Owning Your Story Is Not Owing Your Story

“Owning your story.” It is a phrase often repeated by life coaches, consultants, and therapists like myself. It is a fundamental ingredient of what it takes to live an authentic life. But what does it really mean? What is our “story?”

We each have a running list of things that we believe, understand, have had happen to us, and have had happen because of us. They encompass our greatest feats, our scar-ridden failures, our tenderest joys, and our wrenching heartaches. From the breath-taking to the mundane those moments create our story. We have this totality of things that are parts of the story, but what gives the story meaning depends on the narrative framework we put around it. Is our story a tragedy or triumph? We get messages that tell us which parts of our story we should feel ashamed or proud of, what we should deny or promote, and what we should accept as true or untrue about ourselves.

We must quiet those messages and sit with self-aware vulnerability in order to view and accept the wholeness of our narrative. Then we can truly own it. Owning our story prevents it from being a weapon against us to shame or threaten us. It cannot be used to put us on a pedestal or hold us to unreasonable standards. Owning our stories means admitting our failures with grace and forgiveness. It means allowing ourselves to feel pride for the talents and gifts we have to share. Taking ownership of our stories also means sitting with the discomfort of our trauma, fears, and losses long enough to heal from our brokenness. Once our story is fully ours, we can more easily be our authentic, vulnerable selves with others.

BUT.

Owning your story does not require you to share or expose every facet of your life with every person you encounter. Was that an audible sigh of relief that I just heard from the other side of the computer screen? Whew! Right? Here is another way to put it: Owning your story does not mean you owe anyone your story. Part of owning your story is maintaining healthy emotional boundaries around your story. It is loving your story enough to share it with those who have earned the right to hear all the chapters because they are in your corner. You needn’t prove your worthiness by showing your scars to those who haven’t earned the right. Your scars (or your trophies, for that matter) are not the price of admission to belonging. Your belonging and worthiness are unconditional wherever you are in the journey of your story.

Setting Your Intentions and Giving Yourself Permission

I start my workshops the same way nearly every time. I ask participants to write their intention for the day on a sticky note. It can be anything. Often they are related to the topic of the workshop (resilience), but sometimes it is just about how they want to be that day. Intentions that I have seen include:

  • Learn how to calm down in stressful situations.”
  • Stay present and focused.”
  • “Be less pessimistic.”
  • “Not worry about what’s going on back in the office today.”
  • “Network with new people.”

Once they write down their one intention, I ask them to take another sticky note and write themselves a permission slip. On this note, they give themselves permission to do what they need to do in order to meet their intention. Maybe it is permission to put their phone completely away and not check it until a break. Sometimes it is permission to share a story with the group about something challenging. Other times, it is permission to put judgment on hold.

Once they have their intention and their permission slip on sticky notes, they stick those notes on either corner of their space for the day. It is there for them to check in with themselves throughout the day. I do this to help ground and center the group together. It is a good reminder to us that even though on the surface we are all gathered for a common purpose, we each have our own unique priorities and challenges we bring into the room.

Setting intentions as a daily routine allows us to practice vulnerability and boundaries setting. In big or small ways, it gives us space to say, “Here are the things I want to accomplish, the risk I want to take, or the challenge I need to face. Here are the boundaries I need to put in place in order to make those things happen.” So today, right now, whether you are reading this first thing in the morning or during a lunch break, what is your intention for the rest of your day? What permission do you need to give yourself in order to do it? Write it down. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

Have a great week!

Letting Go of Our Judgmental Narratives

I took a walk this morning. That seems very unremarkable, I know. It wasn’t a heart pounding run or even a hike through beautiful vistas. Nope. It was just a long, ambling walk around my neighborhood. I have been taking these walks almost daily for most of the summer and for me, that is remarkable. Why? Because for the last 17 years I have been a pretty avid runner. Marathons, half-marathons, and obstacle races were my thing. Walking for fitness seemed, well, pointless. I figured if I had the time to lace up my shoes and go outside, running was better than walking. I’ve known certain athlete types who would snicker behind someone’s back when they said walking was their exercise routine. “Walking isn’t exercise,” they would scoff, “walking is something you do to get to your mailbox or into the grocery store.” While I would never foist that kind of judgment on anyone else, I heaped that judgment on myself. Walking felt wimpy and I’m not wimpy.

Then about a year ago, running stopped being as much fun. It hurt more than it used to and the endorphin rush became harder to come by. I still forced myself out, but with less frequency. Sometimes weeks would pass without a run, when before I was lacing up my running shoes several times a week. I found that while I didn’t miss running, I did miss the routine of being alone outside with my thoughts. “What if,” I thought, as if it was some radical realization, “I just started going for walks during the time I would normally run?” And so I did. I made the choice to set down my “walks are wimpy” bias. I changed the story I told myself about exercise, about how to spend my time, and about what my body needs.

As I walked, feeling recharged and invigorated by the gift of time I had given myself, I realized how silly it was to have held on to such an unhelpful narrative for so long. Now, as I take my daily walks, I challenge myself to identify other beliefs, assumptions or narratives that I am holding on to that don’t serve me anymore. What else might I be missing out on because I have a prescribed way of thinking about something? I ponder how those thoughts could be holding me back, and that if only I set them down, it would be suddenly lighter and easier to do the things I want to do. It reminds me of the bumper sticker I see occasionally: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

These narratives can be seemingly small and inconsequential (i.e. walking means I’m wimpy), but we can also hold on to some large and debilitating narratives as well (i.e. a setback proves I am a failure). We can be too quick to declare something as “good” or “bad.” Running, good. Walking, bad. Heather Lanier, in her TED Talk, recounts the parable of a farmer who experiences a related series of seemingly good and bad luck. At each episode of fortune or misfortune, the farmer simply says, “Good or bad, hard to say,” refusing to make judgment. She goes on to say that reality is more fluid and has much more to teach us if we can loosen the grip of labeling it as definitively good or bad.

Resilience, I believe, is found in that space between good and bad. In that loosened grip, we shape and understand the story in ways that serve us and empower us, instead of it holding us back or narrowing our experience. It allows us more options for moving forward whether we do so running or walking.

Author’s Postscript: Yes, I know. I wrote about running right after my article about not using sport’s analogies. This article could have been subtitled, “Don’t @ Me; It’s Not Really a Sport’s Metaphor.” Also, I enjoy irony.

Let’s Call a “Time-Out” on Sports Analogies; It’s Bad for Well-Being (and Isn’t Great for Business, Either)

Is there any more common metaphor in business than sports? Everything from team dynamics to business development, from leadership qualities to success metrics, there has been a sports analogy trotted out and attached to it. While I am a big sports fan (I am a born and bred Ohio State Buckeye, after all), I am not a fan of the sports analogy. Why am I talking about this and what does it have to do with building cultures of resilience and well-being? The question answers itself: the most common sports analogies actually have little to do with building cultures of resilience and well-being. As it turns out, they have little to do with good business, either.

Seeing the business landscape like an athletic field is a mistake. Sports are zero-sum games based on scarcity. There is a winner and a loser (and in the rare instance of a tie, everyone is disappointed). Scarcity is the last thing an innovative and healthy culture should foster. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Bill Taylor explained that the most successful companies, “worry less about crushing the competition than about delighting and amazing their customers.” In sports, the laser focus is on the person on the other side of the net, pitch, field, or court. In business, or any other profession be it law, education, or healthcare, the energy and attention should be focused on the consumer, client, student, or patient.

What about then, the comparison between a leader/employees to coach/team? That must work, right? Both need to motivate, develop growth, and strategize. True; but the difference resides in the how. Taylor points out that athletes have incredibly short careers with loyalties that are even shorter. We saw a striking example of that this weekend. Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck, announced his retirement and was met by the “ugly, vicious sound” of boos from people who would have considered themselves fans just moments earlier. Sports commentator, Doug Gottlieb lambasted him for being the “ultimate millennial” for wanting quality (and likely quantity) of life over grinding down his body and mind for money. Coaches motivate for the immediate win and are often ruled by what Taylor called a “disposable mentality” where teams are made up of “mercenaries ruled by tyrants.” This is certainly not conducive to people feeling connected and psychologically safe, so why uphold it as a model for the workplace?

What psychologists and therapists know is that a scarcity mindset inhibits innovation, problem solving, and trust. It does not allow for risk, failure, or vulnerability (all the ingredients for to getting to abundance and bounty). It keeps people armored with their defenses up. It can make them suspicious and even hostile to change and growth. A coach screaming threats and demands down the bench might spur a player on in the short term. Off the field, however, people will eventually walk out the door. Or worse. You may or may not agree with me, but now (as they say)…the ball is in your court. Or something like that.

Smart Law Firm Leaders Know WELL-Being Means ALL Beings

One of the most harmful experiences to our mental well-being is isolation and loneliness. This is not to be confused with peaceful solitude or introversion (gaining energy from that peaceful solitude). Those are healthy and necessary forms of alone-ness. We can be alone and still experience connection and belonging with those who aren’t currently sitting with us. Isolation and loneliness, on the other hand, is a despairing lack of belonging that persists regardless whether the room is full of people or completely empty.

Business professionals within law firms often experience this isolation and loneliness by nature of the hierarchy that identifies them not only as “other,” but often, “less than.” They experience all the long hours, frantic pace, and unhealthy behaviors that lawyers in the firm do, as well as feeling marginalized, disrespected, or even invisible beyond their immediate service. In fact, to be labeled a “non-lawyer,” is to be identified by the absence of what someone is not. This “othering”–the view or treatment of certain people as intrinsically different from or alien to oneself–creates deeply harmful isolation, not to mention dysfunctional cultural systems that inhibit performance.

Law firm leaders who understand that well-being means all beings within the firm, begin to break down silos and caste systems and create high performing, psychologically safe cultures that weave connection and belonging. Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, like many firms I work with, ensures that well-being programs offered to lawyers are offered to every employee. What are other ways law firm leaders can begin to get it right? Remember the things that matter:

  1. Access matters: Make well-being benefits and programming available to everyone in the firm.
  2. Words matter: Use language and titles that are inclusive and respectful. Identify professionals by who they are and what they contribute, not by what they are not.
  3. Integrity matters: Most law firms have a values statement. Many times it is even hanging on the wall. A firm’s integrity shows when the treatment and experience of every professional in the firm is congruent with those values.

None of this changes overnight or even in a few months. The encouraging news is that steady, incremental improvement can begin at any point. It is late, but it is not too late.

Lessons to be Learned from the Resistance to Resilience

cartoon from VComply

Recently, while attending a legal conference, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman I’ll call John. It began like most social networking event conversations, but quickly took a turn I wasn’t expecting. While it was off-putting (for reasons you will soon see), it held important insight into the resistance to the progress the legal profession is trying to make in mental health and well-being.

“What do you do in the legal profession?” asked John, who had already identified himself as a business professional in the legal industry. I explained that I help law firms and other organizations cultivate resilience and well-being.

“Ahhh…” he said, “that is the new trendy thing, isn’t it?” I asked him what he meant by trendy.

“We used to just suck it up and deal with it.” John said with a shrug, “My first boss called me a schmuck every single day.”

“That sounds like a pretty miserable way to work. How did you ‘just deal with it’ back then?” I asked, sincerely interested to hear his experience.

At my question, he responded with a “Ha!” and then, “You mean besides go home and kick my dog and beat my wife?”

He waited for a laugh that I didn’t give. I didn’t feel angry or offended at his comment. Mostly, I felt sad. Clearly, I had struck a nerve and in his defensiveness, he went for the shock value of a bad joke. Or, maybe it wasn’t a joke for him at all. I’ll never know.

“That sounds really awful for everyone.” I responded, admitting to my feeling of sadness, while hiding my shock.

He looked at me and squinted, “Are you psychoanalyzing me right now?”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “No more than you are trying to give me business advice. I’m off the clock, too.” And with that, I said “Nice to meet you,” and excused myself.

I was honest when I said I wasn’t psychoanalyzing him. That is a long and thoughtful process which takes place after a client and therapist have built a relationship based on unconditional positive regard and trust. I have, however, been thinking about the interaction over the past few days. While he was certainly more blunt about his resistance toward well-being and resilience efforts than most, it held a common refrain: “It was bad for me, but I managed to get by and so should everyone else!”

This refrain rarely comes from a place of glee in others’ suffering. I could assume that of John and write him off as jerk. Or I could be curious about the resistance behind the bravado. More often, it comes from a place of fear. What we know about behaviors–both individual and organizational–is that for change to occur, there must be a disruption, a challenge to the status quo. When people learn coping mechanisms and behaviors to deal with the status quo (an unhealthy, harsh environment) and then the status quo changes, they too are forced to change. And change, even change that is positive (a healthy, resilient workplace), can be anxiety producing. Previously necessary tools of defense and survival like rigidity, blame, off-loading (“kicking the dog”), bullying, perfectionism and isolation become obsolete. That can leave a person (or organization) feeling vulnerable and exposed: “How do I behave in this new environment?” The immediate protective response, “Things don’t need to change!” often has the subtext, “I don’t want to change.”

Anyone in the business of change, be it a therapist, consultant, coach, or leader, has experienced resistance. No doubt resistance can be frustrating, but we change-makers are well advised to work with resistance, not around it. When we pay close attention to the resistance, where it comes from, and how it shows up, only then are we able to address it, slowly build trust, and dissolve the barriers that impede positive change. We cannot ask a person or an organization to be vulnerable to change without first creating boundaries and guardrails that allow them feel safe.

A Guide to the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge

The American Bar Association’s Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession has created a campaign to promote well-being and mental health. The primary vehicle of this campaign is the ABA Well-Being Pledge. Below is guidance on implementing these seven areas of focus and action found in the pledge.

1. Provide Enhanced and Robust Education

Providing “enhanced and robust education” to attorneys and other legal professionals on mental health, well-being, and substance abuse requires consistent and recurring training. Lunch-and-learns, keynotes, and workshops are critical, however, opportunities to learn and practice new skills and routines need to occur daily to that positive habits can form. This can be in the form of app-based skill builders such as Calm or Headspace and can also be encouraged through regularly scheduled coach-based training.

2. Reduce Expectations of Alcohol

Think back to the last five professional social gatherings you have attended. How many of those had alcohol as a primary feature? I have attended only one in the last six months where alcohol was not, essentially, the main attraction. It is not necessary to discontinue serving alcohol at events all together. However, it is critical to be mindful of how much emphasis is put on drinking as a means of socializing. Provide non-alcoholic options other than the standard sodas. According to FoodBev Media, there is a growing trend for adult marketed, non-alcoholic drinks such. Networking or social events that have at least part of the event alcohol free (an outdoor activity, volunteering, etc.) allows those who avoid situations of social drinking to be able to participate in work events.

3. Partner with Outside Providers

Don’t go it alone. If you have an Employee Assistance Program, get to know what they have to offer as well as their limitations. Partnering with experts who are outside of the organization helps to ensure cultural change by allowing a more objective assessment and ability to speak truth to power when needed. Having a dedicated professional whose sole responsibility is to make measurable improvements to the well-being of the people in the firm can help ensure programmatic success. If you are looking for how to find the right fit for an outside provider, I outline tips here.

4. Provide Confidential Access

One of the biggest barriers to attorneys and legal professionals seeking help is fear regarding confidentiality. Some report feeling mistrust in seeking assistance from their EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or LAP (Lawyer Assistance Program). One attorney recently asked, “Why would I admit any concern about depression or alcohol use to the same body that upholds my license to practice law?” Providing confidential access help is step one. Step two is building trust in those resources among legal professionals. This can be done through education and transparent information about what privileges and limitations of confidentiality exist. Additionally, providing access to outside providers who are not affiliated with a professional association or governing body also serves to increase trust and comfort accessing help.

5. Develop Proactive Policies

The key word here is proactive. Law firms and legal departments should not wait until crisis hits to begin the work of well-being. Not only is the damage and loss already done, reactive measures are often less effective, at least initially. Once a crisis or trauma has occurred, people are less able to absorb, practice, and accept new skills and procedures. This is certainly not to say that it is too late, but it can take longer. Proactive measures such as resilience building primes the brain to be less emotionally reactive to adversity, promoting a calm and constructive response to stress. Proactive policies such as establishing back-to-work plans for people who have taken time off for treatment help set healthy norms. Proactive assessments, such as well-being and resilience indicators, help identify strength and growth areas and allow gathering of outcome data.

6. Show Core Values

Show, don’t tell. Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and author of Everybody Matter’s makes a point to say that there is no company that would proclaim that they did not care about their employees. In fact, most state very boldly in their values statement that they DO care about their people. What they say matters little compare to what they do. If a firm proclaims to support well-being and healthy lifestyles, the leadership must model that behavior:

  • Demonstrate healthy boundaries
  • Talk out loud about mental health in positive, non-stigmatizing ways
  • Don’t just sneak into the office wellness room–stride in confidently
  • Ask colleagues how they are feeling–and mean it

7. Use the Pledge

Assess. Respond. Develop. Repeat. The only way this or any pledge works is when it is a living and dynamic function of the organization. One year after a firm or legal department signs the pledge, they are asked to complete the pledge commitment form to describe the steps taken toward the objectives set out in the framework during the previous year. Accountability is a critical piece in changing a culture.

If your firm has questions about the pledge or assessment and program implementation, we are available for an initial consultation conversation.

The Role of Colleagues in Suicide Prevention

Knowing, or even suspecting, that a colleague is contemplating suicide is frightening. It is common to feel unsure about what to do if the situation were to arise. Concerns about overstepping bounds with a colleague, making matters worse, or being wrong entirely cause people to hesitate. The positive news is that people can play a very valuable role in helping a co-worker who might be contemplating suicide. Knowing what to look for and how to respond before the need arises can help alleviate the self-doubt if the time comes to act.

Listen & Observe

It is not often that someone comes out and make a declaration of suicidal ideation, although there certainly are times that they do. Being aware of changes in patterns and behaviors through listening and observation is the first step in intervention. Some things to watch for include:

  • Sudden or unusual isolation at work
  • Apathy toward work outcomes (i.e. giving away assignments or leads, failure to complete work, missing meetings and deadlines)
  • Neglect in hygiene or appearance
  • Sudden, dramatic elevation in mood after a period of being depressed or withdrawn
  • Expressing a feeling of things being “meaningless” or “hopeless”
  • Sudden or out of place talk about suicide and death
  • Indirect verbal cues such as “What’s the point of living like this anyway?” “I’m not doing anyone any good anymore.”
  • Direct statements such as “I wish I could just end it.” “I wish I were dead.” “It would be easy to just not wake up tomorrow.”

Reflect & Respond

If a colleague shows warning signs of possible suicidal ideation, you should respond in a calm and nonjudgemental manner. You do not need to solve anything for them or understand the “why.” Simply listen, reflect their feelings, and encourage them to seek help. Don’t be afraid to ask directly if they are thinking about suicide. Asking about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide. While it might feel awkward or embarrassing to have the conversation, begin with what you have noticed. A few examples of what to say:

“Richard, I noticed that you haven’t been showing up to our normal Wednesday meetings. You used to be really active in them and enjoy being a participant. I want you to know that I am concerned for you. How have you been feeling lately?”

“I couldn’t help but notice, Sarah, that you said you felt like there was no point in living life. Have you been contemplating suicide?”

“I am hearing you say that things have been really intense and you are overwhelmed to the point of wanting to give up. That sounds like a difficult place to be. I want you to know that I want it to be better for you and get the support you deserve.”

Acknowledge that talking about suicide is difficult and takes courage. Tell them how much you appreciate their honesty and openness.

Have resources available (some are listed below this article). You company should have specific information regarding EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) or other resources and benefits. Be aware of what those are.

Follow up. Make a point to connect with your colleague again. Let them know you are thinking about them or ask if they were able to get in touch with any of the resources that you provided. Also continue to speak with them as you normally would as well. It is fine to still have “chit-chat” and water-cooler conversation. This can help reduce the feeling that they need to isolate themselves.

If danger appears to be imminent, stay with the person in distress until you have found help. This could require enlisting help from other colleagues, or the person’s family or friends. You may accompany them to a mental health center, emergency room, or call 911 if they are in immediate danger to themselves.

Resources for help and training

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The Lifeline provides immediate assistance to individuals in suicidal crisis by connecting them to the nearest available suicide prevention and mental health service provider through a toll-free telephone number—1-800-273-TALK (8255) that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Technical assistance, training, and other resources are available to crisis centers and mental health service providers participating in the network of services linked to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)

http://www.sprc.org/

SPRC provides prevention support, training, and materials to strengthen suicide prevention efforts. Among the resources found on its website is the SPRC Library Catalog (http://library.sprc.org/), a searchable database containing a wealth of information on suicide and suicide prevention, including publications, peer-reviewed research studies, curricula, and web-based resources. Many of these items are available online.

The Seductive Fallacy of “Going All Out”

Ask any self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie or workaholic and they will say that any letting up of the gas until you have roared through the finish line is simply giving up or being half-hearted. More is more and we can rest when we are dead. Nothing can be incremental or moderate if one expects to see results. Gotta go all out. Leave it all on the field. Insert some other sports metaphor here, I’m sure there are plenty.

I actually get all of that. It makes sense to me. There is a rush that you get when you zoom ahead of your perceived competition that is electric. It’s an even greater one when you cross that line and clench the victory. I have felt it and, wow, it is all kinds of good–and addictive!

The problem is, most of the time in our daily lives not only is this extremest effort not required, it is detrimental to our productivity. A study from Stanford University found that working more than 50 hours a week showed a consistently sharp decline in productivity and that productivity dropped so dramatically beyond 55 hours a week that the effort was essentially pointless. Not to mention increased potential for mistakes or even malfeasance or malpractice.

So why do we keep doing it? It’s certainly not like we’ve never been told otherwise. Aesop and his tortoise and hare have been trying to teach us this lesson since about 600 BCE. I think it is because we have taken the wrong message from old Aesop. Or, at least, we have only taken half of the right message. For most of us, if asked what the moral of the tortoise and hare story was, we would say, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Well…not exactly. Logic and experience tells us that slow and steady doesn’t always win the race, so it can’t just be that. The more accurate moral of the story is that what “slow and steady” allows us to do is actually what wins the race.

When we slow down, rest, and recharge we take ourselves out of the fight or flight mode. Our brains, which had been dialed in to simply “Go, Go, Go” and survival, literally becomes more expansive. Blood flow which had been restricted to our impulsive limbic brain suddenly is released to flow into our thinking and creative prefrontal cortex. You see, the tortoise wasn’t just slow and steady, she was innovative and clever.

And what about that hare? The one who shot out of the starting gate so self-assured of his ability to “go all out.” The fable goes that he was so arrogant that he chose to nap after his initial, dazzling sprint and that is when the wily tortoise passed him by. But what if it wasn’t a nap at all? What if that hare burned himself out and his nap was more of a collapse? Whether by choice or by force, the hare finally did stop. And it cost him the race. Are there parallels in our own daily lives? Most of the time when I talk to professionals–particularly attorneys–about what it is like to take vacation time, they describe increasing their hours before and after the time off and never feeling able to relax and mentally escape while physically away from the office. Eventually, it can leave to professional burnout, depression, or substance abuse. Like the hare, they collapse but never fully rest.

Moderation might not be sexy. But innovation, energy, passion, and creative sure are. Fortunately, those are things that win the race.

Hiring a Corporate Well-being Professional

As the attention to mental health and well-being in the workplace is ever increasing, more companies are hiring professionals to head up their well-being efforts. With few road maps or even a clear definition as to what a “well-being professional” is, it can be difficult to determine the right fit for a company’s needs. These professionals come from a variety of backgrounds, can be credentialed in vastly different things, and have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience. They are licensed therapists, social workers, personal coaches, nurses, mindfulness experts, and even personal fitness trainers. Each brings their own unique talents to the table. While there is a place for all of these talents within the larger framework of well-being, there are four key elements that an organization should look for when bringing on a professional to design and head a well-being program.

  • Systemic understanding. A well-being professional who works within an organization–be it a financial institution, a law firm, or a non-profit–is working within a system. That system creates the company culture, structure/hierarchy, and institutional history. Those elements, in turn, have significant impact on the lived experience of those who work there. A professional’s ability to identify and properly assess how the larger system bolsters or inhibits individual well-being, increases their ability to create programming that improves not only wellness, but productivity and achievement. To make a medical parallel, a doctor can treat the symptoms of a child’s asthma attack. When she also inquires about the child’s environment, such as exposure to second-hand smoke, the doctor can assist in providing resources such as smoking cessation programs that positively impact the child and the health of the entire family. Interview Question: Describe how your work addresses individual well-being within the context of the larger company/firm system? How does your work promote or, if necessary, challenge the culture that impacts employees?
  • Continuum of care. There is a parable about people standing beside a river bank when they notice someone drowning in the rushing current. They pull the person to safety only to realize that more and more people are coming down the river, struggling to stay afloat. They rescue and revive as many as they can, but some are swept away too quickly. Eventually, one rescuer realizes that they can’t keep pulling drowning people out of the water. The real solution is to go upstream, find out where people keep falling into the river, and repair the broken bridge that is causing the accidents. Understanding continuum of care means being able to provide programming and services that range from proactive and preventative tools (making sure the bridge is sturdy so people don’t fall in the river), to restorative treatment and care (pulling people out of the river when they slip in). A professional skilled in addiction recovery or physical fitness plays a vital (and even life-saving) role within a well-being framework. Such a targeted area of expertise, however, might not best serve a director’s role that requires holistic programming along the continuum of care. Interview Questions: What assessments, tools, and programs do you use that engage with employees along the continuum of their well-being? What can be offered to those already high-achieving and resilient and how is it different from what is offered to those struggling with burnout and mental health challenges?
  • Knowledge of industry standards. More and more industry associations are creating standards of well-being as a guide to their member organizations. The American Bar Association’s Well-Being Pledge and Toolkit, for instance, was born out of the 2017 ABA National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has their own best practices for Promoting Employee Well-being. Some of these guidelines are just that: suggested guidelines. Others, like the ABA Pledge and Toolkit encourage law firms to become signatories to the pledge and commit to specific standards. Regardless, a well-being professional should have a deep understanding of industry standards, best practices, and strategies for not only meeting, but exceeding those standards. Interview Questions: Describe your understanding of ABA Well-being Pledge/ SHRM Well-being Guidelines/ other industry well-being standards and how your work aligns with those standards.
  • Use of assessment and evaluation. You can’t repair what you don’t know is broken. Many times we know something is wrong, but the exact “what” can be harder to determine. When the water starts dripping from the kitchen ceiling, we know we have a problem. What precisely is causing that leak and getting it fixed requires a call to the plumber. A well-being professional should have a the ability to evaluate an organization’s challenges and strengths through skilled observation, interviewing and formal diagnostic assessment. Furthermore, they should have the ability to set targeted outcomes and collect data on those outcomes for evaluation. Interview Questions: What are your standards for evaluation? What are your methods for assessing both the needs of an organization and the outcomes of a well-being program? Are there formal assessment tools that you are licensed to use or have access to use?

As with any professional position within a company, there is no one-size-fits-all. Having a strong foundation in the four key areas above ensures that the professional you hire has a firm footing to meet your company’s unique needs.