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Head of Psychology at nilo.health
If we look at it from a very human perspective, people and your workforce are the heart of your organization. So it's only logical to invest in mental well being because this way you invest in your workforce and in your people.
Long time psychologist and therapist, Eva is an ambassador for mental health with a special focus on workplace mental wellbeing. Her mission is to empower organizations to embed mental health into their work culture. In her work Eva combines approaches from organizational psychology, the New Work approach and psychotherapy.
Eva is now the Head of Psychology at nilo.health and leading an international team of psychologists. Prior to that, she has worked as a scientist and as a therapist, by which she has gained a powerful understanding of mental health from different perspectives.
Next to her work with nilo.health, she is active as a speaker, trainer and lecturer. She works together with teams and executives to promote mental health literacy and to start the conversation about mental health in everyday worklife.
Mental health has become more and more important, especially over the last 2 years, and especially in the workplace. We need to break the stigma of asking for help when we need it, and companies need to show up to support their employee’s mental wellbeing.
That is exactly what our host Sandra talked about with Eva Schneider, who is an ambassador for mental health with a special focus on workplace mental wellbeing. Her mission is to empower organizations to embed mental health into their work culture, and provide a safe space for everyone to share how they are really feeling.
In this episode, she shares her own experiences when working with companies and gives some real life tips on how employers can support their workers to maintain good mental health, and not just jump the gun when their employees are already in crisis.
Lano Blog | How to support mental health in remote teams
with Eva Schneider, Head of Psychology at nilo.health
Sandra Redlich 00:03
I see a lot of plants in the background looks very lovely. Where you are. Where are you joining us from today?
Eva Schneider 01:37
I'm joining you from my beautiful home office in the beautiful city of Berlin. I have many plants here, because it's the nicest room in my apartment. And I love to spend time here. So it's also good for my mental well being to work in this lovely place yet.
Sandra Redlich 01:56
That's a perfect way to start this episode, because mental well being is exactly what we're here to talk about today. Maybe you could give our listeners a quick little introduction into who you are and what it is that you do.
Eva Schneider 02:07
Yes. So I'm Eva. I'm a psychologist and a psychotherapist. And I work with organizations to promote their mental well being and the mental well being of their workforce.
Sandra Redlich 02:20
How important from your opinion, is mental health in the workforce? And maybe also how has that changed over the last couple of years.
Eva Schneider 02:29
Mental health, like on a scale from one to 10. Mental health has the importancy of a 10 I'd say. If we look at it from a very human perspective, people and your workforce are the core of your organization. It's the heart of your organization. So it only makes sense. It's only logical to invest in mental well being because this way you invest in your workforce and in your people. What we see today is that there's a lot of literature right now that it has very positive effects on retention, on absenteeism, presenteeism, productivity, the culture. And also we have very nice side effects, I'd say, on the employee experience, of course, and on employer branding, which is super important nowadays, where we really need to attract talent. So mental health in general, is like your insurance for the future, because it directly addresses the people of your workforce. So it's definitely something that you need to look at, and what will definitely also set you apart in the future from other companies that are not investing in mental well being of their workforce.
Sandra Redlich 03:44
That's a good point. Do you see in your experience, do you hear from your clients and the companies you work with that employees are asking for mental health support?
Eva Schneider 03:53
Definitely. And this has changed a lot during the past years, because people suddenly saw: okay, this is actually a topic. I mean, everybody has mental health, and everybody has had mental health 50 years ago, as well. It was just not that much of a topic. What we see today is that especially during the past two years, people do not have this artificial separation between this is my private self, and this is my work self anymore. But rather see themselves as a whole person, which is only natural, you know. Before the pandemic, sometimes we have this artificial separation and people suddenly now see, okay, I'm a whole person, I bring my whole self to work. And it's important for me to address this with my employer as well. So what we saw in the past two years is that we were all in collective stress. Everybody was subjected to the corona crisis, as people were suddenly confronted with working from home, caring for their families, they lost jobs, they maybe had to redesign their whole daily schedules, couldn't do any leisure activityies anymore, so many things that we were used to and had, like, automatically in our daily lives or social contacts or hobbies of physical activity just were falling apart one day to the other. And people were suddenly saying, Okay, this has effects on how I work, on my productivity, and also how we interact with each other because everybody was feeling this collective stress. So people were saying, Okay, this is actually a topic we want to address, because we feel we're all in the same boat here. And we can do something about this. So people were bringing up the topic a lot more often, which I think is a very positive trend, because as I said, you do not have this artificial separation anymore, that an employer says, Okay, this is your work self here and go home to your private self, and then recharge your batteries and come back with a full charged batteries, and then do your work and then leave again and charge your batteries at home. But that we shift more to the perspective, okay, as a work place, and as an employer, we can actually take care of our employees to recharge their batteries during the work day as well by small tools, tips, hacks. And also by investing in the culture of the company.
Sandra Redlich 06:23
Do you think the pandemic has helped to break the stigma of taking care of your mental health?
Eva Schneider 06:30
Yes, and what I also see is that we still have a lot of stigma, and there's a lot to be done in this field, but people feel or are more open to actually speak up about it. Even if it's only like a very tiny step and like going to your team and one day you're saying, Okay, guys, let's be honest here. How's everybody doing? Just like doing this very teeny, tiny, small steps towards: Okay, how's your emotional well being? Have you been eating? Have you been sleeping? What are the stresses that you're facing right now? And not only focusing so much on like work and tasks and projects, but also on the human beings behind that, and that you may have a different performance every day, which is normal. When I sometimes see LinkedIn profiles, people say I give 100% every day. And then I've always liked from a psychological perspective, that's not really possible. So people suddenly see okay, this is okay, that I mean, people suddenly see that this is okay, not to give 100% each day, but this is actually normal. And they bring up the conversation around it. And that is completely okay. And this is, I think, a very nice development that we see. Okay, people are slowly changing their conversations about wellbeing in a more holistic way, not only in physical well being, but also the mental well being, and everybody does it in a little bit of their own style. But things are changing. However, there's still a lot of work to be done to reduce the stigma around mental health.
Sandra Redlich 08:17
You just mentioned that it's easier now, or it's becoming easier for people to really check in with their employees, with their team members and to ask, how are you really doing? I can imagine that this is easier to do when you work in an office together and harder to do if you have a remote team, people working from home or people generally being distributed all over the world, where you have maybe asynchronous conversations, you don't really get to check in as much as you would do maybe in person in an office. So do you think there is a even bigger focus or should there be an even bigger focus on mental health in remote teams?
Eva Schneider 08:54
The challenge that we have in remote teams that many parts of our usual like social interaction fall apart, like nonverbal cues, for example, because we only see a small excerpt from the person which is sitting on the screen on the other side. So what we really need to do here is to overcommunicate a lot, we need to put a lot more into words, it can be synchronous or asynchronous, but we need to communicate explicitly a lot more than we are used to from usual social interactions, face to face interactions. This is definitely something which is super important for remote teams. However, you just mentioned asynchronous communication, and what I observe is that often people see it as a disadvantage, but in my opinion, this can also be a huge advantage because when we are for example, looking at people who are more socially anxious, and to feel very intimidated by direct face to face interaction, asynchronous communication can be such a relief for them, because they might have some time to think about an answer, to give themselves some space, which is something that that we can really use as an advantage also in remote teams. So what I would like to say or to point out here is that we do not only have disadvantages when it comes to remote teams, we also have many advantages in different ways. However, and in general, we always have this tension between 'this is great, and this is also terrible at the same time'. So you have the advantage, of course of like being more location independent, of attracting more talent globally. So you can really build a great team, who can also fit their workplace into their needs and the lifestyle they wish to have. But of course, we also have a disadvantage that we lose some parts of the day to day communication that we might have in an office situation. So it's just good to be aware of the fact that we have a little bit of both worlds, and that there are ways in both worlds where we can take strengths and the advantages and trying to minimize the disadvantages.
Eva Schneider 09:01
Yeah, I love that concept, taking the strengths from the situation that you have, and focusing on that. You mentioned the different character types or characteristics and personalities that are within a team. Some people might excel in asynchronous conversations or communication, other people might really need the exchange, real time exchange with their fellow colleagues or their superiors. How can companies who do have a remote team make sure that each individual need of these people are addressed and that they're adapting their style of communication to meet those needs?
Eva Schneider 12:09
It's a very good question. And I think there is no one size fits all. It really depends on the size of the team and the size of the company, also, the number of locations and time zones you're working in. However, there are a few like very basic things that are super important. So general for mental health. So having kind of a regular schedule, for example, having regular check ins, that you have some kind of rhythm, what you also have, of course, giving employees the flexibility to work in their own style and working hours. We also saw, especially within the past two years, that we do not need to stick to very rigid schedules. And it's also a good approach to give employees the own responsibility to work... to design their work schedule, however they wish to have it. Apart from that, what is important next to the rhythm that we have in meetings and interactions that we do not only focus on work stuff, as I said earlier, like the projects and the task management and the workload management and the timelines and so on, but also give an explicit focus to how are you doing? How is your life looking right now? How do you switch off from work? So try to get a better understanding of the whole person and every part of the team, every person who is part of the team, so that you have an idea of how does the environment of that person look like right now? Because especially in the corona pandemic, we had some countries where there were super strict Corona regulations, other countries where there was... it was more liberal, I'd say. And this has a direct effect on how the environment of that employee would look like. So what I see here is that you do not only focus on work stuff, but you also focus on how does the environment of that specific person look like right now.
Sandra Redlich 14:33
I can actually really relate to that because we spoke about it a little bit before we hit record, but I experienced the lockdown in Australia, which was very restrictive and actually the international borders were closed. So I physically just couldn't leave the country, which probably sounds a bit weird to all the Europeans listening. And also we have the phenomenon of having opposite summers and winters. So obviously in summer, which is November to March in Australia, we were quite open, you know, the temperatures are warmer, the virus is not spreading as much. And then in our winter, which is European summer, we were quite locked down and miserable. So it was always asynchronous in that sense for me to speak to my friends and about our experiences with the lockdown and with the virus, because we did experience the same emotions, but at different times and at different stages. And it made it quite difficult to relate to each other in a sense, I guess, or it just didn't make you share that information as easily. And I can imagine that is something that employees also feel, I think it needs some getting used to to actually share how you're really feeling with your team. So is that something where an external mental health professional like yourself, could be beneficial? Because people may feel more comfortable disclosing their emotions to someone who's not their superior?
Eva Schneider 15:59
Yes, definitely. So what I see is that it doesn't make sense, in any case, to really be open about how you are with your team, no matter if it feels a little bit different than from the rest of the team. Because if you're feeling lonely, if you're feeling isolated, if you're experiencing you have been more anxious lately, or have had trouble sleeping lately, this all will affect your work, somehow. And also, you give other people and members from your team the chance to actually show that they care, you know. By holding back, you also take away the chance of your team to care for you and to develop an understanding for your situation, you know, so the little bit of responsibility is also always on the employees side. I think this is important for me to stress that you really need to speak up, you need... you cannot give the whole responsibility to the company only and say they have to do their part, you have to do your part as well. This is super important. Apart from that, having mental health professionals, so a coach, a counselor, or psychologist or psychotherapist is definitely something I can highly recommend, no matter in which life situation you are. Because it makes such a huge difference to talk to somebody neutral, who is just there to listen to you. And we have that especially for team leads. Why is that the case? Because when you are taking care of so many people, and when you are trying to hold together the whole team, you also need somebody who takes care of you in a very neutral, and just open sense and trying to help you with whatever your challenges are at the moment. So I can highly recommend to have a person on your side. And especially I can recommend companies to actually implement EAP systems or similar, who give the opportunity to get help from an external person who is not tied to your company in some way to help you out with your very personal, private specific challenges that you're facing right now. And this does not need to be a mental health issue right away, like going all the way into depression already, but it can also be just a professional to help you with maintaining your mental well being. This is often a misconception that we have that mental health only comes into place when we want to cure depression or anxiety. But this is not true. Mental health is a lot about how can I foster and maintain a good mental well being that it stays like this in the future as well.
Sandra Redlich 18:56
Yeah, very true. Is it like as an analogy, you know, if you want to be physically fit and healthy, it's not enough to start working out when you break your leg. You actually have to work out before to make sure you don't actually break your leg.
Sandra Redlich 19:10
I like that image in my head. So we've talked about getting an external professional on board, establishing a team culture where it is encouraged to share how you're really feeling and you're empowered, to be honest and open and say that you need help or you're not feeling that great at the moment. Is there anything else that people or companies can do to support the mental well being of their employees?
Eva Schneider 19:10
Eva Schneider 19:37
Yes, absolutely. So when we look at health promotion, we can separate it in two different fields. One is behavior prevention. So in this field, we have like promoting healthy behavior around sleep, nutrition, physical exercise, and also training leaders and teams and their knowledge and communication style. But we also have structural prevention, which points more to providing internal or external support systems, like I just mentioned, but also to the accessibility of health systems. What I see very often in companies that they do have some kind of system, but nobody knows about it, and nobody knows where to find it. So you really need easy access, and also a safe access, because especially when it comes to mental health, people often have concerns with anything related to privacy, because they say, I really want to have a safe space for this topic. So is it actually safe if I go to this and that person in my company and talk to that person? I mean, of course, it should be safe. But I completely understand that sometimes there's this little feeling of okay, am I actually safe here and are my topics and concerns really treated safely? Here, also, what we have when it comes to structural prevention, that, of course, companies have the responsibility to create workload in a manageable way to provide flexibility, to provide a clear schedule on expectations. And also to provide health promoting equipment, if we are sitting on a wooden chair, that just hurts our backs. This is not very sustainable, you know. So this is something also where the company is responsible for it to provide the equipment, and anything that is necessary to work in a healthy way. So these two aspects are... these two areas are the areas that companies can look at the behavior of prevention parts, where you look more at the people and their behavior and the structural prevention parts. Often what I see in companies is that they only put an emphasis on the behavior prevention and say, Oh, we have this yoga and meditation class, why aren't you all super relaxed? This is only one side of the medal, you know, this is only the part of okay, we try to foster healthy behavior in some way. But you also need to take responsibility for the structural changes in your company and the structural setup in your company.
Sandra Redlich 22:23
You mentioned that privacy concerns might play a role in preventing people from taking advantage of mental well being support for employees. What other challenges are there that you've experienced, or that people have brought to your attention when it comes to taking advantage of these benefits of mental well being? I'm thinking about, especially for remote and distributed teams, cultural differences might play a role and a factor in that as well. Is that what you've experienced, too?
Eva Schneider 22:52
Absolutely, absolutely. Of course, mental health has huge cultural differences, or the perception of mental health has huge cultural differences. So mental health is very prone to subjectivity. So in the US, for example, it's almost en vogue to go to therapy every week, everybody just talks about it in a super easygoing way. And then you might be going to China, and people feel like assaulted when you ask them about how they are doing. Of course, this does not apply to everyone. And there are different shades, I'd say. But of course, cultural differences are a huge topic here. And you also need to be aware of that when you are asking people how they are doing and like maybe also asking more private stuff that you are always prepared to okay, this might feel a little weird for that person and that you try to verbalize that. So whatever the reaction might be, you can always say okay, you do not have to answer that question. It's just for me that I care about you, I was concerned about how you're doing, but I completely understand and it does not have any negative effects. If you say you do not want to answer that question right now. So you can try to speak from your perspective as well, but try to see it more of a collection of experiences that will come up over time where you get to know each other better, because it will come up at some point that people will say, Okay, I just do not feel like talking about this right now. And then just respect that. And also try not to push people into anything, especially when it comes to cultural differences. You can be a role model, you know, you can say, hey, I'm feeling like this and that right now and they're trying to set a good example.vBut do not expect people to adapt to your style of disclosing information or whatever you are sharing right now, you know, respect their very own style of communication.
Sandra Redlich 25:17
I actually have quite a funny, another Australian anecdote that kind of relates to this topic. A friend of mine did a first aid class in Australia. And she was told, you know, when you are first responder and you're talking to someone who's been hurt, you go up and ask them, How are you doing? And because in Australia, and actually a lot of English speaking countries, it's very normal to, you know... How are you doing is - or how are you, how's it going - you just say that as kind of like a greeting mechanism, you don't actually ask how people are doing. So it's very normalized to just answer. Yeah, good. Good. How about yourself? You know, it's very intrinsic in people's behaviors to just respond with good. So when there's someone lying on the floor, who's been fallen off their bike, or been hit by a car, and a first responder comes and asks, How are you doing? They're told to ask that question twice, because the first reply might be, yeah, good, because they are just saying that, it's an automatic response, and just say, Okay, but how are you really feeling? Because you just fell off your bike, which is a cultural thing that I also had to learn and I had to adapt to being a German living in Australia, I'm not used to that. I'm thinking people ask me how I am all the time. But it's just a matter of greeting, which Germans have their own ways of greeting, and you know, all these different little cultural differences, that definitely make a difference when communicating with people from different backgrounds. So being aware of that, I can definitely see that helping.
Eva Schneider 26:47
Yes. And also, you pointed to a very interesting thing right now that you sometimes need to communicate whatever you were observing, and the behavior you were observing, because do not jump to any conclusions. But try to be open for what ever that person might have to say, but only share what you just did observe. So for example, I just observed you were like falling off your bike. I am wondering, like, how are you doing? Because I saw you were like falling on your shoulder? And how does that feel that you fall on your head? Are you okay? You know, so share your observations, and based on that be open for an answer, but do not jump to conclusions right and straight away, because this will probably be toxic in the long run, especially when we're talking about mental health in the workplace.
Sandra Redlich 27:42
Yeah. So a quick look to the future. In your opinion, what's going to happen in the space of mental health? I feel like the last few years have really broken open this space for people to talk about how they're really feeling with their employers, with their colleagues. Where do you see that developing to in the future?
Eva Schneider 28:04
I believe that we will definitely more and more discover the advantages of technology and that fields, that we will have access to mental health support in a time and location independent way, which is a very nice development, I think, because it really bridges the gap between Okay, I need some support. For some reason, I cannot go to a face to face psychologist, for example, to get help. So what can I do instead? And technology and mental health support that works, for example, online, can definitely bridge that gap. And I think we will massively move towards support and the more technological direction, a little bit away from the classical and traditional understanding of face to face support. Also, I see that employers will take a lot more responsibility in that field also, because employees are really asking for this. Because when you have two new potential employers, and you should decide which one you would go to and the conditions are kind of the same, but one place invests into mental wellbeing and the other place doesn't, my decision would be pretty clear. What I said earlier, mental health and investing into mental health is an insurance for the future. And it's the insurance for your workforce. So this is definitely something where we will move to when it comes to organizational mental well being. Apart from that when we look at the culture, I also see that people are stepping up more and talk about the topic. They bring the topic more to the table and they also feel and for them, it's also easier to express what might be tough at the moment, or what might be something that two years ago, they would not have held so comfortable talking about. So I think that's a very nice development in many areas. However, there's still a lot to be done, especially around the topic of stigma, because people still have many good misconceptions about mental health and also mental health issues when it's a more severe case. For example, people often think when you have a mental health issue, you will be like sick for the rest of your life. And this is just not true. They often also connect mental health issues with words like crazy, or so. So I think there's still a lot to be done in the wording also also in the mental health literacy. So really knowing the numbers, knowing the facts, like being clear about what mental health is and what it also is not. I think this is definitely something where we will move to, and hopefully, I really, really hope that people like me won't be necessary in the future anymore. And that we will have a workplace where we can work in a fruitful and health promoting way and where we not need to be anxious about stepping up about our mental well being or talking about our last psychotherapy session, which was super enlightening. So this is something that I really wish for in the future.
Sandra Redlich 31:30
Yeah, I think what you really show is that it doesn't need to be a negative. We can see this as a positive thing. It's adding to our experience as employers and as humans and as employees. And it's creating shared experiences. And we can take some of the advantages of our situation and just really focus on them and not focus so much on the disadvantages. And yeah, cater to the strength of your situation. I think that's what I've definitely taken away from our talk the most. So I really want to thank you for taking your time to talk about this topic, to shine some light on it, to bring some positivity in this space as well. And make sure that people understand what mental health is about and what it's not about. So thank you for that.
Eva Schneider 32:15
Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Sandra Redlich 32:17
Thank you have a good day.
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