The Top Mental Health Skills We Could All Use

Focusing on mental health in the workplace is becoming more and more of a priority for organizations and our people and our company bottom lines are benefiting greatly from this focus. As People Leaders and HR professionals, I think there’s been a gap in our skills training to really know how to best navigate this new world of work and that’s where this episode of the podcast comes in to help fill that gap.

In this first episode of the season, I’m going to share with you the top mental health skills we could all use to be our best selves at work and encourage brilliance in those around us as well.

This is also a special episode for another reason – it will kick off this extra-special season of the podcast with a focus on SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, and SHRM’s upcoming conference in June of 2022 in New Orleans, LA. The rest of the season will introduce you to conference organizers, leading researchers and ten of the conference speakers, all sharing their brilliant and action-inducing thoughts around the mental health skills we all need to be successful.

This is season five of the podcast and with this season, I’ve changed the focus – from only focusing on helping you find the words, space and opportunity to have mental health conversations at work, to also focusing on you as the fabulous leader you are. This episode, and all the ones following, will give you the mental health skills you need to be successful in your role in your workplace but more importantly, to be successful in your other roles too – as family members, friends, community members and all the other roles you play in your life. We’re going to focus on your mental health so you can learn and live these new skills out loud, encouraging others to also take care of their mental health.

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Mentioned In This Episode:




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You are a People Leader or a HR professional, working hard to create an amazing employee experience for your team and your organization. But between the operational tasks of your job, managing emotions and politics both up and down the corporate ladder, and trying to find some semblance of work/life integration in your own life, I suspect you could be overwhelmed and burnt-out. Even the thought of navigating the complicated world of mental health at work probably seems like too much to handle. Let this podcast can be your not-so-secret weapon to help fix that! 

I am your host, Lindsay Recknell, and my mission is to help great leaders like you feel less awkward and more confident talking about mental health at work so you can stress less, take more action and continue to make a valuable difference in your job as a leader, positively impacting the lives of your people. I’ll be bringing you the experts, insights and actions that will give you the skills you need to navigate mental health in the workplace and foster a workplace where everyone’s mental health can thrive.  

Before we get started, I want your time to be valuable here so in order to get the most from this podcast, head to my website at and download the Guide to Influence & Impact at Work which has the step-by-step action plan you’ll need to embed a focus on mental health into the employee experience of your workplace. It’s totally free and will give you the start to your action plan – steps to follow to create engagement, build a budget and a method to measure the value, influence and impact you’ll be making as you lead this transformational change in your organization.  

We haven’t been taught the mental health skills we need to truly lead our organizations into the future so let this Guide and podcast be the advantage you need to elevate your career, your leadership skills and the positive impact you’ll bring to your organization. Head to and download the free Guide to Influence & Impact at Work now. The opportunity is yours and I can’t wait to see what you’ll do!  

Okay welcome back. So, to kick off this relaunched podcast and new season, I’d like to start by sharing why we did a rebrand, name changes of all the things and how I’m anticipating that to really benefit you in your careers and most importantly in your lives. I think there’s been a gap in our education as leaders, something we’ve been missing that’s held us back from being as successful as we could be in really showing up as our best selves in our careers. The evolution of leadership training over the past 20 years or so has put more of a focus on work/life balance, innovation and looking at performance from different perspectives but the policies, governance and really, the way we approach our work hasn’t kept up to the pretty words we hear about what to do.  

This podcast is intended to fill that gap. As people leaders and HR professionals, you’re told all the time that you need to do this and support these people and influence this senior leader and so on but how the heck do you do that? I believe we’ve never been taught the skills that we need to really do this well. And they are skills – not soft skills or nice-to-have skills…these mental health skills that we need are as important as any other skill we need to do our job. I truly hope that the days of separating abilities into “hard skills” and “soft skills” are going the way of the mandatory “bums in seats” time management…that we can continue to evolve and manage ourselves and our people as the valuable and contributing adults we are, trusting that we can achieve our goals and bring our brilliance into our roles in the workplace, elevating ourselves and our organizations to greatness. I never want to speak the words, “soft skills” again in context of mental health and I hope you don’t either.  

Okay…I’ll drop my megaphone about that…for now 😉 If you know me at all, you know I’ll very likely pick it back up over and over but I’ll leave it there for now. And if you don’t know me yet because you’re a brand new listener, buckle up because it’s going to be a fun ride! 

In anticipation of this season of the podcast and the refocus on mental health for leaders, I wanted to be super intentional about bringing you experts and thought leaders in their respective fields, people who are out there in your workplaces guiding and coaching you to learn the mental health skills required to thrive at work. And what better place to find some of those experts than at the upcoming SHRM annual Conference being held four weeks from now in New Orleans, LA, starting on June 12th 2022. If you’re unfamiliar with SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, they’re a 315,000+ member organization focused on the issues impacting today’s evolving workplace. They are a voice on all things work and I am incredibly proud to share that they are a big supporter of this podcast and the work that we’re doing. I get to go to the Conference in New Orleans and will be bringing you live broadcasts from the press room, sharing more insights and thought leadership from the ground floor of the show.  

In anticipation of that, this podcast season will bring you 10 of the Conference speakers, sharing their thoughts on the top mental health skills you too can develop to be the best leaders you can be. And, opening the season, episodes 2 and 3, we have two senior executives from SHRM a guests on the podcast. Jeaneen Andrews-Feldman, the Chief Marketing Officer for SHRM and Wendi Safstrom, the President of the SHRM Foundation. Amazingly brilliant humans, HR professionals with a ton of depth and breadth in their experience and a passion for you, people leaders and HR pros doing your best to be your best at work. 

The theme of this year’s conference is Cause the Effect, a really powerful statement that for me, brings to mind opportunity, growth and empowerment. The event will include four days of peer-to-peer networking, inspiring addresses from top business and HR leaders, competency-based HR seminars, hands-on workshops, plus curated content focused on some of the most pressing issues facing HR. 

In episode 2 of this season, you’ll hear me speak with Jeaneen Andrews-Feldman in depth about the conference so definitely listen in next week to hear what she had to say. One of the questions I asked her was about the conference agenda and how it was chosen. She said that the Conference agenda is organized into 12 content tracks, areas of focus that participants can engage with if they have a particular area of interest. Within those 12 tracks, there are the usual themes that HR professionals look for and then there are focus areas that are super timely and relevant for where the world of work is at right now – sessions focused on diversity, equity & inclusion, the great resignation, talent acquisition and workplace culture and my personal favourite, obviously, workplace mental health. Arianna Huffington is headlining the main stage on day two of the conference, with her keynote kicking off a whole day focused on mental health at work! I just think the whole conference is going to be amazing and I can’t wait to go! I’d love to meet you there so please, let me know if you’re going to the show too and let’s meet up!  

With so many tracks at the Conference, it might be hard to figure out where to focus your time. If we approach it from a mental health skills perspective, you could choose to go to sessions where you’ll increase your skills in ways that are really beneficial for People Leaders and HR professionals. So, what are some of the mental health skills that would be super beneficial for you to learn?. I asked this question of Wendi Safstrom in episode 3 and she said the top three skills people leaders and HR professionals need to have are empathy, communication and the ability to give and receive feedback. I couldn’t agree with these more! I also want to add self-awareness and self-care to the list as well as the critical thinking skills to consider the legal, moral and ethical impacts of engaging in effective mental health supports at work. Let’s examine each of these skills in more detail. 

First, empathy. How do you define empathy? Back in episode 5 of season 4 , my guest Amy McCae talks about empathy in the domain of emotional intelligence – the capacity and ability to feel what another person is feeling as well as to tap into what you’re feeling in the same moment. Understanding and recognizing yours and another person’s emotions and being able to make a conscious choice to act on those feelings and emotions. I know what you’re might be thinking…eww…do we have to talk about feelings and emotions at work? Yes, we do – in fact, we get to. It can be uncomfortable and awkward for sure but feelings and emotions are the human experience and since it’s humans that are our workplaces, the reality is that feelings and emotions are at work too.  

And it doesn’t have to be scary or uncomfortable or awkward. If we think about empathy in practical terms, its all about how we relate to others at work right? I mean, you’re doing that anyways! Every day, you’re engaging with your team and your peers and your senior leaders, getting things done, moving the business forward…the only difference in approaching these same folks with empathy is the intention within the interaction.  

I want to add compassion to this part of the conversation. In her most recent book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown talks about compassion and empathy as being related but not the same. She suggests that, “Compassion is a daily practice and empathy is a skill set that is one of the most powerful tools of compassion.” 

Which I thought was an amazing way to conceptualize what can be difficult language to wrap our heads around. Brown and her team define Compassion as, “the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering.” I love this definition so much because it includes one of my favourite words, “action”. If you know any of my other work in the science of hope and positive psychology, action is a huge part of success there too.  

The skill set of empathy, which Brown defines as, “an emotional skill set that allows us to understand what someone is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding.” There’s action here too – hearing what someone is saying, staying present in the moment with someone and helping them to feel heard, valued and understood. This is about understanding what someone is feeling, not feeling it for them. We can understand what it means to feel similarly to what someone is experiencing but we don’t have to feel the same emotions in the moment.  

Okay cool – so now we know some language around empathy and compassion but how can we develop these mental health skills in ourselves and others? Let’s start with science. Coming up in episode 9 of this season, you’re going to hear from SHRM speaker Javier Santos and he’s going to speak a lot more about this topic, which he refers to as Emotional Technology. Santos suggests that, “A thought emerges as a way for the brain to respond to an effect.” So, if I feel hungry, I need to find food. Feeling, action. Back to that action word again! Santos says we have to learn how we’re feeling so we can think before we act – understanding how we’re feeling is going to help us think better.  

We can start by stopping. When we feel an emotion, stop and think, “how do I feel right now?” You can just think about the feeling – you don’t have to speak it out loud if you don’t want to, just recognize it in yourself. Then next time you’re feeling something similar, stop again and experience it in your body. Eventually, you’re going to start intuitively recognizing these feelings in yourself which is where the growth happens. And then, you’re going to start recognizing those feelings in other people when it shows up in their behaviour and you hear it in their language and that’s where the real magic happens. That’s where empathy comes back around – when we can recognize what someone else is feeling and reflect that understanding back, helping them feel heard and understood.  

I truly believe compassion has the power to change the world and it’s magical when we can use this skill to bring out the best in ourselves and those around us. 

The second mental health skill Wendi will speak about in episode 3 is communication. She says that it’s not an understatement to suggest that organizations fall apart without effective communication and I couldn’t agree more. I think everything comes down to communication and how we safely and efficiently exchange information between each other. It’s such a broad term though…communication…what does that actually mean and how can we grow our skills in this area? We’ll talk A LOT more about communication as we go through this season but for now, let’s talk about two sub-topics within communication and that’s the language of mental health and feedback.  

Knowing and understanding that language of mental health is, I believe, the most important aspect of leadership. That’s not an exaggeration. Obviously this is only my opinion but if you give it some thought, I think you’ll agree. If we don’t know how to say what we want to say, our tendency is to just say nothing at all. It’s part of the human experience. When we speak, especially as leaders, our natural instinct is that we want to seem intelligent, put together, confident and self-aware. But if we don’t know the words to use to describe how we’re feeling or if we’re feeling awkward or uncomfortable even thinking about engaging with others about what might be going on in their heads and showing up in their behaviour, we’re likely to not say anything at all. We’re likely to keep quiet, keep on keeping on and let issues fester simply because we don’t’ know what to say or how to say it.  

That’s where language comes in. I referenced Brene Brown’s new book earlier and I’m going to reference it a lot in my work moving forward. This book isn’t like her previously published books – this one is an examination of the XX emotions and experiences that make up the human condition and she compares and contrasts related words to help us better understand how they go together. It’s powerful because, again, if we feel like we know and understand the words to use to communicate, we’re much more likely to speak out loud. And when we speak out loud, others learn from us and that’s the point. Communication is about learning from each other, having compassionate and curiosity-filled conversations that move us all forward in constructive ways.  

I’m so passionate about this particular skill, the language of mental health, that I’ve rebranded my digital subscription from Mental Health in Minutes to The Language of Mental Health. If you head to my old website,, you’ll now be redirected to where you’ll find done-for-you packages of presentations and other content design to help you make meaningful connections with your people, increase knowledge and education about mental health-related topics and normalize these kinds of conversations in your workplace. The material is delivered as part of a subscription very intentionally – I want this language of mental health to be just how you speak in your organization, not a one-and-done initiative that checks a box that says, yes, we’re participating in mental health in the workplace. You wouldn’t go to the gym one time and expect to achieve your ideal fitness level, able to lift heavy weights and run for miles so why do we still think we can have one conversation on one mental health-related topic and all be experts?  

Communication where we connect with each other on real, authentic levels should be just how we speak. How we typically engage with each other and when we continue to learn the words to use to describe how we’re feeling and behaving, it makes those conversations just that much more comfortable and compassionate, less awkward and way less stressful.  

Speaking of awkward…how about feedback? Giving and receiving feedback, with intention, is another one of those potentially awkward moments for People Leaders, especially if you know that feedback won’t be received well. Or if that feedback is for someone above you on the corporate ladder. Teresa Peterson, another SHRM speaker and my guest on episode 8 of this season, is an expert in feedback and on her episode, she shares some of the actual words and phrases you can use to effectively deliver feedback to someone else. She focuses on the other side of the equation as well – where you’re in the position to receive feedback and I love her perspective because I think that’s the side we forget to talk about. Good communication needs to consider both participants in an interaction, in this case, the person giving the feedback and also the person receiving it. How we behave in response to feedback, especially if it’s not something we were expecting to hear or feedback we don’t want to hear, is an opportunity to show our mental health leadership and Teresa has some tips to teach us to show up well.  

How we show up as leaders demonstrates how well we’re taking care of ourselves as leaders. It’s kind of a bold statement to make. You might be thinking, “I can push my limits and get more done and be busy all the time and none of those things will have a negative impact on how I lead my team or my company.” I disagree, respectfully. I’d like to try a little thought experiment and at the end, do an honest assessment of your thoughts and emotion and share with me your thoughts on this statement. It might be helpful to take out something to make notes on, a pen and paper, a document on your computer, the notes app on your phone – write down some thoughts as I take you through this little thought experiment so you can refer back to it later. 

Okay, I’d like you to think about a time in the last few weeks where you felt like you had the most energy – felt your best, were able to accomplish what you needed to, a day you had the most patience and stamina, maybe engaged in great conversations and felt like your proverbial energy batteries were still pretty full at the end of the day. What did this day look like? Who was with you?  

Now, think about what you could have eaten that day…What did you eat? When did you eat, what times of day? How much did you eat? Think about the pace of eating – on this feel-good day you’re thinking about, did you eat at your desk or take your meal outside in the sunshine? Did you eat on the go or sit at a table and focus on only the meal? 

Moving onto the sleep you got the day before this feel-good day…How many hours do of sleep do you think you got the night before? How restful or interrupted was it? Were you in a bed or somewhere else? What kinds of foods or drinks did you consume prior to sleep? Did you have trouble falling asleep and once you were asleep, did you wake up or stay asleep throughout the night?  

Do you have a strong vision of this day in your mind now? Cool – a few more aspects of it that I’d like you to think about. 

Lets move onto our activity levels on this feel-good day. Were you mostly sedentary or were you active? If you were active, did you participate in a fitness class or do some strength training? Or maybe take a walk? If you did, was it inside or outside? With someone else or by yourself? Was your movement short burst or prolonged activity? Jot down your thoughts about how you might have moved your body on this feel-good day. 

And finally, I’d like you to think about your decision making on this day and how many of those decisions were made out of habit, unconsciously, and how many you had to make from a place of real thought and intention. How many routines did you execute on this day, defining routines as a sequence of habits you put together and execute on the same way each time. Examples of this could be your morning routine of feet-to-floor out of bed, turn on your coffee maker, brush your teeth, grab your phone, pour your coffee, move to your couch and drink your coffee while you scroll through your phone. What other kinds of habits and routines might you have engaged in on this feel good day?  

All of this visualization has a purpose, I promise 😊 If you’re looking back on your notes about this feel-good day, it was intended to have you think about your energy levels and behaviours and the impact that food, sleep, movement and habit have on you. We could have also turned this thought experiment around and thought about a terrible day in our recent past, a day filled with frustration and maybe anger, impatience and perhaps behaviour where we didn’t show up as our best selves, where we didn’t demonstrate the mental health leadership skills we know we can when we’re feeling our best.  

This is what I mean when I talk about self-care and self-compassion. The stigma attached to the language of self-care has done it a disservice because when we go through thought experiments like this one, we clearly experience that self-care is not just about bubble bath and candles, it’s about giving consideration to what our body and mind need to help us show up as our best. This is not a lecture on what to eat and how much to sleep, nor is it advice on the duration and intensity of exercise or suggesting you get into the habit of wearing the same clothes every day to reduce the conscious decisions you have to make each day. It’s all about energy management and helping you increase your self-awareness of how these various aspects of life have a negative or positive impact on how you’re showing up as a leader at work and at home. Self-care is a mental health skill that can be taught and in fact, I’d like to suggest we rebrand “self-care” as energy management and keep talking more about it! It’s one of the monthly modules within my Language of Mental Health digital subscription and I have a chance to speak to an expert in this topic, Deepak Saini, in an upcoming episode in Season 6 of this Mental Health for Leaders podcast so tune into that too! 

Okay, so we’ve covered three of the four top mental health skills I think people leaders and HR professionals need to develop to be super successful both at work and at home. Those were empathy (with compassion thrown in), communication, broken down into two sub-topics of the language of mental health and giving and receiving feedback, and self-awareness combined with self-care. The fourth and final but definitely not the least important of the four is developing your skills around critical thinking when it comes to the moral, ethical and legal considerations when engaging in mental health at work. 

Now, I am not a lawyer or the HR commission or a policy maker and I clearly don’t work in your organization so I have no knowledge of the specific policies or governance you follow in your workplace. And I definitely don’t know what state or province you work in so I can’t possibly understand the ever-evolving rules and restrictions you must abide by in whatever jurisdiction you operate in. Similarly, I don’t know how you feel about mental health at work and what your personal moral and ethical thoughts are around engaging in this work with your team or your colleagues and peers.  

But that’s kind of the point of this last mental health skill – we all think and operate differently when it comes to workplace mental health and so I believe the skill is in how we think about it and our subsequent actions. It’s critical thinking that I believe to be the real mental health skill to think about here. The skill is in learning enough about the legal, ethical and moral issues out there and then applying your critical thinking skills to figure out what to do in a particular situation. When I say critical thinking skills, I’m thinking of your ability to weigh all sides of an issue and analyze the best course of action based on context, your knowledge of the situation, the other people involved and the potential consequences of any decision.  

As a People Leader or HR professional, it’s highliy unlikely that you’ll been an expert in all the legal, moral and ethical aspects of mental health at work, compounded by the ever evolving nature of this work. Leave the specifics up to the lawyers, HR governing bodies and other super smart professionals whose job it is to know everything in those areas. You can uplevel your skill in this area by just getting familiar. Sign up to receive monthly updates from an HR governing body who will share legal and procedural updates from your jurisdiction – SHRM is an awesome resource for this kind of information and in Canada, the CPHR, or Chartered Professionals in Human Resources, is amazing. You could set up a regular meeting with your HR business partner in your organization – they are your partner in this and can definitely help keep your knowledge current. In Canada, the Mental Health Commission of Canada was instrumental in developing the Canadian Standard for Psychological Health & Safety and they have a ton of resources and courses to keep your knowledge current. The US recently released their ISO 45003, Psychological health and safety at work Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks which is a similar standard to the Canadian one I just mentioned.  

And if this all seems overwhelming and complicated, you could just enroll in my mental health skills training certificate program for People Leaders and HR professionals and I’ll teach you all the things 😉 All the skills you need to be successful and also the how of implementing it all. Over 21 hours of instruction, you’ll learn all the mental health skills we talked about and you’ll learn how to apply them in your life, your job and your organization. Consider this certificate your competitive advantage – it’s cohort based with only 20 seats per cohort available so the number of people with this certificate will be few. You could be one of those! To learn more, just head to my website at and you’ll find the certificate program with a version specific to HR professionals and the issues and opportunities facing you fine folks as well as one for People Leaders where we’ll cover the mental health skills you need to be successful leading your organizations into the future of work. Depending where you are, the certificate program qualifies for the Canada Jobs Grant where your provincial government may help pay for part of the certificate and, depending on any professional associations you’re a part of, the certificate also qualifies for Continuing Professional Development or CPD credits. Head to to register or get in touch to learn more! 

I really think there’s been a gap in our professional development as People Leaders and HR professionals up to this point. Sure, we’ve been taught technical skills to do our jobs as well as built our capability in leadership development courses but we’ve never had a focus on the mental health skills we need to be successful personally and professionally. These four mental health skills we’ve talked about here – empathy and compassion, communication including the language of mental health and feedback, self-care & self-awareness, and critical thinking when it comes to the legal, ethical and moral considerations of mental health in the workplace are massively important to the future of work. Our colleagues at work are demanding that we’re skilled in these areas, the market and our customers are looking to us to be leaders in this space and the future of work will be built around these skills in the most successful organizations.  

I can’t tell you how excited I am for you to hear the rest of this podcast season – the SHRM conference speakers and executives you’ll get to hear from are intelligent, practical and deliver the HOW, not just the WHAT and the WHY. So grab your notes, get another coffee or fill your water bottle and settle in. There’s so much to learn and it’s exciting to think about what you’ll do next! 

Thanks for joining me for another awesome episode of the Mental Health for Leaders podcast. To make sure you don’t miss any future episodes, please go to and subscribe to have these episodes delivered right to your inbox each week. You’ll also find all the show notes, links, and resources that my guests mention on the show and the link to the Guide to Influence & Impact at Work freebie I mentioned at the beginning of the show.  

You’re listening to this podcast because you know our people need us more than ever but being a people leader and HR professional is especially hard right now. If the thought of figuring out how best to support your people, and yourself, feels overwhelming and impossibly hard, let’s talk. I don’t promise I can make it easy but I can make it simple so let’s do that together. Go to and download the Guide to Influence & Impact at Work now. Until next time, take good care and as always, call me if you need me. 

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My mission is to help great leaders like you feel less awkward and more confident about mental health at work so you can stress less and take more action.

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