supporting employee mental wellness

Five Ways You Can Promote Your Employees’ Mental Wellness With LinkedIn’s Scott Shute

Blog adapted from the original article in Authority Magazine.

We sat down with Scott Shute, the Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn and keynote speaker for Week Two of RESOLVE Increments, to gain insights from his experiences and how they can apply to mental health and well-being in the workplace. Get your free virtual pass here and check out the interview below.

What lead you to your specific career path?

I’ve always had a deep interest in contemplative practices. I started meditating when I was 13 and teaching since I was in college. It’s not something I ever talked about at work. When I got to LinkedIn as VP of Customer Operations, I recognized what an open and amazing place it is. It was finally safe for me to “come out” as a meditator.

I started leading a weekly practice. With a group of volunteers, we established and grew an incredible mindfulness program. Over time I realized it was time for me (and LinkedIn) to fully invest in this work. I made a proposal to the CEO and the head of HR and collectively we created my current role. It’s pretty unique. My mission is to change work from the inside out by mainstreaming mindfulness and operationalizing compassion.

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

Simplify. Focus on what’s important. Your health, relationships, family. One of the beautiful things about the COVID-19 pandemic is that many people are reconfirming what’s most valuable to them. Yes, of course we’d all like to go on more vacations, but we’re realizing that it’s our health and our connections that enable us to thrive.

So, drink more water. Get more sleep. Spend time with yourself in meditation, prayer or reflection. Connect with your loved ones. Say “Thank you” and “I love you” more.

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

First, realize how important culture is. It takes time and attention to nurture. Balance the needs of all your stakeholders, not just your shareholders. It can’t just be about making money. People want their work to have meaning.

Treat people as people, not as employees. Let them express their true creativity. Encourage them to be their full best self at work. Treat your customers like you would your neighbors. Focus on the ways you’re bringing value to the world. Create an environment you’d be proud for your daughter or grandson to work at.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that’s relevant in your life?

“A good attitude will solve most of life’s problems.” I learned this from my father when I was a grouchy teenager. He was right. Turns out the opposite it true as well. A bad attitude is the cause of most of our problems.

I think about this advice every time I start listing the things in my head that I “have to” do. I ask myself “What else is true?” Meaning, what else is good in my life? Even if this situation is hard, what’s the good that can come of it? It requires shifting our thinking from “life is happening to me” to “life is happening for me.” I try to reframe things to “Here’s what I’m choosing to do.” Or “Here’s what I get to do.” There’s always goodness, always learning and growth in every situation if we’re willing to be open to it.

What are five steps can organization’s take to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental wellness?

1. Acknowledge that this is hard

It starts at the top. It’s important that leaders show their own humanity. It’s powerful when they acknowledge some of their own struggles and share recognition that the challenges we face are real. Then we don’t have to pretend that everything is rosy and perfect. We don’t have to feel bad about having a tough day. It gives us license to have open, honest and constructive conversations about work in a healthy way.

2. Give time off

Some organizations are giving one Friday a month off, creating days where there are no meetings or creating additional shut down weeks away from the office. These breaks can give you some mental space, which helps build resilience. When we’re all out of the office at the same time, we can have a real break. We don’t have to return to a mountain of email from those that were working while we were on vacation.

3. Provide mindfulness or similar programs

Companies can encourage mental well-being by offering free or discounted access to mindfulness apps like Calm, Insight Timer or Wise @ Work. Sponsored mindfulness and meditation sessions show that you’re serious about employee well-being. I especially love the community programs from Wisdom Labs. These programs help build connections and discussion around a specific weekly wellness topic.

4. Build connections

Encourage leaders to spend more time building connections. Relationships matter. Taking a few extra minutes at the beginning of your meetings to catch up increases your sense of connection, reduces your sense of loneliness and is powerful to enhance your well-being. Instead of asking “How are you?”, ask “On a scale of 1-10, how are you today?”. Take time to really listen. Get real. Move beyond simple transactional discussions and build true connections.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

It’s hard to over communicate. Leaders can express gratitude and appreciation toward their employees every chance they get. They can share important resources and programs for well-being, like Employee Assistance Programs. They can share how the work we do makes a positive difference in the world. They can even have open, honest conversations about performance and expectations about the work that needs to get done. This will ensure managers can remain whole as well, getting the work done, while bringing everyone along on the journey. Times may be challenging, but when we all feel like we’re in it together, we’ll be healthier while delivering great products and services for those we serve.

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they’re not yet commonplace. What strategies do you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting employee mental health and well-being?

I think more and more, organizations are recognizing that their employees are their top resource. And currently, mental well-being is one of the top issues for those employees.

It starts at the top. You show your employees that you care about them in both words and actions. Communicate, and then put those words to practice. It takes some will and concerted effort. Every leader needs to acknowledge the challenge and then model the right behavior. The work will get done. But, only if employees feel respected and heard.

What are steps each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues?

Reach out. Connect. In this time of isolation and separation it’s critical that we make an effort to reach out. Express your gratitude and appreciation for others. We sometimes hear about micro-aggressions. The opposite works as well. We can practice micro-compassions.

  1. Smile. It’s not hard. When we’re walking the dog. When we greet each other in a meeting. When we’re in line at the grocery store. Just smile. Say hello.
  2. Compliment. This follows the smile. When we see someone, we can first smile at them. We can then notice something good about them. “Oh, I like your earrings.” “Your shoes are cool.” “I like what you said in the meeting last week.” “I always appreciate seeing you.”
  3. Include others. In a meeting we often hear only a few voices, while others remain quiet. We can bring the quiet ones in to the fold. “Jane, I’d really like to hear what you have to say.” Or if you’re getting together with friends, is there someone that often doesn’t get included that would like to be invited?
  4. Listen. Just listen with the intention of deeply understanding the other person. Not thinking about your own story. Not waiting to interject. What are they trying to say and why?
  5. Be curious. What question can you ask that will light someone up? Get curious. Make it a point to remember. “Robert, how’s that patio project coming?” “Lisa, what’s your puppy up to this week?” “Colin, have you been surfing lately?” And my favorites: “What’s most alive for you right now?” “What are you most grateful for today?”

Compassion doesn’t have to be a big act. We can create a culture of compassion in our workplace, in our family, in our neighborhood, with simple acts. Here’s a nice surprise: Each of these, if we do with an open heart, will make us feel better.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies to develop healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

I love James Clear’s book Atomic Habits and this concept: “Our lives do not rise to the level of our goals, they fall to the level of our systems.” You can have all great intentions, but unless you build in a system, it’s very unlikely you’ll make any changes.

If you want to remember to breathe more, maybe set an alarm on your phone. Create a calendar entry. Or every time you see the number of your birthday, use it as a reminder. These are simple systems.

My favorite is the accountability buddy. Pick something each of you will do, like share gratitude, meditate or exercise. Then every day text each other with your update and encouragement for the other person. It’s a fantastic way to build a connection and a habit.

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

Yes, I’m a huge fan of meditation and contemplative practices.

My personal favorite, which is the basis of my daily practice, is to use the sound “HU” as a mantra. I sing it for 15-20 minutes daily. It acts like a tuning fork to that deepest part of us. That part that is infinite. It’s the sound of soul. When I live from this perspective, I find I have deeper insights and generally a feeling of peace and joy.

I also appreciate the Loving Kindness meditation. It’s a beautiful practice to send others our goodwill and good wishes. That one helps me stay in a good place when I’m having challenges with another person.

And nature. I find it incredibly healing to just be in the wild and open spaces, unplugged, but connected to something much bigger.

What book has made a significant impact on you?

Well, the one I’ve just finished writing! I wrote The Full Body Yes during COVID-19 quarantine time. I essentially traded commuting for meditating and writing time. The book is about that journey from Me to We, from just thinking about myself and my own achievements to working toward something more holistic and fulfilling. I share a lot of stories from my own life – times I’ve totally failed, and times where I’ve started to figure things out. These are the stories of each one of us.

Getting these stories out has been transformational for me. The organizing and retelling of these stories has helped me understand my own life and the world so much better. Almost this feeling of “Oh, wow…my life does make sense!”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that brings the most good to the most people, what would that be?

The Compassion Revolution! We each wake up every day and ask ourselves, “How can I use my unique talents to make the world a better place today? How can I make everyone around me better off – including me.” And then we live it.

This is final part of our evolution from Me to We. We shift our perspective from “Life is happening for me” to “Life is happening through me.”

Then we find our true happiness. Freedom.

Scott is at the intersection of the workplace and ancient wisdom traditions. Previously, he was the Vice President of LinkedIn’s Customer Operations organization. In his current role as Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn, Scott blends his lifelong practice and passion with his practical leadership and operations experience. His mission is to change work from the inside out by “mainstreaming mindfulness” and “operationalizing compassion.” He is the author of the upcoming book The Full Body Yes, available in May 2021.

Make the case for mindfulness and compassion in your workplace.

The journey to fulfillment and happiness is a personal one. Yet, it’s something that directly impacts the work you do, your life and your organization’s success. Join Scott and First Person Advisors for RESOLVE Increments on April 15 to learn more and be part of the conversation on mental health and well-being. Get your free virtual pass here.

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