Joerg Schmitz 0:08
Welcome to The Inclusive Leader Podcast. The practice of inclusive leadership enables us to tackle the complex challenges of our times. This is the space for conversations about inclusive leadership. I am your host York Schmitz and I welcome you to this episode. Mental health and well being have emerged as key issues in many organizations, mostly catalyzed by the COVID pandemic, and the multiple crisis ever since. This makes attention to mental health and well being a key aspect of inclusive leadership. illuminating this issue and equipping leaders with the awareness skills and guidance in decision making and culture shaping has been the focus of Jonah Nicholas, founder of wellbeing outfits, a leading provider of mental health and wellbeing programs. I am delighted to share this expansive conversation with you. Since my conversation with Joe Nall took us through a lot of territory and lasted longer than many of the other conversations, we've decided to make it available in two parts. So please enjoy this first part. So let me dive right in. Jono, what do you do?
Jono Nicholas 1:30
So I'm run an organization called the wellbeing outfit. And the work that we do is helping individuals, teams and organizations align the well being of their staff with the performance of their organization. So we have the great joy of consulting to be global organizations, through two tiny NGOs. But really with the central idea of how do we help organizations, teams and individuals align, high well being and high performance, knowing that for most people, being great at work means sacrificing their well being. And looking after their well being is often viewed as not being fully committed to work. And so we're really helping change that paradigm, which is a really exciting space to be,
Joerg Schmitz 2:23
especially through the COVID experience. I think this this connection between well being and performance it has really risen into in everybody's consciousness, I think.
Jono Nicholas 2:34
Yeah, I think it was, it was a fundamental change. I've been in mental health and well being for the better part of 25 plus years. I would say it definitely accelerated through COVID and suffer some very unusual factors. Your I think, firstly, the relationship between employees changed as people started breaking down the walls of their life. You know, I spent a lot of time talking with people where kids are in the background dogs are in the background. And normally that if you think pre pandemic couple of factors, firstly, we didn't do video conversations. So to have a conversation with people at work, you would have been on a really bad teleconference where you talk over someone, someone apologizes, the audio doesn't quite work, but you have no other cues. Then we went into video conferencing, and then we went into video conferencing in people's personal spaces. And so the blur between work and personal life changed fundamentally just because of video, put aside the pandemic, then you had this other part, which is people had a global shared experience in a way that we haven't seen in other times, probably the last time I think what would have happened, probably would have been World War where people had this sense of shared experience. But even that was very delayed in the World War One World War Two, I had to wait a week for the media to catch up to what was happening in other countries. Whereas this was happening in real time. You could talk to yourself in Germany and talk about lockdowns there, and in Australia, the same and so this sense of we're connected by humanity was a really fascinating thing that that meant people were able to be a lot more vulnerable. And from a mental health and well being point of view, it was okay to be scared. That wasn't seen as a low performance thing that if you're anxious, if you're worried if you were scared. That was just a completely appropriate thing to talk about because we had this shared experience. That was the second part. And then the third part, I think, for a lot of leaders, is the sense of gap between them and their staff disintegrated organizations culturally flattened during that time. And so staff got to see their leaders in their home yard spend a lot of time advising leaders through the pandemic and saying to them, you have to enlist and that you're joined a reality television show that you didn't realize you've joined, you've gone from having one on one conversations to broadcasting yourself sometimes to 1000s of your staff members on television. And they're judging you like they judge a politician. And I think for a lot of leaders that created this sense of intimacy with their people that they haven't otherwise had, and that I hope on reflection they take away. So from a mental health and wellbeing point of view, we saw this shared experience this sense of vulnerability as people were able to share their personal lives, and the people's relationship to work changed. And the final thing that I spoke a lot to lose about your what's really important is what did the pandemic do the pandemic atomized us we were literally told if we leave our home, the world outside is scary. And when we're scared psychologically, the human impulse is to gather, right, because our sense of fear is we're best protected other rather than from each other. And so it's a very, very unusual experience to be scared, and then be told to be scared of those you most love. You're not allowed to connect in community you're not allowed to support. And so what happened for people is workplaces became their community. It was the often the only place they connected with other humans in very vulnerable ways. Because their kids were in school. They didn't go the community hall, they didn't play sport. And so one of those things in workplaces that got this really right, is that the workplace melded into your community space. And in fact, in some instances, in many instances, we had long lockdowns replace community. And so what we saw was just a very kind of different change that then in how people related to work, and what it meant to be well and performing, you know, in the workplace. Some of that will settle down, I think some of that people will forget that I think we're seeing already a profound change in the relationship between people and the nature of work. As they kind of reexamine a lot of the assumptions that were there for most of their work life.
Joerg Schmitz 7:19
You know, I always saw the opportunity is that we, through this we can recreate, right we can we can reconstruct what work and the workplace actually means. And somehow I don't experience a lot of leaders taking that challenge on I don't know what what you're seeing some do. And a lot of people are seem to be going back to old models, or they are maintaining some sort of a hybrids, for way that doesn't seem to fit anymore. I really experienced a spectrum but but a lot of leaders are not actively recreating the workplace.
Jono Nicholas 8:01
Yeah, there's, there's a couple of parts that your I think the first party is, it depends which business you're in, if you've had a business and an organization where people have been out in public spaces, throughout the pandemic, think nursing scene teaching, thing, construction thing, transport and logistics, thing, customer service, fast foods, for example, then what you've effectively had is a bifurcated workforce, right? Where through the pandemic, you had generally centralized office operations working from home that were felt safe. And another group of people who were out in public and, and the mindset there, which is really fascinating is almost all governments had a daily update that said the world scary don't go out in it. So almost daily, someone would say in Australia at 11am, a politician stand up and say, today, there's been X number of COVID cases, this is what the restrictions are. And it was designed in a way that is like propaganda, right? To reinforce a simple message again, and again and again, to evoke a feeling of fie. intent was very good, right? The intent, we are unlike people think about propaganda as having mal intent, but think about the tactics of propaganda were really repeated through the pandemic. And then we told some people, Hey, I know I've just told you the world's really scary, but can you go out and do a job? And so what we're seeing in those workforces that leaders don't understand is, by enlarge, those people are mentally exhausted. And through two years, we had this narrative of the worker as the hero, right, nurses are heroes, doctors are heroes, teachers are heroes, the hero just for doing your job. And then at the end of the pandemic has gone Oh, no, no, you're no longer a hero anymore. You're just back to being a teacher again. So what we're finding already and I expect over the next two to three years is quite a lot of industrial action is that group of people feel as if their experience isn't Not really reflected. And you know, for teachers going off. To be honest, I'm a bit tired being a hero, I'd much rather the cash, and I just have to pay rise for being a hero. But I'm the one who held the economy together, like I'm the one who delivered you your fresh food every day to your supermarket, can I please kind of have a pay rise and the other part of your workforce going, I feel like the last two years I've been pent up. And I'm ready to get back out in the world. Right. And so the first thing I'd say to leaders that they've got to embrace is actually spend time with your people understanding what has been the experience of the last two years, and understanding that for most executives, their experience, in fact, almost all executives, firstly, your role is to monetize your brain. Right, which meant that you are being paid regardless. The second is that you had relatively secure employment throughout that whole period. Right. So your sense of material risk is really different than a truck driver, who says if I go out in the middle of the pandemic, then I'm not going to get paid today. So this sense of economic vulnerability wasn't there. And then the third thing is, if you're an executive, it's likely that you're older, likely that if you have a house, you've paid off party house. So what we saw because of the economic situation is, the older you were, the more you economically prospered from the pandemic, right, you have less economic vulnerability, you're able to stay in a house that you're able to keep paying off at record low interest rates globally, and you are likely through your pension or anything else, to have investments in the share market that skyrocketed. So you come out of the pandemic going well, that was really scary, but having more in your bank account, because you couldn't spend on overseas holidays, all that and think about what that means. Now for a woman who's 25 Say, who has worked as a person in a supermarket, every day working hour upon hour, feeling emotionally and economically vulnerable. Your experience now as interest rates go up, as the economy kind of settles down. As inflation really kind of skyrockets in many countries, is one of man, these last two years have been super hard. And now I'm in economic stress. And when I kind of say that to executives, it's really about saying, put yourself in the mind of your people, and understand that your experience is not their experience. You know, probably my first practical advice for people listening to this would be segment your staff like you segment your customers, we put a lot of effort in business to segment customers,
Joerg Schmitz 12:48
we have an entire science around it.
Jono Nicholas 12:51
Exactly. And I say like how many of you segment your staff? What do you know about you know, the housing situation of the 22 year old and your employee? What does that mean for a single part parent? Who's, you know, 36? What does that mean in terms of the political leanings of your people and whether or not and they look at you kind of astonished as if you're doing this, like you do that for your customers. And once you understand their profile, you therefore can start saying what do I need to do to support their well being and performance, right? What's important for a 23 year old, who's lost two years of their life that at the time, where they define their identity, through travel through experience, they've lost it, they didn't get it back. They didn't go to university, they didn't go to college, they didn't go to school, they've lost parties, fun, all the things that make being 21 and 22. Awesome. They didn't get and think about that, then what it means for you know, someone in their 60s who may have had health vulnerabilities and what the last two years are, and those two people have nothing in common in their experience. And once you understand that, as a leader, you can really understand what do you need to do. And that's, I think, the most important thing that a leader can do get inside the head of your people, understand their fears, joys ambitions, and think about what it means to come out the other side with empathy, and so that you can say, here's how we all come back together, because that's the challenge of the post crisis pandemic world, which is we've described like, we spent two years ripping the tapestry of our community apart to its Adams said, there is no community, there's just you and your house for two years. And then we suddenly go, oh, there's a community again, and be well, I don't know what that means. Right? So workplaces are communities as well. You've gotten we've as a leader, your job is to allow for that community to be woven back together and there will be a picture that will be formed. The only question is in that weaving of our community back together, is it a picture that I look at and go That's amazing, or is it chaos? Any way or not as leaders deliberate around creating space to create The picture that our people want their needs, then the outcome will be a chaotic picture. And we're seeing that in some countries politically, where their leaders pulling the threads apart, where they're creating a chaotic picture. And we're seeing some countries where the leaders are working on social harmony, connectedness. And the community is responding positively. So I think that's a big lesson, I'd say for leaders. You know, don't worry about how often you people come to the office, worry about how the community is being needed back together, according to your mission, your values and the type of teams that you want. If you do that, really well, you come out of it really in a really fantastic space.
Joerg Schmitz 15:40
What I actually resonate with also, is that in what you're saying, you're actually putting a slightly different spin on the diversity, equity and inclusiveness conversation, because the way that I would translate this is that this ripping apart of community has actually changed the face of diversity. Yes, not that some of the conventional categories are wrong. But it added layers, especially the economic layer, the economic vulnerability layer, the demographic variables that really give us a very different experience throughout all of this. And so the idea of equity needs to really be recast almost right in those terms. And inclusiveness really means community building, building togetherness and community.
Jono Nicholas 16:32
And I think that the interesting part is that economic variability is not something at least in the Australian context, you hear a lot about, go back to other kind of shared experiences like World Wars. In Australia, we still venerate the young people who went to war in 1910s, right, we have an exact day that celebrates and honors those generation young people who sacrifice their lives to benefit the story of Australia, as we're told, most countries have that same, same story. And then I kind of say to leaders hold on, largely young people sacrificed two years of their life, their identity to keep older people like me safe. The health and social benefits that came with keeping COVID numbers low, were disproportionately weighted towards older people. And young people went, Okay, let's sign up for that. A quirk of that was older people got richer at the expense of younger people, they had more assets, they're able to monetize their brain because they're more likely to have been senior roles. They're more likely to have higher salaries, they're more likely to have benefits of investment. And then we go, oh, okay, everything goes back to the way it was. I'm like, no, no, no. What older generations did you think about the baby boomers have like your older generations sacrificed a lot for you. And there's a sense of the older people repaying that back to young people, intergenerational equity. And what I kind of find very odd is how we don't have that conversation in a diversity or point to a diversity inclusion sense. What did it mean for someone to be isolated for two years? What does it mean for someone in our workforce? Who says family, here in Australia, we have lots of people who come from other countries and work here by themselves. So let's say your family is in India, and you've come here to work in Australia and got trapped, you haven't seen your family? What does it mean for that person. And then we start getting into a really interesting good conversation around, we need the picture back together, because we start with, Hey, tell me about your experience. So when we need it together, we don't need it back together so that the dominant story is the only story in the picture. And I think that's what you talk about in diversity inclusion is, when you look at that tapestry, what you don't want to see is a story of a single story, rather than a rich tapestry of multiple, and people don't want to feel invisible, in that meeting back together, because then quite rightly, they just get angry, they feel good, they get resentful, and then you have other sorts of issues emerge Well, or minimized.
Joerg Schmitz 19:20
Again, I need to say because some of these conventional categories are just too broad by to the I mean, I love this advice you gave you don't let segment our employees the way we segment our customers, because we would never be content with these diversity categories, at least the traditional ones to categorize our customers, we would be much more nuanced, much more specific. Not that some of these elements don't apply, but we would go further beyond right. And in diversity, oftentimes we're content not to wind and then when we piece community together, hopefully we don't go back to these minimizing The labels and actually build a new tapestry that that accounts for the complexity and the nuance of our experience and sense of identity.
Jono Nicholas 20:08
Yeah. And then that would be my second advice for leaders, once you segment really dangerous bent on eliciting talking and look at it through really practical lens. So the most kind of common question I get for leaders, which is, why am I people coming back to the office, and my kind of feedback to them is they are communicating with you something, it's just that the message they're communicating is not one you want to hear. So you can either ignore them get angry at them, that they're not complaining, but they're not children, they're telling you, and you start with an assumption that says, My people care about this company, because the assumption is a leader, if if they're not back in the office, they don't care, like I care, but let's assume they care as much as you the second part, which is assume they care about performing in their role as much as you care. Because that's the second kind of layer of excuse that leaders have around the office are they just not as committed as me because I don't come to the office every day, or whatever it is you there is committed. And then third layer is assumed they're smart, right? They're not idiots. They're they're doing they're making conscious decisions around how to do their job and manage their life as best. Once you assume those three layers, what you have is a commonality between leadership and your people. And then you go, Okay, now I have to ask myself a question how if I assume those three things, how have they arrived at a different conclusion than I have around the value of the office? And what almost inevitably happens with leaders, you have to understand that for you, the office is your happy place, right? It is the place where you feel in control, it's clean, it's tidy, you have often have executive assistants who arranged your diary for you
Joerg Schmitz 21:53
other trappings of power, acts
Jono Nicholas 21:56
of status, right? You have your people arrive easily for you, you don't have to book video conference. So it's like for you the office is an interesting, easy place emotionally. Now put yourself in the mind of someone with three kids under the age of five. For them, the office is a transactional space, when they come to the office, they have to wear an amazing emotional cost of I have to do drop offs, I have to get a kid to daycare, I have to negotiate with my partner who's doing pickups, what happens if the kid has, you know, daycare sickness. And so for them, it's like, actually, the office doesn't carry a sense of peace, it carries a sense of cost. And so then the kind of question for leaders would be if that's true, why do I have to do for my people to make the benefits outweigh that cost? And my advice is, is you've not ever kind of thought about that. And then once you kind of understand you get in mind people going, oh, cool, it's a transactional space, then you can look at really practical situations. So one of those things that I'd say is a really practical outcome, if you've got a segment of workforce, you know, a certain proportion of your people have kids in so you know, 10 and under, where, you know, particularly say school holidays are stressful, because you've got to work with the kids, for example, that you can then maybe say to your budget, like how about we use some of that office space and create a place where all the kids can come on school holidays, set up all this their computers, open space, get crayons, maybe get a like funder, teacher or someone to come in for the day and entertain the kids, maybe the cost of that is, say 1000 bucks. Think about what that would mean to your people about their relationship to the office, all of a sudden, the office isn't a transactional space, it's a place that's happy I get my kids, I might save money on after school care. And when you kind of say that to leave to go or that it's not that hard. It's really practical stuff. But it starts with an assumption, which is I understand their worldview. I understand they care. I understand that they're, they've arrived at a different decision for me. And once I understand that bridge, I therefore can come up with creative concrete solutions that in almost all circumstances costs you in material terms very, very little. But the outsides benefits for your people are enormous and therefore you get high engagement high well being high performance.
Joerg Schmitz 24:25
If you enjoyed the first part of my conversation with Joe Nicholas, the founder of wellbeing outfit, a leading provider of mental health and wellbeing programs. I hope you will also enjoy this second part.
Thank you for listening. You can sign up for more wherever you get your podcasts, just look for The Inclusive Leader Podcast. To find out more about the inclusive leadership institute, visit us at dub You WW the inclusive leadership institute.com