to start talking about it.
Maya Chilese Yeah, yeah that’s wonderful. We have experienced some conversations in our organization from managers who have also been looking for other resources on how to support employees who might be going through a challenging time. So, again, mental health can encompass a variety of things from people who experience a diagnosis that can be a lifetime health issue for them or things that might just be circumstantial around a loss or you know, grief-related things,etc. So we’ve had some managers come forward asking “how do I support an employee who is normally really high performing and functioning really well in the workplace environment, and is a great contributor, but right now is going through some hard times, so they’re performing not quite as well as normal?” Not wanting to, as Don noted before, move to a correction action plan because that isn’t necessarily the right response, but how do we provide support for them? So, that’s one thing I think is really critical, not only just to support each other as humans, but for workplace environments to be able to support their employees in that way. Those are the things I think that help us not only sustain employees because they know that they can be supported in the workplace, but then you have-. Usually, when you’re providing programming in your way you have greater retention so people are more willing to stay employed at organizations that can be supportive to them, and then increase your productivity over the long-term span. So, I was really excited to hear those resources.
Nina Richtman One more thing to add, Maya, that might be of interest on this topic – We created a program that the employee resource group members created this program and we called it outside of the box. What we did was we collected stories from individuals within the company of situations that had arose in the workplace, where they were pulled away from their work. So it might be that they’re caring for a loved one that you know, is in an assisted living facility and has fallen and they have to go and help. Or, you know, they might get a call from the school saying “this happened, you know, this behavioral issue happened with your kid, and you need to come and pick them up“, or you know, something personal that happened to them. We collected a variety of these stories and then what we did was we created little scenarios where someone would pull it out of a bag and it would say the scenario. Then, people were seated at tables with four different spots and they were each assigned a role. So one was the manager, one was the employee, one was the coworker, and one was the individual that was impacted by it. So, we had them talk through the scenarios and what would be the appropriate response. How would they handle it? There weren’t really any right or wrong answers. We just kind of wanted to get people thinking about what would be the best way to interact in these types of situations. We gave them a couple of minutes and then we had them pick another scenario from the bag. People found it really valuable. I think it got the discussion going in a fun, different kind of way. The fact that they were all realy scenarios from employees, I think, people also appreciated that because you really see the scope of some of the challenges that people face in the workplace that you may not even be aware of. So we did this as an open event that anybody could attend, but we also have a manager training that’s coming up. They’re going to do this event as part of the manager training. They’ll do the same kind of thing with the roles, but they’re also really the target audience for that particular one as managers.
Maya Chilese Yeah, that’s really cool, Nina. The open event – was that during work hours or that was something that was hosted off?
Nina Richtman It was during work hours. We had a month for inclusion and diversity, different presentations, and lunch and learns, and those types of things. It was one of the feature events for that month. During that month we have highlighted events that get a little bit more publicity, so just trying to make sure that the word gets out and that people know when it is, and where it is, and what to expect. That way we can get a pretty good turnout.
Maya Chilese I really appreciate that. I know that in working with some businesses, they’ve had questions around well, “how do I get people to attend that kind of stuff or you know, I pay people to produce their work and how can I justify them spending an hour doing, you know, something else like this during the work day?” What might you say to other companies or businesses that are perhaps curious about implementing programs like this, but are wondering what impact that might have in terms of just the workplace environment and productivity?
Nina Richtman Well, I think the thing is we all need it to be a place where we want to come everyday. We’re going to be more motivated to work hard if we feel comfortable in that space and we feel like we can be open, we can bring out whole self to work rather than having to put on an act for the hours that you’re at work. That’s why we created it, it was because we wanted to really allow people to share the realities of their workday. The reality is that you come to work for eight hours, but you can’t shut off the things that are happening in the rest of your life. So, if there’s an awareness about the challenges that people face, then the employee feels more supported and it’s more of a community that helps people get through as opposed to trying to shut it out of your mind for eight hours, which we all know doesn’t work anyways. I think that can just add to more stress in the situation rather than feeling like you have the support and the understanding.
Maya Chilese Yeah, well, I would agree with you. I appreciate hearing that. Don, you had also mentioned just some other examples on it, so I was reflecting on that when Nina, when you said bringing your whole self and I just think that’s so important. Don, you were mentioning a couple different scenarios, so it might not only be “I myself experienced depression, but I might be the parent of a kiddo who’s got some behavioral health challenges or I’m caring for my parent, my mom, who’s in an assisted living facility or whatever.” We also hear a lot about the Sandwich Generation, so for some adults who might be caring for elderly family members and also kiddos, and the additional stress that brings, or those sorts of things. Don, I’m wondering what might you say to other community organizations or businesses that are interested in considering programming like this and have sort of some of the same questions around well, “does this that take away from work productivity or if I’ve got an employee spending an hour at this kind of an event and they’re not out, you know, making money for the company. Does that impact my bottom line?” What would you say to that?
Don Woodruff Well, I think with most things its an investment. So, if you’re investing this hour, you then can propel them to be even more productive and having their mind in the game. If they’re worried about these things or anything, and if you can put their mind at ease, they then are able to focus better and be more efficient. I think it’s an investment, not a cost, not a drain.
Maya Chilese Yeah, I would agree with you there. There is some really great research on ROI, or the return on investment, from businesses who implement worksite wellness sorts of programming all over the nation. Worksite wellness as a public health strategy has really spread considerably. Now, not all worksite wellness programs cover mental health, and not all organizations who address mental health have other kind of health-related worksite wellness programming. It’s really important for organizations to consider both. So, Don, your statement around it’s an investment, I think is really dead-on and data seems to demonstrate that as well. I’m curious – do either of you have plans to expand your work? Nina, I heard you say a little bit more about the new program that you’ve created, also outside fo the box, after implementing the Not Myself Today program from Canada. You were interested in perhaps in being able to expand this program to other locations that your company has across the globe. What other ways or things have you guys considered about how you might sustain or expand the work that you’re currently doing?
Don Woodruff As mentioned earlier, we’re working with community family resources. We’ve also been working with our health insurance providers and also our local medical facilities. Having four offices throughout the state and they’re each given, for the most part, similar information but a few nuggets here and there that we can implement. Being in the earlier stages of addressing this head-on, I think there is a lot of information to be gathered and continue on. Again, just making it aware or making our employees aware that this is one more additional avenue for them to get help. We always talk about if you’re injured or your arm’s broken, you go to the doctor. Well, if your head’s broken you can also go to the doctor or you can go get help in another manner. That’s what we’re trying to shed light on. Just make it more prevalent or more available.
Maya Chilese That’s great Don, thank you. Nina?
Nina Richtman I’d say we’re in the stage where we’ve implemented a few things and we continue to really just have conversations about mental health and mental wellness. We’ve done that through a variety of small programs that’ve been grassroots led. I think at this point we have a good base and we’re just maintaining. So, not a lot of plans to implement anything else really, but to just kind of keep going because culture change is slow right? We just have to keep going.
Maya Chilese Yeah, that’s fantastic. I really appreciate hearing from both of you around sort of the grassroots that this has taken around. Not only your business taking a leadership role in bringing some of these programs in, but also in empowering employees to get involved and help one another in that community perspective. That’s really beautiful to hear. One of the things that I think that we’ve seen in Nebraska is public health professionals have continued to explore “what is our role and how do we help local businesses and organizations and community members also do a little bit of the same?” So, for public health professionals that are some of our listeners today, in thinking about how your organization, often a public health department, or other public health programs, how you, yourself, are likely working somewhere, so as an employee in an organization, how can you help replicate programming that both Don and Nina have talked about today? Also, how can you help community providers connect to other resources? If you’re working in a local health department, how can you serve as a resource where you might not be the provider of all these services, but could help a Nina or a Don find some connections to other community partners? So those are a couple of the things that were just on my mind. In Nebraska, we’ve had some really cool initatives where a lot of our public health providers are offering training around things like Mental Health First Aid, which is an evidence-based program that anybody can participate in. Identifying programming you know, like you were talking about, these are things that regular people can do. You don’t have to be a licensed mental health practitioner to provide help. Don, you mentioned a couple things as well that people can do for one another. Exploring programming like bringing in Mental Health First Aid or QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade, Refer, which is a suicide prevention and outreach strategy that is designed for regular people like us who aren’t necessarily practitioners. There are ways that we can give people language and words and ways to feel more comfortable interacting with one another and being able to provide that support. It’s really cool to hear that you guys are coming at this from a community perspective and recognizing that your work environment is also still a community, that people bring their whole selves to the work environment, and investing in that makes for a more robust and productive work environment. I appreciate that. I have sort of a side question for both of you. Don, I’ll ask maybe you to respond first, but every business, of course, does, you know, sick leave or vacation leave or any of those sorts of leave things a little bit differently. I’m curious as to whether or not you have addressed like a mental health day from a resiliency perspective perhaps, sort of more of a preventive perspective, and how people might utilize those to take leave instead of on the back end of now, you know, “now I’m really experiencing some issues that i need to probably utilize the sick leave time for.” Have either of your businesses done that? Don, have you guys explored that?
Don Woodruff No, we haven’t. We strongly encourage use of PPO and will only allow one week per year to carry over. Again, they can either pepper it throughout the year or take a two or three week vacation, whatever they have built up. You need to be recharged and you need to get away from this. If there is stress involved with your occupation, you need to get away from that, recharge, and come back that much more energized.
Maya Chilese Yeah, Nina, what about you?
Nina Richtman I don’t know anything specifically on that, although I imagine that if it’s a reasonable request to take that for a sick day. One thing that is really helpful that they just implemented in terms of new policy for Corteva is that each employee is entitled to forty hours of family leave time per year, which is only slightly related here. I am a parent to two kids with mental illness and so having those forty hours to use when I need to, if I need to provide support to my kids, is really helpful. So, that’s one of the new implemented policies.
Maya Chilese That’s really cool to hear. Yes, I think that’s so important for us to recognize. Both of you mentioned that, you know, the employee themself may not be the one experiencing mental health, but you’ve got a family member, a loved one, or a kiddo experiencing that. So, addressing that not only are they a whole person, but they’re also connected to a family and how do you support them in that way. Research also demonstrates that parents of kiddos that are experiencing behavioral health challenges are more likely to miss more work time than other parents that have kiddos that don’t experience behavioral health challenges. So, I would include behavioral health as well as any other sort of type of disability, so parents of kids who are experiencing any other mental or physical challenges obviously often have higher rates of work absence. For businesses to be able to provide support and recognize that and not have the employee feel that it’s a stigma for them for having to have more leave. So then they can feel like they are still confident in their work environment, and don’t have to quit and find another job or get fired and find another job because of those barriers, which is really great. Nina, you had mentioned the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is NAMI, which tends to really address more of the adult population. There also is an entity, the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, which is sort of the parents of kids version of NAMI. They often have statewide chapters as well, and then often even with local family organizations that is specifically designed to provide support to parents. Like NAMI, it’s a consumer-driven organization, so that would be parents helping other parents and providing that kind of peer support to one another. It’s another great resource that you could consider. I think it’s really valuable, both Don and Nina, you talked about having people talk about their own experiences and normalizing what that really looks like instead of the sort of TV-version that we might have of people who experience mental health and painting a realistic picture of what resilience and recovery looks like. So that people not only normalize what it looks like to experience these things when you’re in the middle of it, but what it looks like when you’re healthy and you’re doing well, and that those things are realities. You can be supported in both ways. It’s so great to hear two businesses that are doing such great work in this arena. I had asked a little bit earlier about what barriers or challenges you might have, but I would ask now what advice or recommendations you might have in general to other organizations or businesses that are considering programming like this? What would you say might be some first steps or places to start? Nina, would you kick that off for us?
Nina Richtman Sure. One thing that I have seen is that in order for you to have success, you have to be able to imagine it working into your workplace culture. When we were thinking about different programs, that’s what we were thinking about in terms of what might lead to success by how are we structured and how do we do things, and that’s why we ultimately selected the type of program that we did. It was driven by managers and we have a lot of meetings for that. The cadence was right, like the program offered an activity or presentation every month or two and we have a lot of groups that are set up like that where they meet with their whole team every month or two. It just felt like a fit for that reason. There’s other programs I know of that a lot of companies do where it’s webinar-based or maybe it’s a recorded presentation that employees can go to a portal and watch. We tend to get bombarded with that sort of thing, so we knew that we wouldn’t really get out what we were hoping for, which was an all employee awareness as opposed to providing resources for individuals that are impacted or just curious to find out more information. That’s just going to be a much smaller percentage of who our audience would be. So, you know, having this be something that was driven by an employee resource group, we had, you know, some really passionate individuals that were putting their heads together to think about what might this look like and then making that pitch to our leadership. I think when we thought about it that way we really knew we were really coming at it from the employee experience. We could bring a perspective that was unique potentially. Where I think what’s different here is that we are not in charge, so we were just looking at it through a different lense. There’s great programs through HR as well, but it’s just a little bit different thought process that went into it. So to answer your question, I would just say really think about who your audience is and what you’re hoping to get from it. Are you hoping to provide more resources to those that are potentially struggling with a mental illness or are you hoping to change the culture and kind of tackle stigma and create awareness? There’s different ways of approaching it. Both are great things to provide, but different things and different ways of approaching.
Maya Chilese Yeah, those are great recommendations. I really appreciated your highlight of, you know, workplace culture. So, assessing your current environment and what kinds of things would best thread between how you already do your work. Don, I heard you really talk about that as well when one of the very first things you said was that family core values are very important to you. A core value for you business is addressing family and family support. Because of that, the approach that you guys utilized was really designed within that sort of a model. What advice would you say for other businesses or employers that are interested in addressing mental health in their work environment?
Don Woodruff We would suggest to other employers that have not embarked on any programs to address mental health issues to be courageous, discuss what once was a somewhat formidable topic, but be courageous in that. Bring it out in the forefront. The other thing is to let your employees know that you’re here to help, you’re here to help their families themselves. Let them know you care about them.
Maya Chilese Don, that’s great. I really appreciate that. There’s parts of me that feel like man I wish if every business in the nation took that perspective and really did a good job of expressing to their employees that they cared about their well-being and their family environment, and wanted them to be health, whole, and well, that we might have a different America, a little bit. I’m just so encouraged by what both of you are doing, so I really commend you for that and I’m grateful to hear such good work happening. Given that the podcast series today is centered around public health professionals and as the Midwest Public Health Training Center, typically our podcast viewers are folks that work in the public health arena, which often encompasses our partners in behavioral health as well, what might you say to our listeners? So if you were talking to some people who might work at a local public health department or who work in other community organizations who are in the field of trying to increase health and wellness and do health promotion overall as a part of their work, who intend to strengthen community health and overall well-being, what particular things might you say to them? In terms of not necessarily them as an employer that is looking to start a program in their business, but as partners in providing health and resources to the community. What would you say to them or what might you ask of them as public health professionals that can help in this arena?
Don Woodruff We would ask that they have information readily available either in written form or access to websites. Frequently asked questions are oftentimes a very great place to start for our employees. We would also ask them to partner, if we can interspere some of their information into some other topics we have. I think I mentioned earlier about our company helping out with financial planning. If we can intersperse that and say if this is too stressful for you or to give a segway to get help above and beyond just simply financial planning. Back into the mental health arena or even a physical health arena, they all go hand-in-hand.
Maya Chilese Yeah, that’s good. Nina?
Nina Richtman Yeah, I would say we would be very open to partnering. The way that I think that could for a large organization is find out if you could, you know, who the employee resource group is, who leads one of the mployee resource groups, or maybe connecting through HR. What we do is we periodically have lunch and learn events where people can come and learn about a topic or we have a panel discussion or we have a community partners event where people can set up a table. We have a variety of different organizations represented, so any of those would be good ways, like Don was saying, just to get the information out there. We also have for our employee resource group a distribution list. So, if there was something that was a link to a website or a portal or information, we can send out to our distribution list. Then, anyone who might find that information useful or helpful would have it and, you know, potentially even sending it out to an employee group if there was a need for it. I think just the more connected we can get, then the better we will be able to distribute the information for the resources that are available through community partners.
Maya Chilese Yeah, that’s good. You know, it’s interesting to hear both of you say that even in, you know, a small city, nobody ever knows all of the resources that are happening around them. In every community I’ve ever worked with, when people are sitting down together saying “how are we gonna address X topic“, the first thing always is put together a resource list. It just is difficult, it’s hard to stay on top of that. So, a lot of times that’s some of the role of public health, is trying to help create that network. While we might not be experts in every single topic, to be able to serve as threads between stuff is really valuable. We certainly encourage some of our public health listeners to consider how they might contribute to that. I have just one last question for you guys today, but before I get to my question, I’m wondering if there might be some other gold nugget or something else that either of you wanted to share that we didn’t have a chance to talk about yet? Is there one last key win or key point or thing that you would want to share about the work that you’re doing? Don?
Don Woodruff Actually, I’ve learned a great deal. There’s a lot more things we can be doing than we are. But, I guess what would be the gold nugget is that this is a journey, it’s not a destination. We need to continually improve what we’re doing. We’re doing better than we had been, but we’re not doing as well as we’re going to be. So that would be my golden nugget. It’s a journey, not a destination.
Maya Chilese That’s fantastic, Don, thank you. Nina, what about you?
Nina Richtman If it’s, you know, useful, I can share a couple more of the employee activities that we’ve done? So one of the other – this is kind of around community partnerships – but the organization, Please Pass the Love, is a school mental health organization and it’s based in Des Moines, but serves the state of Iowa. They had an initiative in October where they were having local businesses and different organizations write cards for kids that were hospitalized for a mental health condition. So, we had an employee event – we actually had two because it was so popular. The first one was where people could come and fill out some cards, decorate them, or write a message to kids that are in the hospital. We’re planning to do that again this year for October, being Mental Health Awareness Month. Another program that we did was we created rocks for suicide prevention. We call it the Kindness Rock Project. Basically what it is is a painted rock that you can write a message on, and every rock included the 1-800 suicide hotline number and then also the text crisis line. This was a fun community partnership because employees created the rocks. We had a friends and family event recently and we passed out all of the rocks at the friends and family event to anybody that came to our booth saying bring this to somewhere else in the community. Put it out somewhere so that sombeody might find it and it might be just the thing they need on that day to be able to manage whatever they’re trying to manage. So, we just encouraged everybody to take the rocks and put them somewhere. This is the second time, we did it last year as well, and then we did it again this year. All these things I think are small in scale, but really, it gets out that idea around culture change and fighting stigma and really just making it more of a topic that people can talk about. You know, these are some of the things we are just trying to engage employees and just overall engagement of employees around the topic. The way we look at it is that it’s pretty easy, right? You can just come and decorate a rock or, you know, fill out a card. You don’t have to actually divulge any information about yourself or your connection. You know, maybe there is no connection for you personally, but it’s just a way to give back to the community and kind of bring mental health to the forefront.
Maya Chilese That’s so cool. I love that idea. That’s very creative, Nina, thank you for sharing those. Yeah. Good. Okay, well my last question – and you guys have touched on this sort of throughout our discussion today – but, my last question perhaps is just if you would be willing to summarize? Perhaps your organization has done some sort of formal surveying about how the implementation of these programs has impacted or changed your culture or employee satisfaction or whatever around those things? I’m just curious since it’s been a little while that both of you have seen some of these programs roll out in your workplace community. What is your overall sense of how your work environment has changed or shifted as a result of these initiatives?
Don Woodruff I would say ours has just continued to strengthen, more so anecdotally than through a survey or specific questioning. The overall sense of coming together or being a stronger work family, I think, is ever more prevalent in our organization than ever before.
Maya Chilese Thanks, Don. Nina, what about you?
Nina Richtman We sent out a survey before we started the all-employee program. We’re about to actually send out another survey to have some comparison data points. So in terms of the data, I know what it looked like to begin with and I’m hopeful that it made some good strides in terms of how people are feeling in the space. Again, you know, just sort of like Don was saying, anecdotally, I feel like it is better. We have created a space where it’s more okay to talk about these things. It’s more okay to bring your whole self to work and to be more open, but I also think we definitely have a long way to go. Since we’re such a large organization, it’s going to take some time to really get the messaging and, you know, that openness to spread. There’s pockets right now of managers who are really embracing it and obviously for those particular groups, it’s been a really positive experience. Then there’s others who, you know, we just got to get them onboard. I haven’t experienced any resistance that is, you know, something that is really tangible, but it’s just kind of “we are busy, things are happening“, kind of to your point earlier where you’re saying “that’s another hour out of our day, or that’s ten minutes out of team meetings.” So really, just kind of getting people onboard where there is a return on investment, there’s value in this, and it strengthens teams. I think that will come with just being able to showcase the good things that have happened from it and the examples from within the organization of success.
Maya Chilese Yeah. Don and Nina, I’m so grateful for this conversation today. I’ve been jotting down some notes as I’ve listened to you and I’m just reflecting on a little bit of some of the things that I heard today that were so powerful. Don, I really appreciated your conversation around honoring that your organization has core values that include caring for the whole family and not just the person. Nina, you referenced that we want to be able to bring our whole person to work and our whole person includes family. So being better at recognizing that people bring their whole selves, you don’t just shut off at eight o’clock a.m., you know, the rest of what’s happening in your world. Having a community in your workplace that embraces your whole self and has resources available – and not just “your insurance covers this or you have an EAP” – because both of you described this organic, employee-embraced and employee-driven initative that are simply people loving on one another in ways that are sometimes formal programs or in other things that are just oureach, sharing, and really embracing that. I’m just so excited to hear that and recognizeing that addressing mental health can be difficult. Both of you mentioned sometimes the stigma around that, but the encouragement for businesses to consider programming, that it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated, it doesn’t have to be assuring that you have X number of sick days. It can be organic and natural and there are resources available. I heard both of you say that you would definitely encourage some of our public health listeners to be thinking about how they can contribute and support, having information available, helping to be threads within the community of connecting partners and resources, helping to perhaps even serve in as panel participants, or contributing in some of those other ways. All of those things help increase connectivity along businesses in the community, but also across each other as people. I am so excited to have had the time to talk to you both today. I really appreciate both of you sharing the kinds of programming that you’ve offered. I’ve heard you both talk about the receptiveness among employees and the positive impact. Don, I really appreciated your statement around this being an investment. So from the business perspective, we’re looking for that ROI and if we’re implementing a program, is it successful, and does our data show that, but more organically, do we feel more connected? Has our culture changed? Are we seeing some of those things that perhaps are more qualitative than they are quantitative? I’m just so honored to have both of you caring about this topic, doing work inside of your work community around that, and for sharing those successes with us today. Any last words from either of you, Nina or Don, around our experience today talking together?
Don Woodruff I don’t have any.
Nina Richtman No, thanks for the opportunity.
Maya Chilese Yeah, thank you so much, Nina and Don, thank you so much. For all of our listeners, we continue to encourage our public health partners to think about what it means, what your role is to help address mental health, and how we can continue to be a part of a positive conversation. We continue to hear the statement around “there is not health without behavioral health.” So, in our work in supporting and promoting health, resiliency, and even recovery, let’s do all we can to think about how we can support one another. This has been another podcast of the Midwest Public Health training Center. We’ll see you again soon. Thank you.
End Credits Thank you for joining us today. Special thanks to our guests and members of our planning committee Sonja Armbruster, Katie Brandert, Stacey Coleman, Brandon Grimm, Joy Harris, Suzanne Hawley, Abigail Menke, Janine Moody, Mellisa Richland, Hannah Shultz, Laurie Walkner, and Kristen Wilson for guidance in creating this series. And to Maya Chilese for guidance as well as hosting this series. Theme music was composed and produced by Dave Hoing and Roger Hileman. Funding for this webinar is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Please see the podcast notes for an evaluation and transcript.