“Encouraging open conversations”, Jen Fisher and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Encouraging open conversations. We are focused on creating a safe workplace where our people feel comfortable speaking openly about mental health. Mental Health @ Work is our initiative to encourage teams to make mental health a priority and it provides resources, tools, and educational opportunities to help them. As a part of my series about the […]

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Encouraging open conversations. We are focused on creating a safe workplace where our people feel comfortable speaking openly about mental health. Mental Health @ Work is our initiative to encourage teams to make mental health a priority and it provides resources, tools, and educational opportunities to help them.

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 Jen Fisher, Deloitte Chief Well-being Officer.

Jen Fisher is Deloitte’s chief well-being officer in the United States. In this role, Fisher drives the strategy and innovation around work-life, health, and wellness. She empowers Deloitte’s people to prioritize their well-being so they can be at their best in both their professional and personal lives. Fisher frequently speaks and writes about workplace well-being and hosts WorkWell, a podcast series on the latest work-life trends.

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?

I’ve always been passionate about wellness and living a healthy lifestyle, but there was a time in my life that I defined well-being too narrowly. I had hit a point in my career where I couldn’t get out of bed. I had been working non-stop and believed at the time, that if I got my daily workout in, then I was ok. But in reality, I was ignoring all of the other important areas of my life, like sleep, recovery, connection, etc. That’s when I realized that well-being is about more than just the physical, it’s also about your mental, emotional, and social health, as well. My leader and mentor at the time helped me see that and gave me the time off I needed to reset and recover. During this time, it occurred to me that if I need well-being, everyone else does too! I put a business case together and brought it to Deloitte leadership. They supported a greater investment in the well-being of our people, and that’s how I became Deloitte’s first Chief Well-being Officer.

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

In college, I was a soccer midfielder at the University of Miami. So, I’m a big Women’s Soccer fan! My experience as a soccer player and my love for the game came full circle when I met and interviewed Abby Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, for my WorkWell podcast. I had always idolized her, so I was really surprised when she shared with me that I influenced her too! She told me that she was inspired by the work I do, my focus on helping others, and now she was thinking about well-being at work in an entirely different way.

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

First, you need to define what well-being is to you and what your “non-negotiables” are. Self-awareness and understanding what’s really important to you are foundational. Once you know your priorities, you need to communicate them — to your family, friends, colleagues, team, and leadership. Others can’t support you if they don’t know what your well-being needs are.

Self-care isn’t always easy. It’s not about luxurious things like bubble baths and cupcakes. It’s a daily pursuit that involves difficult choices and sometimes saying “no”. That’s why I think it’s also important to celebrate the small wins.

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

I believe you need to engage your people in the culture that they want to work in. Let your people help define it and trust that they will model and support it. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to workplace culture and it is leadership’s role to create that platform for people to voice what is important to them. Letting your people have a voice will help you better understand what your culture needs to thrive.

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

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.” — Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

The book, When Breath Becomes Air had a huge impact on me while I was in treatment for breast cancer. It’s by American Neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi and focuses on his life battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. This book really articulated what I felt I couldn’t in my own battle with cancer. The quote above reminded me that everyone’s life experiences are different, and those experiences give each person distinct knowledge. We all bring value, we are all connected, and this gave me peace of mind at a time when I was struggling.

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?

At Deloitte, we recognize that programs alone won’t address mental health stigmas. So, our goal is to move beyond awareness to focus on literacy, education, and creating a culture that recognizes that we will all struggle with mental health issues in our lives or know someone who will. Here are some ways we are making mental health a priority at Deloitte:

  • Encouraging open conversations. We are focused on creating a safe workplace where our people feel comfortable speaking openly about mental health. Mental Health @ Work is our initiative to encourage teams to make mental health a priority and it provides resources, tools, and educational opportunities to help them.
  • Making recovery a priority: At different points in the year, and at year-end, we all disconnect together to allow everyone time for rest and recovery. We call these days,collective disconnect, and they are in addition to paid time off and holidays.
  • Building mental health literacy: We offer Mental Health First Aid virtual courses to our people so they can build mental health literacy and learn how they can support a colleague who may be struggling or in crisis.
  • Supporting health habits: We offer a well-being subsidy to help offset the costs of well-being related products and services, like meditation instruction, yoga classes, and fees associated with hiking trails, charitable runs, horseback riding, and more.
  • Storytelling: We encourage our people to share their experiences related to mental health and tell their stories in their own words. These stories are shared and promoted throughout the organization.

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?

I believe that organizations have a responsibility to not only support the mental health of their employees, but also build awareness and literacy. Mental health impacts all of us, so we all have a part to play. We need to increase an understanding of what mental illness is, how it impacts all aspects of our well-being, and that we all need to actively take care of our mental health, just like we do our physical health. Awareness also needs to focus on proactive approaches to build mental resilience and adaptability, so we can better recover from challenges when they happen.

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?

It’s about reaching out and creating space for open conversations. We need to move beyond the everyday “how are you” and go deeper in our discussions. It’s important to understand that reaching out doesn’t mean you have to fix the issue. But by offering support and connecting them to resources, you can show them that they are not alone and that it’s ok to not be ok. Mental Health First Aid, a national program, is a great resource. It provides learning on how you can support someone struggling and in crisis through a structured process.

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?

Positive well-being behaviors and healthy habits play a very big role in proactively protecting our mental and emotional well-being. Getting enough quality sleep, incorporating movement in your day, eating nutritious foods, and making time for rest and recovery, are all important. The mind and body are inextricably linked, so what we do to keep our body well, also impacts our mind. Social health is also important. Making time to connect with friends and loved ones and spending time doing the things that bring us joy can enhance our mental well-being. A lot of these habits aren’t big, sweeping changes that you have to make in your life. I think it’s important to focus on micro-habits or the small but meaningful behaviors that can add up to make a big impact, like taking short stretch breaks, doing a 5-minute daily meditation, or journaling for a few minutes every night before bed.

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’m a big fan of journaling, specifically about gratitude. It’s a great way to incorporate reflection into your day and enhance a positive mindset. My daily workout is another one. I consider exercise a form of meditation and it absolutely enhances mental well-being.

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

Emotional Agility by Dr. Susan David is truly life changing. Her book taught me that it’s ok to let yourself feel your emotions and you don’t need to force optimism. When you pay attention to the difficult emotions, instead of pushing them away, it helps you recognize what you value. Before reading this book, I saw certain emotions as negative, but now I realize that all emotions are valid and complex. In fact, it’s possible to feel two contradictory emotions at one time. These shouldn’t be things we fear, instead, we should use them as information to help us better understand ourselves.

I like to incorporate this lesson with my team by starting our team calls with an emotions exercise. Each team member shares two emotions that they are feeling at the moment. It helps us all better understand where our colleagues are at mentally and emotionally, and creates a safe space for open discussion.

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 would start a movement around rest ethic. I recently read the book Time Offby John Fitch and Max Frenzel and it’s really eye-opening. We all need to reframe how we think about time off. Our society and workplaces have created this badge of busy phenomenon where we think that being overworked and over scheduled is something to be proud of. Instead of celebrating busyness, we should be celebrating rest and recovery. It should be a priority for us as individuals but also for organizations. Rest is vital if you want to have an engaged, creative, and innovative workforce.

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

Subscribe to the WorkWell podcast on your favorite podcatcher and connect with me on LinkedIn, or on Instagram or Twitter @JenFish23.

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

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