WELL-BALANCED WORKFORCE CONTINUED
breaking down the barriers around discussing mental health that still exist in so many workplaces .
“ These are conversations that never happen unless you create them ,” says Whitford . “ In our company , at least in the six years that I ’ ve been here , these conversations have never come up . No one ’ s talked about it openly , but it ’ s starting to become a normal part of our culture to not only do our best for the guests , but also to do our best for each other . I personally just notice the shift in the dynamic because leaders are paying attention .”
This point about the importance of investment from leadership is a crucial one . When line-level staff see leaders practicing the same exercises and adopting new practices for encouraging good mental health , it builds a culture where trust and openness take center stage . “ It ’ s really transforming us ,” Whitford says . “ Of course , every day is not the same as the day before , but people are making a beautiful effort , a genuine effort to connect , to make sure that everyone ’ s mental health is in a happy place and are comfortable enough to say , ‘ What ’ s going on with you ; tell me what ’ s happening ,’ because the tools are there . Everyone knows it ’ s not about being perfect , but it ’ s working together and knowing that it ’ s okay to be vulnerable .”
The success of the program started at The Spa at the Beverly Hills Hotel comes down to a few key factors :
CONSISTENCY : Employees were given the same training and coached in the same practices , so the language and behaviors around the new initiative were shared by everyone , making stronger connections easier to establish and maintain .
The Face in the Mirror
The final exercise Whitford shared with her colleagues may have been the most daunting for some . That ’ s because rather than focusing on being vulnerable with others , it emphasizes being vulnerable with oneself . “ Tomorrow morning , when you wake up , do your thing . Then , when you go to the mirror to brush your teeth , I want you to ask yourself , ‘ How are you ?’” According to Whitford , this suggestion , which she shared during her initial training presentation , yielded a number of uncertain facial expressions . Some people giggled , but Whitford persisted . “ It ’ s such an intimate question . You ask everybody else , but when was the last time you actually looked in the mirror and said , ‘ How are you ,’ and really answered that question honestly ?”
INVESTMENT : Though the program didn ’ t require a large financial investment , it did require buy-in from leaders and a commitment to following through on the activities and workplace habits to ensure that the positive results didn ’ t fizzle out .
HONESTY : All employees were encouraged to share their struggles to the extent that they were comfortable , and the recognition that everyone needs support and anyone can carry challenges into the workplace minimizes the stigma surrounding mental health .
The hesitation some exhibited toward the exercise is in itself a good illustration of Whitford ’ s point about our cultural discomfort — particularly in the workplace — with vulnerability . At the same time , the mirror exercise may be key to unlocking the broader growth so many spa and hotel employees have shown under this program . After all , without an honest appraisal of their own mental well-being , it can be difficult for an individual to recognize a need for help or to be open when they ’ re struggling . As Whitford points out , when people reflect truthfully upon their mental state ,“[ They ] start to unravel the bits that have been tightly wound up , if that exists inside them already . But if something needs to come undone , let it come undone . And when you ask yourself how you ’ re doing , don ’ t just say ‘ I ’ m fine ,’ because everyone ’ s not fine — it ’ s too easy .”
If team members can embrace that level of honesty , Whitford notes , it goes a long way in setting them up for improved mental health and an improved work experience .“ There are days when I look in the mirror and I ’ m a mess . That ’ s okay . Because if I embrace and accept myself for who I am , I ’ m happy with that . And the more you know who you are , the better you can be for the world and for yourself .” n
24 PULSE n JANUARY 2022