Founder – Greg Kentish Podcast

Our isolation expert, Greg Kentish recently joined Corinne Butler on the Advisor Adventures podcast to discuss the mental health issues related to COVID-19 isolation, as well as how to help your employees and yourself deal with this unprecedented situation using the HEART model. Here’s the transcript:

Sky Manson: 

This is Advisor Adventures, the podcast of Advisory Board Chair, who specialise in all things advisory boards — assessing, establishing, managing, mentoring and chairing high performance professional advisory boards. Your host Corinne Butler is the advisory board chair. Join her in series two as she discusses all things COVID operations. She’ll focus on COVID-19 and the impact on physical, emotional and mental health, as well as working from home and how businesses can survive this period of uncertainty. Today’s guest is Greg Kentish. He has Acacia Connections and shares with us today what an employee assistance program is, why you would access an EAP and what people can do to overcome their fear, anxiety and concerns. He also talks about how companies can support staff and the heart model. here’s your host, Corinne Butler.

Corinne Butler:  

Hi, I’m Corinne Butler, and I’m here for Advisor Adventures and this season’s called COVID operations. Today with me I’ve got Greg Kentish from Acacia Connections. Welcome, Greg. 

Greg Kentish:

Morning Corinne. 

Corinne Butler:  

How are you? 

Greg Kentish:

I’m well thank you. It’s been a — it’s been an interesting few weeks, hasn’t it?

Corinne Butler:  

Oh look it certainly has. So, tell me about how it’s been in your world?

Greg Kentish:

It’s been quite a surprise, I guess when you think about it. This all happened very suddenly. It was sort of happening overseas and we were sort of watching it from afar, weren’t we? And then now it’s pretty much on our doorstep. And we’ve needed to respond really quickly. And I think all Australians could probably relate to that. 

Corinne Butler:  

Absolutely agree. So Greg, you’ve got an organisation called Acacia Connections. Tell me what you do. 

Greg Kentish:

We provide free counselling to employees of companies who are signed up with an Employee Assistance Program with us. And we also have an Acacia psychology business as well, which provides psychological sessions to Australians in addition to companies as well. 

Corinne Butler:  

So, a lot of people would have heard of EAP, or Employee Assistance Programs before, but what is it, like what’s the purpose of it? How can they help us? 

Greg Kentish:

So, it’s essentially an Employee Benefit really, provided by employers for their employees to reach out anytime they would need to, to seek psychological help or support across, you know, many and various topic areas from depression, anxiety, stress, domestic violence, addictions. So, it really covers a really broad spectrum of issues that employees may face in their lives. So even prior to this COVID-19 situation, we found many employees across the country that we provide services to really struggling genuinely with the stress of life anxiety, depression’s very high, and right across that spectrum of supports that we provide to over half a million Australians. 

Corinne Butler:  

So, with everything that’s happened recently, what are you actually seeing happen in the EAP space? 

Greg Kentish:

Yeah, so what we’ve seen across our, I guess, customer cohort, we have worked with multiple different industries and companies, there’s been a major shock phase for everybody. And really a lot of gathering and getting everyone organised to work from home, you know, shutting down of offices, it’s all happened very quickly. And, you know, these teams that we had working in buildings and warehouses and offices together are now no longer doing this. They’re sitting in their, you know, their made-up workspaces at home. So, there’s been, it’s been a very much a very quick shock phase that everyone’s kind of in, you know, getting everything organised, sort of being industrious and getting themselves set up at home, which I think is you know, for a lot of companies, are sort of pretty much starting to settle now. 

So the coming sort of weeks will be, we’ll see some of those more issues come out from people because they’re over this initial shock phase? We’re seeing a lot more stress and anxiety. The biggest thing I think is that sort fear that comes out of, you know, a lot of the media coverage, I mean, it’s 24/7 isn’t it, you don’t have to look at the TV for long to see some of the fear and anxiety that’s being created for what you’re seeing happening around the world as well. The other thing that we’re seeing a lot of now is commencement of the isolation of people being away from their work, fellow workmates and needing to just work in isolation, which, you know, as humans, we’re wired for connection with others. So, I know people are really struggling with this isolation – the isolation effect… The impact that we’re seeing as well is it’s more psychological than physical. So, we haven’t had people you know, sort of sitting at home for long periods of time yet so the psychological impact at the moment is definitely at the forefront. 

Corinne Butler:  

So Greg, what can people then do to overcome this fear, this anxiety, this shock and then, now moving into isolation. What advice would you give to everyone? 

Greg Kentish:

Yeah, look, it’s, different states are different in terms of getting out and exercising and that sort of thing. But I would really encourage people where you can to do some sort of level of exercise where you’re getting your heart rate up. There’s some really creative things people are doing in their garages and homes. Most places have large parks generally, hopefully close by, where you can get out and do some level of exercise. I’ve been really pleased in about two, three weeks ago, I’d take my dog for a five-kilometre walk every day and there was virtually hardly anyone around the parks that we’ve got near our house, but when I went out this morning, there’s a lot of people — probably four times what I would normally see on my walk with my dog. So, I think getting out is crucially important. Obviously, staying away from people and keeping the social distancing requirements, but doing some level of exercises where you can get your heart rate up is incredibly valuable for kind of cleaning out your systems. If you can’t get out, the other way to manage stress is through practising some mindfulness. There’s a really good app called Calm — C.A.L.M — it’s free and you can essentially practise mindfulness in your home and learn it yourself, and that’s a really good way. And we teach companies to do that. Even, you know, when this situation is not, not sort of facing people. 

So, practising that mindfulness and calming yourself down and getting yourself, you know, allowing yourself to be sort of free of thoughts is a really good thing to do. I think managing anxiety is another one. Trying to be present of what you’re experiencing in the moment and learning how to try and deal with that. In terms of anxiety, it was, you know, a significant impact prior to this — it’s going to be worse I think, in time, but really getting some help for it, I think is really crucial. And the other thing is just talking, and you know, venting with people that you can because that helps to release pent-up energy. So, I think it’s important to be mindful not to push our wishes onto other people who might be struggling, but to find those people in our network where we can talk and share things and just sort of get things off our chest without sort of burdening people without sort of challenges. So, I think there’s probably some good strategies.

Corinne Butler:  

And I can definitely recommend Calm as well. I know that I put a sleep story on each night for my daughter, and she goes to sleep each night listening to something very calm for all ages it’s applicable for.

Greg Kentish:

most definitely. Yep.

Corinne Butler:  

So, another question, how can companies send support themselves? we’ve talked a little bit about what we can do, what can companies and business owners do for their staff and their team?

Greg Kentish:

Yeah look, there was a really good article that just came out by Harvard Business Review and it was directed towards customers, but I actually think it’s equally as important for our companies and teams. It’s a crisis communication model called Heart — H.E.A.R.T — and there’s four areas of it; the first one is Humanise your company. The second one is Educate about change. Third one is Assure stability. Fourth is Revolutionise offerings. And the fifth one is Tackle the future. So, I think if we look at those, each of those individually, from a human eyes perspective, I think ensuring support is available for your employees because they’re going to be more distant to the businesses than ever before. So, I think employee assistance programs are certainly more important now than ever before. The other thing is, owners and leaders are going to be really focused on the job and business survival as a whole, but each employee of yours is going to be worried about their job and their future. So, I think connecting with your people where you can is a really great step to, you know, I plan to call all of my employees next week personally and have a chat with them. I haven’t been able to in the last few weeks, but just to you know, check-in and say hello, even if you don’t often connect with your employees, I think they will really appreciate that. 

I think also on the humanistic side is not sort of sloganising things too much. Just be real and honest with people, it’s okay to say that you’re struggling as well, it shows your human side. And it has to be real, of course. But I think if none of us are struggling, we’re really not living this situation. So, I think that’s a really good, good tip there. And depending on your size, like I said, try and find a way to connect with your people. And you know, it doesn’t, it can only be a short five or 10-minute phone call, and if you’ve got a large company, then you might have some senior leaders help you with that. But I think that’s a good start to kind of that first step of humanising.

Corinne Butler:  

The one thing I’ve been doing with each of my staff is actually asking them to rate themselves out of ten, so every day I get that personal score, and you can see how it, you know, increases and decreases and then just what I can do to help them but you know, humanising on it, and I give my score as well because then they can actually see that it’s impacting on everyone and it’s okay to have some good days and some not so good. 

Greg Kentish:

That’s excellent. So, the second one is educate about change in the Heart model, and communicate more and more often. So, I think it’s really critical to spell out to your people the steps that you’re taking. So, communicating regularly with leaders, and also asking them to communicate with people, which I think is really important about this, at this time, so even more kind of communication than you would normally have in the past and keeping people up to speed with what’s happening. I think, you know, we know there’s fear and anxiety out there in the community. And that’s the last thing we want inside our companies, because these people are now working from home, they’re heavily isolated. So, having that regular communication is critical. 

Try and shut down unhelpful gossip that you might hear going around your company about, you know, redundancies, or those sorts of things, you know, encourage leaders to be on top of that, because it just creates more fear and panic in anyone’s mind. And quite often, employees aren’t going to kind of share that with you. They’ll often just keep that to themselves and panic more and kind of end up in a frozen state and not be able to work. So, I think that’s important and just communicate regularly, have online meetings have the email, or the company email communication with people. So, they’ve got this nice mixture of the video sessions, and email communication. So that’s sort of my tips on that educate piece. 

Corinne Butler:  

Absolutely agree. 

Greg Kentish:

Then ensuring stability, I think that’s really important. You know, assure them that your core values of your company is still strong, and to stay focused on that. And I think that’s what brings us back to the heart of our business. And you know, why we’re all here. I mean, the different kinds of industries that we’re working in So I think, you know, bringing everyone back to those kind of core values is a nice way to keep everyone focused around what you’re focusing on and, and to remind them even though we know we’re working in disparate places now and most working from home, that we can still stay focused on what our goals are and what we’re going to achieve and then assuring them that the steps you’re taking, they are Difficult, then they’re not quick and easy decisions that you’re making. But they’re actually made to help us get through to the other side of this so that companies can survive it and get through it.

Corinne Butler:  

I think you said right there, if you can link back the values to the purpose and really, people’s passion, you can see some amazing things and amazing results.

Greg Kentish:

Yes. And then the next one is revolutionise your offerings. Now, I think this is, you know, from an internal perspective, it comes down to thinking about what you can offer yourself to assist. So, some roles that used to be — and we’ve talked to many clients this week, and there’s people that were doing particular jobs that are shut down, whether it’s conferences or something, and now they’re doing another part of the business answering phone calls. So, you’re going to find that your employees are going to have to be nimble, they’re going to have to change and get deployed to other parts of the business. And I think this is good for the future because it teaches our leaders and our people that you know, we actually can be nimble, but being able to do that in a way that kind of works for the business at the time. You know, one of our clients this week had a great idea that I set up an air Tasker in Yammer, where if a department was struggling — because you know, people have lost resources in certain teams — they could just put a task up on Yammer for other teams that might have a bit of quiet time where they can help and that’s a really great creative idea for someone to do that. And I think the other thing around the offerings and revolutionising what we do is teaching teams that some projects and solution-focused tasks just may not be a priority right now. Mission-critical projects should only be the ones we’re focusing on. Get back to keep the core business operating so it can survive through this and I think there’s some good ways to revolutionise what we’re doing. 

Corinne Butler:  

Absolutely agree. I think that the word of the year is pivot, isn’t it? And that’s really about revolutionising our offerings and to ensure our business is there at the end. 

Greg Kentish:

Yeah, definitely. And then the last one is tackle the future. So I think this is really important. We don’t know when, you know, this is going to come to an end. So I think it’s now important for leaders to start and think and plan for the future so that it’s going to come to us at some point in time in the next 3,6,9 months. But we need to start thinking about how we can come out of that in a strong way. You know, there’s been employee losses on most companies, we know that how to restart quickly and efficiently, because it might come back quicker than you kind of think. So I think it’s important to start thinking about the future. And we might need to review that, that attack on the future planning more than once. And I think the leaders and business owners, you know, that future organisations, that’s a really bright look for where we can come out of this in a positive way, as opposed to focusing on where things might be at, at the moment.

Corinne Butler:  

I absolutely agree with you. You’ve touched a couple of times on leaders and business owners — what’s your advice to them and how they look after themselves? Because often they’re so busy making sure everyone else is okay. How do they actually make sure they’re okay?

Greg Kentish:

I think it’s the same sort of tips that I talked about before in terms of looking after themselves. You know, managing things like stress and anxiety and having that, that chance where you can get away to look after your own, how you’re feeling about it, you know, reaching out for support. We are actually offering free psychological sessions through our Acacia Psychology business for people and you can get a mental healthcare plan. I mean, this is a fantastic thing that’s available now is that you can you know, telehealth has been forced upon Australia and in a really good way, I think because any Australian right now can go to their GP, do a telehealth mental health care plan over the phone, and then go and get support for that, of course via telehealth and it’s quick and easy. And, you know, those are the barriers that used to exist before are not there. 

So I think business owners are really under more pressure than anyone. Certainly, employees are about their job and business owners are, you know, driving the ship and really, under that sort of requirements to kind of keep the thing going and get through the other side. So there’s absolutely a lot of stress and anxiety and pressure on them. But I think getting external help is really tough and important to do because as a business owner, often there’s no one else to go to, you know. Employees can go to their leaders, leaders can go to them, to business owners and senior people, but as business owners, there’s very little that we can do, other than try and get some external support and it is definitely readily available at the moment.

Corinne Butler:  

Greg, what else would you like us to know?

Greg Kentish:

I don’t know. I think we’ve really just got to try and stay positive. It is extremely difficult I think in this time to for us to do so I think staying positive and kind of future-focussed that there is a future where this thing will be over. We don’t know when that is but it will, things will come back and eventually come back to normal. And it’s I think it’s important for us to kind of look after ourselves and make sure that our mental health isn’t, is in really good shape, because that’s the one thing — if we sort of decline in mental health, we’re really going to struggle and then our people will struggle, our business will struggle. So I think that’s kind of the most critical thing is, you know, looking after — from a business owner perspective, looking after how you’re doing it this time, and seeking out and getting help, which is readily available.

Corinne Butler:  

So Greg, just in summary, I really appreciate you letting us know what EAP is and how we shouldn’t have a stigma around that. Um, what we can do to overcome our concern, so talk to people, be mindful, get our heart rate up, how we can — companies can actually support staff, I love the Heart. I think that’s fantastic. So Humanise, Educate, Assure stability, Revolutionise offering and Tackle the future. And then really just make sure that you know, we all look after ourselves, whoever we are, whatever our role is, stay positive and look after ourselves. So Greg, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate that.

Greg Kentish:

You’re very welcome and it’s been great catching up with you Corinne.

Sky Manson:

Join the Advisory Board Chair community and the conversation at Facebook, at Advisory Board Chair and on LinkedIn. Advisor Adventures is the podcast of the Advisory Board Chair. advisoryboardchair.com.au. This is a Cahoots Radio production edited by me, Sky Manson, and hosted by Corinne Butler. Let us know your favourite news stories for the week on email at corinne@advisoryboardchair.com.au and thanks for listening to Advisor Adventures.

As you can see, there are many mental health concerns that people can experience as a result of health fears or isolation. People can respond to these in a number of ways, such as using mindfulness meditation and the Calm app. Company and business leaders can also help their staff cope by using the same techniques, as well as the HEART model to Humanise, Educate, Assure stability, Revolutionise offering and Tackle the future. An EAP is still an extremely valuable tool during this trying time, so if you’d like to assure the wellbeing of your staff, contact Acacia Connection 24/7 on 1300 364 273 or by clicking here.

"The safety and wellbeing of our clients and staff is always our top priority. Acacia EAP is currently operating under normal conditions. Due to the pandemic status of COVID-19, some locations may move from face-to-face counselling to secure video or phone. All counselling services are able to be provided 24/7, as always. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and act quickly on the advice of health authorities."