This episode contains frank and candid discussions of violence against Black and Asian Americans, and the mental health struggles that accompany working and existing as a person of color when those events happen. If you’re struggling with mental health at work, here are two free resources discussed in the episode:
If you’re looking to be an ally or to support racial justice and equality, please consider supporting and donating to Empower Work and Mental Health America or one of the following organizations:
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Episode two, How to work when you can’t work happier.
"Work happier." That’s the founding vision of Front, the company I work for, the company that produces this podcast. In a nutshell, the story goes that our founders saw that their parents weren’t all that happy at work and they wanted to find a way to help people work happier. It’s a good vision and a good motto. After all, who doesn’t want to be happier at work? I sure do.
And I’d like to think that we help our customers do just that. We try to solve problems that people complain about at work, like getting too many emails, or having to use busted work applications. The salesperson in me really just wants to launch into a pitch right here. But the hard truth is that it’s not always crappy email software or fragmented workflows that are making people unhappy at work. Sometimes people are just unhappy. Sometimes they should be unhappy.
Last year, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old black man, was killed while he was out jogging. Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own bed. George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by a Minneapolis police officer. Just this past March, six Asian women were shot in Atlanta. A Chinese American woman was set on fire in Brooklyn. An 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand was killed while he was going for a walk. It seems like every other day we wake up to another headline in the news of another act of violence, or hate crimes against members of the Black or Asian-American communities. How are you supposed to work here when your community is under assault? Should you even try?
I don’t have any answers here. I’m LB Harvey. And in this episode of Heart of Business, we’re going to hear stories from Black and Asian members of our team about what it’s like to go to work the day after a hate crime. We’ll learn some strategies for mental health and emotional health and some best practices for companies and teams who want to help their employees. The episode is the brainchild of Jonny Parker. Here he is with the story.
My name is Jonny Parker. I’m a content marketing manager at Front. I joined about four months ago. Before joining, I actually was able to to check out the "work happier" motto. And I’m not gonna lie, it brought me in. Just reading our our founder and CEO’s story on working happier, it inspired me and motivated me to push the envelope and actually apply. And here I am, thankfully.
I’m Helena. I’m the program manager on the support team. I am a first generation immigrant from China. I spent most of my childhood up to recent years in a pocket of L.A. that has a large Asian-American community. So I’ve always been very close to my roots. I speak Chinese at home. I worked for a few years for a Chinese tech company.
My name is Danny Kim. I’m an account executive here at Front. I’ve been with the company for a little bit over a year. I grew up in an Asian-American family, was raised by a pair of immigrants from South Korea. My parents immigrated to San Francisco in the eighties, you know, like growing up, especially since I’m a huge fan of, you know, watching movies, like listening to music. And I was just looking to like American media, and I wouldn’t see an accurate representation or like somebody to, like, essentially look up to, whether it was a music artist or a sports athlete.
And at least a silver lining nowadays is now there’s a lot more representation, at least in the AAPI demographic. But we still have a long way to go as it pertains to API. I think really the boiling point for it, at least in my experience, came right around March when really that whole movement of Stop Asian Hate happened, when the acts of violence happened in Atlanta and even here in the Bay Area where I grew up.
And I just find that incredibly shocking and just saddening that growing up in such a culturally and racially diverse place like the Bay Area, I wouldn’t expect something like this to happen in a million years. And it really made me just like dig deep and really think about, like, my own identity, going back to even like my own childhood and just thinking to myself, was I just burying my head in the sand the entire time to avoid, like, what was clearly in front of me?
You know, it’s been a buildup of more violence, more hate of all kinds, not just against Asian-Americans. We had, you know, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter and even all the deaths around just COVID and all the trauma and divisiveness. So I think just all of that escalating. And I definitely felt a lot of anger in the past year, especially as the crimes were first started to happen.
There were many layers in it for me. Having it almost take a month for mainstream news outlets to even acknowledge it was infuriating to me. Yeah. And I just also felt really helpless. It kept happening, I became afraid to leave the house. I’m still very alert wherever I go, I carry pepper spray. There is never a moment when I’m outside of my home that I’m not prepared for something bad to happen.
Go back to the Atlanta shooting. So just to dive into detail a little bit, so that was a work day, that was on a Tuesday. Did you, I mean, to put it bluntly, did you even feel like working that day?
I feel like it’s been a running theme in the past year, this dichotomy of needing to do my job, as I always did while processing and dealing with the violence that’s happening in my own community and to my community. And, you know, it’s it especially now that we’ve been working from home, there are no boundaries to what is work, what is outside of work, what is personal.
So, you know, when my own family, my friends were all talking about these things and then, you know, it’s not it’s not very practical to be able to just turn that off and go to work and, you know, act like nothing is wrong. So all these things that I’m very deeply impacted by on a personal level, yet I feel also this obligation to perform a job that was completely unrelated. So I felt really bad that as the world was burning around me, I’m sitting here like writing technical content about how to automate email responses, like I just didn’t feel right doing that.
But that’s that’s still what I had to do. So I did it, but I really hated it. It was a really hard time for me to do that.
It was probably one of the hardest days of my life. The people that were attacked and unfortunately were the victims — that could have happened to somebody else in my family. It’s hard to just turn on a switch and go back to work. I mean, because you can’t help but think about that and you just can’t you just can’t help but notice, especially like in this day and age when we have access to social media and we’re glued to our phones and to the Internet and it just pops up everywhere. And everybody seems to have an opinion on it as well, too.
So it does get very distracting. And honestly, on that day, I just couldn’t work. And I even told my manager at the time, "Hey, I’m not feeling good about this." Frankly, like, I had a lot of mixed feelings about it. I was sad and I was also enraged. So I just couldn’t do it that day.
Can we work happier when things like this are happening early in the morning, right before work, right before hopping onto an all-hands meeting?
I know a lot of folks at this at this company and even in other companies weren’t able to work on the day that George Floyd tragically left all of us and, you know. Sometimes the best thing to do, like to work happier, is just not to work at the time, just to take a step back and just like, clear your head, get educated on the topic and talk to your friends, talk to your family, especially those who are distressed by those events and let them know, like, hey, like I’m here to listen. I’m here to support you, because at the end of the day, it’s I mean, there’s some things that are just just much bigger. And like, you have to understand and acknowledge those. And as much as we want to be productive in our work days, something like this, like it’s challenging to just try to work through it without even thinking about it in the back of your mind.
Looking at it that way for me at this current time would be like there is an expectation to always be happier and happier and happier and happier. And that’s that just makes me really, really sad to have to always strive for something like that during a time like this. So giving myself and having the company be supportive of the fact that I’m not going to always be happy and that’s OK. And in fact, you shouldn’t be happy. And we don’t we don’t need you or want you to be happy all the time means a lot to me. I can work in the way that I feel is appropriate to me when the time is right for me to be able to pursue this "work happier" kind of vision, I will be more than happy to get back to that. But right now it’s difficult just to do my work. So I’m not going to expect myself to work happier and happier while doing this work because it’s really hard.
Everyone has different ways of going about it too. But I think the most important thing is people need to know how you feel because nobody knows how you feel. Your manager doesn’t know. Your coworkers don’t know. They don’t understand like what you’re going through, especially with what’s happening right now.
What’s the responsibility of a company specifically to its Asian-American employees in 2021, given all the context that’s going on?
I think companies should still let people express themselves and just let everyone know, like, "Hey, this is how I feel. This is why I’m not like in the right headspace, and this is why I just can’t be productive today."
I think that the responsibility that a company has is one taking a public stand on these types of issues to follow that up, making space internally to support us and to allow us to gather and talk about these things and for leaders especially to voice, openly voice their opinions about, you know, that that they’re supportive of these kinds of initiatives. For me to see the difference between how we’re handling it versus another another company, that might be like, "It’s not work related, we’re not talking about it all. Don’t bring it up. Work is work."
And it makes me grateful that I’m able to be at a company where we do have that. I definitely think there’s a lot more work that we can do. I hope, I wish that we could be a leader in the space and not just like, you know, encouraging and supporting, but actually taking a lot of action to be able to to show the world like this is how a company supports their employees. This is how we stand up for what’s right. So hopefully we can do more.
Thank you so much for telling your story, giving us a peek of what it looks like to be in your shoes a little bit. I know it’s not easy to talk about that, so thank you. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
I didn’t mention this before, but I’m an African-American man. I joined our employee resource group [email protected], and I had a conversation with the group about what it’s like to work here for African-Americans. You’ll hear the voices of Anna Pinckney and Omar Jones.
It’s hard for me just to to show up and to function, but not only at work, but in general. There’s hard days. There’s moments where I have to just step away or not look at any type of media at all, whether it be social media or just the news. There were days like I literally just stepped away and cried like from work, just like literally close my laptop, cried and then came back to work. And it’s difficult. It’s not it’s not an easy process. So I don’t think it’s working happier at that point. It’s just almost like maintaining. That’s kind of my initial raw reaction to the question.
You know, when I was at LinkedIn, right, and the protests were going on in Chicago and you could hear the cannons outside my door, right? Like I can hear the marches and the police cannons going off, right? And it’s like, how do you, you know, get up the next day and work, right? And this was this is when it was really bad and, you know, one of the things that a lot of the managers and leadership did is they were basically reaching out to everyone to make sure they were okay. Like, "Are you good? If you need to take time off, take time off."
But you’re still that person. So I just feel like as a Black person, you learn to compartmentalize your feelings and you learn to not necessarily like code-switch, which I used to do back in the day, but I think it’s like you can’t bring your whole self to work anymore. Because, you know what I mean, one: it’s burdening you, but then two: you don’t want to burden other people with how you feel, right? And then you don’t know if it’s that kind of environment for you to express yourself in that way, right?
I think there’s a there’s a Japanese saying that speaks to this like, like for real, for real. Where they’re like: We all have three faces. We have one we show our family and friends. We have another one we show the world. And then the last only we can see, right? That we only know that face. So I think that’s a lot of the struggles with being black in corporate America and just in general trying to navigate it.
So I remember, like, even... I’ve seen the progression in corporate America. It’s like, are we there yet? No, but I’ve seen the progress. Because prior to this, like you were just told to shut up and do your job, right? Like you knew your job was on the line if you popped off or you said something once, right, about how you felt or being Black, like no one cared. It was like, you’re lucky to be here. You know, I mean, it wasn’t like, "We have two Black people." It’s like, no, those two Black people are lucky to be here, that they are actually getting the shot at an opportunity.
So I’ve seen it from that side. But I’ve also seen the progress where I think companies are trying. I don’t... I feel like they’re trying, but I don’t think they understand what trying hard enough means. Right. I think it’s like we’ll hit these benchmarks and then we go.
The company that we came from was Outcome Health, which no longer exists, but the CEO and the president were both Indian-American, and they only wanted Indian-Americans in executive roles and leadership roles. And when I tell you, they found these people. And not like they lowered the bar to get these people through the door, right? Like, they went out and found them because that’s what the executive decision was. That’s what they wanted.
So they stacked the board with all Indian executives, like all leadership roles, right? So I’ve seen it in action, like if you want diversity, it’s not that hard, but I do think it starts within leadership, because once they stack all the people in leadership with Indian executives, you have more Indians wanting to come work for the company now. Creating a diverse workforce is the is one of the first steps to making the people around you feel inclusive.
When things like this are happening, what do you think Front can do to allow us to work happier?
That’s difficult, right? The allyship is always difficult because it’s always based on the individual experience. My experience is going to be different from your experience, from Omar’s experience, and I might be more sensitive or less sensitive to certain things. And so growing up, especially in South Carolina and then kind of navigating my way all the way here and working at Front... Startup-world is always trying to be super inclusive. you can just tell a lot of companies are doing it and they’re trying to quickly come out and quickly create and quickly help and quickly do all of these things.
While it’s great to have that initiative, have that thought process even because, yeah, years ago that wasn’t the case, it’s still difficult to to kind of like really focus on something and really see it through. I think a lot of companies are trying to do things so fast and trying to be "woke" or trying to be super inclusive that sometimes they’re kind of either falling short because maybe they don’t have the resources or the manpower or the sustainability to keep up that same momentum.
So I think it’s, like, honestly, I think if you’re going to do something like just do it and see it all the way through. You can’t do everything. Not every company is going to do everything. Companies aren’t charged with kind of removing racism from the world or anything like that—
Saving Black America!
Exactly! But what they can do is they can work on their employees and they can put in policies and measures to make sure that people are treated fairly. I think that’s a start. And it goes beyond just "this is our code of conduct." It goes it goes to every manager kind of enforcing that in a way. Now, whether that enforcement, you know, you probably can vary at different levels.
But for example, sexual harassment is usually taking very, very serious. I mean, I’ve seen like not particularly at Front, but like I’ve seen other companies like literally fire, like almost everybody involved. They’re like, nope, we’re not dealing with it at all. It’s like zero percent tolerated like at all. And I don’t think companies have gotten to that point yet where they’re enforcing it to that level.
But I also think that that’s a start. That is something that they can control. If you are behaving outside of our code of conduct and it’s not acceptable to an employee, then you’re no longer following our rules and guidelines to be at this company, just like sexual harassment. Very, very serious. And people take it very, very serious because there is like termination that can happen. So I think that, you know, that would be just a basic step, even aside from the programs and the different things, like if it comes top down, it’ll it’ll just be noticed.
We need to start by holding ourselves accountable. We are the company that says we want people to work happier. So I talked to our Head of People Ash Alexander to find out what Front is actually doing about this problem.
My name is Ashley Alexander. I’m super happy to be chatting with you. I’m the Head of People here at Front. I oversee H.R., recruiting, workplace experience, diversity, inclusion, belonging, of course. So all, anything that has to do with our employees and their engagement and happiness is in my purview.
I love that. And one thing you just touched on, "People Team." A lot of people know that as human resources or H.R. Can you go a little bit deeper into that difference? I know that’s just kind of just changed with startups. Also curious to know what, you know, what that means.
H.R., I see it as a function of the broader group of employees who are here to remove obstacles for the rest of the employees at the company. So H.R., you can think of it more as like the compliance side, the operational side of the house, onboarding and offboarding, these kinds of things. But then you bring in things like employee experience, like communication, employee connection, diversity, inclusion, and then, of course, recruiting.
So it’s the whole gamut, the whole picture of people who are here to help make sure that Fronteers can get their jobs done without much friction.
A lot of people teams, not just in tech, are now taking, just to touch on what you’re saying, taking a long overdue look at diversity, looking at diversity and equity in hiring and compensation, whether it be male or female. So we would also like to hear about inclusion and belonging. Can you explain what that means to Front?
What it means at Front is that employees have an equitable experience regardless of their background, where they come from, who their manager is, what location they’re in and their gender, their diverse, their racial background, all of the things that make you a human being, that none of that is better or worse of an experience at Front.
We’ve implemented some hiring practices to widen the funnel and to make sure that people with diverse backgrounds are getting getting interviewed, getting outbounded and making sure that we’re putting real numbers and metrics behind interviewing, period. We’ve implemented things like what you might know as the Rooney Rule from the NFL, where we make sure for all manager and leadership roles, we’re bringing in at least two... We’re having two onsites at least of Black or Latinx candidates for all manager and leadership positions, which is which is a good start.
And then for all evergreen or high volume roles like these software engineers, BDRs, SDRs, any of the roles that like you’re just constantly hiring for, we’re doing an outbound top of funnel metrics to make sure, again, that we’re widening our pool. And so we’ve actually seen a large uptick in hires coming on board from diverse backgrounds, which is amazing. But that’s just the beginning.
We’ve started ERGs, so, employee resource groups, which have been taking flight, and I’ve been really excited about seeing that. So we have Out Front for our LGBTQ community, there’s Front Asia, we have Women in Tech. I think there’s a [email protected] getting started. So making sure that there are support groups and places where people can have honest conversations about their experience at work or in the world.
And now what I’m working on for the year is to get some funding, to put some money behind this so that those groups can really feel supported, put on events, get out into the Front community and have a space for that and support for that and to really and put sponsors also on these so that they’re really stood up and people have a place to go to connect and to be honest about what’s going on in the world.In Q2 later in June, all of our managers and all of recruiting and all of H.R. will go through a growth mindset training. So most companies kind of focus on unconscious bias. We’re going to get to all of that. But what I started doing instead was looking specifically at where our especially manager and leadership roles, people with diverse backgrounds, falling out of the funnel. Why isn’t it working? Why isn’t it converting or what are the gaps and going back actually applying trainings and learning for people who are making good effort. But we’re not seeing the conversion in some areas that we want.
We’re not going to get it right every time, but we better take accountability and know that and make sure people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and and giving us feedback.
I love that, Ash. To be fully transparent, as an African-American male that just started here at Front, to be completely honest, I felt comfortable. I’ve had people ask me how I’m doing with everything that’s going on, because it’s not easy seeing something on TV early in the morning when you’re drinking a cup of coffee and then turning the news off and you have to go to work and you have to get ready for a meeting.
It must be difficult to hear something on the radio or see something, have something come in during the day. Like the past year, I feel like almost every day something is happening. Today we have our San Jose employees are dealing with something horrific. And so whether it’s your your race or your gender or or just where you live, there’s always something going on.
I think that what’s most important is that we recognize that that’s going on and that you’re going to feel bad and it’s going and that’s OK. And like if you aren’t at your best, like, that makes sense. And we accept that. And and even myself, you know, like I’ve had some terrible days for the last year. And I come to the company and I tell my team I’m like, I’m off today.
With everything we know, with all the racial injustice currently still going on, what do you believe is the role a company should play in racial justice and in mental health moving forward?
I think it’s to be understanding, caring at the individual level, which I think companies, as they grow tend to move away from. Like you start to see employees as masses. "We’re scaling. It’s all about scale." And like I said, while we’re small and while we’re big, while we’re at home or what we’re returning to work or to the office, I think that our — my job and the people team’s job and the company’s job is to make sure people feel like their needs are getting met. They have they can get their work done.
And when things are going on, whether it’s this transition or more tragedies that will come, certainly that we are understanding, caring, there in a real way and support every single employee and and don’t see the employees as masses. Like, we have to take this carefully and thoughtfully and know that everyone is experiencing something different and every day is going to be a little different and and lean into that versus try to try to move to scale because it’s easier.
In regards to working happier, this is something I actually really enjoy, that Front really is in the pursuit of working happier and I like that. I think that every employee, every company should be able to stand there and say that our employees do work happier, we can work happier, and this is something we’re going to pursue. But in the context of working happier, you know, for the Black and Asian experience or maybe just aspirationally, what what could it mean? What does that look like?
While working happier is like totally the right goal, I think in part it’s more about like working authentically and and being able to be honest about who you are, what you’re experiencing, know that your your colleagues and your managers and leadership are there to support you and and in hopes to build an experience where you can have some happy days at work. But I think it’s mostly about being able to really feel like you are part of a group that cares about you in a deep way. And it’s not lip service. So that’s how I that’s how I view that.
Ash, thank you. I appreciate what you’re doing for myself. And I could say for my culture as well.
It’s not easy for anyone to take the time they need for themselves, especially when you can’t know when or how the next racial crisis is going to happen. Most companies aren’t like Front. Most places you have to come in and work. It doesn’t look like these issues are going to go away soon. So what do you do? How can you set yourself up for success? I wanted to talk to some professionals in the areas of mental health and workplace wellbeing.
I’m Jamie Alexis, I’m the founder and executive director of Empower Work. And Empower Work is a national nonprofit that provides free, confidential support for folks going through challenging work situations. And we do that over text.
I am America Paredes and my pronouns are she and her. I’m the Vice President for Partnerships and Community Outreach at Mental Health America. And Mental Health America is a national organization. We’ve been around since 1989. But our primary focus is in really helping people to understand that mental health is a critical part of wellness.
And for those individuals that struggle with mental health conditions, we want them to know that it’s OK. There are resources out there that we can share with folks, and we really want people to act before a point of crisis. So we do a lot in prevention and helping people understand we have to address any mental health conditions really before a point where you feel completely obliterated by all the emotions that come with living with a mental health condition.
I want to talk about the connection between mental health and work. With the past two years, I know those two have been colliding more so than ever and just wanted to get your take on how those things impact one another.
Well, you know, there’s an old saying that you bring yourself to work, right? Everything. You don’t leave it at the door. I know there’s some companies that believe that, but we at Mental Health America really believe that we as whole people walk into the workplace every day. And with that comes along everything that has to do with our emotions and our overall mental well-being. So everything when you think about the day to day functioning of actually having a job and doing the tasks that are needed to complete your job, they are not only part of who you are, but they also end up like meshing with everything that you are, right?
That doesn’t mean that our jobs are our identities, right? But we are in this workplace for so many hours. We can’t just forget that we are whole people and we have to be able to really address all of that effectively so that we can manage our day to day functioning in a way that is going to be very useful to the company and to ourselves when we go home.
What we see in part the reason we started Empower Work was that outside of work impacts how we show up at work. So there’s a direct relationship where a person, wherever we are, you know, and it’s not like you can leave that at the door when you’re coming or going to work.
You know, last year we had folks reaching out and this is actually a moment, a sort of a bright spot in 2020, was that when there were conversations where companies were making public statements about Black Lives Matter and saying, "Hey, we really want to change and shift things," I think it was very positive for a lot of folks within workplaces. And simultaneously there were companies that were saying things, but they weren’t actually living up to that necessarily internally.
And we actually had folks reach out from companies and from businesses who are saying, "I really I really want to show up for my colleagues. How do I do that?" As well as folks who are reaching out saying, "Hey, I don’t feel like I’m getting supported." And I think the bright spot for me and for our team and for our volunteers, we’re seeing that there was this real shift in people saying, like, "I want to see change happen in my workplace." And we need more of that if we’re going to continue to address mental health concerns and improve them going forward.
But just curious, you know, what do you hear when you counsel people of color about these intersectional issues?
It’s a great question. And we see about 78% of folks who use Empower Work identify as a woman. About 56% identify as a person of color. And so we see huge intersection in terms of both work and mental health, where... There was a woman who reached out last year around the death of George Floyd, who had recently lost her job as a trucker in Georgia. And she was a mom of three. And she said, "I’m just exhausted." And she shared with a volunteer that she was a Black woman. And she was like, "This is just... I have reached my max. Like, I’m just totally overwhelmed." And she was trying to figure out her job search.
It’s like, well, how do you go into a job search when you’re at this moment of really like mental health exhaustion, stress, strain. It really kind of felt like she was at the end of her rope. And so I think it’s really important, and we try to create space with this, with our volunteers to ensure that we really create the supportive space. Where it’s like a text line is not going to solve mental health. We’re talking about... Like, this is systemic. This is, there’s deep trauma and there are systemic challenges that are going on that we can’t solve just in a text line we can’t solve even necessarily through therapy. Like there have to be systemic changes.
And at the same time, we can create space so that each individual feels like they’re getting the support that they need. How do we make sure that everybody who has a conversation with us has additional resources or support because it is so pervasive and it’s deep and we have to make sure that there are layers of support, whether that’s within the company, outside of the company or in other parts of life.
Yes, communities that are Black, and Asian, Brown, and everything in between definitely have a different perspective coming into the workplace. But the reality is that the focus can’t be on them to figure this out on their own, because then the problem in itself is overlooked. Because the system as a whole has to be mindful and wary of the well-being of all of these people. When we work at really helping people think about how to really support individuals that may be impacted by racism, we have to be very mindful that their experience is unique. One Black person and one Latino person or one Asian person does not represent every single person of that race or ethnicity or group, right? So we have to be very cautious about what that looks like when we’re really trying to do good.
And even though the term allyship is something that is thrown out there, that that’s not always received well, because I don’t necessarily want an ally. I want somebody that’s just going to go and do the work. Being an ally means you’re going to stand next to me while I’m also doing the work. But if I’m tired of doing this work on a consistent basis and doing everything that I have to do to help educate others, then I don’t need the ally. I just need you to go and do it. You know, so you have to really think about that, especially as corporations. The worst thing I think that can happen is that corporations go out and say they’re going to do something and actually they don’t really do anything at all.
If you had to give a piece of advice to management or to a corporation of actually putting in the work, how would that look?
I think it would be really, really important to think about from the leadership level down about understanding what type of culture exists and what type of culture you want to have in place. One thing that happens once a year isn’t enough. This is a day-to-day interaction and change that is required. And that only comes through a cultural shift which can be led by leadership
Can you give the people listening some strategies or next steps to take care of their mental health?
Yes, I would say... And this is, I should have disclosed since people are listening, like you and I can see each other on video, but I am, I identify as a white woman. And so I’ll share this in terms of resources, thinking about it both for folks who may be coming from from my side of the equation, which is like if you’re showing up in your workplace as a white person and you have colleagues who identify as a person of color and an event is going on and you want to figure out how you support their mental health. I think one of the things that I that I really recommend is thoughtfully checking in with your colleague.
Like, you know, your colleague. Hopefully you know your colleague. You’re not going to reach out to someone you don’t know. You’re going to reach out to someone you have a relationship with and ask, "Hey, how are you doing right now? Like, how are you doing today?" And creating that creating that space and really acknowledging that, "You don’t have to talk to me if if if you don’t feel comfortable talking to me about what’s going on for you today. But I just want to let you know then that I’m here."
I think one of the things that can be really challenging for folks who identify as white when these events go on is, "Well, like, how do I show up?" And there there becomes this sense of like, "Am I going to say the wrong thing? Am I going to be supportive or not?" And then there ends up being a deafening silence. And that’s like the worst. So. So just hearing that from for those who are listening, who maybe in that in that camp to really think about being authentic, showing up in a way that they’re listening.
I think for those who are experiencing some form of trauma in an event that’s going on, whether that’s someone who’s Asian-American and feeling like, "How do I go and how do I go into the office today? Because, you know, my my best friend just got harassed on the street or was just I just saw someone from my community assaulted in some way or there’s another death." Thinking about what do I need in this moment and and being comfortable, if you can. And not everybody does feel comfortable. And that’s that is very real. We see that a lot with Empower Work.
What are the routes that are available to asking for help and that those maybe within work, they may be outside of work, but taking a step back and assessing sort of what do I have at my disposal in order to get to get support? Because trying to, as you were saying earlier, like manage through it, is likely only going to make things worse. And so knowing that they’re not alone, that they can reach out for help, I think is a is is a really important first piece.
You don’t have to do this on your own. Finding support through a mental health therapist or somebody within that kind of vein or even within communities of practice, like drumming or meditation, things like that. All of that brings a sense of connectedness that is needed when we are struggling with everything that is negative and we are faced with all that on a consistent basis.
And for folks that are really struggling, to find the community that you feel safe in. And that is different for each individual, right? It’s not necessarily within your workplace. It can be outside of your workplace. It really is finding a community that you feel connected with and protected within, right? So for me, that really has looked like finding resources outside of maybe traditional spaces.
And then within that same space, I think one of the things that is key is realizing that the emotions that you have are completely valid, even if you are not able to truly put your emotions into words. Because even when we think about the work that is done to educate children about talking about our feelings and everything, right? Adults are not very good at that at all other than saying we’re happy, we’re sad, I’m fine. But the deep, meaningful emotions are harder to verbally acknowledge and then actually deal with, right? So there’s a lot of guilt that comes with feeling certain ways. There’s a lot of anger and resentment and you have to be able to process that in a safe space.
And last question, in regards to working happier. At Front, we take we take this very seriously that every employee is given an opportunity to work happier. But with everything that’s gone on from COVID to racial violence, you know, racial injustice. Is it possible for us to work happier? Like what’s your thoughts on working happier?
Part of the reason I started Empower Work is because I do I do believe that we can build a healthy, equitable workplaces where people can thrive. And how we define thriving, there are a lot of different definitions of that: happy, supported, empowered. I would say as an impatient optimist that that yes, it is possible. I also think it’s really important to create space for hardship.
And it’s not reasonable to expect that everyone is going to be one hundred percent all the time, that we’re all human, and that there are going to be variations in in how we are coming to work from a life perspective, whether that’s being extremely overwhelmed and sad and dealing with trauma to like just the challenge of, like, having just a tough personal day. There’s there’s a lot of range that comes in with that. And so I think part of building a company, a culture, a workplace where people can thrive, where people can work happier, is acknowledging that the baseline doesn’t have to be everyone’s happy all the time. Then even like then you end up with a, I think, a sort of like toxic positivity piece!
You have to create space for hardship and and space to really hear where someone’s coming from, when they’re dealing with when they’re dealing with something really hard.
What rests for me in really in that space is flexibility. I know that in many ways that’s a privilege, right, being able to call out from work when you just can’t deal with everything that has to do with work. But flexibility for yourself and within your workplace, I think, is key to helping you as an individual identify what works best within your frame of mind that day.
So part of that is maybe having additional sick days, right? Where I don’t have to tell you why I’m out. I’m just out. I can’t be here. And in addition to that is me being able to set better boundaries about what I actually want to discuss within a workplace. And all of that, I think is key for me to having a happier kind of setting an emotional kind of well-being within work.
America, thank you so much for shining some light on this topic and giving us some great insight. Thank you very much.
I appreciate it. If you or anybody needs mental health resources, you can always check out our resources at mhanational.org, including our free mental health screenings, which are available at mhascreening.org as well.
We have links to all of the resources posted on Front Page. You’ll also get links to charities and opportunities to take action or be an ally. You can find the episode page at front.com/blog.