A Psychologist in the Valley

Change is a disruption to stability. It weakens one’s sense of psychological safety and the comfort associated with knowing what to expect.

I’ve been a Nerd for a long time, four and a half years and counting. Before that, I trained and worked as a Forensic Psychologist in San Francisco, working with clients who were transitioning from years of incarceration back into the community. I burnt out out after seven years of working within this system. It was a system I felt didn’t support the work I loved doing with my clients - empowering them to make positive changes in their lives and providing them with tools to cope with change. Unfortunately, our correctional system doesn’t work that way, but that’s a different blog for a different time.

NerdWallet was my first venture into the alluring world of startup life. While most of my time at NerdWallet has included a lot of ups, I’ve definitely experienced some downs, but what job doesn’t have some downs? In my years at NerdWallet, I’ve witnessed exciting growth, been a part of epic wins, and have enjoyed stability uncharacteristic of a startup. But, 2017 was a year of change at NerdWallet. As is often the case, change brought with it challenges, challenges our Nerds had never experienced. And, although, my previous job focused on helping people cope with drastic life changes, the challenges we faced in 2017, were new to me as an HR professional. I’m not going to lie, it was a tough year. Fortunately, a lot of “effort and struggle” in 2017 forced introspection, awareness, and an increased focus on workplace mental health at NerdWallet.

The concept of “psychological safety” in the workplace was one major thing that came out of this introspection and how it relates to the mental health of our employees. There is an inherent fear or dislike of change. Change is a disruption to stability, it weakens one’s sense of psychological safety and the comfort associated with knowing what to expect. It can also be a trigger for symptoms of mental illness. Having “psychological safety” is critical to our success as a company — to any company, really. It is essential that our Nerds do not operate from a place of fear of being punished when they make a mistake or don’t do a “good job,” as is often the feeling associated with diminished psychological safety. The changes in 2017 forced us to realize that re-establishing this safety was crucial.

But, how do you even approach this? Perhaps, more importantly, how do you convince others (who aren’t ex-psychologists) of its criticality? NerdWallet HR and leadership are committed to making the company a safe place by shining a spotlight on psychological safety. We’re re-cultivating a space where people can freely work and challenge each other without fear of punishment. We are committed to creating an environment where people feel safe, supported and can approach even the most disruptive events with resilience and perseverance.

NerdWallet has already started doing things to re-establish psychological safety. First, communication from our leadership team is an acknowledged area of growth, and through hard work, we’ve seen noticeable efforts made towards improvement. For example, we have created more feedback loops, more opportunities for Nerds to ask our Management Team Leaders (MTLs, aka, executive team) the hard questions, and more access to our C-Suite. In January 2018, we started running bi-monthly company engagement surveys to help leaders across the company keep a consistent pulse on their organizations.

Second, we’ve worked hard to actively create a sense of safety and support. We’ve created more training for managers on how to spot employees struggling with burnout or mental health issues, and how to provide support. We are educating our managers and employees about how to best utilize our rejuvenation policy (a.k.a. unlimited vacation) and when to take “self-care” days and are encouraging our managers to lead by example and prioritizing self-care while balancing workload and efficiency.

Finally, we are making efforts to provide more tangible resources to support those struggling with mental health issues. We have started partnering with Mindshare Partners and will be bringing them in to run a workshop to bring mental health awareness and tools for our employees. We are working on creating more “quiet spaces” in the office for people to reflect, regroup, or just to sit. We are investing in our Mindful Nerds group’s efforts in providing more mindfulness events and partnering with more groups like Mindshare Partners. Our goal is to create a space where our Nerds can be their best selves and do their best work.

Mental Health at Work

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