“Taking a blended approach to the working day.” With Caroline Mckenna

Taking a blended approach to the working day. We’ve proved that we can work from home and still achieve great results, as long as everyone feels properly supported. I remember my corporate days of strict timescales, 16 hour days, and presenteeism, and that’s not a pressure I want anyone in my team to experience. As […]

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Taking a blended approach to the working day. We’ve proved that we can work from home and still achieve great results, as long as everyone feels properly supported. I remember my corporate days of strict timescales, 16 hour days, and presenteeism, and that’s not a pressure I want anyone in my team to experience.

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 Caroline McKenna.

Caroline is a dynamic and dedicated leader. In her previous roles in both the private and third sectors, she saw a real need for better collaboration and was determined to find a solution for businesses and charities to collaborate and connect for good. Caroline lives and breathes volunteering, outside of work she is a Director on the board of four non-profits! These include, the Women’s Business Station, supporting women to create and sustain themselves in business; Good Call, providing charities with the highest quality mobile solutions; U-evolve, a youth mental health charity; and Dundee University School of Business. When she is not working, Caroline enjoys sampling wine, walking on the beach, and fun time with her friends and family.

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?

Despite years of trying to pinpoint what makes me tick, and investing in self-development workshops and books, (most of which I never finish!) I realized earlier this year that I still hadn’t quite nailed it. But, enforced change on a scale as big as a global pandemic can push you to challenge your own purpose in life. This strange period has crystallized for me that my driving motivation is to collaborate and have fun with like-minded people and have a positive impact on others and the communities in which we live and work.

After starting out as a dental nurse, I spent 18 years in financial services in London. I’ve been involved in various charities and start-ups since then. It seems strange, but it feels like all the years of experience and knowledge-building, and the amazing people I’ve met along the way, have aligned and I know that where I am right now is where I am meant to be.

I’ve been building a new non-profit purpose led business called Social Good Connect for the last two years and, as any founder will know, a start-up is not for the faint hearted! It’s a tough road to shift a strong idea (that you know can transform people’s lives) into a fully functioning business.

What’s the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It’s more of a turning point really, but it certainly made my life more interesting! I worked in corporate financial services for 18 years and, one day, after a lunch where most of the conversation centred around designer handbags, I found myself thinking what many have thought before me: ‘there has to be more to life’.

Less than a month later I made the enormous decision to take voluntary redundancy and try to find my ‘why’. (Cliché, I know, but true.) After my husband had recovered from his shock at the prospect of zero salary for a while, I trained as a life coach, worked as a consultant to both the business and charity sectors, and landed a job as the CEO of a charity where my passion for meaningful work was ignited.

What advice to thrive and avoid burnout?

For me, the most important thing is wholeheartedness. The usual advice is ok: taking walk in the great outdoors, going for a run, drinking a glass of wine with friends — these are all good things. But nothing quite gives that warm and fuzzy feeling of doing something in service of others and expecting nothing in return.

Re-framing negative thoughts and imposter syndrome also works for me. If I perceive something to be impossible or difficult, then I find it will be. But if I try to re-frame it as an exciting opportunity to learn something new, then guess what… it becomes exciting!

I find that simple things make for a great life. COVID has taught me that it is important to focus on good energy, and to identify the things that re-invigorate you. For me, it’s spending precious time with people who make me happy, or even something as silly as watching 25 episodes of Selling Sunset on repeat with my daughter to switch off, before returning to work with a fresh eye, a clear head, and possibly a desire to sell houses!

What’s your advice on how to create a fantastic work culture?

In terms of team culture, the most important thing is to value each team member and their individual preferences and differences. Taking time to learn about their likes, dislikes, and passions, and playing to their strengths while pushing them to achieve their goals. I believe in open and honest communication and I encourage my team to share any mistakes or challenges. I strive to create an environment where everyone would feel comfortable to say: “I don’t know, and I need help”.

I have regular one-to-one meetings with each team member and end every call by asking ‘what tools or resources do you need from me to help you be successful?’. We have also arranged a four-week mini-series of resilience workshops in order to create a safe work environment and understand more about health and wellbeing.

I encourage my team to be highly self-aware and ‘others aware’, and to be alert to emotional cues that signal overload or withdrawal. I want them to feel energized and excited by what we do, not to feel flat or overwhelmed by it. Most of all we must feed our ability to have fun.

Favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? How that was relevant in your life?

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ — Maya Angelou

I find this relevant because, like anyone, sometimes I say the wrong things, and I don’t always do the right thing, but I always start with the best intention to make people feel good.

What five steps or initiatives have you taken — show example — to help improve or optimize your employees’ mental wellness?

Our five most significant steps to improve mental wellbeing in the workplace are:

Scheduling a resilience workshop series with a visiting, highly engaging psychotherapist.

I bought a plant for every team member’s desk for our last team meeting as we’re all homeworking still. I’ve asked everyone to choose a favourite photo to sit right behind it — for daily inspiration and purified air!

Taking a blended approach to the working day. We’ve proved that we can work from home and still achieve great results, as long as everyone feels properly supported. I remember my corporate days of strict timescales, 16 hour days, and presenteeism, and that’s not a pressure I want anyone in my team to experience.

Every staff member is given 2 hours per week to volunteer either virtually or face-to-face. The core of our business is helping employees to find volunteering opportunities and it’s important that we have that option ourselves. Virtual volunteering has really found its moment during the pandemic.

Socially-distanced ‘walk and talk’ days together. We’re a really new team and I recruited half of our team members online during lockdown without being able to meet them in person. We’ll get to know each other properly and we’ll brainstorm exciting ways to reach our ambitious goals for social good whilst surrounded by great Scottish nature!

What strategies do you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

Find a way to learn about each other’s values. Everyone is driven by different things and unless we respect these differences, we’ll never gel as a team. Understanding other people’s unique values and showing respect for them on a daily basis is vital for creating a culture of acceptance and understanding. It also helps to prevent feelings of isolation in that it celebrates and welcomes difference.

Mental wellness is about talking. Create the space for people to talk about how they are feeling and let them know that it’s ok to have a bad day.

We also believe in the importance of volunteering. There is no better feeling than doing something for another person and expecting nothing in return. Add helping others to your daily routine — you do have the time!

What steps could we (as individuals, as a community and as a society) take to offer support to those feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, or other mental health issues?

We all need to create environments where we can flourish and where there is a safe space to talk through our feelings. Not just physically (the plants, the photos, the lighting, the de-cluttering), but mentally too. Allow people to express their values and to learn about how they might differ from those of their team members.

Think about why we choose our friends — because they are fun, we can talk to them about what’s going on in our lives, we do stuff together, and sometimes we don’t agree but we know we are always there for one another — lets create a work environment like that.

Best strategies to develop healthy habits for optimal mental wellness and replace poor habits?

One of the best books I have read is Atomic Habits by James Clear, I also get his weekly e-newsletter — its brilliant. He taught me how to get rid of repeated bad habits and make small changes to create new ones.

Our lives today are essentially our habits and, if your days are full of bad habits, this can affect your happiness. I lost 17 lbs during lockdown by creating a really small habit — a healthy breakfast and 10,000 Fitbit steps every day — I made it easy enough that I could get it done without a high level of motivation. You have to read this book, I’m telling you, it’s a game changer!

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? How have they impacted your own life?

I use Pzizz to help me relax and fall asleep at night. This app is great for helping me to switch off, slow down, reflect, and recharge. My nine-year-old daughter was so inspired by the difference she saw in me that she’s started using it too!

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

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl helped me to realise that creating a purpose in life to feel positive about, then going all in on delivering that purpose, is the key to happiness. He was a concentration camp survivor during the Holocaust and went on to become a world-renowned psychologist and psychiatrist.

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. 🙂

This is exactly what I’m in the process of doing! Our non-profit, purpose-led business, Social Good Connect, launched in May, (five months early in response to the pandemic) and it’s all about connecting skilled professionals with charities who desperately need those skills but don’t have the time or resources to find them. We are that bridge and that connector. We have ambition to create a world-wide movement connecting business, people, and community. The time is now!

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

Come and visit and our LinkedIn page to enjoy our journey, or I would love to hear from you; [email protected]

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