Establish a forum to share coping mechanisms. Don’t close yourself off. Share other employee stories, and examples of what’s helping them release stress. Think through and talk about how to cull low-profit-margin clients. Be open and generous with tips regarding money management and the methods you are using to keep your own family safe. In other words, to reduce stress, be vulnerable and share your own struggle with 2020 in group settings.
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 Michael S. Seaver.
Michael S. Seaver, Founder of Seaver Consulting, LLC, is an executive coach with expertise in executive leadership, personal branding, change management, organizational effectiveness, and employee engagement. Clients have included executives and leaders at Stanford Healthcare, Honeywell, Boeing, and more. Prior positions included the Director of Talent Sourcing at Banner Health, largest private employer in Arizona with over 50,000 employees, Director of Career Management Alumni Services at Thunderbird School of Global Management, and Assistant Director at W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University coaching MBA students and alumni. He is certified to deliver TTISI assessments (e.g. DISC, 12 Driving Forces, EQ). www.michaelsseaver.com
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?
Iwas raised in a West Michigan town of 2,500 residents. My grandfather started the family business, Seaver’s Lawn Service, Inc., in 1953 and my father took over in 1987. From ages 12 through 24, I maintained lawns, landscaped properties, and plowed snow, leading crews of five to ten people. I learned the values of hard work, sacrifice and setting long-term goals.
My wife and I moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2003 to escape Michigan’s snow and join a growing economy. Yet, as it slowed in 2008, we divorced, and I suffered minor bouts of depression and understanding my place in the world. Thankfully, I was accepted to and completed an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management where I traveled internationally, interacting with students from 53 countries and saw the importance of authenticity, assertive communication and inclusion of diverse people when conducting business.
I started my coaching and consulting practice in October 2011 and have traveled the world uncovering new perspectives. I’ve been blessed to coach leaders and have worked on a number of projects that have changed corporate cultures from command and control, to align and empower. Through it all, I realized that the more I challenged mainstream ideologies, the more I recognized the patterns in human life, and the more I shared how people are more similar than dissimilar — the more I could uplift others to live authentically and empower them to become coaches to the people around them. All the hardships and lessons I learned had purpose and now I uplift others as they uncover their authentic selves.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In early 2012, one of my very first clients asked for an outline and timeline of the learning I would be guiding him through in our six sessions together. I didn’t have one. I had taken his money and didn’t have an expected outcome for our time together. I intuitively knew how to ask questions that pulled learning out of people, but I was completely unaware about how to sequentially manufacture learning experiences that would evoke necessary emotions and key learning that would set the person up for what was coming next. Embarrassingly, I invested the next seven nights into reading coaching books, designing a haphazard process, and paying a coach way too much money to tell me the process was okay to use. Lesson learned. Fast forward to today, I have a six-step branded process. Each step has a specific name, activities the client needs to complete, and defined emotions I want him or her to feel. I learned quickly that a coach’s brand is built upon the outcome they’re known to produce in their clients.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Show more empathy. Friendships at work, in person or virtual, are the difference between surviving stress and burning out. A one-size-fits-all approach to leading teams no longer works. Instead, learn to dial into the specific needs and concerns of each of your employees. We do that through being empathetic in ways we may not have been before. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. You can learn, and teach, empathy. Our goal is to not let stress get to the tipping point.
In small ways, we all manage a wide variety of stressors every day. The problem occurs when the amount of stress your body is holding onto grows without ever being processed and released. Then suddenly, an unimportant event causes an emotional outburst or physical illness. Avoiding burnout, or helping others do so, requires stepping outside of your own needs, actively listening to people close to you, and then acting to their benefit. By bringing a strong dose of empathy to your leadership role, you’ll help your team members acknowledge and process their stressors instead of letting them accumulate into a giant health or work performance issue. Empathy is no longer a “nice to have” so-called soft leadership skill. It’s imperative for the smooth functioning of any thriving work team.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Open as many lines of communication as possible. Grassroots movement of ideas will produce innumerable benefits to the employees and the organization. Consider offering open office hours, town halls, suggestion boxes, pulse surveys, weekly reach outs, small focus groups, internal Shark Tank competitions, affinity groups or a Netflix Club. When humans feel psychologically safe to express themselves, through myriad means, they feel part of something bigger than themselves. They feel as though someone cares about them as a person. Their opinions seem to count, and they feel more deeply committed to the organization’s mission and impact on the community.
As the number of communication channels increase, employees feel and offer more trust. Conflict is mitigated and clear expectations and metrics-based goals are set. Employees are offered the opportunity to use their strengths and work on tasks they enjoy. Recognition and praise are offered more freely. Learning from peers and personal growth occurs naturally. As I mentioned above, when we feel like we have a best friend at work, stress decreases and happiness increases. Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Your challenges aren’t in the way… they are the way,” Ron and Mary Hulnick. I was sold hook, line, and sinker on perfection. On being perfect. On not making mistakes. On projecting an image of who I wanted others to think me to be. For years, I was unhappy. Miserable. Inauthentic. One day, I considered suicide because I couldn’t find a way out of the hole I dug for my life. Somehow, I came across the Hulnick’s quote and I was able to connect the dots in how my life’s challenges happened for a reason. I was meant to experience them so that I could learn how to overcome them — and then guide others to overcome the same challenges for themselves. Today, I safely walk people and organizations through the most emotionally messy changes. By choosing to be the person I needed when I was younger, I proactively teach leaders how to heal themselves and then pay it forward coaching and mentoring others. As the tide rises, each and every boat does as well.
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?
I’d like to look at this through the lens of what a leader can do to create an emotionally safe workplace. One where you can reduce your team’s stress and show high levels of empathy to your colleagues. In leading by example, others are likely to emulate your behavior and practice these five steps with their colleagues as well. An ecosystem develops and the mental wellbeing of all employees rises.
- First, look for tell-tale signs of burnout in your people. Are you seeing an individual putting in more hours than usual? Are you noticing a lot of weekend emails or, conversely, a drop in productivity? Other signs of burnout include emotional outbursts, unhappy calls from clients, disengagement, and staff turnover. To reduce stress, check-in. Text or call each colleague each week to let them know you’re thinking of them and care about what is going on in their lives. Listen to what they say.
- Know what your colleague values. Find out what language of appreciation each person on your team responds to best. Ask about their long-term goals, hobbies, family interests, core values, and favorite work tasks. To reduce stress, make a sincere effort to match projects to each colleague’s growth plan.
- Assist with personal issues at work. With stay-at-home orders, the lines between work and life are blurred. So, to reduce stress, open new (and sometimes uncomfortable) lines of communication, listen actively, offer staff psychologists, facilitate training, and share new resources. The idea is to create a more humane workplace overall.
- Help your people redistribute time. Be practical. Don’t ask your over-burdened colleagues to participate in Zoom calls all day, for example, then attend a virtual team happy hour. Instead, to reduce their stress level, continually ask how what they are working on is helping them accomplish their goals or the team’s goals. If a task is not connected, delegate the work elsewhere.
- Establish a forum to share coping mechanisms. Don’t close yourself off. Share other employee stories, and examples of what’s helping them release stress. Think through and talk about how to cull low-profit-margin clients. Be open and generous with tips regarding money management and the methods you are using to keep your own family safe. In other words, to reduce stress, be vulnerable and share your own struggle with 2020 in group settings.
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?
If any member of your team has struggled with mental wellness, ask them to openly share their story and personal journey. Members of your leadership team could offer presentations about wellbeing, the negative consequences of not feeling balanced, and resources the organization offers. A team of volunteers could compile resources and host voluntary video calls to share ideas and openly discuss what others are doing to feel well. A new series of vendor, employee or client stories could be shared via an employee newsletter to keep the topic top of mind. Human resources could spearhead an initiative where on-the-spot bonuses and rewards are given to employees who live the organization’s core values and uplift a colleague in need. The key with programs like these is they be performed consistently for extended periods of time. The more employees hear the message, the safer they’ll feel to participate.
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?
***same as five steps above***
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?
Knowing your personal mission (your “why”, your purpose) and professional, personal, and relationship goals is the place to start. With goals set, you can then design weekly habits, that if repeated consistently, will help you make progress towards accomplishing a goal. As you’re confronted by distractions, unexpected roadblocks, and new information, you can compare your habits to your mission to offer you confidence in saying “yes” or “no” to new courses of action. The more aligned your new habits are with your mission, the easier it will be to stop old habits.
If you’ve ever completed a DISC assessment, it will also offer meaningful insights. It sheds light on your introvert v. extrovert tendencies, how people oriented or task oriented you are, your default emotion under stress, how you’ll respond to conflict, how you view your position in a group, and more. Introverts tend to set, change, and live out their habits alone. Extroverts may find more pleasure in living their habits in groups or in competition with others. In aligning your habits with your behavioral profile, you’ll feel more emotionally balanced.
As you stop no longer needed habits, ask family and friends to hold you accountable by calling you out when you do something you said you desire to stop. Or, promise yourself that if you stop repeating a bad habit, you’ll reward yourself in a meaningful way in 30 days. Each time you repeat an old habit, reprimand yourself or take something away from yourself. Emotionally intelligent people reward themselves and they incur the consequences of mis-aligned choices. Wellbeing is born out of redistributing your time into activities that uplift you, gift yourself time with others, and pull you towards the version of yourself you’ve dreamt of.
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 engage in 20 minutes of meditation each morning. Daily exercise for one hour. Eating vegetarian and alkaline for my DNA. Acting in alignment with my mission. Setting long-term goals and monthly milestones to accomplish them. I avoid television. I talk with leaders from five different countries each month. On the first of the month, I review my previous month’s journal entries, find patterns, and adjust for the upcoming month. The consistency of these habits has helped me shed old emotional triggers, greatly reduced physical illness, and taught me new skills that help me help more people. Without these daily practices, I wouldn’t feel as clear about which services to offer clients. I wouldn’t have gotten out of a depressed state in early 2019. I wouldn’t have the motivation to take calculated risks. As time has passed and my goals evolved, my habits did as well. Every level of my life has demanded a different version of me. Yours will as well. Embrace these minor changes as they often lead to newfound levels of success.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. In early 2011, I was Director of Sourcing — Talent Acquisition for Arizona’s largest healthcare organization. I had everything society says is right. Society says that when you make six figures, you’re winning. Society says that if you’re driving the fancy car, you’re winning. Society says that when you have an attractive partner, you’re winning. I had all of those things and more, but I remember sitting in brutal rush hour traffic one day and feeling I was doing the opposite of winning. When traffic came to a halt yet again, I looked around and started bawling uncontrollably. I knew I was making the mistake of living per society’s rules — not living my authentic purpose. A few weeks prior, I had finished reading Drive. Sitting in rush hour traffic that morning, it finally became real for me what Pink was trying to teach us about autonomy, mastery and purpose. I worked six days each week and my calendar was controlled by my team. I had little autonomy. I was doing the work of three director-level employees and was responsible for five different system programs. I had little time to master one competency as I was asked to be just good enough at many. I realized my life’s work was to help people live authentically and I was working in a role where I couldn’t connect their personal purpose to the organization’s purpose. With help from Drive, nine months later I resigned my role and started my coaching practice.
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. 🙂
My movement would be stopping people from looking to celebrities, athletes, government officials, or subject matter experts for answers to their lives’ most pressing questions. I believe Teddy Roosevelt said it succinctly when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” External stories can be motivating, but someone else’s unique journey shouldn’t be emulated. Your journey is yours. I believe each of us has the answers inside us already. We have to dig to find them. By being still, sitting in meditation or prayer, and crashing disparate ideas together, an empowering path forward will be made available. Instead of believing in something outside yourself, believe in yourself.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Please visit https://michaelsseaver.com.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!