The Benefits of Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace Culture – Gia Ganesh | Florence Healthcare

A recent study by Mental Health America shows that four in five employees report workplace stress affects their relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. Many of us can relate to this statistic, but it is important to also recognize that as a leader or employer of your small business, you can do something about it. 

Today on the Atlanta Small Business Show, we’re pleased to welcome Gia Ganesh, Vice President of People and Culture at Florence Healthcare, to share a few best practices and strategies for prioritizing your employees’ mental health.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Let me start off here by just, for the viewers that are watching that may not be as familiar with you and your very impressive background. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Gia Ganesh:
Thank you. My name is Gia Ganesh. I’m the Vice President of People and Culture at Florence Healthcare. I’ve been with Florence Healthcare for the past three and a half years and seen the company grow from about 20 employees to now about 200 employees while still being able to maintain our spot on many of the best places to work lists. We recently ranked number eight on Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s best places to work list as well, in addition to being on the Inc. and other lists as well.

Gia Ganesh:
In my prior life before Florence, I’ve had a multitude of stints ranging… Starting from engineering all the way to a stint with entrepreneurship in the… I’ve also had the pleasure of going to Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State to get two master’s degrees as well. In the process, I also wrote a book and launched a journal called The Daily Career Journal because I passionately feel that all of us that are spending 40, 60 hours at work should make our work experience meaningful and fulfilling for each of us. And so, I continued down that path with my stint now at Florence.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That is a… As I mentioned, that’s a very impressive background. And again, thank you so much for joining us on the show today because we hear so much about mental health. It is a real issue out there and it is something that leaders and business owners alike are dealing with. Some of them are dealing with it of their own situations, especially coming through COVID-19 here in the last couple of years. It’s been very, very tough out there, but it’s also been especially tough on their employees and their families. So, it’s… I think it’s great timing to have you on and to talk about this very, very important issue.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
What’s the first thing that leaders and managers need to understand about workplace stressors?

Gia Ganesh:
I think we’ll start with the most simplest way of putting it, which is it’s okay to not be okay. If we as leaders and managers can get that message across to ourselves and to our employees openly and encourage employees to say, “I’m not okay,” encourage employees to come and ask for a mental health day without feeling like they are going to be retaliated against or there’s going to be some repercussion in asking for it. So, that goes back to creating that kind of an inclusive and positive culture where people feel psychologically safe to bring these issues to their managers and leaders. Right?

Gia Ganesh:
So, manager… There’s never been a harder time to be a manager than it is today because of just exactly what you said, Jim. Coming out of COVID, how we work has changed. Where we work from has changed.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Gia Ganesh:
Things that impact our work on a day-to-day basis have changed. You know? People probably don’t have child care as much as they used to before. You know? With inflation and costs going up, there’s just a multitude of factors that impact how we are showing up. So, it’s never harder time to be a leader, but it’s also the most important time for leaders to be more self-aware and understand what’s happening in the workplace to each of their employees.

Gia Ganesh:
I feel like I’m throwing a few buzzwords, but truly this is a key. How can we as leaders and managers be more empathetic and understand that people bring their whole selves to work? As much as they like to put on a façade when they work, they still can’t take away the fact that they probably have a sick child at home or they have other stressors in their life that could impact their work. Not to mention workplace stressors as well. So, there’s a bunch of things that are going on that influence how employees show up and we as managers and leaders… The first thing we need to be able to do is create an environment where employees are able to come and share things that are impacting them, are able to ask for a, like I said, a mental health day or a recharge day.

Gia Ganesh:
At Florence Healthcare, we’ve introduced this concept of recharge days where we give a few days a year where employees can actually recharge. You know, we totally disconnect and recharge as well. So, simple things like that are things that all business owners can start implementing in their workplaces.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Talk to me about the recharge days. Is it a day off? Is it a day at the office that you just don’t ask too much of the employee? Or, what does that look like?

Gia Ganesh:
For us, a recharge day is a day off.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
What we’ve done is we’ve made sure that every month there is a day off for an employee, whether it’s in the form of a national holiday, and if there’s a month that does not have a national holiday or two, we make sure that we have a recharge day. Right? The idea is for employees to get at least one day a month where they are able to disconnect.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
Some months, we are lucky to have multitude of national holidays, right? And, we are on the generous side. We.. So, in total, we have about 17 days off just between recharge days and national holidays. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
And then, in addition to that, we also have unlimited time off for employees.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
So, between that… Oh, and I have to add. We have an unlimited time off policy with a minimum three weeks vacation time off.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow.

Gia Ganesh:
So, it’s not maximum. It’s minimum three weeks. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Gia Ganesh:
So, at a minimum, every employee has to take three weeks off in a year in addition to the 17 days that they have off as well. So, about 28, 30 days each employee gets to take off a year in order to recharge, reset and come back.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s a whole month.

Gia Ganesh:
Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Gia Ganesh:
Almost, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Yep. That’s great. That’s great. You know, it’s interesting. I read an article, Gia, and I think it was in Inc. Magazine where companies like yours that said, “Hey, it’s unlimited time off. You decide. You get the work done.” It’s interesting that you put a minimum in there, which I think is a great idea because this study showed that those companies that offered programs like that, the employees didn’t even take advantage of the two or three weeks that they had coming to them anyway.

Gia Ganesh:
Exactly.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Even under the auspices of an unlimited time off situation, they didn’t even use it. So, it’s incredible that now you’ve got to get to the point that you’ve got to tell people, “No, take it.” Right?

Gia Ganesh:
Yes. Absolutely, Jim. That was one of our driving reasons for us to implement that minimum time period that they have to take off.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Gia Ganesh:
It’s been great. You know, people can now travel or spend time with family. Whatever they choose to do. It’s their time. They can take off. We just want to make sure that it helps them come back rested and recharged.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Sure. Have you found that the working from home has caused greater stress or less stress in one’s life? And, the follow up to that is going to be, how does the employer know if in the event they’ve got somebody working from home that is under a lot of stress, that needs some time off, but you don’t see them on a daily basis anymore. They’re not coming in. You don’t have an opportunity to see them at the water cooler or the lunch counter or what have you to kind of identify, this person’s having some issues that they’re dealing with. Now, everybody’s working virtually. It’s hard to pick up on those clues. Is it not?

Gia Ganesh:
Absolutely, Jim. You nailed it. Definitely working from home has introduced a lot more variables that can cause stress in many people’s lives. Like I… As a parent myself, I know that the kids are in summer break and it causes an additional level of stress because I have to make sure they are occupied during my work hours. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Gia Ganesh:
That’s just a small example, but there’s many other factors that lead to increasing the stress levels of working from home.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Gia Ganesh:
I’ll answer your second question first, which is how do we as managers and leaders know that employees that are working from home are stressed because we don’t meet them at the water cooler. We don’t bump into them in the hallway and see that they’re not their usual self. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right.

Gia Ganesh:
This is a best practice that employers should be doing irrespective whether we are working from home or not, which is have regular surveys sent out to employees asking them questions around mental health and burnout.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
That’s one. And, you should do it at a regular cadence. At a minimum, every six months. Ideally, every quarter. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
For example, we are doing a burnout survey every six months.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
A burnout survey. That’s quite a survey title, there. Yeah. Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
Yeah. We call it—. Because, this new modality of working has definitely increased the levels of burnout as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Gia Ganesh:
So, we have been doing that and we’re getting a lot of valid input from there which is helping us at the leadership level set up priorities correctly and introduce new initiatives to cater to that. The second thing is most managers meet with their employees one on one and also have team meetings at least on a weekly or biweekly cadence.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Gia Ganesh:
So, those are touchpoints that should be leveraged for these kind of conversations as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
“Everything okay with you? What’s going on in your life? How can I add value to your life?.” You know? And, at the team level… For example, even yesterday in my team meeting, we spent about five to 10 minutes talking about mental health awareness because yesterday was the last day of Mental Health Awareness Month. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Gia Ganesh:
We had a few minutes talking about it and it was great to see the team open up and share things and get vulnerable, which doesn’t happen often if you don’t have the right environment for that to happen. So, those are simple things that can be done. In addition, weekly, we have a company-wide Zoom meeting similar to what you and I are doing today, Jim. We have a water cooler, virtual water cooler for three minutes where we randomly pick two people for three minutes and this happens every week, so every week I meet a new different employee. It’s just like how I would have bumped into them at the water cooler and chatted about nothing or everything.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Gia Ganesh:
We do that. You know?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Gia Ganesh:
And, it’s another great way to make sure… You know, sometimes managers and leaders are not able to read the signs as much as a peer or a colleague can, so we make sure we are providing those cross-collaboration, cross-connection opportunities as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Yeah. So, so vitally important now. We hear that from employees and managers alike, that they’ve just lost that one on one in this virtual setting, although when you ask many employees would you rather work from home than to have to go into the office, they usually for the most part, the majority say, “Yes, I’d rather work from home.” You know, especially with gas prices what they are and of course you’ve got other things, other factors that take away from the family budget because now you do have to go into the office, whether it be clothing or dry cleaning or child care or whatever the case might be. It just seems to be more convenient.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
But, you do lose that one-on-one and that’s so vitally important to connect and also to build a culture within a company. You know, you’ve… Obviously, you guys have done a great job of building a great culture at your company, being on so many lists of the best places to work and such. Talk to us if you would for a second about some of the key elements that go in to building a good culture in a company. And, you’ve touched on them already, some of them already, but what are some of the top things that come to mind when somebody says how do we build a good culture within our company? What do we need?

Gia Ganesh:
Yeah. I just want to preface it by saying culture is not something that can happen overnight and it’s not… Sometimes you see these on Google articles, like how to build culture in seven easy steps. Well, I don’t subscribe to that notion. You can never build seven easy steps at all.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right. Right.

Gia Ganesh:
It takes time and effort and intentionality behind this effort. Firstly, I think culture comes from the top down.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I agree.

Gia Ganesh:
You know, as leaders, you want to be clear about the culture you want your organization to have and embody.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Gia Ganesh:
So, I strongly believe that culture is like the operating system of a company. Right? That’s what defines how we show up, how we work, how we treat each other, how we make our decisions. All of that is defined by our culture and our values. So, I strongly believe that that needs to be set at the top-level values and culture, at least ideas around what we want our culture to look like, and then it’s taken down into the organization and it becomes part of the fabric of the organization.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Gia Ganesh:
So, to address your question, Jim, what are some things that people can do? Things such as transparency. You know? Transparency from the top down is very important. Employees want to feel like they are part of… They’re part of the company, right? They don’t want to feel like, hey, you made every decision, you decided everything and you’re just telling me. They want to be included. They want to feel like they contributed to getting the company a certain place. So, how can leaders and managers be inclusive with their decision-making and transparency around what’s going on and learning how to balance that is important.

Gia Ganesh:
You know, you’ve seen this. You’ve… I know you’ve interviewed people, Jim, who come and talk to you about diversity and inclusion. It’s not a buzzword. It truly, truly is something that all of us need to care about.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. That’s right.

Gia Ganesh:
And, how can we as a company make sure that different voices are heard, everybody is given the same amount of opportunities? You know, it’s an equitable organization where people are treated fairly, the same way. So, that’s important as well. Autonomy. We want to… At least at Florence, we bring in people who we believe are smart and know how to do their job. We don’t want to be the ones telling them how to do their job. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Gia Ganesh:
So, we call it being the CEO of your own job, irrespective of what role you play at the company.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Gia Ganesh:
So, giving people the autonomy and saying, “This is what needs to get done. I trust you. I hired you because you’re smart and I trust you.” Giving them that autonomy to get the work done is important.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right.

Gia Ganesh:
And, what you already alluded to, Jim, is that connection. Building opportunities for people to connect with each other is important as well because especially after COVID, we know that socially, many people are feeling isolated and sometimes, at least many of the organizations or workplaces have evolved to become like community centers. Right? Where people go to meet, have a good time. You go back home, do your work. You know, you don’t have to be in office necessarily to get the work done. But, you’re in the office to have that sense of camaraderie and collaboration with everybody.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. That’s right.

Gia Ganesh:
So, those are just a few. I mean, I can keep going on. You just tell me.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
No, those are great. In fact, it could be a whole nother show, right? That I’d love to bring you back on.

Gia Ganesh:
Yes. Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Because, you have built and been so successful in building a company where people want to come to work and stay there because we… You know, so many employers and small business owners today are challenged in that area. A, trying to attract good talent for their company, and then, B, holding on to that talent because that’s a whole nother set of circumstances and challenges for small business owners. And, I think there’s a five letter word here that we are sometimes uncomfortable with as small business owners and also as employees, and that word is trust. Right? There’s got to be a lot of trust today, in my opinion, between the employer and the employee in terms of… And, what you were talking about earlier, that transparency, that you create this environment where an employee feels comfortable and trusts that manager or that business owner to come in and say, “Hey, I got some issues in my family that I’m trying to work out.” Or, “I’ve got some stressors, so to speak, that I need to deal with.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
There’s still a lot of people that don’t handle that information well as a small business owner or as a leader and there’s a lot of employees that do not handle that well. They don’t feel comfortable enough with their manager to be able to go in and have that type of conversation. I say go in. It could be virtual or it could be in person. But, that word trust has got to be… We’ve got to do more, I think, in small businesses and big business to encourage that. You know, there’s got to be… It’s got to be a two-way street. It can’t be, “Oh, I’ve told my manager or the owner of the company or my leader, my team leader, about these issues that I’m having and oh, lo and behold, by the end of the week I’m off the team.” You know, you’ve just crushed that scenario, right? That you could have really taken this to the next level and built a great opportunity to build that trust among that associate as well as many others that are watching. Right?

Gia Ganesh:
Absolutely, Jim. Absolutely. Like I alluded to before, psychological safety I think is the—of which the trust falls.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Gia Ganesh:
And, it’s not easy to build, right? Because, we want to… You know, sometimes business owners are focused… You know, when a business owner starts their business, they are so passionate about it. Right? Whatever the business is about. They are passionate about it. So, when they hire people, they have to make sure that they are able to share that passion and vision with the team so that they feel like they’re rallying towards the same goal. So, building that sense of purpose is one of the first things you do in establishing an environment of psychological safety. And, open conversations. Being able to have those open conversations.

Gia Ganesh:
One of our values, Jim, is called experimentation is okay with a tagline that says, you know, it’s okay to fail. So, being… As a business owner and leader, being able to tell your employees it’s okay to fail. Of course, you want to set parameters. Like, if there’s something that brings the business down, that’s a problem. But, you know, most often the mistakes that employees make are not egregious. Right?

Gia Ganesh:
So, how can these business owners tell employees it’s okay to make mistakes? That will build a level of trust that employees are then able to leverage and say, “Yeah, my manager’s okay when I fail. He did not fire me. He did not cut my bonus. He did not take away anything that I already have.”

Gia Ganesh:
So, simple things like that are important. And then, also, we didn’t touch upon this but being able to reward and recognize employees for what they’re doing is important aspect of bringing… Building that positive culture that we spoke about in the previous question.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Gia Ganesh:
But, also building that psychological safety because you must have seen this research and about 79% of employees leave companies because they don’t feel like they’re recognized for what they do. So, that’s important as well for them to say, “Yes, my manager values me, trusts me and recognizes me for what I bring to the table.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s so vitally important. There’s no question about it. And, I think you get different differing opinions on that when you talk to business leaders about recognizing those individuals that have excelled or stepped up or just been doing a great job all along. And, you know, I think now is the time that we’ve got to provide those pats on the back, although don’t touch their back because that’s not… That’s not correct these days.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
But… But, you know what I mean. To give that recognition to those individuals because you want to keep them. I mean, the employees that you have today are going to be the employees you would be looking for tomorrow if they left, so take good care of them. There’s no question about it. And, Gia Ganesh, I want to thank you so much for joining us here on The Atlanta Small Business Show. I know that our viewers and our small business owners and subscribers will get so much out of your visit. This has been fantastic. Love to have you back to do a follow-up and also touch on about 10 other questions that I’ve got for you right here. But, due to time, we couldn’t get to all of them. So, Gia Ganesh, vice-president of people and culture at Florence Healthcare. These guys are doing it right out there, so thank you.

Gia Ganesh:
Thank you so much, Jim, for the opportunity. Would love to come back.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’d be great. We’ll have you back. Thanks.


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