Andrea Herron 00:03
When future talent is deciding to apply for a job, what are their most important considerations? Well, if they’re like most of us right after the job description and salary range your employee benefits page is going to be next. The reason is simple. Employees directly relate benefits to their overall perception of well being. And HR leaders are constantly adapting their benefit offerings to meet the needs of their evolving workforces. But let’s be honest, some employee benefits are way more interesting than others. Hi, I’m Andrea Herron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces. Because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. On this special two part episode of the HR scoop, Sheila Hamilton, CEO of beyond Well, solutions, author of all the things we never knew chasing the chaos of mental illness, and former Miss American rodeo Queen shares her personal and professional experiences with mental health issues, her award winning journalism career and what she considers to be the most underrated mental health topic. Welcome, Sheila.
Sheila Hamilton 01:28
Thank you. It’s so wonderful to be with you.
Andrea Herron 01:31
Yeah, we’re glad to have you. And I’m really looking forward to this conversation, it’s a lot of your career has been so interesting and taking some turn. So I think it’ll be really fascinating for our listeners. So to kick it off, I would love if you could just tell us a little bit about your journalism career journey.
Sheila Hamilton 01:51
Sure, I started my career actually in public broadcasting as an associate producer, for documentary film. And I just love the storytelling process. I just think telling human stories through the lens of television, and even radio is just one of the most compelling and creative things you can do. And so I ended up working for the ABC affiliate, both in Salt Lake City for almost eight years. And then I moved here to Portland, Oregon, and continued my career as an investigative reporter, and anchor of a couple of Public Affairs programs. And when my daughter was very young, I was doing a lot of crime reporting. And I was actually getting really overwhelmed with the idea that I was bringing her into a world that was just so negative in the way that I was working, because I was just, you know, walking over children who had been left by their mothers in drug houses and going out on murder scenes. And I knew that I couldn’t be the best mom doing that. So I moved to radio, which was also a phenomenal career for me, just because I didn’t have to do my hair anymore. And I really loved that. And then 10 years after my husband and I were married, he began to develop some very strange behaviors, and was really acting erratically and very impulsively, and I didn’t have any idea what I was dealing with. And I suppose that’s probably the last pivot that I made in my career was when my husband was diagnosed with a mental illness. And I realized that, you know, all this time, I’d been spending telling other people’s stories, and yet, I had completely neglected the stories of, you know, one and five, sometimes two and five Americans which are, are dealing with mental illness. And I and I found a brand new passion at that point, and really directed my journey toward investigating, researching, telling other people’s stories and starting my podcast beyond Well,
Andrea Herron 03:53
yeah, great. I mean, storytelling, it has been around and, you know, connected humans since the beginning of time. And I love that you’ve kept that thread through, you know, various aspects of getting to the storytelling through, you know, TV and radio, and then now podcasting. And so it’s interesting, and how has that been received with the new podcast and the focus on mental health given your, you know, now personal and professional experience and exposure there?
Sheila Hamilton 04:24
I think what’s really interesting is that I started my podcast two years before COVID hit and of course, you have those people who are super interested in it because maybe they’re struggling or someone they love is struggling, but COVID just gave us a brand new audience because as you know, now, it’s not just regular people who are suffering from things like depression and anxiety, it’s high performing people, it’s mothers who have very important jobs and three kids at home who don’t know how to actually Be able to homeschool them and take care of all of the obligations that they have the stress level of Americans during COVID has gone so high that I think the recent Pew statistics said two thirds of Americans are reporting real anxiety and depression. So our show has kind of exploded, just because now I think that the vulnerabilities that we all share when we get overstressed and don’t have good coping mechanisms establish, has really revealed itself. And so we’re the fastest growing podcast, house podcasts on Spotify. And I can only see that continuing, at least or until these kinds of quarantines have shut down and economic strife, alleviate some,
Andrea Herron 05:42
that makes a lot of sense. And we published a study recently that showed how much more disproportionately marking mothers were especially prone to having some mental health challenges during this time. And I’m not surprised yet I am so glad that podcasts like yours, and all of the other resources are out there, because in no other time, has the workplace been such a source of information on mental health? And I agree with you, I don’t think that’s going anywhere. If anything, I really think that employers are going to have to step it up because it’s now an expectation as part of the benefits package or, you know, an auxilary offering that people expect versus it was maybe buried in the Employee Assistance Program are a nice to have really before this year.
Sheila Hamilton 06:34
Yeah, I think it’s such a, you know, when you think about any kind of diversity, equity and inclusion program, why not include people’s, you know, variants of their neurodiversity, it really makes sense to me that this becomes an equity issue that we began to talk about mental health is something that we all have. And without it, the workplace is not going to be very successful. And so I’m so thrilled, especially with the sort of motivation and all of the energy that young people are putting in to bring a better mental health benefits into the workplace talking about it, you know, just eradicating the stigma that used to exist around it, I really believe they see these mental health benefits as part of their professional journey. And that because they don’t stigmatize it, it’s going to completely changed the workplace.
Andrea Herron 07:25
I agree with you. And I’ve noticed that shift as well. So you know, given the pandemic, and you’ve been doing this for a while, with everything that’s changed and happen in 2020. Have you shifted your content at all, or just keeping you down to the basics?
Sheila Hamilton 07:42
Well, I really think it is fascinating to me, how much of our societal illness crashed down on the workplace. I mean, if you think about a business that wanted deeply, to honor people’s own racial diversity, but didn’t think that they had to deal with it as a corporation, think about how much that changed, right? And so we’re talking with our experts, our psychiatrist, our social workers, our psychologist, about the issues that are impacting workplaces every single day. And part of it is a brand new topic for us. Racial inclusion, how do we make sure that our LGBTQ plus co workers feel included and not isolated from especially when we’re working in these remote settings? How do you work in a remote setting without feeling the kind of loneliness that so many of us can feel because we’re looking through a screen all day. And so the content has completely changed because our worlds have changed. And part of it really excites me, because I think there are some things where we’ve broken through to a better way of doing business. And part of it really scares me that I think that this could be as people call it, the long tail of the pandemic, that the mental health of people working alone and through screens is just going to be very detrimental to the workforce.
Andrea Herron 09:11
Yeah. And even though people are on Zoom, or whatever remote meeting platform they’re using, they’re not technically alone. I do think that people are more lonely than they have ever been, which is an interesting phenomenon for itself.
Sheila Hamilton 09:27
Yeah, I was just interviewing a young woman yesterday. And in the middle of the interview, she started to cry. And I was so struck by how it felt to be moved by someone through a screen again. You know, because I think that in many ways in order to just withstand this bizarre thing we’re going through we’re staring at this image through this very small screen that we put on this kind of emotional arm. Just to be able to get through the day, and by her being so open and so vulnerable about how difficult it was, it was really one of the very first times that I felt like, Oh, I am so moved by this vulnerability and this ability to still be so human, despite this technological wall between us, you know. And so that’s one of the things I’ve been really working on is, how do you maintain a sense of balance and presence in every interaction that you have, so that you don’t just appear numb, that you don’t just fight to get through the day, when this is the kind of tenor and pace of our world. And I’m hoping that that kind of content comes through for the people who are listening to us, because I really believe that even in this very strange circumstance, it really is about human beings, connecting deeply with one another, being present enough to understand that even in this very weird time, we can still be kind, we can still be compassionate, we can still listen actively and help one another.
Andrea Herron 11:07
Yeah. And it is a divisive time in our nation’s history, and then add on top of it that we can’t connect with each other as we normally would. There are layers and it is, you know, slowly. I really like your analogy of, of the emotional armor because it is there in a lot of times, you don’t even realize you have it on. Yeah, everybody’s coping mechanisms are coming out in full force in ways that they may not have expected. So, you know, again, I think these these tools are great for awareness and then actually having some actions. Yeah, I agree. So other than, you know, this general public, who is your clientele, and I’m curious, you know, what they’re looking for currently?
Sheila Hamilton 11:49
Well, one of the wonderful things about what we’re doing is we come from a journalism and news background. And so what we are trying to do is adapt very, very quickly to what’s happening in the workplace. And so for instance, during some of the riots and some of the unease that we had earlier in the year, we had a lot of our, I was really focusing on our two African American psychologists and social workers to join us to talk about things like racial justice to talk about things like racial trauma, to to really help white allies understand what they could do to help shore up the mental health of their fellow Black employee. And what I’m finding is that the more specific we get with relationship to what’s actually going on in the outside world, the more our clients respond. And so we’ve, we’ve started just customizing a lot of content for our employers who want to go deeper, even then our our library exists. And so we’ve been doing interviews, not just with CEOs who are very committed to the mental health of their employees, but also with people with lived experience within the organization. So they can talk about their journey into a deep depression and what it felt like to move out of it. We have one client, a utility, who had two suicides in one year, and they really needed help learning how to anticipate a co workers return, who’d lost someone to suicide, what the language is that you can use that won’t further injure or traumatize that person. And so we’re very, very responsive to the needs of our clients, to attempt to try to understand what is going on that’s unique in your workplace? And how do we help you begin to address those very specific needs, because a law office is going to be way different than alignments office, for instance, and the tenor of their work and the challenges they face are different. So we try to customize as much content as we possibly can for them.
Andrea Herron 14:07
Yeah, and from my experience, I will say the CEO support is critical in any kind of organizational initiative that you try to roll out and support your staff. And so I’m curious on your take about getting the C suite involved in the topic of mental health, because it is, you know, there has been stigma around it. And I can imagine that some are more comfortable addressing it, some probably have more personal experiences than others. And so what have you seen there with the C suite?
Sheila Hamilton 14:35
Well, I completely agree with you. I don’t think that any mental health initiative is actually going to be successful unless the C suite does get involved. First, the first reason is because most managers are not equipped to deal with mental health concerns. They haven’t been trained properly in the lingo. They don’t know what runs into HIPAA privacy violations and what doesn’t, they don’t want to be seemed as uncaring or fumbling when it comes to the nature of someone’s personal life. And so first up, the C suite needs to be willing to agree to a level of training so that people feel confident in having these kinds of conversations feel confident in sharing the resources that are available. But the big breakthrough that we see comes from a place of vulnerability among the leadership to say, I’m human, my family is human. Here’s the example that I want to share of how we coped with a situation in our lives that was distressing for us. And once that someone who is in a position of power, shares that kind of vulnerability and begins to allow the rest of the company to say, Oh, well, if he’s talking about it, I think it might be okay for me to tell my manager, I’m really anxiety ridden, I think I need some help. And I really believe that unless that occurs, you’re not going to have a full force change the kind of change though, we’re seeing at some of the largest tech companies that have truly, truly invested in training and C suite involvement.
Andrea Herron 16:16
I agree. And I will say, whenever I’ve approached the topic of mental health and training with managers, or just in general, with staff, bringing them resources and information, every single time without fail, I will have, you know, at least a handful of people that want to come up and talk afterwards about their personal experience. And it just resonates because I think every person, either in their direct personal life, or you know, in their workplace, over the course of their career has come into contact with these issues, because they are so prevalent. And finally, when you give them a safe place to talk about it, people are very willing to open up but until it’s safe, it’s this undercover thing that no one discusses yet we all have some level of experience with
Sheila Hamilton 17:03
Yeah, you know, one of the most inventive things that one of our clients, as done is not only implemented the trainings, and done the C suite interviews so that people know that this is a true initiative that companies are really invested in. But they’ve developed private Slack channels specifically for people who want to commune with others who are like, okay, so how are you coping with your depression while you’re still working, and these are private, they, they, you know, bring in pizza so that the DoorDash delivers pizza so that everybody has lunch at the same time, and they can really discuss coping strategies and what’s working and what’s not. And I, and I love it. You know, we’ve never had an example in the mental health arena that’s as profoundly positive as say, a where people gather in a private area, and they can talk to one another about the struggles that they’re encountering in their lives and what’s working. And I do think that this is the change that is going to start occurring in most progressive companies where they they not only facilitate this, but they encourage it and they they are very committed to making sure that people get the the resources in the background they need.
Andrea Herron 18:19
Thank you for listening to the HR scoop. Don’t miss part two of my conversation with Sheila Hamilton.