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“The best first step each of us can take in supporting others is to care for ourselves” With Corey Berkey

The best first step each of us can take in supporting others is to care for ourselves. Checking in with and prioritizing your own wellness is key to effectively providing support to those experiencing mental health issues. In addition to practicing regular self-care, it’s also crucial to communicate openly about mental health. By sharing our […]

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The best first step each of us can take in supporting others is to care for ourselves. Checking in with and prioritizing your own wellness is key to effectively providing support to those experiencing mental health issues. In addition to practicing regular self-care, it’s also crucial to communicate openly about mental health. By sharing our own experiences, we can combat the stigma around mental illness and empower others to care for themselves/seek help if needed. Don’t be afraid to talk openly about prioritizing your own mental health and encourage others to do the same.

Asa part of my series about “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Corey Berkey.

Corey Berkey is the owner of all things “People” at JazzHR. He oversees the recruiting efforts that help JazzHR build a world-class team, plus our employee engagement that helps keep that team happy. He holds a SHRM-SCP and has been in the field for 10 years. His experience spans large and small businesses and many different industries, but he’s always had a soft spot for tech and early-stage companies.

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 inviting me! I’ve always found myself interested in how the workplace evolves and scales. As far back as high school, I’ve had a deep appreciation for the significant investment the businesses I’ve worked for made in their people. This fascination evolved over time and, though I started college as an Operations Management major, I quickly found myself gravitating toward the people side of things.

Human Resources, People Operations, Talent, or whatever you want to call it today, covers a wide range of disciplines and offers countless rewards. Each day is an opportunity for you to positively impact the professional life (and sometimes personal life) of those around us. There are a lot of HR folks out there that create a bad rap for the profession, and I’m in the game to change that.

Since college, I’ve spent more than a decade in the field. I’ve worked with businesses from 3 to 3,000 and enjoy understanding the intricacies and challenges of each of these companies. I think of myself as a people-first leader with a deep appreciation for how a business operates.

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

HR professionals wear many hats — we hire, train, and help employees develop into their best selves. But with so much focus on others, it can be easy to lose sight of your own well-being.

In order to truly thrive, we must practice what we preach. Set aside a few minutes each day to reflect on your own well-being. Check-in with yourself as you would an employee: Are you feeling more stressed than usual? Have you been getting enough sleep? Are you taking actions that align with your personal values? Is it starting to feel like there’s not enough time in the day?

Answering these questions will help you to not only avoid burnout but become a more impactful leader. By caring for yourself first, you’ll be able to give back to your organization more effectively in the long run. I’d also suggest educating your managers to look for the signs of burnout in themselves and their team. Teaching the leaders within your organization how to recognize and address these patterns can really have a positive company-wide impact. Beyond preventing burnout, this coaching also creates an opportunity for your leaders to strengthen their relationships with team members through empathy.

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

Creating a fantastic work culture starts with setting clear, achievable goals. Rather than simply aiming to create a place where employees “want to come to work each day,” be specific in defining what your ideal culture looks like and how you’ll get there. Think of it as setting OKRs: the “Objective” is creating the culture you feel best serves the people and the business. The “Key Results” are like the recipe for success.

Start by thinking of what words you would use to describe working for the business. Then, ask others to do the same. Where are there overlaps and/or discrepancies? Next, think about what descriptors the team would use to describe their perfect culture. This step requires A LOT of input. It’s important to understand this at all levels within the organization and across all teams.

The feedback loop here can seem never-ending so be sure to drive the conversation and own the process. As you get data and understanding around what the culture of your business should be (or how you aim to transform it), share the direction. Creating alignment across the organization is critical as evolution takes place.

Ensure you’re also setting expectations, communicating goals and changes, and asking people how they feel as the transition unfolds. Keep iterating by first living with the changes for a bit, then optimizing over time.

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

“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” I first heard a variation of this quote while reading a book about managing and building teams. I think I’ve applied this a lot in my own life — it’s probably part of the reason I landed at JazzHR. I felt like I needed to make a big shift in my professional life to really feel satisfaction in my personal life. Before I joined JazzHR, I had a great position working with some fantastic people, but I still felt that I was lacking some personal passion. I took a leap of faith and feel that ultimately it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Also, like all HR professionals, I often get tapped for career advice and direction. When someone says that they aren’t quite sure “where to go” in their career, or they don’t see themselves staying where they are long-term, I start to ask questions about passion. One of my core beliefs surrounds passion for your work; everyone should get to enjoy it one way or another. Some people can’t find passion because they’re too afraid to lose sight of the shore they know so well. Life is too short to lack passion. Sometimes we have to be brave enough to experiment, take risks, explore, and expand to find that passion.

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?

  1. Raise awareness: Improving mental wellness begins with understanding mental health. Business can provide access to resources in a number of ways, like inviting health professionals to speak, celebrating events like World Mental Health Day, and making sure your team knows where to find access to care.
  2. Embrace overall wellness: Mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Companies can help to promote overall employee wellbeing by encouraging a healthy lifestyle through individual actions and ongoing programs. At JazzHR, for example, we offer standing desks to all employees, provide team members with branded water bottles to encourage hydration, and collaborate with our benefits provider to offer ongoing resources and support.
  3. Improve engagement: Engaged employees — those who feel connected to your business’s culture, mission, and goals — feel their work lives benefit them psychologically, according to a Gallup poll. To improve mental wellness, consider creative ways to boost engagement. Our team, for example, hosts weekly happy hours, participates in daily trivia competitions, and plays virtual games to stay connected from afar.
  4. Foster an open dialogue: Work-life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and real-world issues impact each of us in different ways. To promote mental wellness across your team, create safe spaces for employees to share their unique experiences with others. Here at JazzHR, we host virtual coffee sessions between cross-functional team members to increase connection.
  5. Promote positivity: Practicing optimism is proven to reduce stress and boost wellness. To spread positivity at the organizational level, pay close attention to how your company communicates at all levels and in all directions. Use encouraging language that aligns with your company mission, and consider new ways to share positivity among team members like a gratitude-focused Slack channel.

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?

Start with education. In a recent survey of JazzHR customers, 56% of respondents said they don’t currently teach managers how to recognize signs of burnout. To raise awareness about the importance of mental wellness, share resources from national organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mental Health Center, or the Work Wellness Institute.

It’s also critical for managers to lead by example when it comes to mental health. Train leaders to encourage work-life balance by offering flexible hours (when possible), taking regular breaks throughout the day, and signing off at a reasonable hour.

Alongside these activities, be sure to take regular pulse checks on how employees are feeling. Survey your team to understand where their mental wellness stands — some employees may not recognize signs of burnout until they’re asked about them.

Lastly, understand what you may already have access to. For instance, a lot of life/disability insurance providers have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) built into the policies your business might already pay for. If not, explore what options might exist to provide at least some support for your team members. Once you identify what you have access to, make sure leaders and employees at all levels understand the options they have available to them.

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?

The best first step each of us can take in supporting others is to care for ourselves. Checking in with and prioritizing your own wellness is key to effectively providing support to those experiencing mental health issues. In addition to practicing regular self-care, it’s also crucial to communicate openly about mental health. By sharing our own experiences, we can combat the stigma around mental illness and empower others to care for themselves/seek help if needed. Don’t be afraid to talk openly about prioritizing your own mental health and encourage others to do the same.

The second step is to look out for each other. So many people, especially in today’s world, welcome help and support. Check on your family, friends, and colleagues. You never know when a simple “how are you” can change someone’s day or improve someone’s attitude.

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?

Staying active is clinically proven to improve mental wellness, and developing a habit of regular exercise is critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and mindset. This is especially important now as many of us have moved to remote work — getting outside, even just for a short walk or two during the workday, can strengthen our brain health, reduce stress, and boost productivity.

Besides physical activity, staying hydrated is vital to feeling our best. Keeping a refillable water bottle nearby is a great way to promote proper hydration throughout the day.

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?

Some people might be surprised to hear this but when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed, I’ll take ten minutes to do some (light and really easy) yoga. I use that time to clear my head and quickly reduce my stress level. I also heed the advice of my AppleWatch and take a few minutes each day to focus on deep breathing when the app prompts me (and I’m not actively engaged in a conversation or meeting).

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

Where Have all the Leaders Gone, by Lee Iacoca. I’ve read it twice — and am probably due to read it again. While their approach is definitely focused on firm leadership, the authors offer a number of considerations for developing leaders. Their words have helped me personally to develop my voice as a member of JazzHR’s leadership team. Sometimes, being a leader means making tough decisions and being able to communicate that news with compassion and grace.

On that note, Colin Powell’s Leadership Primer is a quick set of principles that everyone in a leadership position should read at least once.

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. 🙂

This is an interesting question — and honestly a few things come to mind. I think I’d focus my efforts on helping people from underprivileged walks of life find their voice, their passion, and their path. Many people feel trapped and don’t recognize their unrealized potential. The world can benefit from doing some soul searching to find those strengths and rediscover passion.

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

You can learn more about JazzHR at www.jazzhr.com, on our Blog, and on LinkedIn.

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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