The art of embracing psychology at workplace — Melissa Doman, M.A. [Interview]
About Melissa Doman
Melissa Doman, M.A. is an organizational psychologist, and former mental health therapist who focuses on mental health awareness for global, national, and local companies. She has been featured as a speaker and subject matter expert at national conferences, summits, in digital publications, international mentoring programmes, and as a panelist at Google U.K. discussing practical and inclusive conversations around mental health. Melissa also specializes in helping senior leaders, including the C-suite, develop emotional intelligence, self-management skills, and accountability prioritising mental wellbeing.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Melissa Doman today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.
We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Melissa, we’re thrilled to have you!
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Absolutely. Love having you on the series.
If you could tell us a little bit about your primary focus, as an organizational psychologist, It’s in a new age term, or a less-known word as such, and it would be amazing if you could, just elaborate on what exactly is it that you do?
Sure, no problem. So basically, I will start with kind of how I got to where I am now. So I used to be a clinical mental health therapist for a number of years. So I got my master’s degree and I was trained in how to diagnose and do counseling and treatment around mental health and mental illness issues.
And so I did that for a number of years, and it was very important work, and I’m so happy that I did that, it taught me invaluable information about people and about the human condition, but I wanted to make a larger impact than just one by one by one by one.
So I transitioned more into organizational psychology or, as other people might know it as workplace psychology because employee well being is something that was very personally and professionally important to me. I found that a lot of companies weren’t prioritizing that. And it was very sad to me, because
“Employees are the people that keep a business going forward, that keep a business successful”.
And so I think that looking out for the mental health and well being of employees should be very much a top priority. So then, after clinical, I went into kind of your traditional workplace psychology roles, doing advisor roles in house directorships and that sort of thing. But I always found that the wellbeing piece was really missing for me.
So in recent years, I’m almost sitting on the fence between the two worlds, as it were.
“So I’m taking my old clinical education and experience, and I’m translating that into the workplace”.
And I love it. I really love it because I’m able to normalize and de-stigmatize conversations around mental health, mental illness and stress in the workplace, because you just have to, because people bring all of themselves to work and to not be able to discuss such an important topic in the workplace, I just don’t envision a future about where we can’t do that.
So what I’m doing now is keynotes, panels, workshops, consulting, writing kind of multiple trick pony, as it were. And I’m just doing what I can, where I can for who I can. And I feel very humbled and privileged that I’ve been able to work with really small companies all the way up to multinational organizations with thousands and thousands of employees. And the thing is, everyone has mental health, and everyone should have the opportunity to feel safe to talk about it.
So a lot of what I’m doing is not only building awareness but teaching people the language, the new language of how to speak about it.
“Because awareness is not enough. You need to know of the ‘how to’ and you need to be able to take action”.
So that’s what I’ve been up to in recent years.
That is amazing. I think you really are helping a lot of people out there who are struggling with mental instability and whatever they go through at a workplace environment.
And, especially with people who kind of are like closed books.How do you deal with such people who are not used to emoting? Who is not used to kind of talking about their emotions at all
Nobody is exactly the same. And when it comes to discussing mental health at work, you need to take people’s comfort levels into account. So,
“Just because people should feel safe to talk about it doesn’t mean they should be forced to. So really, what it comes down to is making the workplace environment safe to discuss it and giving people the option without the obligation to discuss it”.
And very much letting them come to you sort of model. But people won’t come to you if they don’t feel it’s safe to. So for those people who might kind of keep it closer to the chest, that’s totally fine. It’s letting them know that they can speak up if they need to.
And for some of those people, it might take a bit more of gentle, kind of shoulder tapping and speaking to them in more of a private setting, so you can make sure to have the discussion where they feel safe, particularly if it’s a challenging topic for them to discuss.
Yeah, that makes sense. I think it’s just important to kind of create a very comfortable environment so that you can talk your heart out or talk one on one in the hand and process emotion instead of going through you. Because sometimes I think you know, we have such a busy life right now, not right now, but we generally do. You have a busy lifestyle. We just forget to process our emotions.
And what is it that you’re really going through and exactly right? And I think right now is a very good time when everything is being looked at in perspective, suddenly time has just gone still and only we can stop processing emotions, right! And, that’s exactly what I want to ask you.
With this situation,How do you advise the leaders around the world to manage their teams while working from home?
So there’s a couple of ways that I approach this, and this is actually one of the biggest questions I’ve been receiving from a lot of companies. So, for example, I did a kind of digital fireside interview with a couple of financial organizations and something like 200 people tuned in from around the world, and it was incredible. And one of the biggest questions was, how do we manage our teams and how do we make sure they’re okay? So there are a few things to think about here.
You have to realize that people’s psychological safety is going to feel threatened right now, and that’s normal. So people are worried about their actual livelihood. i.e. will I get sick from the virus? People are worried about their financial livelihood, i.e will I lose my job? And so, as a leader or an owner of a company, you have to accept and normalize that, that’s the way that a lot of people will be feeling right now. And it might impact how they communicate, how they interact.
And so it’s really important to provide comfort where you can because obviously with all this going on, there are no guarantees in anything but also encouraging your teams to self manage where they can. For example, As a leader, you have to be a role model, you say. I’m getting really stressed to hear the ways that I’m dealing with it. I really recommend that you do too because people are more likely to do things they see others doing that are producing positive results.
And also encouraging structure and boundaries. I mean, it’s so easy to just sit at the computer for 12 hours a day and barely get up and not take a proper lunch break, and you just can’t go on like that. We’re not meant to be stuck to screen constantly, although right now we are.
“But you have to have some form of separation or adapted normalcy because otherwise, everything will just kind of blur into the strange sameness. You have to have boundaries between work and home when you’re in that same environment”.
And the last thing I would say is just to reach out on a human level for example, we all have more time now to get to know each other in a different way that we might not have had the time to before. So if you’re a leader or line manager and you don’t know much about the people, the personalities of the people on your teams take the opportunity and get to know them because you’ll feel more connected that way.
So this is a really tough situation, and people are doing what they can. But here, the small things that you can do to try and take the edge off and make it effective and useful.
Yeah, those are great tips. And thank you so much for that. And I think I absolutely agree with you. Suddenly we’ve kind of come back to level one of Maslow’s hierarchy where we are struggling for psychological safety for a lively hood. It is very ironic right?
Yeah, and if you think about it, I’m kind of a neuroscience geek, so you’ll have to forgive me. But if you think about the physiology of what’s happening, so we as humans have this big, giant frontal lobe, which is what makes us human, we have self-awareness. Our frontal lobe governs our personality, our sense of logic, our rationale, and all those sorts of things. And the thing is that our chimp brain, so what makes us uniquely animals because we are animals is effectively jacked up and freaking out because right now we are under this constant sense of threat.
So our nervous system, our amygdala controls our sense of fight or flight, is constantly thinking that tiger is going to eat me. But our frontal lobe is playing a bit of checks and balances saying ‘No’. But our stress levels are through the roof are cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Through the roof is adrenaline, which is the pure purpose of that is to keep us alive is through the roof.
“So we have this festival of chemicals that’s going on in our brains and our bodies that we don’t realize is happening unless we really slow down and think about it”.
So this is not only an emotional and psychological impact. Our entire bodies are reacting to what’s going on.
Absolutely. And the physiology of the brain really helps you rationalize what’s going on in your brain and why is this happening to you, right?
Yeah, it’s a very unprecedented time because a lot of the feelings that we’re having are the emotions that we’re having, we are meant to feel these only sometimes because we have the ability to feel this way for a reason. Our brain gives us the ability to feel this way for the purpose of survival. But the trouble is that we’re not meant to feel this way constantly, and because we feel this way constantly, it’s producing side effects that are emotional and physical because we’re just not used to this.
Absolutely, we are not used to this.
There are so many employees around the world who are going through, managing a family, doing all the household chores, working from home. You know,How do you think they should cope with this so that they maintain their sanity?
So there’s a couple of things, doing this lockdown and managing so many different things, particularly if you don’t live alone or if you’re married, you have children, you have pets. You have to just find the minutes where you can because it’s really about being realistic and drawing boundaries when possible.
So if you have a few young children running around, are you necessarily going to get three or four hours of time by yourself each night? Probably not, so be more realistic and try to find the moments where you can. So, for example, finding maybe five minutes of quiet in the morning, or trying to do some deep breathing in the shower, or taking five minutes to do a guided imagery exercise before you go to bed.
“If you don’t have a large amount of time, you have to find the minutes where you can”.
The other thing is that while this might feel like there’s no end in sight, there will be. This will not be forever. We don’t know how long this is gonna go on, but we will not be locked up at home forever. So when things get really hard and you just feel like you want to tear your hair out, you have to remember that there is an end in sight and you must take it one day at a time where it’s too overwhelming.
“And the last thing is really just focusing on what you can control and influence and what you can’t control and influence. Because if we focus on things we can’t control and influence, we won’t maintain our sanity”.
Absolutely, that is wonderful. You know, I actually absolutely agree with you that will have to control our minds and not drift away to what’s negative. This is a time where mental toughness will really be tested.
So, if we think about resilience, so resilience is literally defined, as are healthful ability to bounce back. That’s the ultimate test of resilience. It’s how do we maintain our mental well being so we can bounce back? And the thing is, it won’t always be a perfect system. There will be days that you will just feel bad and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel bad, and there will still be some days that you feel okay. But it’s about keeping it in balance because if you’re always trying to avoid the negative feelings, they will happen anyway. But they’ll just come out sideways.
So it’s about allowing yourself to feel what you’re going to feel, but then making sure to kind, of course, correct when you’ve moved through it, so it has to exist in balance.
Absolutely it has to exist in balance.
And, once you come out of the pandemic,Do you think that the world is going to change mentally and if yes, how?
So, I think that the mental health impact of COVID 19 will be significant. So I project that there could be a large rise potentially in anxiety disorders. There could be a large rise in, people not feeling particularly safe to be near each other. It’s interesting, there are so many different trends that could come out of this that are negative and positive.
So, for example, I do think there will be some more anxiety around health and cleanliness or being physically close to other people. But equally, I think there’s going to be a positive mental health impact in some way about the authentic connections that we’ve been able to make with people around the globe.
And that sense of social closeness that some people have been able to develop with each other, despite the fact that it’s been digital. So I think that you will see, positive mental health impact and also a negative one.
Right, Right!. That makes sense.
And with respect to millennials, right now, we see that millennials are there really growing and rising in workplaces.Do you think that somewhere down the line the mental capacity is much more different than older generations and hardly kind of maintained balance through these different kinds of mindsets that you see?
So I’m usually very cautious around the labeling of the generations because they tend to involve generalizations. So I think that, so millennials that it’s that age range is just so wide. It’s from 1981 to I think 1997 to something really large like that. And so while you do see trends, I think it’s important to take it on on an individual basis. So, for example, millennials can be just as resilient as baby boomers, but their needs are different.
So, for example, millennials and younger generations really value recognition at work, feeling like their employer is a values-driven feeling that, like their employer, cares for them and expects more of workplace experience as opposed to a job per se. And so oftentimes it’s normal that you see intergenerational misunderstanding and intergenerational conflict for that reason.
“And so I think the goal there is bridging the gap in alignment of values and expectations”.
And also doing a bit of reverse mentoring, where some of the newer ways of doing things with the younger generations that they can teach that to the older generations if they’re willing to learn. And so learn and so particularly around, let’s say, language around mental health at work.
They’re older generations where some of them didn’t even talk about it, ever. And so the younger generations, if they were raised talking about it, they have the language, they have the terminology to refer to how they’re feeling.
So there’s that saying,
“You don’t know what you don’t know”.
So for the older generations who were never taught that or was unacceptable to talk about, there’s an opportunity for reverse mentoring from the younger generations at work to educate the older generations as long as there’s a willingness to bridge the gap and have the conversation. So ultimately, when I look at the different generations, I think it’s about bridging those gaps and helping people to come to a common understanding.
Yeah, absolutely. It might take some compromise on either end, but bridging the gaps, I think that would come out is a beautiful relationship.
Yeah, yeah, and that’s the thing as well is that sometimes the expectations from either side can be too high, so from the younger generations as well, even though they will eventually be taking the leadership of the companies that we have now, It requires some adjustment on their end for the environment in which they are entering. And so it just like you said, it requires people going like this to meet somewhere in the middle.
And for some people that want the workplace that cares for them and is value-driven and all these sorts of things understanding that not every employer is there yet.
“So it’s all in shades of grey, and it’s about finding common places for negotiation and understanding and bridging the gap”.
Yeah, it’s all grey. Anything that’s related to humans is all grey. But I think I kind of just focus on small things and just are willing to, you know, talk to each other, just be human beings. As such, I think we can really achieve a lot together.
Yeah, that’s true. And it’s really important to have cognitive diversity, so you’re more likely to get to new stages of development when you have people working together with different ideas, because if you have people working together with the same ideas, then you will progress not as quickly.
Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. There has to be diversity and even in terms of you know, inclusion of all kinds of generations. I think workplaces can really try these and they become an inclusive workplace.
“Our differences are what makes us stronger together”.
And Melissa here you’ve lived on four continents and you travel to more than 45 countries.What have you been, you know, some learnings or what’s like the experience in these different places? Have you kind off, you know, thinking about something which is just that struck out too. You are always just different.
So when I was a little girl, my parents always told me that I always wanted to talk to strangers. My poor parents. I always wanted to talk to strangers and just hear their stories. And I’m still that way. And I think what I love so much about living in different places and traveling to different places is not only the beautiful sights that you see, so the nature and the cities and the animals.
But it’s the people you meet, and I have met some incredible people from all over the world, and my sister says I’m the perpetual pen pal. So I’m always keeping in touch with people.
“And I think one of my biggest takeaways is you just never know how talking to a stranger might change your mind, or change your entire outlook on something. And the other big takeaway I have is it’s easy to forget how big the world really is and how different the human experience can really be”
And the only way that you will discover that is by venturing out from your own community. And my goal before the end of my life is to have visited more than 100 countries. I’m already almost halfway there, and it’s something I can’t live without. And so, during this lockdown, not being able to travel is very sad, but it makes me so excited to be able to do it again once it’s safe.
Wow, that is amazing. I love your whole outlook. It’s really, really encouraging.
Okay, to wrap this up, I’m gonna ask you for any important sound bites that you’d like to leave for our viewers.
So I would say, I know things are really tough, right now and really stressful. It’s emotionally stressful, physically, financially, socially, and we can acknowledge that this is a really bad situation. So what you can do is focus on taking care of yourself and taking care of the people that you care about.
And our minds are what’s helping us to navigate through this and get through this. So just like you take care of your body or tuning up a car, you must watch after your emotional well being, because ultimately that resilience is what will help you get through this.
And I hope all of this information was useful and you can use it when you need it most.
I think definitely this advice would really help a lot of our viewers. And thank you so much for that. It was a pleasure talking to Melissa. I really appreciate you sharing your views with us.
Oh, it’s my pleasure. I really hope this information is helpful for everybody and I know that everybody around the world is feeling this chaos and all we can do is just support one another.
And the last piece of advice I would give for companies is to remember that,
“Companies are a living, breathing ecosystem. It’s a living, breathing organism. So where you can, take care of those people that make up your eco system because they are taking care of you and your company and making sure that it’s successful.”
Wow, that actually you know, it makes a lot of sense. It’s not like a living museum. It’s much more than that. It’s a breathing ecosystem. Yeah, it’s like watering your garden or like making your own forest.
Thank you so much for that, Melissa. I had a fantastic time. And please do keep in touch and have a safe and healthy time ahead of you.
Oh, thank you so much. It was such a pleasure talking to you. And it was my pleasure to share the information.