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Ep 75: Creating a Mentally Healthy Work Environment with Petra Velzeboer

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Petra Nunzi

Introduction: Petra Velzeboer is a renowned mental health expert, TEDx speaker and CEO of Mental Health Consultancy, PVL. Petra was born and raised in the infamous Children of God cult, conditioned to believe she was born to save the world. Having escaped that world, she now talks to audiences about her ultimate rock bottom and her subsequent transformation leading her to found a flourishing mental health business. Petra is a psychotherapist with an MSc in Psychodynamics of human development and is a qualified ORSC & CTI Certified Coach. Petra lives by her values of lightness, bravery and responsibility 

 

  • Podcast Episode Summary

    This episode explores the value of Mental Health at Work. Petra shares what it takes to build an environment where Mental Health is valued and discussed. She shares her vision of a world where every organisation can be the rising tide that lifts and sustains mental health for every employee. Bizarrely the Pandemic has helped shift the awareness & importance of this topic and also helped bust the misconception that by talking about Mental Health the floodgates will be opened and work will suffer. The opposite is true. 

    Points made over the episode

    • Petra shares her journey starting with her birth in a cult, her escape and demise into addiction and battle with depression and her subsequent transformation leading her to found a flourishing mental health business. 
    • Many people, including this host, held the view that Mental Health was really a misnomer for Mental illness. Petra shares the Mental Health Continuum where Mental Health, thriving and excelling is at one end of the Spectrum and crisis and struggle is at the other with surviving in the middle. 
    • Thriving and excelling is informed by positive psychology. 
    • Sean Achor talks about organisations falling into the trap of providing Mental Health weeks where only illness is discussed. We can however develop a whole other narrative where Mental Wellness, meaning thriving and excelling is discussed. 
    • The environment where mental health can thrive is one which is open, where emotions are acknowledged and welcomed, creating a space where we can talk about our mental health openly. 
    • Leaders need additional training and skills to deal with the whole person, not just the tasks necessary to succeed. 
    • Evidence suggests that paying attention to this topic will support talent retention 
    • Leaders could employ classic skills like empathy and active listening. 
    • They could do well by modelling. 
    • Leaders could be so much more compelling if they talked about how they safeguard their own mental health rather than simply telling others to manage their boundaries. 
    • Can we get comfortable asking leaders how they protect their mental health and how they share this information with others. 
    • This provides a bridge for people where they can feel they have permission to invest in their mental health. 
    • A powerful approach is storytelling.
    • Intent evolves over time. Education, experience and the space for people to be fully themselves helps cultivate an environment of Mental Wellness. 
    • Petra sees a lot of fear on teams. The fight or flight reaction on teams is prevalent especially after the Pandemic. It is hard to be empathetic if we are in survival mode. 
    • Petra also sees conflict and polarisation on teams. There is a nervousness to be open and to share feelings, believing erroneously that a pandoras box will be opened. 
    • It is important to name fears. 
    • The conflict in Ukraine is activating a myriad of emotions and often leaving us feeling bereft and hopeless. Important to check your news intake. Have a conscious relationship with the news. 
    • Remember Victor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning, that despite the horrendous conditions he endured in the Holocaust and the things that were denied to him he lamented that his captors could not take away his ability to respond and the attitude he adopted with respect to his situation. 
    • This wisdom sounds incredibly simple but it takes practice. 
    • The Pandemic has opened minds about mental health even if some teams are still cynical and believe this discourse is a tick box exercise to complete. 
    • Asia and parts of Europe are now where the UK was 10 years ago in appreciating the value of Mental Health at work. 
    • Petra shares a client story about implementing an integrated approach to Mental Health across an entire global concern. 
    • “Mental Health is everything” and research says so. Thriving at Work report by the UK, Business in the Community and the WHO workplace recommendations all point to the crucial links between mental health and business success. 
    • There is lots of passion at the top for this work. 1/4 people have experiences of this topic -much more work to be done. 
    • Psychological Safety on Teams, research by Google (Project Aristotle in 2014) is one of the top principles supporting success on teams 
    • Petra shares several ways she incorporates Psychological Safety in her teams 
    • Lightness and fun are key elements supporting Mental health
    • We need to normalise Mental Health and our vulnerabilities. 
    • We could consider a few practices to shift our relationship with Mental Health including practices to complete the stress cycle such as a 20 second hug, connecting with our somatic selves instead of only relying on our thinking brains. 
    • Consider for example having a walking meeting. 
    • Remember language creates meaning so be careful the language we use. Instead of pathologizing people recommend brave acts. We can use language that is too intellectual making it elitist and alien to many. 
    • A lot of trauma research shares that trauma sits in our body
    • 3 Tips to conclude 
    • Knowledge is important around mental health and work can be a protective sanctuary. How can we create work environments where people want to show up and thrive. Have conversations on teams about how we work and not just about the work 
    • Create space to connect, use check ins, downtime in chunks of time and walking meetings 
    • Positive Accountability ask “how will you complete your stress cycle” 

    Resources shared 

    • www.petravelzeboer.com 
    • Viktor Frankl: Man’s search for Meaning 
    • Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers -GOV.UK
    • What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team(published 2016)www.nytimes.com 
    • www.who.int

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