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4 ways this CEO puts employee mental wellness front and center

Worker mental health is no longer the soul realm of HR, says this executive. The C-suite must actively lead.

4 ways this CEO puts employee mental wellness front and center
[Source images: PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock; Ihor Biliavskyi/iStock]
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No one was knowingly built for what came in 2020. The pandemic has been a collective trauma, requiring us to build a collective resilience. The ones thriving during this moment did so by embracing a mindset, “the only way out is through.” For any organization to thrive, this mindset must be across an entire culture because none of us can be well until all of us are. The pandemic has ushered in greater consciousness that mental health for everyone must be a priority. A C-suite priority.

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So our company, the advertising agency Juniper Park\TBWA, made it one–heart emojis and all. We approach our people’s mental wellness as our most important ‘client’ and embrace strategies to help them soar through this moment.

Share the Pulse of your team–raw and unfiltered

We’ve been holding a weekly meeting called “Pulse” to gauge how our team is feeling about things happening at the agency: their workload, team dynamics, leadership, or so on.

Every Friday, a survey is sent out via text with the simple question “Did you have a good week at Juniper Park\TBWA?” It’s a yes/no question; no shades of grey, and responses are anonymous. We give the option to add a comment, and the insights that come from that are incredible. Our team uses the weekly practice as a way to praise one another, and an outlet for their feelings, frustration and wishes. Every Monday morning, we share their verbatims–fully transparent, nothing edited. 

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Giving our people a tool to speak freely and anonymously has become a cornerstone of our culture. Nothing festers. No matter what comes up, we’re grateful, because we can’t address what we don’t know.

Intimately discuss mental health–All. The. Time. 

As CEO, I host all-agency talks each Thursday. We call them “Pirate Huddles.” We discuss how we are feeling, including how I am feeling. We talk about burnout, monotony, fear, as well as gratitude, resilience, vibrations, and the importance of kindness, nature, eating well, sleep, and movement. On the days when I’m feeling exhausted or frustrated, they know. I feel it’s important to provide a living example that each of us are human. That in itself brings comfort. 

It’s a mix of brutal honesty and incredible hope. We’ve done 54 of them so far, and we are never short of content. Attendance is not mandatory, yet most people join. Our huddles have become an emotional touchstone of our agency.

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Start off by booking the time in your team’s calendars. 30 mins, weekly. This is not a business update, this is a discussion about humanity.

Make people feel seen–Even behind a computer screen

We are now working invisibly in our basements, behind a computer. Do they even know I’m here?  Do you remember Romper Room? (a children’s show that ran from 1953 to 1994, across 6 countries). At the end of each show, the host looked into her magic mirror and asked “did all my friends have fun today? I see…” She’d then say the names of 8-10 kids whom she “saw” that day. At age six, I remember realizing, “I’m here every day, but she doesn’t see me.” It was disheartening.

Make sure people feel seen. We invite anyone, at any level, to join me in spotlighting one another during our Thursday huddles; “Shipra, that strategy you drafted was brilliant.” Resist the convention to only feature people for over and above performance, rather, speak to them as people. “Sam, I heard your new bird sings during meetings. Can you have her sing for us one day?”

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It is a human need to be seen. To know we matter. It’s true in life, and it’s true at work. As we enter our fourteenth month of isolation, we’re holding firm on our intention and actions to make sure every person on our team knows that we see them, even while working in their child’s bedroom or the attic.

Bring in the gurus–No budget required

 We invite amazing teachers to our weekly Pirate Huddles to share stories of personal growth–research guru Brene Brown;  LA-based “mind architect” Peter Crone; provocative NY-based relationship therapist Esther Perel; London-based wellness doctor Dr. Chatterjee; Boston Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ben Zander, Harvard professors, and even Matthew McConaughey. 

YouTube has made these guest speakers accessible for us to incorporate into our talks at no cost.

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Mental health used to be something we delegated to HR. Now it is a responsibility that sits squarely with me as CEO–something that won’t change after the pandemic. We’re seeing the benefits of our organization’s focus on mental health firsthand, not only in our output, but in our culture. And a wonderful byproduct of all this is that we’ve enjoyed our best financial performance since our inception 14 years ago.


Jill Nykoliation is  CEO of Juniper Park\TBWA, a full-service marketing and communications agency offering brands integrated communications, brand strategy, in-house production, digital expertise and branding & design services.