“There’s no such thing as overcommunication.” With Tom Miller & Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Business leaders should take this opportunity to create a culture in which there’s no shame in asking for — or taking — help. There’s no such thing as overcommunication. 59% of people are not satisfied with their social lives right now. We all crave authentic human interaction and carving out time to chat about life […]

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Business leaders should take this opportunity to create a culture in which there’s no shame in asking for — or taking — help. There’s no such thing as overcommunication. 59% of people are not satisfied with their social lives right now. We all crave authentic human interaction and carving out time to chat about life outside of work can be someone’s only opportunity to do so.

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 Tom Miller.

Tom Miller is the CEO of ClearForce, a firm that specializes in the detection of workplace misconduct and high-risk behavior.

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?

I have spent my entire career working with data analytics and behavioral risk. I began my career as a banker for JP Morgan Chase in their credit business at a time when massive innovation was occurring with predictive modeling and data decisioning systems. This was before the term “big data” was used, but in many ways, this was its beginning.

Today, ClearForce leverages all kinds of use cases to analyze and understand the relationships between behaviors and outcomes, and ultimately make organizations that are safe, secure, profitable and improve individuals’ quality of life.

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

I have had the opportunity to work with customers in many international markets with very different cultures and work environments. One in particular that stands out is my experience traveling in China and doing business with the banks there. From the overwhelming formality of meeting the head of China’s credit bureau seated at two, 30-foot tables in a room the size of a basketball arena, to eating jellyfish from a bowl of ice cubes with chopsticks, that experience reaffirmed for me the importance of understanding, patience and respect when it comes to delving into new cultures.

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

Push yourself to be creative, and constantly look for opportunities to bring new ideas and innovation into your organization and your daily work. Every organization faces frustrating challenges and obstacles that make it difficult to accomplish key business objectives. It is essential for leaders to stay in solution-mode and continuously test new approaches and concepts that challenge the status quo.

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

Building a great work culture has to begin with the culture of work. Too many companies instead jump to the fun stuff, like foosball tables or employee happy hours. Those can be great ways to blow off stress, but you have to make sure the work environment itself isn’t stressing employees out before you do any of those things.

What can make a big difference in building a strong work environment is leaders being honest and open about their own personal struggles, and sending the message that open communication is not only allowed but encouraged. This lets the rest of the organization know that it’s okay to have conversations about pressure and stress, and to check in with one another.

Leaders who are committed to this work will take things one step further by ensuring that policies, procedures, and systems are in place in order to identify and address employee stress and burnout before a crisis strikes.

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

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali.

I was leaving a wrestling practice at UVA, and on the way to the locker room my teammate and I noticed a man standing at center court in the dimly lit basketball arena. As we approached him, we suddenly recognized the significance. Ali stood, alone, in the quiet gym, and we introduced ourselves.

I was a boxing fan, and Ali was both an icon and my childhood hero. This was probably a year or two into his Parkinson’s diagnosis, and though his hands shook, his voice was calm, and he was incredibly gracious. To this day I am moved by the aura of his presence and his call to have the courage to take risk to solve meaningful problems.

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?

Social isolation, financial insecurity and family tensions piled on top of day-to-day workplace stress create a perfect storm for burnout. The pandemic’s lingering effects and its overall negative impact — just 14% of people report being “very happy” this year — make it crucial for managers and coworkers to keep an eye out for one another and watch for changes in behavior that could result in burnout. Logging in late, signing off early, or scaling back group participation can be a sign that someone is burning out.

Compounding stress and the effects of burnout can lead employees to make mistakes on the job or do things they later regret. Right now, we’re all craving social interaction, and it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as overcommunication. Talking to coworkers that you notice are behaving differently can make the ultimate difference for them.

Business leaders should take this opportunity to create a culture in which there’s no shame in asking for — or taking — help. There’s no such thing as overcommunication. 59% of people are not satisfied with their social lives right now. We all crave authentic human interaction and carving out time to chat about life outside of work can be someone’s only opportunity to do so.

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?

Sadly, we tend to only pay attention to mental health once it’s too late. We need to change the status quo and encourage business leaders to proactively make changes to their company’s culture before issues arise, rather than scrambling in a frenzy once a crisis strikes.

Beyond this, many don’t realize the impact that mental health can have on a business’ bottom line. Poor mental health can lead to decreases in productivity, more expensive workplace mistakes, and even, in some cases, workplace violence, harassment, or theft.

If employers were more aware of this, they’d prioritize it. It’s the right thing to do, and from a business perspective, also a smart thing to do.

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 all need to know what signs of pressure and stress to look out for, and we need to actively watch for those signs in our coworkers, family members and friends. And, when we spot a red flag, we shouldn’t be afraid of calling it out. Even if you don’t know exactly what kind of help someone needs, identifying the problem is the first step towards fixing it.

Whether you’re working in-person or remotely, we can all be more mindful of keeping an eye out for one another. The 40 hours each week we spend with our coworkers leaves plenty of time to pick up on changes — that is, if you know what to look for.

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?

When working remotely, setting boundaries for yourself is key. Since the lines between work and home life have gotten so blurred, it’s good to make that distinction where you can.

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 think we missed a big opportunity during the COVID-19 crisis to drive a public health message focused on physical activity and exercise as a means to improve your physical and mental health. I have always found physical activity to be a great way to reduce stress and to reestablish positivity, enthusiasm and focus. Physical activity is a fantastic way to mentally regroup and reset, especially when work and day-to-day life become intense.

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

In A Mother’s Reckoning, Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the killers in the Columbine High School massacre, agonizes over the signs she missed of Dylan’s mental state. Sue was an attentive, caring mother and Dylan grew up in a loving home, yet she did not know her son was depressed. It’s tragic on every level.

As a parent, it hit home. Dylan could be any of our children, (or a friend or co-worker, for that matter. We all might be missing crucial signs of depression and mental illness because we don’t know what to look for, and the results can be devastating. This drives a lot of my work today. I have a personal passion for helping families, employers and friends understand behavioral red flags and signs of mental illness so that they can be addressed before a tragedy occurs.

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. 🙂

There’s no movement more powerful than individuals looking out for one another, and thanks to social media and other 21st-century technologies, it’s never been easier for us to do that. I think if we could all agree to interact online and offline in an ethical and upstanding manner every single day, that could make a tremendous difference in helping people work through whatever curveballs life might throw at them.

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

Readers can connect with me on LinkedIn or visit my company’s website, clearforce.com.

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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