DisruptHR Toronto: Mindfulness & Well-being with Jason Gotwalt [Podcast]


Read the podcast transcription here:

Bill Banham: Welcome to another episode of HR Chat brought to you by the HR Gazette. We are lucky to be joined by Jason Gotwalt. Jason is a London, Ontario, based Account Director at Virgin Pulse, and he will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Disrupt HR Toronto event happening in December 2016. Jason, welcome to the HR Chat podcast.

Jason Gotwalt: Thank you, Bill. I’m happy and excited to be here.

Bill Banham: Jason, let’s start by you telling us a bit about yourself. Let’s begin with your career trajectory, your career history, and how you got to your current role.

Jason Gotwalt

Jason Gotwalt

Jason Gotwalt: My first dive into the corporate world was in recruiting from an agency perspective, related to HR of course. That’s over the course of four years with a company called Aerotek. I was able to develop my career, build relationships with HR professionals, and start to really understand the talent management landscape, understanding how to hire the right talent for clients and just to understand the needs and see the demand and really start to understand this war on talent. Then at a conference I came across a company called Global Corporate Challenge, which is now Virgin Pulse. With my past athletic career and with their promoting health and well-being in the workplace as a strategic driver to promoting productivity and engagement and such, it really rang true to me. I was all in!

I chased them down for about six months until they hired me. I was quite persistent. From there, I’ve been able to grow relationships with, again, HR leaders across the country, both big and small organizations. Further, of course, I’ve seen now from the perspective of the recruiting side of things the impact that creating a culture of health can have on an organization. Again, not only from a productivity side of things, but increasing engagement, talent retention, and attracting talent to an organization to just really transform things. Then, further to that, we’ve been focused on building awareness around mental health, psychological well-being, and really understanding the nature of it, helping organizations understand it, and come up with some non-direct strategies to improve mindsets and improve the psychological well-being of their people so that essentially they can put their best foot forward every day.

Bill Banham: Awesome. Thank you. Just before we started recording the podcast, you were telling me how this week is quite extraordinary for you. You’re traveling all over the place at the moment. Tell us about an average work week for you. What does that look like?

Jason Gotwalt: An average work week, I don’t know if there is an average work week. We have, again, clients all over the country. I love to travel. An average work week probably looks like I’m in at least two different cities that work week. Our company is flexible with my working arrangements, so I’ll be in the office about two days. I’ll be on the road about two days. I’ll be working from home about a day. The days that I’m not meeting with our clients, I’m either building projects towards doing educational sessions, building presentations, or I’m talking with interested parties or companies about, again, health and well-being in the workplace, and seeing if we can come up with some exciting strategies to see improvements there.

Bill Banham: What’s the best thing about your job, Jason?

Jason Gotwalt: The best thing about my job is our mission, I think, and what we’re doing. I’m someone who has a belief that if we can elevate the human, if we can elevate individuals to be their best self, then a better world is inevitable. I think I can personally attest to it. I know a lot of people can, not just me, is that when you are practicing good life behaviors, lifestyle skills, being physically active, eating well, getting good rest, practicing mindfulness, finding peace and happiness in everything that you do, your creativity increases, your productivity increases, and efficiencies, and all those good things. I know people want to be productive. It’s just a matter of them building that capacity and having the energy to do the things that they want to do. That was a long-winded answer, but essentially it’s getting people healthier. I really believe in the way that we go to market with that and have seen personally the changes in our participants.

Bill Banham: It sounds like you’ve got a pretty cool job.

Jason Gotwalt: Yeah. It’s pretty fun. It has its challenges, like all things.

Bill Banham: But you’re making a difference to people’s lives. That’s pretty awesome. Let’s change tack a little bit now and let’s focus on the upcoming event. It’s upcoming as we record this, listeners. Depending on when it’s released, it may have already happened. Tell us why you decided to be a speaker at Disrupt HR Toronto.

Jason Gotwalt: My colleague went last year. She had a really good time. She’s an HR professional. She envisioned that I would be up on that stage and she pushed me. Sarah Schuster is my colleague. She pushed me to submit one of the many crazy ideas that I have. That’s what prompted me. I haven’t attended, but I’ve heard really good things. I’m absolutely excited to be an audience member as well as, of course, a speaker at the event. Again, as we talked about before the podcast started, mental health for me is something that really is close to my heart. At a young age I suffered from depression for three weeks. As anyone knows, it’s not something fun. Statistically, I’m at a higher risk, 50 percent risk, of having another episode. I’ve been able to develop some strategies for myself. I’ve seen across the country a lot of people are suffering, a lot of organizations are suffering from high levels of stress and depression and things of that nature. I think I can help. I think I have a message that can really make a difference. That’s what I’m excited about.

Bill Banham: Let’s just talk a little bit about that message for a moment. If you could put your finger on one, two, maybe three key learnings that you hope the attendees of DisruptHR (will) go away with after listening to your session, what would they be?

Jason Gotwalt: Great question. Number one, that stress isn’t the enemy. It’s hard to use the word “stress” in a positive sense. You don’t hear people say, “Hey, Bill. I had such a stressful day. I can’t wait for an even more stressful day tomorrow.” It might sound a little bit strange. In my experience and what a lot of research shows is that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s our perception of what’s going on that will either make stress good or bad for us. Not putting stress as the enemy would be one takeaway that I hope the audience gets.

Another one is that, while there is stigma in the workplace and not too many people are maybe signing up for that stress management course or putting up their hand and wanting to talk with their colleagues about whatever might be going on in their life, there are many indirect strategies that will drive high participation into initiatives that will promote habits that ultimately change people’s mindsets. That we can create mindsets in the workplace that are resilient, that view what might now be something that’s stressful as a challenge, and they’re able to rise to that adversity and overcome it. We don’t necessarily have to have a stress management intervention to achieve that. There’s other strategies that we could take forward. Those are really I guess the two key messages that I want to get out and that the audience would take away.

Bill Banham: Thank you. The next question is one I like to pose to speakers of DisruptHR – not just Toronto but the Gazette has partnered with lots of different Disrupt HR events across North America and elsewhere. The question is, you only have five minutes to present at Disrupt HR. That’s pretty unique to a speaking situation. What unique challenges and opportunities does that kind of format offer?

Jason Gotwalt: I love the question. Yes. Five minutes as I’ve been rehearsing what I want to say is not a lot of time. The challenge, of course, is how do you effectively articulate a thought, an idea, and ensure that it could touch people and resonate with people in such a short period of time. That is a major challenge. The opportunity in it’s related. That could be something that has caused stress over my last week in developing this, but stress in a good way. It’s helped me to, I see it as a challenge. It’s rise to the challenge. The opportunity is it’s brought clarity to myself on how to articulate those messages. It’s even brought a deeper understanding and clarity to my understanding of the topic I’m talking about. I think it’s an important mindset for anyone going forward, no matter what their level of expertise is, to constantly be a student. It’s really forced me to be a student of my topic, meditating on it, reflecting on it. I have a higher level of clarity on the topic than I did a week ago, just from the exercise of trying to fit this in in five minutes.

Bill Banham: I have a supplementary question – just picking up on something that you said there. You used the term “a good type of stress”. Is there a good type of stress? I’m personally somebody who puts myself under lots of pressure. I don’t know if I’m going to call that stress, because that’s how I perform best. It helps me focus. Is there a good type of stress, Jason? Are there some pressures which can focus you?

Jason Gotwalt: Great question. You call it pressure. I call it pressure sometimes. I’ve lately been using the word stress. I’m not going to say I’ve done this my whole life in a positive sense because I want to change the perception of stress. Technically there are two types of stress. There’s distress, which we are all familiar with and most people associate with the word stress. Then there’s eustress, a response that’s exciting, exhilarating, that causes you to rise to the challenge. That’s eustress. That is probably less prevalent when we talk about the word stress, but it is the same response. Again, it’s our perception of …

Eustress, the stress response that’s positive might be you got an unexpected job promotion. The body’s response to that is a state of stress but in of course a positive way, as you can imagine. Excitement, exhilaration, and such. There is two types of stress. We just don’t call the positive stress stress. We might call it a challenge. We might call it performing under pressure, or something like that. Or we might call it excitement. It is one of the basic responses. One of our basic instincts is that stress response.

Bill Banham: In terms of horizontals within a company, do you notice that there’s perhaps more stress at the senior level than there is for the people who are just coming into a job. I remember my first job. I got terribly stressed trying to learn about different Excel sheets when I was trying to manage a circulation of a magazine at this company in London. I look back on some things and I feel that I got overly stressed then, that I can now handle more as I’m getting more senior. I guess as you get more senior you earn the big bucks and does that mean there’s naturally more stress? Do you see that in organizations?

Jason Gotwalt: Yeah. I would say I would agree with that, that as the levels of responsibility increase I believe the levels of stress increase. However generally those who are at that higher level have developed a mindset or a skill set or mechanisms in their life to handle that level of pressure. That’s why they’re able to perform at such a high level with, as you said, overwhelming demands compared to when you started as an entry level person. Again, the way I see it is it’s more stress as you are building up this responsibility, this workload. However, you can tell that you’re able to get more done than you were your former self, your five-year-ago self. It’s essentially more stress, but at the same time we’ve learned to build a mindset and have it so that we can get those things done.

A lot of studies do show that executives do have a high level of distress as well. There is burnout at the high level more so than I believe at the lower level. What I’ve also seen in a lot of studies is it’s really relevant to the individual and, again, their perception on that stimuli or that situation or that work environment.

Bill Banham: What about ages? Is there a difference in pressure levels and stress levels from millennials compared to, say, gen X? For example, millennials, there’s the stereotype there that they’re often looking for feedback. They need to know that they’re doing a good job. Then they can be very autonomous and put themselves under that pressure perhaps. Have you noticed any differences there?

Jason Gotwalt: I could speak to myself as a Millennial as well. With our company, Virgin Pulse, fortunately we have a temperature gauge on this. We have surveys and we have hundreds of thousands of employees that answer them. We do look at the different ages and how they have self-reported stress levels, and stress being that distress perception. What we find is and what we’ve been able to record is that those between the ages of about 35 to 44 report the highest levels of stress. Women report higher levels of stress than men generally in every age category. Then, after you get over that hump of about 44 to 50, the stress levels go down as people become older. That’s what our research has shown. I would say I haven’t seen anything different than that.

Bill Banham: Awesome. Thank you. Let’s switch back to talking about Disrupt HR.

Jason Gotwalt: Of course.

Bill Banham: I took us over on a tangent there because it was very interesting. Going back to Disrupt HR, why does Toronto need an event like Disrupt HR Toronto? Are there not enough events out there for HR people and leaders? Why is this an event that appealed to you?

Jason Gotwalt: I think it’s just something cool. The way I’ve seen it is the role of HR has evolved significantly over the last … Again, I’ve been in the industry for eight years. Over the last eight years. There’s more and more emphasis on responsibility for HR deliver, but impact. More and more companies are realizing that engagement is the key driver of success, of revenue, and all these kind of things. That comes down to HR. How are people taken care of? What kind of strategies, people development strategies, do we have? How are we retaining our best talent? How are we attracting the best people? The topic or the conversations around culture are so vitally important to employers. There’s so much psychology that’s being built into these strategies. HR has a bigger seat at the table than ever before. I think with that there are so many best practices and creative ideas that are out there that need a platform. I think Disrupt HR is that beautiful platform for those ideas.

Bill Banham: Thank you very much. We’re now coming towards the end of this particular podcast. Before we do wrap things up, just a couple of last questions for you. Firstly, across Canada, the US, places in the EU, elsewhere, are there any events related to HR leadership and recruitment that you are going to be attending or speaking at outside of Disrupt HR Toronto in the next six to 12 months and why?

Jason Gotwalt: Great question. For the past four years I’ve been attending the Top 100 Employers Summit, or Top Employers Summit. I think that’s a great event. A lot of thought leaders in the HR space as well as the executive speak at that event. There’s a great key learning. I like the HRD Event that they launched, the HRD Awards. I think that’s a really fun event and it’s something that I’ll be attending. Other than that, I’m always open to new events, just like Disrupt HR is to me. Those are the two I guess bigger events that I’ll be attending. I won’t be speaking at them at least yet as far as I know, but I’ll definitely be in the audience.

Bill Banham: Super. Thank you very much. Just finally, how can our listeners learn more about you?

Jason Gotwalt: You could check out my LinkedIn page. You can follow me on Twitter. I haven’t been the most active tweeter, but definitely have starting to develop that habit. I’ll be sharing many, many, many tips around building mindset and what I like to call and other people have called it as well a champion mindset. You really can achieve any of your goals and have that resilience to stress. Because, again, stress is something that I believe we can’t rid ourselves of, and nor should we. Stress is a beautiful indication that we care about something. If something causes us stress, we care about it. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t become stressed. It is a beautiful signal from our bodies to say that we care and that we have the ability to do something. With the right mindset, you can rise to the challenge and achieve some incredible things. I’ll be sharing tips on Twitter about how to build mindsets and any articles that I see that I think are fantastic. I’ll be sharing those as well.

Bill Banham: Speaking about Twitter, I think the hashtag is #DisruptHRTO. In fact, I know it is. Definitely follow that on December 1st. Shameless plug for the Gazette, #HRChat is always a good one to check out as well.

Jason Gotwalt: Does the HR Gazette run any events?

Bill Banham: We partner. We partner with lots of events. For example, we’re media partners with Disrupt HR Toronto. We prefer to let other people do the production, and then we jump in and we interview wonderful people like yourself.

Jason Gotwalt: Okay.

Bill Banham: Jason, thank you so much today for being our guest.


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