It is so motivating to know that the aim of boosting employees’ emotional resilience and psychological safety is essential not only to us but also to mindful employers. Justas Medeišis, the Lead Software Engineer at Trafi, shares why the topic of emotional health and talking about it in a workplace is essential to him as it is for the whole team and what practices focusing on psychological safety he applies when working with his team.
There is no “work me” and “outside-work me” – there’s just me. I can maintain a work-life balance by setting clear boundaries in the physical world, but if something makes me happy or angry or discouraged or motivated outside work, that affects me at work.
From a team perspective, knowing how a colleague is feeling today helps me approach them and offer support. Understanding how each of us interprets challenges and deals with stress helps us find a way of working together where everyone can fully feel like themselves, empowered to grow and do their best work.
Research has shown that the highest-performing teams demonstrate psychological safety. So, from a company perspective, it makes business sense to foster emotional health at the workplace.
As an organization, Trafi runs regular company-wide surveys to gauge how everyone is feeling. We use results from these surveys to identify and discuss opportunities to improve both as a company and within each team. Some recent examples include more frequent check-ins between mobile engineers and designers to improve collaboration and increased written communication to prevent remote employees from feeling left out.
Unsurprisingly, we encourage the practice of regular 1:1s between managers and their direct reports. The heartbeat of weekly conversations helps me better understand how the events at work impact each teammate and lets me respond quickly.
Besides typical work-oriented rituals like standups & team retrospectives, my team has a regular practice of so-called “break time” – biweekly slots during work hours where we meet and explicitly forbid any work talk. We have already played board games, competed in drawing art and picking out GIFs, led a tour around our homes and answered quizzes about each other, among many other activities. We rotate the person responsible, which means every team member has the opportunity to create the activity and bring a personal twist.
Trafi also offers access to the Mindletic app for personalized emotional training and consultations with mental health specialists. Some features and activities are used more often than others – multiple team members make use of and appreciate the opportunity to have personal consultations.
As a result of the practices mentioned, the entire team is more invested in each other’s well-being and is very aware despite being a remote-first team. I have observed team members celebrate the work of those with lower self-esteem and reach out when they perceive a person feeling frustrated.
As the team and the context around us has changed, so have these practices. One principle I believe is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for emotional well-being at work. As a team, we strive to talk openly, care personally and continuously improve.
For me, the biggest challenge was that there was no formal training, no close mentor, no simple playbook to refer to. How does a team become emotionally safe? I have collected useful ideas and practices from various sources – experience from teaching and running workshops for students, engineering management resources like the Radical Candor podcast and leadership training like Culture Amp’s Skills Coach. I’ve experimented with and heard feedback from teammates. Empathy and intuition still drive the majority of my actions. That leaves a lot of space for self-doubt.
My work is very sedentary, yet I often find myself tense or sweating at the end of the workday. I find that physical activity helps me bring attention back to my body and state of mind. A bike ride to work, a walking 1:1, kneading some dough between meetings – all help focus. A recent highlight has been the Movement Vilnius practice which has helped me become more aware of how I move, how to move better, and how it helps me think & feel better. I tend to ignore my physical body and know from experience how much it affects my emotional well-being.
What advice would you give to those organizational leaders who still shy away from talking about emotional health at work?
The teams and organizations that survive are those that adapt to change. Change is rarely easy and often painful – emotionally. Talking about emotional health is the only way to build the openness & trust necessary for resilient teams.