Fixing employee burnout requires an empathetic culture. Here’s why.

Wellbeing expert and burnout survivor Amy Johnston shared her secrets to launching a successful workplace wellbeing program.

After spending five years working a stressful job overseas, Amy Johnston, clinical director of Urban Wellness, had to fight her way back to her healthier self. Along the way, she found a new mission: helping others do the same.

“Paying attention, being more mindful and not being on autopilot like I was in before, is really important,” said Johnston. Now, she specializes in burnout and launched her company’s Wellbeing at Work program over two years ago. “All different types of industries hire us to come out and do training and support around mental health in the workplace,” she said.

Ahead of her session at Ragan’s upcoming Employee Communications and Culture Conference, we spoke with Johnston to learn how she spearheaded her organization’s external wellbeing program and what she needed to do to succeed.

How did you determine what these companies needed in a wellbeing program?

Johnston: I get to know the leadership and the stakeholders as individual human people. We have an assessment that some of our clients use so that we can see what’s really going on in terms of burnout, stress, stigma, trust, connection and coping. Based on that assessment, we decide where we need to put our efforts.

Sometimes, the stigma of even talking about mental health at work is so high that it’s where we must first address our issues. There’s no point in bringing in programming for people to talk about how they’re doing if people are afraid to talk about how they’re doing.

What advice would you give another leader who wants to start a wellbeing program at their organization?

It takes much longer than you expect to build a viable program. Relationship building is absolutely the most important piece for me whenever I’m trying to build a new program or launching a new initiative.
No matter what kind of program it is, you need to get buy-in and support. Whether it’s an internal program, where you really need your internal stakeholders to be excited and understand what’s happening, or something you’re trying to launch externally, nothing that I’ve done has been successful without [support from key stakeholders.]

What do you see for your future?

We’ve just signed a contract with the New York State Bar Association to provide a series of training for lawyers on wellbeing, which is huge. There are 400,000 lawyers in the New York State Bar Association. We’ll be working with a lot of them, and the intention is really to build community and connection and relationships.

We’re also thinking a lot about small businesses. They don’t necessarily have the ability to invest in full-time wellbeing directors. Even some of the bigger programs we offer are out of their budget. [We’re exploring] developing a co-op for small businesses where they could share resources. [We’re] thinking about how to diversify what we’re doing to be able to be more accessible to organizations that want this mental health and wellbeing aspect but can’t afford what some of the bigger corporations can do.
You’ve experienced burnout before.

What are some things you do to keep yourself grounded?

I became intentional about slowing down, reintroducing self-care, getting back into yoga, being outside and being mindful. I took some time to really slow down and pay attention to [myself.] Getting back into therapy myself and having somebody to talk through those things with was helpful.
I really love my job and I’m high energy now and I enjoy it, but I can still get caught up in that in a way where I don’t want to pay enough attention to my kid’s baseball practice or whatever else is going on. It’s a constant balancing act.

Join Johnston at Ragan’s Employee Communications and Culture Conference, which goes down April 25-27. Johnston will speak alongside communications leaders from Kraft Heinz, US Bank, Motorola, Shutterfly and more.

Isis Simpson-Mersha is a conference producer/ reporter for Ragan. Follow her on LinkedIn.


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