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“Treat people as people, not as employees”, Scott Shute and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Treat people as people, not as employees. Let them express their true creativity. Encourage them to be their full best self at work. Treat your customers like you would your neighbors. Focus on the ways you’re bringing value to the world. Create an environment where you’d be proud for your daughter or grandson to work. As […]

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Treat people as people, not as employees. Let them express their true creativity. Encourage them to be their full best self at work. Treat your customers like you would your neighbors. Focus on the ways you’re bringing value to the world. Create an environment where you’d be proud for your daughter or grandson to work.


As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Shute, Head of Mindfulness and Compassion programs at LinkedIn

Scott is at the intersection of the workplace and ancient wisdom traditions. Previously, he was the Vice President of LinkedIn’s Customer Operations organization. In his current role as Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn, Scott blends his lifelong practice and passion with his practical leadership and operations experience. His mission is to change work from the inside out by “mainstreaming mindfulness” and “operationalizing compassion.” He is the author of the upcoming book The Full Body Yes, available in May 2021


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve always had a deep interest in contemplative practices. I began meditating when I was thirteen and while it wasn’t something I ever talked about at work, meditation has always played a pivotal role in how I approach daily life, navigate choices and help create and maintain balance both at work and everywhere else. When I stepped into the role as VP of Customer Operations at LinkedIn, I recognized what an open and amazing place it was.
I soon realized it was finally time for me to open up and share my love of meditation and how it influences my daily life. With a great group of volunteers, I began leading a weekly practice which grew into an incredible mindfulness program. Over time I knew it was time for me (and LinkedIn) to fully invest in this work. I made a proposal to the CEO and the head of HR and collectively we created my current role, which is very unique. My mission is to change work from the inside out by mainstreaming mindfulness and operationalizing compassion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I had this amazing experience about learning how to trust my inner guidance when I needed to make a tough decision. My right-hand man was taking another role, so it was necessary to replace him. As I was hiring for this most strategic role on my team, the incoming leader’s success would be my success. It represented the most critical hire of my life and it felt like everyone was watching. The stakes were definitely high.

There were two finalists. After many rounds of interviews, there was a great deal of feedback and discussion about the talents and qualities of each. The interview team, made up of my direct reports and some important cross-functional partners, was split 50–50. Many people were involved because we wanted them to be part of the process of changing management. As part of the decision, they also would be more invested in whomever was chosen.

This was an opinionated bunch. While half of the team thought the external candidate, Anka, was great; but they were not convinced that the other candidate could do the job. Conversely, the other half of the team thought the internal candidate, Julie, was the best choice and were not confident in the capacity of the other candidate to do the job.

With that uncomfortable and familiar “boxed-in” feeling, I felt like I was in a tough spot. I knew that no matter which one I chose, half of the team would be upset. With my life strategy of “likeability”, I prefer a consensus, or at least a majority. This prevents ugly conflict and helps me feel safer. However, ultimately, this would be my decision alone. There was no hiding.

I mulled it over for days. I reviewed my list of pros and cons for each candidate. I considered the counsel of everyone involved; it was dead-even. At decision time, my mind felt very noisy. I needed to get quiet. In contemplation, I asked for guidance. In a conversation with The Universe, I said, “OK, I don’t do this very often, but I need some help here. I need a sign.” I took some deep breaths and settled in.

“If it’s Anka…” I lightly brought Anka to mind, an Indian woman with deep black hair.

“I’ll see dark black hair with a bun in the back and chopsticks holding it together.” Yep, I know that seems more Asian than Indian; but it was the image that came to me.

“And if it’s Julie…” I brought Julie to mind. I remembered that she had a distinctive, bright orange work bag that she carried around with her.

“I’ll see an orange…rhinoceros,” I chuckled to myself. ‘An orange rhino? How’s that going to happen?’ I knew from trying this technique previously that I needed to be specific, choosing things that I normally wouldn’t encounter. If I chose a Silver Prius vs a blue bird, I’d see hundreds of them. I guess I could have said, ‘Ok, whichever I see first, Silver Prius or blue bird.’ Maybe that would have made it easier for the Universe.

I wanted to be sure. I wanted the secret handshake, the knowing wink, the unmistakable connection. Convinced that either of the candidates would be fantastic, I finished my contemplation with great gratitude. “Ok, within the next twenty-four hours. Let’s go!” It would be fine either way. I turned it over to the Universe and put my pros and cons list away. I felt a weight lift from my shoulders.

The next day came and went and nothing happened. I kind of forgot about my request. The day after, on Friday afternoon, my team and I took off early to watch one of the Star Wars movies that was opening that day. We were hanging out, enjoying our popcorn and settling in to watch the previews. I was relaxing, letting the stress of the week start to slip away. I was in a whispered conversation with my seat mate when I saw the screen and froze.

In the preview of an animated movie, an orange rhinoceros had just rambled across the screen. My first inclination was “Wait! Was that orange or red? Kinda red-orange?” I chuckled to myself. Then I had that familiar feeling. The Full Body Yes. It felt right. Both my mind and my body palpably settled. I knew it was going to work out.

That was it. The decision was made. I felt connected. Supported. Loved.

And… Julie was absolutely great in her new role.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Simplify. Focus on what’s important: your health, your relationships and family. One of the beautiful things about the Covid-19 pandemic is that many people are reconfirming what’s most valuable to them. Yes, of course we’d all like to go on more vacations; but we’re realizing that it’s our health and our connections that enable us to thrive.

So, drink more water. Get more sleep. Spend time with yourself in meditation, prayer, or reflection. Connect with your loved ones. Say “Thank you” and “I love you” more.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

First, realize how important culture is. It takes time and attention to nurture. Balance the needs of all of your stakeholders, not just your shareholders. It can’t just be about making money. People want their work to have meaning.

Treat people as people, not as employees. Let them express their true creativity. Encourage them to be their full best self at work. Treat your customers like you would your neighbors. Focus on the ways you’re bringing value to the world. Create an environment where you’d be proud for your daughter or grandson to work.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“A good attitude will solve most of life’s problems.” I learned this from my father when I was a grouchy teenager. He was right. It turns out that the opposite is true as well. A bad attitude is the cause of most of our problems.

I think about this advice every time I start listing the things in my head that I “have to” do. I ask myself “What else is true?” Meaning, what else is good in my life? Even if this situation is hard, what’s the good that can come of it? It requires shifting our thinking from “life is happening to me” to “life is happening for me.” I try to reframe things to “Here’s what I’m choosing to do,” “Ooh! Here’s what I get to do.” There’s always goodness, learning, and growth in every situation if we’re willing to be open to it.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Acknowledge that this is hard. It starts at the top. It’s important that leaders show their own humanity. It’s powerful when they acknowledge some of their own struggles and share recognition that the challenges we face are real. Then we don’t have to pretend that everything is rosy and perfect. We don’t have to feel bad about having a tough day. It gives us license to have open, honest, and constructive conversations about work in a healthy way.
  2. Give time off. Some companies give one Friday a month off, or schedule days where there are no meetings, or create additional shut down weeks away from the office. These breaks can give us some mental space, which helps us build resilience. When we’re all out of the office at the same time, we can have a real break. We don’t have to return to a mountain of email from those who were working while we were on vacation.
  3. Provide mindfulness or similar programs. Companies can encourage mental well-being by offering free or discounted access to mindfulness apps like Calm, Insight Timer, or Wise @ Work. Sponsored mindfulness and meditation sessions show that the company is serious about employee well-being. I especially love the community programs from Wisdom Labs. These programs help build connections and discussion around a specific weekly wellness topic.
  4. Build Connections. We can encourage leaders to spend more time on building connections. Relationships matter. Taking a few extra minutes at the beginning of our meetings to catch up increases our sense of connection, reduces our sense of loneliness, and powerfully enhances our well-being. Instead of asking “How are you?”, ask “On a scale of 1–10, how are you today?”. Take time to really listen. Get real. Move beyond simple transactional discussions and build true connections.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s hard to over-communicate. Leaders can express gratitude and appreciation towards their employees every chance they get. They can share important resources and programs for well-being, like Employee Assistance Programs. They can share how the work we do makes a positive difference in the world. They can even have open, honest, conversations about performance and expectations about the work that needs to get done. This will ensure the managers can remain whole as well, getting the work done, while bringing everyone along on the journey. Times may be challenging, but when we all feel like we’re in it together, we’ll be healthier while delivering great products and services to those we serve.

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

I think more and more, companies are recognizing that their employees are their top resource. And currently, mental well-being is one of the top issues for those employees.

It starts at the top. We show our employees that we care about them in both our words and our actions. Communicate, and then put those words to practice. It takes some will and some concerted effort. Every leader needs to acknowledge the challenge and then model the right behavior. The work will get done; but only if employees feel respected and heard.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?

Reach out. Connect. In this time of isolation and separation it’s critical that we make an effort to reach out. Express your gratitude and appreciation for others. We sometimes hear about micro-aggressions. The opposite works as well. We can practice micro-compassions.

The Smile

It’s not hard. When we’re walking the dog. When we greet each other in a meeting. When we’re in line at the grocery store. Just smile. Say hello.

Compliment

This follows the smile. When we see someone, we can first smile at them. We can then notice something good about them. “Oh, I like your earrings.” “Your shoes are cool.” “I like what you said in the meeting last week.” “I always appreciate seeing you.”

Inclusion

In a meeting we often hear only a few voices, while others remain quiet. We can bring the quiet ones in to the fold. “Jane, I’d really like to hear what you have to say.” Or, if you’re getting together with friends, is there someone that often doesn’t get included that would like to be invited?

Listen

Just listen, with the intention of deeply understanding the other person. Not thinking about your own story. Not waiting to interject. What are they trying to say and why?

Curiosity

What question can you ask that will light someone up? Get curious. Make it a point to remember. “Robert, how’s that patio project coming?” “Lisa, what’s your puppy up to this week?” “Colin, have you been surfing lately?” And my favorites — “What’s most alive for you right now?” “What are you most grateful for today?”

Compassion doesn’t have to be a big act. We can create a culture of compassion in our workplace, in our family, and in our neighborhoods, with simple acts.

Here’s a nice surprise- each of these, if we do with an open heart, will make us feel better.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

I love James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” and this concept “Our lives do not rise to the level of our goals, they fall to the level of our systems.” We can have all these great intentions, but unless we build in a system, it’s very unlikely we’ll make any changes.

If we want to remember to breathe more, maybe set an alarm on your phone. Create a calendar entry. Or every time you see the number of your birthday, use it as a reminder. These are simple systems.

My favorite is the accountability buddy. Pick something each of you will do, like share gratitude, meditate, or exercise. Then every day text each other with your update and encouragement for the other person. It’s a fantastic way to build a connection and a habit.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

Yes, I’m a huge fan of meditation and contemplative practices.

My personal favorite, which is the basis of my daily practice, is to use the sound “HU” as a mantra. I sing it for 15–20 minutes daily. It acts like a tuning fork to that deepest part of us, that part that is infinite. It’s the sound of soul. When I live from this perspective, I find that I have deeper insights and generally a feeling of peace and joy.

I also appreciate the Loving Kindness meditation. It’s a beautiful practice to send others our goodwill and good wishes. That one helps me stay in a good place when I’m having challenges with another person.

And nature. I find it incredibly healing to just be in the wild and open spaces, unplugged, but connected to something much bigger.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Well, the one I’ve just finished writing! I wrote The Full Body Yes during COVID quarantine time. I essentially traded commuting time for meditating and writing time. The book is about that journey from Me to We, from just thinking about myself and my own achievements, to working towards something more holistic and fulfilling. I share a lot of stories from my own life — times I’ve totally failed, and times where I’ve started to figure things out. These are the stories of each one of us.

Getting these stories out has been transformational for me. The organizing and retelling of these stories has helped me understand my own life and the world so much better. Almost this feeling of “Oh, wow…my life does make sense!”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The Compassion Revolution!

We each wake up every day and ask ourselves “How can I use my unique talents to make the world a better place today? How can I make everyone around me better off — including me.” And then we live it.

This is final part of our evolution from Me to We. We shift our perspective from “Life is happening for me” to “Life is happening through me.”

Then we find our true happiness. Freedom.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Yes, don’t be a stranger! Reach out on LinkedIn or at www.scottshute.com

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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