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“Authentically acknowledge your own struggles” with Shane Jackson

Be vulnerable and authentically acknowledge your own struggles. This summer, I sat with several of our leadership teams and talked about the strain that COVID-19 had put on me and my family, and how I was personally battling the accompanying anxiety. I had many comments from people about how much it meant to hear that they […]

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Be vulnerable and authentically acknowledge your own struggles. This summer, I sat with several of our leadership teams and talked about the strain that COVID-19 had put on me and my family, and how I was personally battling the accompanying anxiety. I had many comments from people about how much it meant to hear that they weren’t the only ones struggling, that they weren’t alone, and that the leader of the company understood. It made a huge difference to them.

As 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 Shane Jackson, president of Jackson Healthcare, a family of 16 companies specializing in temporary and permanent healthcare staffing, executive search and technology. The business, which is among the three largest healthcare staffing firms in the country, is powered by over 1,500 associates and more than 7,500 clinicians that provide care across all 50 U.S. states.

Shane is a primary guiding force for Jackson Healthcare’s mission of improving the delivery of patient care and the lives of everyone it touches. His leadership shows up not only in the organization’s exceptional performance — the $1 billion private enterprise has more than doubled the industry’s annual growth rate over the past decade — but also in the company’s LoveLifts community impact platform that he champions.

Shane’s philosophy of workplace culture, a topic he has studied extensively, is chronicled in his 2018 book, Fostering Culture: A Leader’s Guide to Purposefully Shaping Culture.

Prior to his current role, Shane served as president of LocumTenens.com, Patient Placement Systems and NextStart Capital. He has been named among the 100 most influential people in the staffing industry by Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA).

Shane serves on the boards of Junior Achievement of Georgia, 3DE and King’s Ridge Christian School. He also is chair of the Health and Wellness Policy Committee for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and vice chair of the leader-led goBeyondProfit business initiative that mobilizes businesses and industries around the idea that giving back is good for business and good for Georgia. He earned an MBA from Emory University and BBA from Harding University.

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?

When I was a child, my father started the first executive search firm solely for physicians. He later left that business, but I guess I picked up the bug for the staffing industry. During and after college, I worked in various areas of healthcare staffing, and after finishing my MBA, my father approached me about starting a business leveraging technology to differentiate healthcare services businesses (staffing in particular). We launched what would become Jackson Healthcare in 2000.

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

We’re living it right now! More than ever, over the last nine months, the healthcare staffing industry has been vital in helping ensure that people who need access to healthcare get it. We are not only sending physicians, critical care nurses, respiratory therapists and other healthcare professionals into environments to take care of patients with COVID-19, we’re also supporting clinicians who are treating patients with other healthcare needs — from ongoing and chronic illnesses, to cancer and disease treatment, to mental health and traditional well care. I am extremely proud of Jackson Healthcare’s role in the noble cause of caring for others. We continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards of that calling, especially as needs continue to unfold amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Elite level athletes master the art of stress and recovery. They work their bodies incredibly hard, but then utilize physical and mental rest to avoid injury. Burnout is akin to overuse injuries in sports. People burnout because they allow stress levels to get too high due to a lack of recovery. That is especially true right now, when we are called on to be “on” full time, at work and at home. All of us need to figure out what activities help us recover mentally and physically, so we can continue to grow our capacity to handle stress.

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

When you take the time to identify your values and beliefs as a company, and then authentically communicate them with your team, you give everyone a common purpose guided by clearly defined principles. This provides a framework for everything that comes after it and is especially important when you’re making tough decisions in tight timelines. Creating alignment on values gives the team clarity on what decisions to make to accomplish their purpose.

This realization of aligning around values to create a high performing culture was a big one for me as a leader. Early on, our company was growing quicklyFaced with the inevitable challenges that came with rapid growth, I struggled with the question of how to maintain the culture that was responsible for the company’s success up to that point. I wrote about the journey to define Jackson Healthcare’s workplace culture in a book — Fostering Culture: A Leader’s Guide to Purposefully Shaping Culture — that’s available to anyone who is interested in learning more about what we did and how we did it. I documented the lessons from our journey — from what drives the culture of any group, to the specific values and beliefs that drive our own unique culture. While I wrote it for our own leaders, I believe there are some helpful principles covered and hope it helps other professionals by providing useful insight into thinking about how to build a strong culture within their own organizations.

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

”The only failure is a failure to learn from failure.”

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. Encourage leaders to be aware of mental health. Most of us are focused on what we need to accomplish and dealing with our own stresses. Leaders need to be aware that, especially this year, people on their teams are most likely dealing with anxiety that will impact them personally and professionally. Just raising that fact to the conscious level creates empathy that itself makes a big difference.
  2. Be vulnerable and authentically acknowledge your own struggles. This summer, I sat with several of our leadership teams and talked about the strain that COVID-19 had put on me and my family, and how I was personally battling the accompanying anxiety. I had many comments from people about how much it meant to hear that they weren’t the only ones struggling, that they weren’t alone, and that the leader of the company understood. It made a huge difference to them.
  3. Equip your leaders with tools. Empathetic, authentic leaders are more likely to get opportunities to have real conversations with people struggling with anxiety and discuss their challenges. Leaders don’t need to be professional counselors, but they do need to be equipped with some basic techniques of listening and an understanding of resources available to help.
  4. Make mental health professionals easily accessible. The listening ear of an empathetic friend can make a difference, but many people dealing with anxiety or other mental health issues really need to engage with professionals in the field. Make sure your team members have easy access to these professionals and obvious permission to engage with them.
  5. Enforce mental health days. One of the problems with a virtual work model is that it blurs the lines between home and work, making it harder to truly disengage and recover mentally. This year has been even more challenging, as fewer people are travelling and getting away from their homes. Don’t give people the choice of taking time off. Force them to take days in which they are not only not working but also not even checking in. Make sure they truly rest. They will be better for it personally, which means your team will be better as well.
With permission from the American Staffing Association. Image by Jorge Castillos Photography Inc.

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?

When Jackson Healthcare moved to a 100% work-from-home model in March 2020, we launched an intentional internal communications cadence to help associates stay connected to each other and engaged with the company culture. Daily “How We Can Help” content focused on opportunities to support each other (associate to associate) and to help others (associate to community). Content included tips to support well-being, ways to create a productive home work environment and how to support children’s virtual learning needs.

Recognizing the emotional toll the pandemic was likely having on associates, we introduced telehealth visits to our onsite health clinic operations and hosted a series of mental health and wellness webinars. We held virtual meetings, where associates could ask questions of top executives and medical advisors, as well as sessions geared toward “people managers” to support them in leading their teams during this challenging time. Together, these helped set the stage for a more successful shift to remote work.

Now, we’re ensuring a safe return to the office for our associates. After granting work-from-home accommodations to those at high-risk, the rest of our workforce has returned on a part-time, staggered schedule. We’ve implemented rigorous cleaning measures, required social distancing and face coverings, and offered multiple options to support our working parents. We launched a new “COVID Questions Virtual Q&A” series with each session focusing on a different topic. Two of the recent sessions were deep dives into topics of the day with the chief medical officer of our health clinic operation. Also on the internal communications front, we launched “#PositivelyJH,” which provides good news updates that enable us to celebrate success across our companies, recognize associates for their great works, and highlight our culture in action. At a time when the news media focuses heavily on the negative, we’re working to ensure that the dedication and positive impact our associates have on patients, healthcare providers, our communities and each other are not only recognized but truly celebrated.

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?

One of the biggest challenges faced by people who are dealing with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues is that they think they are alone. “No one else is struggling with this — I must be particularly weak/bad/unworthy.” The reality is that everyone — everyone — deals with these types of issues at some point in their life. We don’t see going to the doctor when we have a physical illness as a sign that we are somehow inferior, yet mental health has had a different stigma. We can start to change this by being willing to open up to others who are struggling about our own struggles.

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?

Determine what activities provide mental and physical recovery for you, and then build them into your daily, weekly and yearly schedule. Bad habits happen by default, good habits require planning and discipline.

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?

I use various mind-calming methods. Exercise is hugely important to me. The calm pattern of running or swimming is revitalizing. I also have a daily quiet time just before bed when I contemplate scripture and pray. Finally, I have meditation techniques that I occasionally use when dealing with particularly high levels of stress.

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

I like to give a copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey to new graduates starting their careers. Fundamental lessons like “seek first to understand before being understood” serve everyone in improving their personal and professional relationships.

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. 🙂

I have to go back to the idea that if you take the time to truly understand your purpose, values and beliefs — as an individual, as a family, as a company — then you’ll always have a framework for whatever decisions come your way, big or small. It’s how you build a culture — and strong cultures provide the foundation to perform well in both typical times and times of challenge, like those we’ve experienced as a country and healthcare industry this year.

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

I’m on LinkedIn sharing insights about culture and leadership https://www.linkedin.com/in/shanejacksonculture and on Twitter at @GA_Shane (https://twitter.com/GA_Shane).

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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