No Cookie Cutter For Wellness: Listen First, Acknowledge, Then Act | Diane Schwartz


Diane Schwartz, CEO of Ragan Communications and Ragan’s Workplace Wellness Insider, discusses the long-term effects of stress caused by the pandemic and how companies can improve their workplace wellness strategies.



Ceci [00:00:17] Hello and welcome to The Future of Work Podcast by Allwork.Space, I’m Ceci Amador De San Jose and I’m looking forward to chatting with Diane Schwartz, the CEO of Ragan Communications, which includes Ragan’s Workplace Wellness Insider, about the long term effects of stress, caused by the pandemic and how it’s impacting the workforce, Diane – welcome. 

Diane Schwartz [00:00:39] Hi, thanks for having me. 

Ceci [00:00:41] Our pleasure. We already know that everyone is more stressed out, more anxious than ever before as a result of that; we’re dealing with financial worries being and things like being cooped up in a small apartment.  

So how is this impacting work? 

Diane Schwartz [00:01:00] How is it not impacting where you right? 

Ceci [00:01:03] I think that’s the right question. How Is it not impacting work? 

Diane Schwartz [00:01:06] I mean, it really, it’s a real issue. I mean, it’s always burnout and isolation and, you know, social inclusion. It’s always been an issue in the workplace, definitely exacerbated by the pandemic. Many people, not all employees are working remotely, but there’s definitely a hybrid work environment that’s going to become more and more real and probably permanent. So, we’re dealing with the law as employers, we’re dealing with a lot of factors, concentration, employees, just losing concentration at work absenteeism and presenteeism – they’re there, but they’re not really there, right. 

Ceci [00:01:55] More seriously, substance abuse and underlying health conditions that aren’t being taken care of, that’s definitely going to impact the employee and the employer so that worsening of health conditions and I’m sure we’ll talk about this more. But mental health is still a stigma. It’s still stigmatized within an organization. So, there’s a lot of work to be done in understanding how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace. So, all of those factors. 

Ceci [00:02:28] And I think something that’s really important is, although there’s been a lot of progress by destigmatizing mental health conversations in the workplace, I do feel that as people go to work remotely, a lot of those conversations aren’t even taking place right now. Because it’s not as comfortable to talk about it on like a back channel with your manager. 

Diane Schwartz [00:02:49] Right. 

Ceci [00:02:49] Like they would struggle already talking and starting the conversation in person and just like your channels. And it feels very impersonal. 

Diane Schwartz [00:03:01] Yeah, I think one of the issues is before the pandemic, it was stigmatized, right? 

Diane Schwartz [00:03:09] It’s now in we’re shining a light on this issue. So, it is going to take some time in fairness to those leaders and managers who are concerned about this, it takes some time. It’s almost liked the last year employers have been defacto mental health experts or put in a position to be mental health experts. And clearly, we are not. But I just think a better awareness of mental health and sort of fluency in the topics around mental health is one way forward. I do the day when an employee may say, I can’t come to that meeting, I’m going to see my therapist or I’m on working out this medication. And just give me a moment. I mean, that’s what we know. We’ve made some progress where people are openly speaking about it. 

Diane Schwartz [00:04:08] But right now, I think the starting line in terms of dealing with it. So, it is true people aren’t talking about it at all or very little, 

Ceci [00:04:21] But we’ve made some progress. I’ve seen some companies promote mental health days. So, if an employee asks for a mental health day, it’s totally fine. They can have a day off 

Diane Schwartz [00:04:34] That’s true 

Ceci [00:04:35] Without asking a whole lot of other questions. So, it’s a step in the right direction. But I agree that there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. 

Ceci [00:04:43] Speaking about mental health, stress, burnout, anxiety, a lot of the research has focused on how workers are feeling right now and how that works right now. But long term, there are definitely worth issues that are caused by long, prolonged stress and. So my question is, how will this affect workers and companies in the future? What are some of the impacts in the long term that? Maybe we’re not even talking about yet. 

Diane Schwartz [00:05:16] Yeah, and some of this is generational. Right, we’re when we look at 

Diane Schwartz [00:05:23] the isolation of the past year and then the millennials and GenZ and this wanting to have social connections and not being trained in the way that we’re used to training now, entry level and younger employees, I think all of that is almost like a missed year. But I’m very hopeful on that front. I mean, there’s work to be done in terms of understanding as people reenter the workplace, what kind of training they need, what kind of social gatherings are appropriate, what’s to be expected. We really need to manage expectations in the next 12 months in terms of what employers can do and what employees can handle.  

So, I think even something like resilience training for our staff is really important. Manager training. I mean, managers are on the front lines of this. I think we forget often how important that is. They’re sort of in between in the C Suite and the employees. So those managers are really important in training them to detect mental health and other issues. Among their team is, I think, one of the top areas that employers should be looking at as we move forward. But. The good news is, I mean, one statistic I read was about sixty-five percent of employers say that they are not able to handle mental health issues in a meaningful way yet. At least we know that we’re recognizing it, right, and something can be done. 

Ceci [00:07:13] One thing that you mentioned that I think it’s really important is what we intend on moving forward. And we already have all of these extra sources of stress and anxiety. And then if we add to that the return to the workplace events that they’re expected to participate in. What are some things that employers can do to make those experience less stressful for the employer? 

Diane Schwartz [00:07:41] Yeah, good question. Well, let’s talk about right now. Right now, when you think about it, those employees who are constantly on Zoom cause or video cause may not always be Zoom, but let’s just say Zoom, cause, I mean, it’s like every day they’re being asked to be on stage, you know, and that most people do not like being on 

Diane Schwartz [00:08:02] stage. So, imagine the stress that that has already caused people. 

Diane Schwartz [00:08:08] I mean, you can turn your video off during a meeting and managers can encourage that, certainly. But that’s a real issue. And I think we just assume everybody is just going to show up and their best selves are going to. And I think that’s building up to be making people very anxious. The one thing that we can do immediately is reduce the number of meetings. And reduce the number of video meetings. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having an audio.  

The good old days are just like phone or even email, those sorts of things where people might feel more comfortable just balancing that out. It’s good to see people and actually managers should have that eye contact or peers need to have that eye contact. Having some sort of interaction is important, but we might have gone overboard with all these meetings because one person doesn’t know how many meetings that person has had that they keep scheduling up so that like a right of way thing that we can do. A lot of employers are doing both surveys pretty regularly. You do them some are doing them weekly. Some are doing a monthly sum every other month. 

Diane Schwartz [00:09:26] But those are really important and like they sound. So, you’re taking the pulse right then and there. So, it’s going to change. So, seeing how your employees are feeling is really important. There are a lot of apps out there to measure sentiment. And so, I would encourage employers to look into those and really take the pulse of your employees and where they’re feeling emotionally, there’s a lot of other things I’m sure we’ll talk about for that top of mind right now. 

Ceci [00:09:59] And going back zoom and video conferences and having the video on. One thing that I thought of it, I feel that video has been encouraged so much because it avoids, you know, having people get distracted with their phones or other happenings at their home while they’re in the meeting. But I agree that it can be braining just be humorous if you’re not acting like you’re just there. And if someone’s sharing a screen, you don’t even know if they’re actually looking at you. At least when you zoom in the shared screen, take over the entire of the entirety of my laptop screen. And so, I don’t see anyone else breaking point of having a camera on. As you can imagine, I’m not a big fan of being camera. But I do think that there are situations where it does need to be. Obligatory, so if you’re doing one on one meetings, 

Diane Schwartz [00:11:01] I think it’s more important to have your camera on versus if you have a five to 10 person or even more people meeting where unless you’re speaking, it really doesn’t add a whole lot to the conversation that we’ve got. I personally feel about it. And it can definitely be a source of stress, especially I’m thinking about, you know, my apartment and the entire mess sometimes throughout the day. 

Ceci [00:11:27] And I have limited space where I can have like a decent background with decent lighting. And so, it can be a source of stress. Just think about where the hell am I going to sit down to have this meeting and not show my messy bedroom or my living room or whatever. Other than that, and going back to how stress is affecting productivity and overall performance. Is it affecting collaboration between teams and. Especially undistributed teams right now and the stress of cooperation and. Effective communication as well? I feel that whenever people express, they become a little bit more ache are I have a personal experience. I was once asked to include more emojis in my head. 

Diane Schwartz [00:12:23] Oh, no, no. 

Ceci [00:12:26] I’m just writing yes or no. There is no bad thing behind that. So now I’m like, yes, smiley face. 

Ceci [00:12:35] So how what are some tips that you can give employees and employers to prevent kind of like misunderstandings that might arise from someone just, you know, quickly typing a note on an email without seeming like they’re completely angry or they don’t like this other idea or to avoid kind of like those feelings in the employee. 

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    Diane Schwartz [00:12:58] Yeah, that’s interesting because I mean that that always, you know, things get lost in translation with emails or even with quick conversations or text messaging, I will say, you know, you mentioned the word productivity, and right now we’re almost too productive. I mean, employees are spending I think it’s upwards of twenty five percent more time at work because the lines have blurred between work and life outside of work. So that is an issue in terms of it’s not that it’s more ours. Maybe we’re not as productive or effective in those hours, but they’re definitely working more hours. So, I wanted to make a note of that because we don’t have as much of a productivity issue. It’s more like engagement and morale. I mean, 

    Diane Schwartz [00:13:53] Microsoft just came out with a stat saying 40 percent of professionals will be looking for a new job, that they’re ready to leave their current job. They’re just frustrated. And some of those goes back to what you are asking about, which is that interpersonal communication, feeling valued, feeling heard for those in minority groups, a sense of belonging and inclusion, definitely a real issue. The whole area of diversity, equity and inclusion. This is we’re in a time, a moment in our country where this is amplified, but also within organizations. While I think employers are trying really hard to be inclusive, I don’t think I think we’re dealing with a lot of crises at once in a lot of issues at once. And there’s isolation among minority groups, no doubt now ways that you can deal with that or improve that within your organization.  

    A lot of large organizations don’t have to be large to do this, but they have employee resource groups or affinity groups and finding those what’s been termed culture carriers within your organization, people who will help bridge the gap in the communication gap and bring like-minded people together, even people who aren’t like-minded to talk about things on their mind that that has been very effective. Other things that, you know, managers can do is just really model good behavior. Yeah, I mean, you know, it the times that you’re reaching out to your employees, if you email your employee at 3:00 a.m., you know, on a Thursday or over the weekend, and your kind of setting a certain behavior and expectation and that causes stress. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:15:57] Right. So, I think that you look at yourself and how you’re behaving and know good behavior. I think we should encourage time off, maybe even incentivize people to take time off and also make sure that when they come back there is in just the equivalent of our mile high stack of papers, whatever the digital version of that is, when they come back from vacation or time off to having other people fill in so that they come back like a normal, you know, work environment, they deserve to feel ideas. 

    Ceci [00:16:38] I think modeling behavior is really important, what you said about emailing people at really odd hours of the night or day, but then again, if you have a really distributed across time zone, how do you do that? I do, I think. But there are some email applications that allow for you to new or kind of like schedule messages. So that’s good. But it can be it can be tricky to manage. And I for one, I, I used to air on that side. I worked really well really early in the morning or really anywhere between 11 a.m. and I’m productive ever. 

    Ceci [00:17:20] So it was hard for me to either like I would wake up sometimes at four a.m. and I’m like, oh well I don’t have anything else for work. And I would start sending emails and so people would probably wake up and have like 10 different, what is wrong with her? Right. I to they’re like, do you ever sleep? I do, but I’ve gotten better about that. But it’s something I think a lot of managers and leaders don’t do it. Consciously and sometimes it’s just like this, like overexcitement, like they have an idea, or they just thought of something. And it’s really hard to keep that to yourself, especially if you’re already at home working all day, like you said, people are working longer hours than ever before. I don’t know if necessarily they’re being more productive, but they’re working for a longer time and with lockdowns and restrictions about being able to leave your house for a few some place. What else is there to do? And it’s terrible, like there’s more to life than work. And at the same time, we went through a year that work was basically for a lot of people the only entertainment they had. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:18:31] Right. And connection to their people. And there are a lot I mean, on the positive side, there are a lot of great collaboration tools. And that aren’t time-sensitive that you can whether it’s we know what they all are. There are there are a lot of them. And that is a positive. And I think that is here to stay. And they’re only going to get better and more effective for games, especially global teams that are working. I mean, Microsoft Games is a perfect example. It’s free if the Microsoft suite and I mean, it’s such an effective and efficient way of working and we’re just going to see that technology improve. And it’s here to stay even as we go back into the office. And I also think another positive is when you think about the video, cause whether you’re the CEO or the person that just right out of college in a zoom box is the same size. You know, it’s sort of democratized that like meeting. So, there are a lot and it’s more intimate in some ways when you’re having these meetings and you’re able to you’re actually closer to people. So, it’s really on us as team leaders or anyone on a team to do what they can to find those connections during those meetings and make people feel a little bit less isolated, even just small talk at the beginning of a meeting. Right. Not going right into the substance of the meeting itself. I think this little league can make a really big difference. 

    Ceci [00:20:14] How is Ragan’s communications doing that? 

    Diane Schwartz [00:20:20] Good question. Do we like to practice what we preach, but we’re moving very quickly and I think we’re our is doing a great job? We’ve been through a lot together in the last 13 months or so, and it’s required a lot of resilience, flexibility. We have a lot we have a lot of Zoom meetings every week. We have an all hands like sort of town hall meeting where I share, and others share the latest developments and news and ideas that has been good to keep us together. We have a social committee that puts on different events for the group and a committee that has been really important to so many of our employees in terms of taking a stand and holding ourselves accountable for improving the eye. And that is a lot of employees. A sense of purpose gives us a sense of purpose as a brand. So those are things that we’ve been doing. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:21:28] And we’ve been remote for a while. I mean, we’ve always been a company that has been made up of, you know, a lot of remote employees, that we do have an office in Chicago, but about half of our employees are outside of Chicago. 

    Ceci [00:21:45] So the switch to remote didn’t really affect that much. Your employee, their company, culture and morale and engagement. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:21:53] That’s true, and those who are in Chicago, I mean, a lot of people really miss the office. You know, and they can’t wait to get back. We do beer Fridays, you know, sort of like a happy hour on things like little things like that people are really looking forward to. And we’ll be back. We’ll be doing that, I think, by the end of this year. 

    Ceci [00:22:16] I agree, I think, you know, October by October, I think both companies will be able to have at least a significant percent of their workforce back in the office. 

    Ceci [00:22:27] Moving forward. Where do you see workplace wellness going? What are some things that you hope to see companies across the globe implement or start doing? 

    Diane Schwartz [00:22:40] It’s getting bigger and bigger as an area within an organization. We’re seeing more and more job titles with wellness or well-being in their titles. They’re coming out of H.R. communications, other areas, organizational development. And so, workplace wellness is going to be a. An increasing focus of the C suite of organizations, you’re going to see a lot more collaboration between H.R. and communications because you can build it, but they might not come. So, if you have, like a financial wellness program ahead of you, you can start implementing it. But if nobody knows about it, it’s going to fall flat. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:23:35] So I think we’re going to see a lot more communication around wellness within organizations. There’s going to be more investment in technology and even benefit than reward around wellness. And we’re going to be measuring it, right? We’re going to need to measure it and what works and what organization may not work for those employees in another organization? There are nuances there, but it’s a burgeoning area, a growing field. I’m really excited. We’re really excited. Workplace wellness insider to be covering areas of wellness and helping organizations kind of understand how to navigate this healthy, healthy employee, a healthy organization. So, I think it’s all doable if we just acknowledge it and take the small steps to get there. 

    Ceci [00:24:27] I agree. And what you said about measuring results, I think that’s probably one of the most important things of implementing a wellness strategy program. There has been a lot of research that puts the question out of whether or not wellness programs are effective or not. And I think in large part, a lot of organizations fail at measuring what’s working, what’s not and how they can improve on that. And I’m hoping moving forward. It will be easier for companies with technology to measure the results of their program and their strategy. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:25:04] Yeah, I think measurement is always like the green vegetable on the plate that like I mean, it’s the best thing for you. But a lot of people just, you know, they poke around, they may not eat it all. So, measurement, it’s not just the measurement. It’s actually doing something about the data, like some of that some of the results and outcomes may be negative. They may not be good, but that you have to face it, you know, and learn from it and create better programs. So, it’s, you know, endeavoring to measure, but then actually doing something about the results. 

    Ceci [00:25:45] I agree. And we’re almost running out of time here. So I wanted to ask if there’s anything else that you’d like to add and if not, if you could just. In two minutes, tell us what you believe it’s the most important thing moving forward about workplace. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:26:04] Yeah, well, thanks again for allowing me to talk about this, it’s such an it’s a topic so near and dear to me and to our organization and to our community. I think the first thing is to recognize the problem and then take the small step. To getting to the bigger goals of, you know, you’re never going to all employees are never good, you’re not going to have one hundred percent, you know, high morale in your organization and everyone healthy, but, you know, monitoring it and being proactive and partnering within your organization with colleagues in H.R. and communications I think is really important. And listening to employees, I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway is listen, you know, listen and act. And there’s no cookie cutter. Approach No. One recipe for workplace wellness, 

    Diane Schwartz [00:27:11] So you really need to understand your organization’s culture and as you listen, you respond accordingly. So. Now, I think things are going to be better. 

    Ceci [00:27:26] I agree, I do think that I mean, over the past five years, we’ve seen a lot of talk about workplace development, the growing popularity, and I think the pandemic like how important it really is for companies to have play an active part in their employees will be if they want to have employees that bring their best selves work. Thank you again, Diane, for taking the time to speak with us, and thank you, everyone, for tuning in the Allwork.Space. 

    Diane Schwartz [00:27:58] Thank you, take care. 

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