For starters: Takecare of yourself — We often rush into support mode with little understanding of the care we need ourselves, what our mind and body need to keep up with all that we ask and do. Take care of your health. A little exploration into developing healthy strategies can go a long way. Whether that’s resistance training, meditation, deep breathing exercises, nutrition –they all play a vital role in how we respond to life’s many stressors and agitators. Exploring and finding what works for you is key!
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 Nerissa Janetta Persaud.
Nerissa Janetta Persaud is a Learning and Development Strategist, Writer and Motivational Speaker dedicated to unlocking and aligning potential. She’s a leading voice on breaking mental barriers as the host on the self-development podcast Mindset Bootcamp and thought architect behind the initiative Ignite the Human Spark –birthed in the middle of the pandemic with the specific purpose of helping people get unstuck to see beyond crisis.
Described as “a challenger to how we ordinarily think,” Nerissa has dedicated her professional life with the firm belief we all have something meaningful to contribute; further supporting the ideas and conversations to bridge the gaps.
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?
Thank you for having me as part of this series. I am beyond elated to offer my insight particularly in a time when we need to not only have these conversations but require firmer action surrounding mental wellness, wellbeing and finding sustainable ways of integrating this into how we work, how we respond, think and do.
I’ve always believed that in order to create meaningful change or ripples into that direction, we must connect ourselves with solving problems that can very well scare us. When I look statistically at the overdrive of people, the shifts and jolts and constant demand for more without sustainable mechanisms for us to reach those targets and align within those shifts and jots –it absolutely scares me. At the same time, it is what ignites me. To push even harder to find creative ways that help companies better align a culture of health.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I think of the challenges, experiences, paths crossed over the length of my career — they’ve been many. Yet there’s one that stands out. I’m going to take you back to 2008, living in the Maldives, and a conversation with a young woman working there at the time. In absolute defeat, she was in tears by how her employer had treated her: public humiliation, berating, a bully of a personality. Today we’ve become much more vocal on behaviours and cultures that encapsulate these unfortunate ways but at that time, not so much.
In the moments after listening to her story, I felt an immediate need to do something. I began reaching out to friends and alliances who could be of help to her situation. I then decided to look inward at the company I worked, the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and found what became the next chapter into a career she leads strongly to this day.
What I’ve realized most from that moment is this: listening to her story could have been one of many. Listening, empathizing and then we move on, as many encounters often do. This became an enlightened moment for me, an ‘ah-ha’ moment of sorts. When we decide to do something, get involved and extend ourselves with purpose; we are participating in changing the cycle of how things ordinarily work. We begin to change the typically accepted behaviours, attitudes and cultures on what it means to care, help and bring about something better.
Now, more than a decade later of making my home in several countries across continents, I’ve found myself at the boundary of igniting the human spark through all that I do.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Start by looking inward. It is here the real work gets ignited. Part of what helps us collectively thrive and avoid burnout is becoming very aware of our human capacity and environment; what it needs to thrive and what it does not. By developing a mental relationship around the nature of our stressors, disruptions and well, life, we give ourselves the mental space and clarity to understand what it means for us to thrive and do so more holistically. What may work for me may not be what will work for you. Its why we must look inward and build this relationship with ourselves and our environment to ‘set us up’ to thrive and not always feel like we’re rushing into one thing, only to be late for the next.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Stop looking at work culture as an external arm or an add-on item. Work Culture needs to be a complete merger of how we think, act and do, and it starts with corporate buy-in. Forget about trying to constantly mimic the behaviours through mid-level directives and cold cut corporate rollouts. If your people cannot feel and see the genuineness behind your efforts, your best attempts will not stick. A fantastic culture is programmed into every aspect of the business, conversation and initiative. Streamlining that with people, ‘agents of change’ who can see that and pollinate this into strategies that give way to explore, learn, grow, adapt, make mistakes and reinvent, will ultimately reveal spaces where people are more connected.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I was reminded over my recent challenges adjusting to life reeling from a pandemic– ‘‘Instead of waiting for the change, become the change.’’ It has become an intentional mental space behind the work I do and how I live my life. It is a driving force behind how I achieve, inspire, rise, learn and adapt. At the core, this has taught me the desired change isn’t only attainable within each of us but also a responsibility we have — something we’re often outsourcing to someone else to think, fix, or do for us. When, in fact, there is great power if we choose to challenge ourselves to become the very definition of change, we seek.
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?
Mental health is at an all-time low, and this is very worrying. It is real, it is here, and the effects will be around for a while. It is not only our responsibility to take conscious steps to do what we need to ‘disconnect,’ ‘reconnect,’ and ‘breathe’ but also the responsibility of companies to recognize this as a real threat and cultivate environments that don’t restrict or police but rather, enable healthier lifestyles as we move through these unsettling times. The reality is, companies that have recognized the importance of their employee’s health are also acutely aware of the link this has on business performance.
In researching several companies globally, employee health initiatives that have proven versatile to make the necessary shifts in sustaining happier, healthier and more resilient people all had these five principles in common:
1.) EMPLOYEES MUST FEEL THEY HAVE PERMISSION TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES
This is the most critical piece of the puzzle. Coincidently it is also often overlooked. By default, in the pursuit of a wellness initiative many assume its receptibility and forgo on creating the presence around its acceptance. For Johnson and Johnson’s employees, ‘having permission to care for themselves’ is embedded into the culture. This has paved the way for much of the company’s ‘built-in’ programs to its 130 thousand employees in over 60 countries. The overall health and wellness philosophy and programs that is built into how the company behaves helps their employees to get through the demands of work and life by ‘disabling’ the mental roadblocks that come with cultures of ‘policing’ and ‘penalties’ and replaced with visible ‘permission’ to take care of yourself.
When people replace the stigma of ‘being away from the desk’ OR ‘I’m being watched’ with permission and autonomy to care for themselves as an accepted way of being in their space of work, they are more susceptible to choose healthier options. This greatly influences the efficacy of a health initiative or program, aiming to amp-up its wellness into a culture.
2.) INITIATIVES CONNECT WHEN THEY MATTER TO EMPLOYEES
There is no real adapting if initiatives fall short to connect with employees on a fundamental level of what matters to them and how it can remove the strain and cognitive load from their everyday lives. The question becomes: ‘‘How might we create an environment where our employees are better off in their lifespan because they came to work for us.’’ The focus is less on the promotional sense of a program and more on creating and sustaining a culture of what matters by creating programs that meet the primary needs.
For instance, Google’s ‘shuttle program is one such example of removing the strain and cognitive load from the start and end of their employee’s day or as they call — a ‘Googler’s’ day. The company also aligns its movement and recovery programs around what interests and appeals to different groups of employees, skillsets, needs, and how a program may interest different stages of life.
An inspiring link was made after the question was asked to a group of Google employees: — ‘What does leading a full life mean to you?’ ‘Not to find a work-life balance but a full life.’ The surprising finding was diet and exercise, and the things we traditionally bundle into what matters in leading full lives were not the responses received. Instead, the answers were around happiness, experiences, family, friends, growth and something we hear more and more of a sense of purpose.
3.) CHANGE NEEDS TO BE CHAMPIONED AND VISIBLE FROM THE TOP
Employee Wellness programs hold more substance when employees can see their leaders champion the behaviours, adopt the habits as part of their daily routine and open the door to discussion. This goes beyond showing up at spin class, the monthly health bulletin or the morning juice bar visit. Leaders need to be okay with getting vulnerable, sharing their hurdles and having conversations surrounding many of the topics (anxiety, dealing with stress, grief, illnesses, financial woes and even nutrition struggles) that isolate many into a feeling of loneliness, stress and anxiety. When employees can see their leaders opening the doors to conversations that show their vulnerability and humanness, they feel less alone and more inclined to share their story, inspire, inquire and be their authentic selves.
Buffer, a social media branding company, is an excellent example of this and holds a strong belief in authenticity and encouraging people to be their complete selves at work. That means sharing the highs and supporting people during the lows. This attitude is shared by CEO Joel Gascoigne who freely shares the fact that he has darker days, even tweeting about times he’s been talking to a therapist as a way to deal with a sense of overwhelming.
Top leadership are igniters to nudging people that it’s okay to seek help and try something new. Most of all, making it known and felt in the culture –we’re here for you.
4.) HEALTH INITIATIVES NEEDS TO BE HIGHLY ACCESSIBLE AND FLEXIBLE
Companies seeking to optimize their health initiatives need to understand the basic of prerequisites: employees will not use or participate in what they cannot get. Programs, wellness facilities and hubs that aim to promote or allow for recharge, mental reboot and care should not be out of sight, difficult to reach or require tedious planning to fit into one’s schedule. The brutal truth is: if what is offered isn’t accessible or flexible, it is not made to promote ‘employee wellness’ and will not lead to sustaining the habits for healthy change.
A concept that breaks the barriers of this is ‘Energy Zones.’ A term used by military community banking, investing and insurance company USSA. They’ve recognized that not every employee will always reach a centrally located fitness centre. Instead ‘Energy Zones’ are spread around the building as an added measure to give employees a convenient place to step away, relax, gather their thoughts, or get in a sweat with a selection of fitness equipment available.
5.) THE WELLBEING MESSAGING NEEDS TO BE EMBEDDED THROUGHOUT THE ‘PHYSICAL BUILT’ AND EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES
Companies that are successful at promoting health as part of their credo are aware that wellbeing messaging goes into every aspect of the built environment. It isn’t achieved alone on good intention but by curating the built environment to encourage and sustain the desired shifts in behaviour. This is greatly achieved by helping employees develop a meaningful relationship with wellness and living healthier lives. It is also not partial to one idea, department or space but embedded into how things function throughout — nutritional eating advice in cafeterias, fitness challenges or pop-up workshops inspiring micro-steps into a healthy lifestyle. The wellbeing theme needs to be apparent throughout the company and pulls all the working parts of ‘health’ into a framework that keeps the messaging clear, concise and very present to creating and sustaining the culture.
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?
I’ve found this starts by asking the right question to open the right line of conversation. Going back to an earlier question presented: ‘‘How might we create an environment where our employees are better off in their lifespan because they came to work for us?’’ This is a question we can use to shift our relationship with wellness to realize; there is no true performance, productivity or pivoting if ‘people’ are not operating at their best levels. Or given opportunities, spaces to focus, socialize, collaborate, discover and learn. The mental health of an employee is a business issue, and as such, the conversation needs to start changing as if it is not. The science is clear; people work better, perform, and respond better when immersed in environments that promote those behaviours.
When we align our motivations with core questions, we can align our intentions to strategize other pieces of the framework:
- Gaining visible corporate buy-in.
- Creating and sustaining the behaviours into the culture.
- Immersing through adaptations built into the environment that connects with user type and user needs. ‘You See Health’ You Feel Health’.
- Building a presence of wellness to explore and choose rather than force its importance.
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?
For starters: Take care of yourself — We often rush into support mode with little understanding of the care we need ourselves, what our mind and body need to keep up with all that we ask and do. Take care of your health. A little exploration into developing healthy strategies can go a long way. Whether that’s resistance training, meditation, deep breathing exercises, nutrition –they all play a vital role in how we respond to life’s many stressors and agitators. Exploring and finding what works for you is key!
Get Involved — One of the best ways we can be there for others is by checking in. Now more than ever, with rising job loss and many on the brink of it, activating regular check in’s and open dialogue is essential. By becoming more open to asking the questions that can sometimes feel uncomfortable, we break the barriers that keep many trapped within anxiety, uncertainty and loneliness.
Be Mindful — We often talk about the power of listening in conversations, but what about listening to what we say? Are we sensitive and mindful? Conversations are incredibly powerful. They can lift us or drag us down. Now more than ever, we have got to be cognizant that we’re not sending the wrong sort of message and adding to the anxiety.
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?
First: Keep it simple, intentional and conscious. Become Aware.
We’re forming habits all the time, whether we are realizing this or not. Whether it is healthy or unhealthy starts with becoming aware and honest with ourselves– the little self-talk as I like to call it before getting ready for battle. By becoming aware of what we’re doing, we become aware of the things that serve us and the ones that don’t. We become aware of what we’re doing, why perhaps the last attempt at ‘starting good habits’ didn’t stick and we become aware of our role and place in cultivating the environment and relationships around where we thrive or fall into unhealthy habits.
Second: Shift your perception
What’s important is being able to clearly see the shift from ‘starting good habits’ to realizing why we not only want but need to change. Allowing this to resonate with us on a primary level of cause and purpose. There’s a lot of self-talk and soul searching here as you can gather and getting real with ourselves.
Third: Get out of your head
Ask yourself: What are the experiences I want most out of life? How might I invite moments that make me happier and energetic? If it’s hard for you to focus on what you’d like to see looking back at your life ten years from now, then start where you feel you can control and ask yourself: What do I want to see when I look back on my life seven days from today? Do I like what I see? What’s held me back? Who are the people I want a part of my journey? How do I want to feel? How do I want to impact the lives of others?
Fourth: Recognize the environment
Before we even set a goal, we must find meaning in the goal in order to curate or ‘set-up’ the environment around us to motivate the path. From my own experience this doesn’t magically happen. The goal isn’t to stay far away from our stressors but rather develop a relationship that helps us to better respond without falling into an unhealthy state of being.
Fifth: Enact the lifestyle
Like integrating an employee wellness initiative isn’t without immersion into the culture, adopting healthy habits to aid in our wellness isn’t without full acceptance and application to the lifestyle we lead. We must want the change badly enough to shift things around, allowing ourselves too, the space to learn along the way. Errors will happen and we need to give ourselves the mental space to learn from them and not bring ourselves down by them.
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?
A couple of years ago, I fell into an unhealthy place. I was working beyond my capacity and felt like I was failing at everything. I went into a full-blown anxiety attack, and for someone experiencing this for the first time, I thought it was a heart attack. In the doctor’s office, the first thing he did was write me a prescription for anxiety, and as I sat on the patient’s bed, I looked at him and in a brief moment of clarity, I asked: Aren’t you going to run some tests, or ask me about my nutrition? At that moment, I made a quiet conscious decision for myself; I would change my nutrition and create for myself what I could control. For me, medication would not be the answer, and I started to look and listen to my body very holistically. From starting the day with a healthy juice I’d concoct myself, using focus-sounds to help align my thoughts, journaling to even setting a reminder on my phone, ‘remember to breathe.’
Moving the needle to promote my mental wellbeing started with my nutrition which extends into movement, recovery and my furry friend — Ruby the Goberian. Dogs, for me, are the ultimate stress busters. More recently, I’m learning more about meditation through a series offered by Headspace.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I recently got through with David Eagleman’s ‘The Brain’ — The Story of You. An astonishing look at our brain not in the conventional sense but in how we function, the choices we make or don’t make, our motivations, desires and why we behave the way we do. Being interested in behaviours, I found the outline of data useful to align strategies on a scientific level of how we function — further merging that to raise our frequency to live more meaningful lives. Without a doubt, when we understand our brain and how it influences our choices, we can set better intentions.
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. 🙂
Call me a dreamer, but this would be ‘Becoming Better Humans.’ If we become more invested in becoming better humans, I believe we have a real shot at creating a better world. Integrating a universal culture of hope, care and responsibility to stimulate attitudes linked through mindfulness, accountability and greater self-ownership. Areas that have been widely unrealized yet tested us the most since the beginning of the pandemic.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
You can find and follow my journey on:
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you, Authority Magazine!