June 17, 2021

Wellbeing and Mental Health with the CEO and Founder of Bossed Up, Emilie Aries

Dana Safa

1Huddle Podcast Episode #44

On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Emilie Aries, the CEO and Founder of Bossed Up, Keynote Speaker, Podcast Host of Bossed Up, Leadership Coach, and Author of  “Bossed Up: A Grown Woman’s Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together.” Emilie has been tackling burnout head-on after years of experience working in the Washington, D.C. legislative industry. When she left, she decided to create a space to encourage self-advocacy and founded her company. 

Emily now works with leaders at Fortune 500 companies to support employee retention, diversity and inclusion and human resource initiatives. She works with companies like Facebook, American Express, FMC, Wintrust, Capital One, Hilton, and a ton of others being featured in media outlets, including The Washington Post, CNN money, Buzzfeed, NBC News Denver, ABC 7 Washington, and more. 

On this episode of Bring It In season two, Emilie sat down with 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci and talked about how to look out for wellbeing and mental health as well as important and necessary next steps that should be taken by the government.


Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. 

TOP 3 HIGHLIGHTS

Below are some of the insights Emilie shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “There’s a fine balance to owning your power and taking charge.”
  • “It’s really important we create a culture of psychological safety.”
  • “Failure is inevitable on the road to success.”

FULL TRANSCRIPTION

Sam: I bet you’re doing a little bit more work on this concept of burnout right now, I have a feeling. 

Emilie: Yeah. Nothing like a global pandemic to make burnout especially relevant, right? I think it’s really hit working parents especially hard. In the past year, so many millions of Americans have exited the workforce altogether. It’s about 2.5 million women, and 1.8 million men, you know, have just dropped out or stepped back in no small part due to the fact that our public school infrastructure has just not been able to really function in the way it’s supposed to. So it’s been a really challenging time, not just in the midst of trying to navigate the juggle of virtual schooling and maybe keeping your career afloat, but also just the massive layoffs that have impacted so many Americans. Really reminds us that, you know, some things are bigger than all of us. And I wouldn’t say I struggle with it, but in my line of work, there’s a fine balance to be found between owning your power, you know, taking charge and also acknowledging when there are systemic forces at play that make it really hard for anybody, to advocate for the best that they can be right now. So it’s been a tough time, but the smartest leaders that I work with, the smartest organizations that I work with are taking a very empathic humanist approach to investing in emotionally intelligent strategies and creating psychological safety for their people during what has been a very chronically stressful period of time, where we’re all up against uncertainty. We’re all up against chronic stress and burnout is really symptomatic of our rapidly accelerating world, but also just a part of the consequences that come from chronic stress.

Sam: May is mental health awareness month coming up. Are there any specific actions, systems, processes that you see or recommend often to business leaders who care about this topic, but maybe don’t know where to start? 

Emilie: Totally. Yeah, that’s such an important question, Sam. So first it’s important to note what burnout really is and what it isn’t because we use it very casually in colloquial conversation, almost interchangeably with like exhaustion, but burnout is classified, by the WHO, the World Health Organization as a state of chronic stress that is indicated by its corresponding symptoms. Three of them in particular: physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, which is ironic because your hardest working, most engaged employees, all of a sudden feel like it doesn’t matter how hard I work. It doesn’t even matter if I put my all into this anymore, I’m no longer feeling like I have any control over the outcome. And then finally, feelings of ineffectiveness and just a lack of accomplishment altogether. So even in the face of evidence to the contrary, like your mile long to-do list that’s half crossed off by the end of the week, you’re only focused on the half that hasn’t been tackled yet, that ever sort of bottomless pit of our inboxes that leaves us all feeling like we can’t get our heads above water. And so burnout is interestingly classified as a global workforce phenomenon, but has been shy of hitting any actual clinically diagnosable condition. So unlike depression or anxiety disorders, you can’t get a prescription for burnout. You can’t even get a doctor’s note saying I diagnose you with burnout. Instead it’s much more amorphous, a little more wishy-washy. And in that way, it’s actually more difficult to solve, even though it does often lead to more serious and chronic issues like anxiety and depression, in some ways it’s easier to turn around. I really believe we live in a burnout culture that has normalized and really created a mainstream work culture that, you know, values the martyr. That thinks of a lack of sleep and overwork and putting in those, you know, early mornings and late nights and weekends as a badge of honor and smart companies start by first having courageous conversations about how that has a short-term potentially positive impact, but a long term consequence that we need to acknowledge first and foremost.

Sam: Yeah, I’ve never thought to look up the true definition of burnout, but it’s interesting and you’re right, so many, especially during the pandemic. And I felt that as a startup CEO, and I know a lot of companies I’ve talked to feel the same, it was this immediate reaction to, you know, communicate more. It had almost like a diminishing return. Just kind of felt like we got to just keep getting more Zooms, more calls, more emails, more talking. We just have to keep doing more and more. And then, you know, kind of like May, June came around and like something feels off. 

Emilie: Yeah. I mean, nobody wants to go to your virtual happy hour anymore, right? There is a point of diminishing returns and, you know, it’s really important that we create a culture of psychological safety, which is that feeling and perception that you can make mistakes. You can stumble, you can be a fallible human who’s having a bad day and still recover, right? And not be on the chopping block. I think so many of us were running on adrenaline in those early months. I know I was. I had a small business pivot to navigate and that massive amount of uncertainty, you know, looking back on now I can smile and say, wow, my team did an amazing job, but it didn’t feel like the light was at the end of the tunnel for a lot of those dark months last year. And I was lucky to not have a personal experience with COVID. So I can only imagine having a preschooler at home, a sick parent to care for, someone you love in the hospital, you know, fighting for their life, on top of trying to navigate new and ever, constantly changing expectations at work. We have to not lose sight of our basic human needs, right? So the companies that I work with acknowledge that burnout has four root causes. A lack of agency, feeling like I don’t have any control, which in a pandemic, I think all of us got a healthy dose of that. A lack of rest. Sounds pretty straightforward, but I like to think about rest on a nightly basis, on a weekly basis, on a yearly basis, when am I creating space to really detach and recharge and renew. And not just in a passive way, this isn’t just about mani-pedis and face masks and beaches. This is sometimes about active rest. Like playing music or engaging in something that gets your brain in that, you know, active Zen mode that’s really refreshing and engaging and exciting, but not work. And then the last two are a lack of purpose. Why should I care about selling insurance right now? You know, why should I care about making more widgets to line my executives pockets right now? Aren’t there bigger things to worry about? A lot of people have come through my doors in the past year because this was a wake-up call and a little bit of an existential crisis. And then finally, a lack of community. For an extrovert like me, who used to spend half my time on the road, speaking at conferences, shaking hands, and signing books, woo, this past year has been a weird one. And so finding ways to create meaningful relationships and sustain those meaningful relationships has been really challenging this year.

So smart companies are looking to address all four of those. Encouraging rest, empowering people to actually have more control and agency over how they do their work and when they do their work. Purpose: reminding us of why this company exists, and no it’s not just to create profit, that’s a part of it, but what’s our bigger why. And community, if it’s not a virtual happy hour, it’s gotta be something right? What can we be doing to simply stay in touch with each other? 

Sam: How does burnout from your work and what you’ve seen impact different, maybe industries or job job roles, disproportionately? I mean, I’d assume that, yeah today, and I don’t want to lead you here, but I think that obviously inequities exist today in the workforce. Certain groups get access to different things than others. And I would assume there’s gotta be a burnout impact. 

Emilie: Definitely. It’s hard to measure, right? But an intersectional approach to this work is really important. Just acknowledging that stress impacts different people differently is the first step to getting there, right. When I talk to audiences, I talk a lot about understanding, how gender, age, class, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, all of those things intersect and create environments that feel more safe for some people than others, right? So we can look at white supremacy in our nation overall and say, yeah, this nation, generally speaking, is a little safer for white folks. For young women on Wall Street, right? Looking around the boardrooms at the trading floor and not seeing a lot of other young women. Although those numbers are changing, right? Not necessarily seeing women in positions of power has an impact, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether it’s explicit or implicit, we know that, oh we’re not really welcome here, we’re not really feeling belonging. And so unless the organizations are taking their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts seriously to really create a sense of belonging, you know, encounter the age old sort of demographic shifts that we’ve seen in our nation and status quo is the better word for it, that we’ve seen historically, that some folks feel more stressed than others.

A really important word to understand as it relates to stress is the term microaggression. A microaggression, it’s a little bit of a misnomer, because they add up to be not so small after all, despite the part of the word micro there. But microaggressions are those every day inequities, every day subtle ways in which people are reminded that they don’t belong. Like I was just on a call with a community member of ours, Ngozi and Ngozi has a name that’s hard to pronounce that I haven’t heard too many times before. And every time I accidentally mispronounce a person of color’s name, I’m perpetuating a microaggression, whether there was any malintent there or not, doesn’t really matter.

So those many moments that remind people every day, you know, that you’re different, that you don’t belong, that you’re maybe an outsider, those things add up kind of like mosquito bites, right? They seem small and innocuous when you only get bitten every now and then, but if simply going to the store, means watching people clutch their purse, as you walk by, or means watching police officers stare at you in a different way with a little more intensity than they might stare at others, those things add up and they chip away at your sense of basic safety. And those are stressful moments. So knowing that some people experience more microaggressions than others is a really important way to think about stress and how it accumulates way more for some members of our society and some members of our world than others. 

Sam: I have to ask you Emilie, about, just given your experience in D.C. and in government, last night, President Biden made his pitch on what is infrastructure. And I find this interesting because I think that infrastructure is a lot more than just bridges and tunnels today. There’s definitely a human infrastructure that we need to address to make work, you know, you said future proof earlier. I would love to get your perspective loosely on, you know, the concept of infrastructure, the role of government, what can we be doing better? 

Emilie: Yeah. Well, such a great question. And then there’s actually some really great examples happening in states around our nation that I’d like to see replicated on the federal level. Now to be clear, I haven’t been in government for a while now, so I’m a decade out from my career in politics, but here’s what I can tell you as someone who is still very active as an activist in my spare time.

Here in the state of Colorado, that I’m now proud to call home in Denver. Last election cycle, last November, our voters became the first in the nation to pass paid family leave as a state-funded insurance. program via the ballot. So ballot initiatives are notoriously hard to get people to vote for because it always involves raising taxes and everyone in their right mind says, no, thank you, not interested in paying more in taxes. And yet an overwhelming majority of Coloradans said, hell yes, sign me up, I will chip in more. if we can have a state funded infrastructure of care. 

And I think Ann-Marie Slaughter put it best in her book, Unfinished Business. She said, hey, we had women enter the workforce in mass, and we leaned in, we did our part. And then nobody was around to do the rest of the job that women had historically been predominantly doing and continue to predominantly do, which is raising the future society that we hope to continue. So those infrastructure elements are like an infrastructure of care, right? Better affordable childcare. I’m talking about pre-kindergarten, right? And more affordable avenues for qualified, well-paid by the way, childcare workers and paid family leave. We’re the only developed nation that doesn’t have any guaranteed paid family leave. It’s bizarre. It’s a serious anomaly, we have to figure out. Those two things impact so many millions of workers who are just on their own, trying to figure it out. That is a big part of infrastructure that will make advancing our full potential as both men and women and everyone in between, a real possibility. So that’s a huge part of the family’s plan of child and family support and pre-K that we really need to shore up as a country. 

The other thing I’ll say that is interesting, that Colorado has done really, really well here that impacts my clients, especially job seekers every day, is making sure that companies are doing their part to be transparent when it comes to pay. So here in Colorado, January 1st, this past year, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act went into effect that mandates that whenever a job posting is shared, whenever a job description is published, the employer should really share the pay range, whether it’s an hourly or annual salary that’s on the employer to state: here’s what we’ve budgeted for this position. And to be fair, we’re still holding companies accountable here who continue to violate that law, but that would be a really smart way to support basic fairness when it comes to how people are compensated. Right? That, in addition to things like increasing the basic minimum wage, which is long overdue, I think we need to simply level the playing field and make sure that when employers are asking employees “How much are you expecting to make at this company?”. It’s as silly as if you were to bring an item to the checkout counter at Target and be asked, “How much would you pay for this delightful object you want to bring home?”It’s absurd. And what that actually does is it means that people of color and women who have been disproportionately underpaid for eons, are more likely to state a lower number and perpetuate those historic wage gaps. So I want to see infrastructure improvements around basics like childcare and paid family leave. But I also want to see us really level the playing field when it comes to how employers offer job opportunities and what benefits and what clarity and transparency job seekers should and can expect, in what is the greatest nation on earth. So I think we need to live up to that promise our founding fathers made and we’ve got more work to do. 

Sam: Yeah. That’s a great point. It’s even like, you know, when you start going down the path of minimum wage, and we won’t do that cause we’ll need much longer, but it’s this perspective that a worker shows up clocks in and then leaves everything personal, you know, in their locker and then picks up when they leave, you know, talk about employee engagement with leaders. And the reality is the things that impact you off the job you carry into the job. So that’s why we should be churning ourselves. 

Emilie: Totally. My mom is a labor and delivery nurse. She’s still to this day in her sixties and works 12 hour shifts. And she always joked when she was raising myself and my three siblings with my dad, you know, she always joked, I need a wife. Like how do we make this work without a wife at home? And I think there’s this term in the research called the ideal worker and you know, our workforce, Henry Ford back in the day, and the optimization of our workforce has this hidden assumption that there’s someone at home making dinner and taking care of the kids. And that’s the only reason a 9-5 schedule supposedly works for anybody. And it’s just not the norm today. So this ideal worker myth that our modern workforce is based off of is antiquated and smart employers have already evolved a long time ago, but I think, you know, it hasn’t become a norm globally. It hasn’t become a norm nationally. And so we need to think about agency and giving people flexibility as a prerequisite for engaging talent long-term.

Sam: As a small or mid-size business owner, what are the recommendations or advice you can give to me? I want to be more active in the community. I want to find ways to nudge, elected officials to do the right stuff. What are the things I can do right away? 

Emilie: Well, it’s a great question. I actually produced a podcast episode all about that. I’ll send it your way after our show, talking about how to get more involved in activism and a friend of mine, Tammy Tibbetts, co-authored a book called Impact last year. That is such a great step-by-step primer. If you want to get more involved as an activist, as an advocate and really being realistic with your time, you know, like we’re busy business owners. We don’t have that much time necessarily to donate or funds, like that’s not the only way to contribute, but I think our government needs to hear from small business owners, especially because we make up half the jobs in this country, right? So, I highly recommend checking out the book Impact to get a good step-by-step strategy for, you know, sustainably contributing to the causes you care most about. The other best practice that I’ve found a lot of success in is joining small business groups that share your values. For me, that means not the chamber of commerce, right? Like there are alternatives that take a different approach. So as a progressive small business owner, I still care about, you know, being efficient with my taxes and all of that savvy business owner stuff. But I care a lot about social good. And progressive social causes, and there are lots of us who occupy that space. So I’ve found a lot of camaraderie in groups like Small Business Majority, which is a nationwide group that has branches and chapters in lots of different states, advocating on the state level for progressive causes that business owners can really get behind. Here in Colorado, I’ve also been a part of another group of Colorado small business owners who advocated for paid family leave and helped the task forces think about the ramifications for micro businesses, right? I’ve got four full-time staff members. How am I supposed to pay for their family leave? What are the practical day-to-day realities? And they need to hear from folks like us as they create the policy that will actually work on the ground because lawmakers aren’t always small business owners, right? I’m also a real estate investor here. My husband and I fix and flip houses and then rent them out to our tenants. And I think there’s a good way to be a landlady. I think there’s a bad way to be a landlady too, but I have advocated regularly by testifying in the state house for tenants rights and as a landlady advocating for tenants rights, my friends who are professional full-time advocates on the Hill or on The Capitol Hill here in Denver, are thrilled to have me contribute my voice and my philosophy and my approach and say, “Actually, you know what, I can still have a great business model as a real estate investor without having the ability to kick my tenants out with three day notice”, I think that’s a little extreme. So, you know, there’s so many ways to get involved and I really want for all small business owners to have the space in our lives to make sure that we’re being heard in government too, because we are such an important part of what makes our country work. 

Sam: Emilie, this has been great. I love the title of your business, Boss Up, it’s sticky, it’s catchy. If folks want to follow you or follow up, where can they find you? 

Emilie: Great question, Sam. Thanks again for having me. Bossed Up is the name of my podcast. We released episodes twice a week, really practical tactical strategies for stepping up as the boss of your career in life. Bossedup.com has tons more free resources, especially for job seekers and those who want to level up their leadership and get to the next level in their career and my book, Bossed Up: A Grown Woman’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together, which chronicles my story and dozens of women in our community who’ve similarly, bossed up is out in paperback form May 4th. So, that’s another place to check it out. 

Sam: Congrats again Emilie. Thanks for joining us.

Emilie: Thanks again, Sam. It’s been great.

Topics Discussed: Mental Health, Burnout, Equity, Family Support, Minorities, Pay Gap

Dana Safa, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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