Breaking boundaries — we’ve challenged all of our people to break boundaries and feel empowered. They’ve glass walked, broken arrows with their throats, been part of breath power sessions to realize just how mentally strong they all are.
As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Swingler.
Kelly is an Executive Coach and Global Empowerment Coach for Leaders and HR Professionals at kellyswingler.com and Founder of The Chrysalis Crew. She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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 at school I always wanted to be a lawyer. After two periods of work experience in legal firms amongst the piles of files all over the floor, the tired lawyers, the overflowing ashtrays in the offices and the half-empty bottles of whisky on top of filing cabinets, I started to question whether this chaos and clutter was right for me. I also got to go to court to witness some cases, and, for four of them, I knew the defendants from my community. I knew they were guilty yet they were found not guilty and I started to question the justice system.
HR seemed like the next best thing and I loved the thought of being able to change the world of work and stop the Monday to Friday syndrome that so many people I knew seemed to be experiencing. By the time I was 30, I was HR Director for a large company in London, something I was told I wouldn’t achieve whilst my sons were so young, but two years later hit Burnout. I began to question why this had happened to me and those I had replaced and realized there must be a better way.
In 2014 I started The Chrysalis Crew, a people and change consultancy focused on changing the world of work ethically. And during lockdown I started KellySwingler.com where I work with senior HR and People leaders on getting clear on their values, increasing their confidence and helping them to find their voice so that they can change the world of work for themselves and their people.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
So many to choose from, but the most challenging for sure was when I had to dismiss an employee who then threatened to shoot me. As I left the office that evening he was parked opposite me with his tailgate open and a shotgun in his hand. I knew I had made the right decision. My values were not impacted. I headed back to the office, asked for help, and was soon able to get back in my car and drive home.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
So let’s flip this. How first do you avoid burnout and then how do you thrive? I like to think of wellbeing as being the steps to resilience. The more we look after ourselves, set non-negotiables, live and work in line with our values, take time out, nourish our minds and bodies, do more of the things we love and get enough sleep, then the more resilient we become.
In turn, the more resilient we become, the more we are able to thrive. Life will come with setbacks and knocks. We’ll hear ‘no’. The more successful we become the more people around us will want to knock us down. The quicker we bounce back and keep going, in line with our values, then we thrive. It all starts with us.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
For me, culture is made by three key ingredients; Language, Relationships and Behaviors. The more toxic and negative these three things, the worse the culture will be. The more healthy and positive these three things, the greater the culture. And it starts from the top.
Organizations with a great culture have leaders who put people first and who understand that balance, breaks and time out are vital for success. When leaders see culture as a project, or an ‘HR thing’ they are starting in the wrong place.
Great cultures start with great leaders, it becomes part of the organization’s DNA, it’s felt by everyone, lived by everyone and leads to great places to work, happier people, happier customers, increased performance and increased profit. It’s not rocket science. If you can’t put people first, you are not a leader.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I’ve always loved quotes and many have been shared with me over the years from parents, teachers, colleagues, friends, family and coaches, but my absolute favorite is by Dr. Seuss “There is no one alive that is youer than You.”
I didn’t ever really like I belonged at school. I was always different form everyone else. Wiser than my years, a different perspective and a different approach and this has stayed with me through work, parenting and relationships. I always felt I had to try and ‘fit’, when actually, I make the biggest impact in the world by accepting my differences, standing out from the crowd and being the most me that I can be.
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 you have taken to help improve or optimize your employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
So I can look at this from an employer perspective and also talk about how we are helping clients.
From an employer’s perspective we introduced a number of things, five of these are:
Health Days — Unlimited, paid days off whenever you just need a day to yourself. It could be a day to help you recharge if you’re starting to feel run down, a day to focus on family stuff that’s stressing you out, or a day to chill out. It’s your day.
Blank Paper Days — We signed a wellbeing pledge that promised that we would always talk about wellbeing honestly, openly and transparently during our monthly blank paper days and we’ve stuck to it.
Mental Health First Aiders — More than half of our organization are qualified Mental Health First Aiders and will talk openly about experiences. I myself live with Bi-polar and I talk openly about how I feel on any given day.
Four Day Working Week — In January 2019 we moved to a four-day working week and we close the business on Monday’s giving all of our people a three-day weekend, every week. We pay 100% salary for 80% of contracted hours and maintain 100% productivity.
Breaking boundaries — we’ve challenged all of our people to break boundaries and feel empowered. They’ve glass walked broken arrows with their throats, been part of breath power sessions to realize just how mentally strong they all are.
From a client’s perspective — I designed our Mental Wellbeing for HR programme that we deliver in person, virtually and via an online course. I deliver talks and workshops, webinars, blogs and podcasts and interviews where I speak openly about my experiences and how to avoid the same issues.
What you are doing is wonderful, but sadly it is not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Leaders have to realize that Mental Wellbeing isn’t an initiative or a group of activities during an awareness week, it’s part of absolutely everything in an organization. It’s part of the culture. Do the language, relationships and behaviors promote mental wellbeing or mental health issues? If the latter, something has to change.
And if a leader can’t see it from a moral and ethical perspective, then from a performance and profit perspective, mental health issues are costing you time and money.
By being proactive in your approach and preventing issues from occurring, you are not only doing what’s right by your people but for your business too.
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?
The first is that we have to listen. Not listen to respond or share a story about how you or someone else you feeling, but actively listen. Whenever we hear about mental health it’s usually followed by ‘it’s good/time to talk’, but what stops people talking is that nobody really listens. We still feel uncomfortable talking about mental health issues, or we want to try and fix it or tell people to snap out of it, and it just doesn’t work.
Listen, ask if, or what you can do to help and leave it with the person to tell you. Don’t try and be their therapist or shrug it off or tell them how you are feeling. Really, really listen and then offer the time, space or support that person has asked for. There are no hard or fast rules and everyone is different. I’m really clear about when I need support, or time to talk and when I don’t. It’s not the responsibility of my family to do things that I don’t need or that won’t help.
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?
Again this really depends on the individual. For me, it’s about morning and evening practices such as yoga, meditation, cardio, walking the dog and meditating. During the day it’s upbeat music, some breath work and plenty of breaks. I need to be careful about what I eat, too many carbs and my energy and mood slumps and then I don’t want to do my evening practice. I don’t drink alcohol anymore as I realized it always made me anxious and disturbed my sleep and I prepare for bed at least two hours before going so I can be sure of a great night’s sleep.
All of this has allowed me to self-manage my bipolar, I don’t take any medication. I don’t recommend or advise anyone to do this without speaking to a medical professional, but for me, it’s worked and is working, as long as I stick to my practices and routines.
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 do meditate every day. Sometimes guided by listening to an audio or using an app, sometimes just with calming music and some with complete silence. My morning yoga routine also includes pranayama (breathing exercises) and I stop and actively breathe throughout the day.
I think we often assume that meditation is about ‘nothingness’ and I’ve experienced three times in the ten years I’ve been practicing, but meditation is really just about focusing on one thing, could be your breathing, a focal point, a sound, anything that gives one point of focus.
For me, it’s been life-changing. My need to control everything has decreased massively. I’m much more patient, much more tolerant and much more in the now.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Again so many to choose from, I read between one and two books a week, so can I pick two? The first, ‘Time To Think’ by Nancy Kline. We all wear ‘busy’ like a badge of honor don’t we? Like if we’re not busy then we can’t possibly be successful or happy or you fill in the blanks. But, this book, that opens by sharing how President Obama spends two hours a day thinking, really made me realize that it’s the thinking and the being, not the doing that leads to success. As the saying goes, we are human beings, not human doings, and yet we get so caught up in busyness. So I read the book, made some changes, and now have a minimum of one hour blocked out in my diary each day for just thinking. I call it focus time, and I use it to think. It helps to have ideas, to generate solutions, to de-stress and to decompress.
The second is absolutely anything by Brené Brown, but the one with the biggest impact is ‘The Gifts of Imperfections’. I was gifted in back in 2013 and it changed how I saw myself, how I wanted to lead differently, how I wanted to live differently and how by letting go, I could be kinder to myself. Not only did this book become the first step in my Brené Brown girl crush, but having seen her speak live, having been accepted as a Dare to Lead facilitator and having ‘the gifts’ anniversary edition as the top of my 40th birthday list this past September, seeing Brené grow and evolve and her integrity and openness and honesty has somehow given me the permission to do the same. I don’t recognize who I am now from who I was 10 years ago, although my values are so much more deep-rooted. And of course, some of that is age and experience and my own personal growth, but seeing the transition in someone else can be great for the confidence you need to go and do it yourself.
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. 🙂
It’s all about #PeopleFirst for me. I would love the #PeopleFirst movement to change the world of work, not just in business but in homes, schools, colleges, universities, healthcare and governments. And again it starts with us. When as individuals we realize that we have the power and the strength and the knowledge to care for ourselves and live by our values, we give permission to others to do the same.
When we live and work in line with our own values, we love, live and lead more effectively. When we love, live and lead more effectively, we give more to others because we have more to give. When we have more to give we show others that they matter. We create places to learn and work. When we create great places to learn and work we change the lives of those around us. When we change the lives of those around us we are all happier, healthier people. And what a difference we could make in the world if we were all happier and healthier people. If in my lifetime I can see the #PeopleFirst movement create ripples of change, then I’ll have done what I’m here to do.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I’m most active on LinkedIn — Kelly Swingler, but also on Instagram @coachingpeopleleaders
My websites are kellyswingler.com and thechrysaliscrew.com
Thanks so much for asking me to contribute. It’s been a pleasure to write for you and I hope what I’ve written is of some benefit to your readers.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!