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“Put others first” Grace Brookshire and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Offering flexible sick leave — Mental health issues can be debilitating at times. Offering flexible sick leave can allow someone to get the help they need without adding the additional stressor of job security. If we can start to look at mental health issues the same way we look at any other illness, we can reframe […]

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Offering flexible sick leave — Mental health issues can be debilitating at times. Offering flexible sick leave can allow someone to get the help they need without adding the additional stressor of job security. If we can start to look at mental health issues the same way we look at any other illness, we can reframe the way we approach mental wellness. I recently advised someone facing this issue with their work situation. Had they felt comfortable approaching their employee about mental health sick leave I believe the outcome would have been better for everyone involved.

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 Grace Brookshire.

Grace Brookshire is the current COO of HALF UNITED. As a published author and consultant, she advocates for mental wellness. Among her recent endeavors, Grace founded Reconnect Card Co, a subscription service using art to help us connect and stay connected.

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?

My educational background is in psychology, but my career path has led me into the business field. From my first job, as a teenager, I have worked in management positions for small to medium sized businesses. Naturally, I adapted everything I was learning in my psychology studies to the context of my real world experiences in business management.

Post graduation, as a young professional, I spent more time learning the necessary components of a successful business both through trial-and-error and the guidance of mentors. I still have much to learn, but I’ve seen how companies begin to thrive once they pivot their culture to be “human first.” I believe that when each team member feels their wellbeing is important to the business, members clearly understand how to execute their job, and communication is made a priority; the company, as a whole, will see the benefit. In my current role as COO at HALF UNITED, I have had the pleasure of putting these beliefs into practice, and together with an amazing team, our company culture was transformed. Our operations improved and the business started to scale as a result. These experiences have reinforced my understanding from psychology, and increased my awareness that mental wellness of individuals is an important factor in improving any larger system or business.

Even before the pandemic of 2020, mental health issues have steadily increased. Collectively, our society is more lonely, more anxious, and more isolated than ever before. In the early months of the pandemic, I met with several advisors, including the former president of the APA, Dr. Antonio Puente, and presented my concept for using art to increase awareness of the importance of mental wellness.

Over the next few months, the idea fleshed out to what has become RECONNECT CARD CO, a greeting card service shipping new art and encouraging messages to subscribers once a month. We launched the business to a small audience in August and have continued to double our subscribership each following month. As we expand, we look forward to providing a simple solution for approaching the first layer of mental wellness — awareness.

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

As of mid-October 2020, RECONNECT CARD CO has been operating for 2 months. The comments and feedback from subscribers has been wonderful. One subscriber reached out to us to say, “ I received one of these cards and felt so loved.” That is our exact purpose — to serve as a recurring reminder to individuals that they are valued.

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

The year 2020 has presented us with new learning opportunities. As a sailor and surfer, I often see analogies linked between life and the sea. The best lesson I’ve learned, through the challenges of 2020, is that we can’t avoid every storm. No matter how seasoned we may be or how bullet proof our system seems, some unpredictable challenge will rise up to completely rock our ship. Therefore, we must learn to function in the midst of the storms. I have much to learn myself, but if I could share any advice, it would be to take a moment in the midst of the raging waves and collect your thoughts. You can’t think straight if you are trying to fight every crashing wave and you might end up drowning from panic. Instead of looking forward into the unknown, look backwards to recall that you have overcome storms in the past and you have developed adaptive skills. Tell yourself, “no matter where this storm takes me, I will survive.” Then set your course and give it everything you’ve got.

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

It’s my personal belief that the most important thing we can do, as leaders, is to put others first. Culture, by definition, is about the people. If you start by putting the right people in the right seats and then spend time getting to know those people, doing everything you can to set them up for success and showing them that you genuinely care; a fantastic culture will follow. I have seen companies try to dream up a fantastic culture, but struggle to create it. Your culture starts with you, the leader. If you want to create a culture of people who care about each other, as well as their work, you start by caring for the people.

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

There are a lot of “life lesson” quotes roaming around this world. Most of my favorites come from Jesus Christ. After reading his life story, I was moved by the way he loved the people around him. The quote I come back to most often is when he said, “ I have come to bring you life and life to the fullest.” That one really impacted me the first time I read it. I found myself asking, “What does life to the fullest look like for me?” and “How can I help others find that?”

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?

Offering flexible sick leave — Mental health issues can be debilitating at times. Offering flexible sick leave can allow someone to get the help they need without adding the additional stressor of job security. If we can start to look at mental health issues the same way we look at any other illness, we can reframe the way we approach mental wellness. I recently advised someone facing this issue with their work situation. Had they felt comfortable approaching their employee about mental health sick leave I believe the outcome would have been better for everyone involved.

Remote work — I believe that offering the flexibility of remote work can be a major resource when it comes to employees’ mental health. Battling mental health issues should not be done in isolation. In today’s day and age much of our society has moved away from their major support network. Allowing someone the option of working remotely gives them the ability to get back to their support group in a time of crisis while maintaining their work. I’ve seen this be healthy for companies as employees feel a sense of freedom and security leading them to be more dedicated and committed to their place of work.

Give mental health care benefits — I have seen this done in companies in several ways. Some simply make sure counseling is covered by the health insurance they offer employees. Others, give a monthly budget to employees for anything they consider “additional” health care — money can be used for therapy, yoga classes, or even home office upgrades.

Having an onsite counselor — Thanks to my work, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with many business owners and tour their operations. One, in particular, really “Wowed me” with their employee services. The company offered an onsite nurse and therapist. Instead of having to clock out or find child care, employees could make an appointment to see a healthcare professional without leaving work.

Create a human-first culture — It’s my personal belief that this is the most important mental health program you can offer employees. No matter your company’s size or budget for health care benefits, you can let the people you lead know that they are cared for. Employees are often a business’s most expensive resource, let’s treat them as such.

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?

Use your voice and your influence to express what is important to you.

We can speak out, we can vote, we can donate, and as leaders, we can start making space for mental wellness in our realm of influence.

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?

We have a long way to go in normalizing mental wellness practices. To start, we have to get over the hurdle of the stigma associated with mental health, and we must promote the recognition of mental wellness/mental health as important as all other health practices. To me, the first step toward creating effective support for those battling mental health is to increase awareness.

There are many layers to the events and issues that impact our mental health. We can take our awareness to a higher level by making mental wellness a priority for ourselves, each other, and our society. We can start by increasing our understanding of mental health, assessing our own state of mental health, and checking in on others.

Helping increase awareness of the importance of mental health is the core mission behind my company, Reconnect Card Co. I see mental health awareness as a three-step process. The first step being reconnecting with yourself: “How are you doing?” Then, reconnect with others. Let someone know when you are struggling, and make the effort to find out how others are doing. Lastly, once we as individuals are in a place of mental wellbeing we can look outward with kindness and do our part in bettering the world for others.

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?

As I mentioned previously, there are many key factors that can affect your mental wellness. These can be situational, genetic, or impacted by diet, chemical balance, underlying illnesses, — the list goes on. If you are struggling with mental health issues, seek professional advice.

However, there are things you can do, on a day-to-day basis. to help maintain your mental wellness. Taking the time to stop and reflect can be the best starting place for developing healthy mental habits. Life can become overwhelming, and we can become driven by negative mental states. We can free ourselves up when we take time to stop and reflect, talk to others to gain an “outside” perspective, and care for our bodies with exercise and a healthy diet.

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 personally try to take 15 to 30 minutes each day to journal and paint.

Through the act of creating and free expression, I have learned the important lesson of reflection. This is an essential mental wellness skill that we typically neglect in our busy lives.

Getting outdoors is a form of meditation for me. I typically pair it with exercising by surfing, hiking, or biking.

These habits have helped improve my state of mind so that I can be the best version of myself. Then, I can also be more responsive to those around me. I rely on these personal habits and practices to help me be who I want to be — for myself, for those closest to me, and for those I lead.

Understanding the positive impact of healthy mental wellness habits in my own life has been a driving force in my desire to help others make mental wellness a priority in their own lives.

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

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 have to say that my movement would be founded on the spreading of kindness, accomplished by being kind to oneself, then acknowledging other people and supporting them through any struggles they are facing. I see this as a powerful movement because it truly has a ripple effect, starting with us, as individuals.

When we give ourselves the time and space for self-kindness and take time to understand other people and what they are facing, kindness spreads, as all powerful things do, from one person to the next.

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

Sign up for our newsletters at reconnectcardco.com or follow along on Instagram @reconnectcards

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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