Your Words Matter

September 18, 2023 | Jennifer Thomas

Coworkers in an office bullpen laugh togetherWords—oh, how I love words. Whether they are spoken, written, or signed, words are powerful enough to change someone’s life. They can uplift and inspire during times of despair; however, they can also be used to harm or discourage. This is why words are so important when working towards building relationships and workplace wellbeing.

In my role as an Employee Behavioral Health and Resilience Program Manager at the Washington State Department of Health, I utilized words to connect with as many people as I could. I knew that it would be difficult to build relationships and trust without first taking time to understand perspectives on workplace culture across the organization. It was important for me to truly understand the culture of the organization—as well as the microcultures within it—to identify how I could connect best with my target audience. I listened intently to employees’ feelings, experiences, and perceptions before taking a deep dive into the meaning of their words through qualitative analysis.

As an interpretive phenomenologist, I love understanding the meaning of lived experiences and what it is to be in the world. After identifying some overarching themes, I began to think about how I could use my passion for writing to build trust and create meaning for folks across the agency. This is how my articles were born.

Lived experiences are powerful points of connection—when connecting and building trust, folks want to know that you genuinely relate to how they are feeling. I used storytelling to connect with employees in articles for our e-newsletter, The Daily Dose. Through sharing my own lived experience, I was able to promote concepts of workplace wellbeing while also connecting with my coworkers. This technique validated the concepts themselves as well as my credibility as a subject matter expect.

I started with the article, “Lived Experiences and Their Relationship to Identity and Behavior.” The article received positive feedback from employees, with several sharing that they resonated with the personal experiences I described and requesting more articles about workplace wellbeing. This served as the perfect segue to highlight the Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being. I wrote a series of seven additional articles published over several months that focused on the report and took a deep dive into each of the essentials. Excerpts from each can be found below.

Remember: your words matter and are powerful in impacting someone’s moment, day, or life.

Lived Experiences and Their Relationship to Identity and Behavior

March 2, 2023

“It is not possible to know everyone’s life story, but it is possible to know how your actions and behaviors may impact those around you. Creating space to listen…and I mean truly lean in and listen to others…is the starting point for developing effective relationships within your teams and amongst your colleagues. It is also the key to being a compassionate human being and the key to foster an environment where people feel like they belong.”

Mental Health in the Workplace Series

March 16, 2023

“The more we educate and the more we learn, the more we as individuals can contribute to decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness and continue to support mentally healthy environments, especially in the workplace.”

Mental Health in the Workplace Series: Essential One—Protection from Harm

April 6, 2023

“Dr. Maya Angelou once said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ The same concept can be applied here. More than ever, employees in all workplace settings need to know that their employers care about their mental health and wellbeing. They don’t only want to experience the programs and policies built, but need to feel that the environments and people surrounding them and leading the organization have a meaningful desire to committing to change…primarily by their actions.”

Mental Health in the Workplace Series: Essential Two—Connection & Community

April 20, 2023

“[H]ow can we take what we know about inclusion, belonging, trust, and teamwork and put our knowledge into action? How can we maintain accountability for our own behaviors and model what we know? It begins by assessing how the current workplace culture impacts workplace climate. This means courageously investigating how social norms, accepted ways of thinking and doing, and the shared beliefs within the organization (culture) impacts feelings of acceptance, belonging, and trust (climate). Now, the robust nature of this type of investigation within an organization can seem overwhelming; however, the work can actually be done amongst teams to understand how microculture dynamics impacts the immediate workplace climate.”

Mental Health in the Workplace Series: Essential Three—Work/Life Harmony

May 4, 2023

“To be very clear, I care very deeply about the work I do and setting boundaries does not change that. It actually allows me to continue to care deeply and contribute more. At times, I even find myself fostering a connection between a work experience and home or personal experience…leveraging positive intentions and connections that allow me to build and grow as an individual and human.”

Mental Health in the Workplace Series: Essential Four—Mattering at Work

May 18, 2023

“What does mattering at work look like to you? I can ask 10 individuals across the organization this question and receive 10 different answers. Why? Because feeling as though you matter is often driven by both current and past lived experiences. These experiences have shaped the way you personally feel respected, valued, noticed, and appreciated for what you bring to the team and the organization. These feelings connect to our human needs of dignity and meaning, which are both essential needs of mattering at work.”

Mental Health in the Workplace Series: Essential Five—Opportunity for Growth

June 8, 2023

“While growth of employees takes a collaborative effort within an organization, the opportunities for growth must be established, supported, and modeled through organizational policy and behaviors to ensure the collective effort occurs.”

Mental Health in the Workplace Series

June 22, 2023

“[W]hile awareness is the first step, awareness itself is not enough to make change happen. “