Workplace Mental Health

#6 How to increase the impact of R U OK? with 3 questions- Emma Hogan, Secretary, NSW Dept of Customer Service (s01ep6)

Sep 16, 2021

Emma Hogan leads over 9, 500 employees as Secretary of the NSW Department of Customer service. She is also an Ambassador for Mentally Healthy Workplaces. Emma talks about how she is very conscious of striving for work/life integration, how tapping into "The Why" was a great help to her team during the Covid pandemic, and tells us the three elements that she feels increase the impact of asking R U OK?
"My intention is always to include everybody and do the best we can to let everybody bring their whole selves to work, so that they can perform at their best for the people of New South Wales. "
- Emma Hogan


  • Striving for work/life integration
  • Tapping into “The Why” to help her team
  • The three elements that increase the impact of asking R U OK?


  • Inspired Kindness

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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Emma Hogan

Graeme Cowan  01:23

I’m delighted to welcome to the show Emma Hogan. Emma is currently the secretary aka CEO of the Department of Customer Service in New South Wales, which has over 9500 employees. This is a large department that oversees many agencies including Safework, New South Wales, Service New South Wales and many others. It is the main interface between the New South Wales government and the people of New South Wales. Prior to that she was a New South Wales Public Service Commissioner. Before this Emma worked in the private sector, a number of senior customer service and human resource roles, including with Foxtel, Qantas, and Woolworths. She has also served on to not for profit boards, including the Can-Do Foundation, and AIME, which supports indigenous education. She has also started a couple of social foundations herself, including the Rainbow Jane Foundation, to promote people sharing their stories of doing great work in the community. It must speak regularly about the importance of workplace mental health. Welcome, Emma.

Emma Hogan  02:24

Thanks for having me.

Graeme Cowan  02:26

My pleasure. What does care in the workplace mean to you, Emma?

Emma Hogan  02:33

Well, you know, we spend a huge amount of time in our workplace. Even if you work part time, it’s still a significant amount of time that you spend here. And to me, I think, culture is really important. Being able to bring your whole self to work is really important. And a culture of caring for each other. And that really sort of diversity inclusive, creating that diversity inclusive culture is is certainly what’s important to me as a leader.

Graeme Cowan  03:03

Front and center on your LinkedIn profile. And I might add that I don’t think I’ve ever met him, but we have a 769 common connections.

Emma Hogan  03:14

They’re all my closest friends.

Graeme Cowan  03:17

But on the front and center, you have that you are a mentally healthy workplaces ambassador, why did you choose to do that?

Emma Hogan  03:25

So within the department of customer service sits the better regulation division and within that is safe work and the safe work team have a division within them that looks at building mentally healthy workplaces. And we’ve been on that journey for a couple of years. I think in fact, since minister Keen was in the chair. And the team came to me last year and told me they were creating this mentally healthy workplace ambassador program, where they wanted prominent leaders and CEOs across multiple industries to really promote the various tools and resources available to improve people’s comfort about talking about mental health in the workplace and mental wellness, and really helping remove the stigma of conversation around mental health. And I noticed when they bought me that list, that I wasn’t on it, and that neither was any other government leader. And as I’m quite passionate about this subject and have danced with mental health and mental wellness issues myself, and feel like I can talk to some experiences firsthand. I asked the minister whether he would consider me being a part of that and representing government and he agreed and so I’m very proud to be the inaugural are part of the inaugural team but certainly the inaugural New South Wales some Senior Public Service Representative and for me, it’s about really trying to drive a culture of that in my own area, but also trying to share those messages across government. government’s the New South Wales Government is the largest employer in the Southern Hemisphere, we have 408,000 people across the whole sector. So if I can create a great culture in in my team of 10,000 and can influence other cluster leads to do the same, then hopefully we can move to a much more inclusive environment for people who have mental wellness or mental health concerns. And we can make a real impact.

Graeme Cowan  05:26

Wonderful. I noticed that it mentioned that you had self-published a book called Inspired Kindness. What was that about?

Emma Hogan  05:36

So in 2016, I finished up after nearly 10 years of working at Foxtel and I left very deliberately to have a six month break, I’d been working full time since I was 16. And I just needed a I just wanted to kind of recalibrate where my life was at. But I also knew that I couldn’t sit at home for six months and watch TV that I needed to project. I’d been aligned and involved in philanthropy for quite some time and kind of had this vision to write a book. I saw I had seen firsthand evidence of corporate people being able to get on the front page of magazines or in papers and being profiled, but I wasn’t saying that in the not for profit sector. So I wrote a book called Inspired Kindness. And it was the story of 30 ordinary Australians doing something extraordinary to change the world. It was a beautiful coffee table book. And we created 1000 of them. We sold them for $50 each and made 50 grand. And then we gave 5 $10,000 grants away to the next generation of startup, not for profits, who were who were going to, you know, build on these types of stories. So we did some great profiles in there. Lots of people you would have heard of some people you wouldn’t have heard of. In the mental health space. We did Jono Nicholas, who was the who was the CEO at Reach Out at the time. We did Jack Manning Bancroft atAIME. We did Annabelle Chauncy, at school for life. We did Seb Robertson, who’s the founder of BIRDI. And we did Rosie and Lucy Thomas, who, of course, run Project Rockits. So I really learned a lot more about mental health, particularly with our youth, in that time, from writing those articles. And yeah, it was a great project and was very proud to deliver that $50,000 as a pay it forward to the community.

Graeme Cowan  07:32

What a great initiative. Were there any books or research that really shaped your interest in this that confirm that this was really important?

Emma Hogan  07:42

In terms of the Inspired Kindness book?

Graeme Cowan  07:44

Yeah, and your general philosophy as well?

Emma Hogan  07:46

Yeah, no, not so many, not so much books I’ve read, but probably my experience over time, so I immigrated to Australia from the UK in 1988. I was 15. And I had come from a very sort of low socio-economic background and a very, I guess, racially diverse place. And when I came here, I went to a small country town and probably didn’t experience that as much, which I found kind of a bit confusing as a teenager. And then over the years, as I just learnt more and more about diversity in various leadership roles that I’d held and became more and more passionate about it, I kind of realized how we’ve got a long way to go on diversity and inclusion and mental health indeed, but I do realize how lucky I am to be allowed to live here. When lots of people die trying to get here every day. And so, from my perspective, the philanthropic side of me and the diversity and inclusion side of me is about paying back to a country that has afforded me a great lot of luck and opportunity. And really trying to build upon the culture that I think Australia has always tried to be.

Graeme Cowan  09:06

Great. And I was a former headhunter and career coach, I worked in that space for about 15 years. And I’m always fascinated by career decisions. And, you know, I saw that you’ve worked for 18 years, I think it was in the private sector. And you mentioned you took a career break, but then you join the New South Wales Public Service. Why did you do that?

Emma Hogan  09:30

So to be perfectly honest, the New South Wales Public Service or any Public Service had never really crossed my mind, government. I’d been in the private sector so long, it just really hadn’t occurred to me. But I was very clear that I wanted to see a role or a Chief Operating Officer role or a Chief Digital or customer officer role. And I was very clear that I would only ever go back to working in the HR type space if it was something incredibly new or different. And so I’d shared this pitch of myself with various recruiters and it’s And a recruiter contacted me who I had a good relationship with and said, there’s this role for the public service Commissioner, it may, you might not think initially that it makes you criteria, but it does. And I had to Google what that was. I didn’t know what a commissioner was what the certainly what the Public Service Commissioner was. And as I read it, I thought, Okay, and then I went through the process with some trepidation, I really wasn’t sure government would be for me. But the secretary for the Department of Premier and Cabinet who was on my interview panel really convinced me that this should be a serious consideration. And I thought, what would I do if I had no fear, and which is something my husband coached me to do and, and I jumped in in May 2018. And I have to say, I haven’t looked back, it’s been the greatest privilege of my career, to serve the state of New South Wales and the state that my girls will grow up in it. New South Wales Government has such a rich tapestry of talent. Unbelievable. If I ever went back to the private sector, this is the first place I’d come looking for people who are capable of managing really complex issues in a timely fashion. I think a lot of the perception of government externally isn’t real. It’s historic, but certainly not what I’ve experienced here. Yeah. And then I was the commissioner for 18 months. And then I got my colleague, who was the secretary for the Department of Customer Service resigned, and I got the opportunity.

Graeme Cowan  11:37

What were, when you think about the first month you had with in the public sector? What did you notice to be different?

Emma Hogan  11:50

You know what, the first thing I noticed was that I expected lots of differences. But there was far more similarities than there were differences. Definitely, the big difference is really in the public accountability. So every single thing you do, you’re accountable to the public. So everything you write, everything you read is, you know, publicly available, or mostly publicly available. And so the level of effort that goes into that was very different from the private sector that, you know, procurement processes, sign offs, all of those kinds of things was a lot more ordered than what I’d experienced in in the private sector, not to say they didn’t have their processes to just not in the same kind of way, and not documented to sort of within the same degree. So I found that kind of interesting. But I also feel like if you do that, well, it doesn’t need to slow you down. And that’s also been my experience here. And it makes you thoughtful, which I sort of hadn’t considered. And as I mentioned before, my really, I don’t think I came in with any expectations about what people would be like or what roles people would do. I genuinely came in with zero expectations, but was blown away by the professionalism and the depth of talent and the complexity of the challenges that my very clever colleagues are trying to solve for the people of our state.

Graeme Cowan  13:22

Have you come across many others in the public sector who made the transition from private sector?

Emma Hogan  13:28

Yes. Yes, definitely not so many at Secretary level. But certainly more and more. And I believe this is sort of been over the last seven years, more and more people have come in from the private sector as as New South Wales in particular goes a lot more digital. We get a lot more skills and expertise externally. I think people really like what New South Wales is doing. So I’ve met plenty of people who transitioned in. And I think now it is, you know, that’s quite acceptable. There’s not a kind of an us and them. Not, not that I’ve experienced anyway.

Graeme Cowan  14:12

I think the Department of Customer Service has done some amazing innovation, innovative work, and I’m thinking primarily at the pace that I’ve had, you know, the service New South Wales renewing licenses, and that sort of thing, how that has just changed so dramatically. Was it difficult to institute change, which involves a lot of digital change and that sort of thing? And I know some of it started before you were there, but how do you do that with a very large organization that, you know, traditionally has been thought of as being bureaucratic?

Emma Hogan  14:50

So I wasn’t here when Service New South Wales was established. But the history of it is that they decided that there would be a one stop shop. for customers, and we would build that over time. So it was actually started as a brand new organization, with a very clear remit by Mike Pratt, who was the Customer Service Commissioner at the time, who’s now the Secretary for Treasury. He had a strong banking and customer service background, he really put the customer at the center and they built the entire culture around service not process. And the DNA of Service New South Wales to this day, every time I go into one of those service centers, everybody’s trying to do something to help a customer that there isn’t a process for etc, and we get really high feedback from our customers there. And we’ve been able to sustain that. What I would say, though, is you know, of course, I’m very proud to be the Secretary and have service New South Wales front and center. But we have Revenue New South Wales, we have Digital New South Wales, Cyber New South Wales, and they don’t get the same spotlight shone on them from a public perspective, but they they are developing, you know, the same ethos, the same culture, a better regulation division thinks about the end customer all the time, and how do we make it much easier for people to kind of live in society and feel safe in society and go home at night without an injury and all of those things. So, to me, the whole department has an innovative and innovative modern focus.

Graeme Cowan  16:25

Yeah, fantastic. I also see that, you know, having a balance or integration between home life and work, life is really important. And you’re in a, you know, very senior role, I’m sure lots of timelines, lots of challenges. How do you integrate that?

Emma Hogan  16:49

It’s the age old question, isn’t it? So, when I became Public Service Commissioner, my stepdaughter was 10. And my daughter was 10 months old. And the commissioner role is very strategic. So there was a lot more opportunity to kind of manage my hours better. When I came across to be the Secretary of the Department of Customer Service, it was actually a real reservation about whether or not I would come because I wasn’t sure that I could integrate. I don’t call it balance, because I don’t really, I couldn’t claim to have that. But I, the idea of how I was going to integrate my family life in my professional life in a way that would do well in both was a concern. And then, of course, I came in and the feedback I got about that was well, you’re going to be the Secretary, it’s up to you to define it, if not you who you know. So that started off really well. And then we hit bushfires. And then we hit COVID. And it was of course, an incredibly crisis year so and the department played a huge role in COVID management last year. So what I would say is, I don’t think in the last 12 months, on the days, I’ve left the office, feeling proud of the Secretary, I’ve been and never the same days, I felt like I’ve been a great mom and a great wife. And then on the weekends when I feel like I’ve been a really good wife and mom, they’re not the days that I feel like I’m necessarily a great secretary. But I think if I balance that out across the year, particularly with the context of the year we had last year with with bushfires and COVID. You know, I think we just have to be less hard on ourselves. You know, I go to bed at night, sometimes if I’ve worked a lot of hours, and I think will I be explained? Will I be able to explain to Ruby and Mila why I worked these kinds of hours in this kind of time. And because I’m so proud of what New South Wales Public Service has done to support our community through COVID I really feel like that’s okay. Like, it’s maybe not okay, because I missed dinner in a bath. But in the bigger scheme of things, it’s okay. When the context changes, my, the time and split will also change and, and I accept that I do try very hard as a leader to encourage people to find the integration that they need. We’re working through right now what our what our flexibility policies will be in a post COVID world to ensure that all the benefits we gained from people having more time at home, less commuting, etc, are maintained. But I think to say I had nailed work life balance and integration would be a lie. But it is something that I’m constantly conscious of, and if I feel the pendulum swinging too far, either way, I do make a very conscious decision to bring it back to the middle and, I’m also conscious that I’m role modeling, you know, I don’t expect any of my team to be in the office from you know, seven in the morning till nine at night. So if I’m doing that I it is trouble. So we do work hard on it all the time. But sometimes the demands, you know, are beyond my control. But mostly I’m really conscious about it.

Graeme Cowan  20:10

Yeah, I also prefer the word integration to balance, because balance implies that, you know, life is good work is bad. But many, many people, yourself included, and also myself, you know, get a lot of fulfillment from the work we do, and are very proud about that work. So, yeah, you know, I just really commend you for striving for that proper integration that works for both parties that it’s not going to be perfect at any one time.

Emma Hogan  20:36

No. And I also think it’s really important to make sure we talk about work life integration for everyone. I’m conscious that certainly women and lots of women in our organization talk to me about, I work from home on Tuesdays, I’m very, I really try to stick to it. I’m very vocal about it. And lots of women write to me and say, you’ve almost by doing that been given, you’ve given us permission to talk about our kids work. And I often will do a little video with Mila sitting on my knee or to all of our staff, because that’s where I’m at that week. But I really want men to feel just as comfortable and taking the flexibility they need, whether that be for Parenthood, or for whatever it is that you that you have in mind, just because you’re not a parent doesn’t mean you don’t need work life integration of some other sorts. So I really want to make sure that that we’re pushing this concept of integration and flexibility for everyone. And not just those who seem to, you know, require it more than others.

Graeme Cowan  21:43

We describe the caring CEO, as someone who’s really striving for both a culture of care and a culture of high performance. And I guess just like work life integration, you know, properly integrating between care and high performance is a bit of a juggle at times. Have you go about that? That balance that juggle?

Emma Hogan  22:07

So it’s an interesting question. I was just thinking about this last week when I was dealing with a particular matter in that, you know, I’m constantly talking about inclusion and diversity, and mental health is sort of the three and unmelted. I try to use the words mental wellness more, because I want to talk about mental health and wellness in the same way we talk about physical health and wellness, I don’t want people to be left with the impression that when I’m talking about mental health, I only mean if you have a mental health diagnosis, I also mean about proactively managing the day to day stresses of your life so that you can remain mentally well. So sorry, I went off track there was

Graeme Cowan  22:59

the balance between care and high performance.

Emma Hogan  23:01

Sorry, balance between care and high performance. So even though I’m talking about it regularly, and I think as the Secretary and the leader, it’s important, and that permissioning really does start with me. I also understand that doesn’t mean that’s everybody’s experience in my nine and a half 1000 person organization every day. And it’s a journey, right? So we’re just talking even though I’m not a massive fan of that word, but it’s a continuous learning arrangement. So just because we’re passionate about maybe making everybody feel included, doesn’t mean they do and doesn’t mean we yet have it. Right. And one of the things that I think stops us having these conversations is we let perfection get in the way of good enough. And I think we really need to start having these conversations. And when we get it wrong, we say, you know what, we didn’t do that. Right? And when we get it, right, we celebrate it, and we share why we got it right. So the next person can get it, right. So it’s, it’s a team effort. And it happens over time. It’s a learning situation. So sometimes, if you’re talking about you know, mental wellness a lot in particular, but someone’s experiencing a performance management situation. Well, their experience is not that we’re looking after mental health care experiences, you’re putting me under stress, right? So it is a really tricky balance about how do you support people? I think if you support people day to day, generally it brings out the best in them and and by nature leans more towards being a high performing team. But if you are in a situation where somebody is a poor performer, once you’ve sought to understand their circumstances, what might be the context around why that’s happening? Have we chosen the wrong person for the role is that you know, there’s a whole range of things, then I think you still have to make those tough decisions, but the way in which you handle somebody with dignity and grace and support throughout that decision making process is really important and something we offer don’t get right, not not just here, but more generally everywhere, right? So I think that’s something we’ve really got to explore more. And we’ve really got to learn more about because whilst I believe the greater the culture, the greater the customer experience, the greater the engagement, the greater the performance, there is a flip side to that, where not everybody is going to make it as a great performer, not everybody is going to want to be part of that. You know, some people have got a lot going on, which means that perhaps they’re turning up to work not as themselves or they’re frustrated, you know, this, it’s complex, right? Human relationships amongst teams. And the bigger they get it’s complex. So my intention is always to include everybody and do the best we can to let everybody bring their whole selves to work, so that they can perform at their best for the people of New South Wales. And in the instances, the very rare instances, the exception to the rule instances where that’s not the case, then we need to flip our thinking to, okay, how can we support this person to find the right place they need to be and the right support that they need to either get them up to speed or to move them into something better suited? Or in some instances? There’s no point in denying it. Some people do get moved on. It’s not common, but they do. And in that instance, what are we doing to support them to transition back to a different, a different place? What’s the sort of outplacement arrangements and really making sure we take quite specific care of the person’s emotional support requirements during that time? So I think we need to grow our learnings in that space a lot more, because I don’t think where I don’t think we’re particularly great at it anywhere in Australia, or all the evidence I suggests is nobody manages lower a poor performance well. What do you think are the key ingredients of a high performing team? I think when the team has a clear goal? Well, I’ll give you an example. Last year, I think everyone would say that our team was high performing. Collectively, we were high performing. And I asked one of our staff actually, I just said, everyone’s really risen to the occasion. It’s been amazing. I was doing a thank you speech at a town hall. And one of our staff said to me, that’s because we’ve all had a common why. We are genuinely, everybody understands what COVID is. And everybody’s in it together. Everybody wants to get this right and support the community and land in the right place. And so, you know, every academic book you read will tell you is that you need a why Simon Sinek built a whole career on it. But actually, that really came home to me last year with COVID is that everybody had a common why. So even if you didn’t like working home full time, you were okay to do it. Because we’re all aligned with the common why have we have to solve this COVID challenge. So I think that’s right. I think as good as flexible policies can be, I think, the team sharing their working requirements. And I think of flexibility, of flexibility for the individual, flexibility for the team, and then making sure the customer still gets the outcome. So I think clarity around goals, but also the facilitation for the team to do their best work in whatever that means to them. I think that’s if you’ve got the vision, and you’ve got sort of probably not KPIs, but clear goals, clear tasks that need to be achieved and the impact that they’re going to have. And then you allow the team to form in a way that makes them enjoy their work and makes them feel like they’re contributing. Then for me, that’s the recipe for good performance. And for me, I measure good performance by how happy our New South Wales citizens are.

Graeme Cowan  29:05

What do you do to encourage people to be comfortable sharing bad news in your team? You know, when things aren’t going as expected? What are the elements that make it psychologically safe?

Emma Hogan  29:20

For someone to share bad news with me?

Graeme Cowan  29:22

Yeah, well with your team.

Emma Hogan  29:26

Hmm, good question. Well, look, I would love to think that everybody feels psychologically safe to share bad news, but I’m probably not the right person to ask being the person. The person that leads the organization overall. It’s actually a really interesting question because hierarchy particularly in the public service matters. It’s really clear what the levels of the organization are and people talk about where they are in the organization by using numbers, so they’ll say I’m a 7, 8, or I’m 11, 12, or I’m a band one. So you can sort of very quickly understand where someone sits in an organization what their decision making kind of authority might be. So I would like to think that everybody feels psychologically safe to speak up, or, you know, deliver bad news. But I think depending on the level of the organization you are and who you’re delivering that news to, I’m sure it must be quite, could be quite daunting and scary. So I would, I would like to think that we’re okay on that. And one of the things I do is regularly say to people, I got that wrong, I made a mistake there that I shouldn’t have done that I should have done this. So and in doing that, I hope to encourage people to say it’s okay, if you do that, too. But throughout the whole organization, I couldn’t be sure how people feel about that to be to be honest. I haven’t since I’ve been here, I don’t feel like I’ve been surprised by some bad news that nobody told me about. So I feel like we must do that. I couldn’t tell you for sure. To be honest.

Graeme Cowan  31:09

How do you keep your finger on the pulse on what’s happening across the organization? You’ve got a large, dispersed workforce across many different agencies? Do you have any secrets for keeping your finger on the pulse of the mood of the organization?

Emma Hogan  31:26

Yes, so I do a couple of things. At a broad level, we do regular pulse surveys on different topics. So I can get a sense of how people are feeling about things. And I also do my very best to spend every second Friday in the front line. Now, that was obviously difficult last year, but I try and either be in a Service Center or be on the road with an inspector or be doing a building audit, or being in a Fair Trading call center, or you know, something along those lines. Because you can really tell what’s going on when you talk to the front line, and you talk to the people who were talking to the customers every day. So I try to do that and I encourage my team to do that as well. As I said more broadly, we look at survey results. And then we’ve just started having monthly town halls, which are conversation based between me and the team, me and the 10,000 strong team where they can ask me any questions they want. And I actually think I can tell a lot about what’s going on by the questions that are getting asked. So it might be could be anything from pay or recruitment, to performance to strategy. But if I’m getting lots of questions about the same thing, I’m like, something’s going on there. So they’re kind of the things I use personally to think about what we’re doing from a culture perspective.

Graeme Cowan  32:43

You have a history of innovation and inspiring innovation. I’ve seen, you know, some of the awards that you’ve won at various times. And you’re probably aware of that, you know, team psychological safety is critical to innovation, you know, the ability to try and if it doesn’t work out, we learn from it and move forward. Apart from psychological safety, what else do you think inspires innovation?

Emma Hogan  33:17

I think if you’ve seen a team do something innovative, and you hear their story of what they’ve done, it almost gives you permission to try a new idea yourself or share your own thoughts about a new idea that might that might fly. I think psychological safety is important, but I think also rewarding success. I think rewarding successes really good. Whilst being able to create an environment where people can fail and talk about failure. Not in a way you necessarily celebrate failure, but where failure is not regarded as in a project sense is not regarded as something terrible. It’s regarded as part of the pathway, I think in DCS more so than perhaps other clusters because of service. And because we lead digital, we’re much more used to working in Agile ways and much more use to that idea of you test your pilot, you tweak as you go. you iterate. So culturally, that kind of was already the case, when I came I wouldn’t say that culture is consistent across the whole department. But but it’s getting there across multiple areas. But for me, it’s about sharing the stories of success, particularly if the idea was an employee’s idea. And not something that came from the top down but something that came from kind of the bottom or the middle up. To me they’re the best stories to celebrate.

Graeme Cowan  34:43

Very much so. Do you consider yourself a introvert or extrovert on on the scale? Which side of the scale do you think you are?

Emma Hogan  34:55

I think in order to hold the role that I’m in, I think people would consider me an extrovert, for sure. But if you think about the Myers Briggs tool where it’s about extroverted thinking and introverted thinking, and where do you get your energy, I do have to withdraw to reboot, I do have to have time by myself, the thing I love about Tuesdays working from home, I make it an appointment free day and I get my work done. I that’s when I read strategy documents, that’s when I have my thinking time. And I need that otherwise, I can’t be extroverted the rest of the week. So whilst I think I present as an extrovert, I actually require quite a bit of introversion both at work and at home to have the energy to do that. So I’m probably more of a balance of both than people think.

Graeme Cowan  35:50

Yeah. In the last twelve months or so, do you recall a time in your personal life or your work life where you’ve had to ask someone? Are you okay?

Emma Hogan  36:03

Oh, yes. And I’ve had several people ask me if I’m okay, as well. Yeah, absolutely. You know, it was quite a tumultuous you. Lots of people’s entire circumstances changed. So, yeah, absolutely.

Graeme Cowan  36:22

When someone asked you that, and what difference would it make to that they did? ask you, are you okay?

Emma Hogan  36:32

Yeah, I think. Because you’re the leader there is, you know, and this is a bit of a sweeping generalization, but there can be this expectation that leaders are made of steel, and that they need to be some kind of perfect and always coping, and always on top of it. And I was quite honest. Last year, I was doing videos every couple of days at one stage, and then every two weeks, and I would be very honest about where I was at. It’s, you know, it’s been a great couple of weeks, or it’s been a tough couple of weeks. And sometimes if I’d said, it’s been a tough couple of weeks, people would say to me afterwards, are you okay, can we do anything for you? And it just made me feel like we were all in this together. Just because I’m the leader doesn’t mean I’m on my own. I have a fantastic direct reports team, and we all regularly ask each other. If you’re okay, do you need to take some leave? Who needs a break? At the moment, everybody’s knackered? Should we be thinking about having some additional, you know, just a day’s leave here and there to help you regroup or spend time with your kids or, you know, go away for that long weekend with the girlfriends? Because, you know, last year we were in crisis management, but we’re gonna have to maintain this level of resilience for at least another 12 months. And the second year is harder, I think, because in the crisis doesn’t feel as Oh, my God, we don’t know what we’re doing anymore, but it’s still there. So there’s this kind of steady state now. And I actually think that requires even more attention to how we look after each other and how we ask, Are you okay, so? It always makes me feel cared for and it makes me feel like I’m not alone. And when I ask of it of others, sometimes I asked twice, because I think when the Secretary says, Are you okay, people’s instant responses? Yes, I’m fine. Why? And I’m like, No, no, I’m genuinely wanting to know, are you okay? Is everything okay, at home? I notice that you’re sending me emails late at night, is everything okay? Or is that and sometimes people say to me, our Look, I’ve needed a few hours in the afternoon with my kids. So it’s, you know, I’m because I’ve been homeschooling or whatever, and I’ve logged on a little bit later. And I’m like, Okay, well, that’s okay. As long as it’s okay with you. And I just want to make it clear that that’s not my expectation. So it’s a conversation we’re regularly having.

Graeme Cowan  39:03

As you may know, I’m a board director of R U OK?, and been around it for Well, really, really since the start. And when we first started, the two main reasons people didn’t ask a O’Kane workplace that was that they didn’t know how to identify someone who’s struggling or or Let’s start the conversation. And then they were really worried that the person might say, No, I’m not okay, and not know what to do. I think you mentioned before about the term mental wellness versus mental health and I 100% understand how those words are important. And, and I think the tagline for R U OK? is brilliant, which our founder Gavin put together which was a conversation could change your life. And I think everyone can relate to that. And, I’ve also found in my own personal experience, like I went through a five year episode of depression and tried everything and had a suicide attempt and all these sorts of things. And one of those came back, I started talking about, you know, depression, anxiety in the workplace. And there were lots of areas that come came up at that period of time. So getting back maybe about eight years ago. And likewise, I also found that mental health isn’t a good way, because it’s immediately assumed that when you say mental health, you’re talking about mental illness. And so I’ve used words like, you know, resilience, I talk about, you know, personal, and team resilience. And the fundamental element of that, I believe, is having that culture of care if people feel they’re cared for, if people practice self care, it puts them in a good place for mood position to try new things and to move forward in the thick, comfortable trying new things that builds resilience and growth. How can we scale care and resilience in the workplace. do you think? You know, we’ve talked about digital innovation and the role that can take How can we incorporate that more in the way that we monitor what’s happening in the company and can be ahead of the curve in terms of implementing changes if there is something that isn’t going well?

Emma Hogan  41:18

Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And I, there are all sorts of terms you could use for it. But I think about the conversation is, I mean, R U OK?, as an organization and a brand has been terrific, like over the time, it’s really taken off, but over the years, I’ve had a few people push back about what’s not enough to ask, Are you okay, on one day of the year and it’s not enough? To ask, Are you okay, if you don’t know how to handle the answer of No, I’m not okay. And so it’s been wonderful to watch. R U OK?, really grow with that sentiment? In terms of actually this is a broader conversation? And and how do we really support people? And I’ve been thinking, I actually think there’s three parts to this. The first part is, am I okay? And how am I judging whether or not I’m okay, I read a great article last year, I’ll try and find who it was by it was just a LinkedIn personal post by a lady. I think her first name was Kate@PWC, I think I’ll see if I can find it for you. And she advises on mental wellness in the workplace. And she was saying that she really felt that she had been as an expert in this field that she had looked after herself, during COVID. And later in the year, she couldn’t work out why she was not feeling great. And she realized that the applicability of the normal things she did to look after her mental wellness, which might have been walking three times a week, and it might have been having a nice bath, or whatever it was, that helped her feel in a really good space, mentally, the context changed. And that was no longer enough. And that actually, she needed to exercise more, she needed to connect and talk to her friends more, because she realized she didn’t realize the impact of that, and how much that was missing for her. So it was really, that really hit home for me and my husband, actually, who’s been working from home since this started. And it really struck me about that initial what, how am I checking in on whether I’m okay, or am I the boiled frog? And I’m just adapting to the environment, but feeling worse and worse and worse, but it’s happening. So gradually, I don’t actually notice. So how do we give people the tools and resources to check in on themselves? Not everybody wants to tell a work colleague about what’s going on for them? How can we give tools to integrate into the family or with your friends? The second question is, are you okay? How do we equip our people to not just ask the question, but do something meaningful with the answer? And there are all sorts of degrees with that, as you would know. And then the third thing is, are we okay, collectively as a team? Are we performing to your earlier points? Is something going on underneath because a few of us are not okay, or a few or everyone’s on fire at the moment, which is great. And we’re performing out of the park. And I think there are really three streams, maybe there’s more, but the thought I’ve been giving it in the last few months, and I have been contemplating writing another book for leaders. But I just don’t have the time, the time to do the research at the moment around this concept. Am I okay? Are you okay? Are we okay, together? And I think for me, they’re the three streams I’d like to sort of focus on, you know, safe work, have some great tools, it would be remiss of me not to kind of promote them in this podcast, particularly for small businesses around how do you help your workforce be a high performing team and have this care, culture of caring and resilience and in small business that could be hard you lose one person that could be a third of your workforce or 50% of your workforce, you want to be supportive, but you’re also, that’s also stressful. So for me, I think it’s about continuing to grow tools in those three strains. And I think if we use a language like, am I okay, are you okay? Are we okay? or something similar, that’s kind of catchy. It helps people remember it in its simplest form. And the thing here is not to overcomplicate it. So, that would be my thinking about how we can continue the path of building care and resilience within our culture.

Graeme Cowan  45:36

I really like that Emma, I really love it. And we’ve got a strategic planning session for R U OK?, coming up. And I’ll certainly be talking about that, because through my own battles and with mood, and that what have you i i’ve also determined is, you know, three levels of care, which sort of overlap with what you say, but are also a little bit different. The first is self care. And just knowing that self care isn’t selfish, you know, if we don’t look after ourselves, we can look after other people and ultimately experience that. The second level is, you know, crew care or team care, you know, where we are looking out for each other, where we are supporting each other. And in my workshops, where I’ve asked people to recall what’s been what’s been the best team or one of the best teams have been in what’s been unique about it. And always people say something similar could be, you know, we had a common vision, we had each other’s back, we had fun, we enjoyed ourselves. And so those elements, you know, help prevent mental health issues, because people are so comfortable being themselves. So it takes into account the diversity side of things as well. And last week, I interviewed Mike Schneider, the CEO of Bunnings, who have an unbelievably diverse organization, and they even have 30% of their staff are over 50, you know, it’s quite extraordinary. But they see as part of their secret of success, and part of the reason why they are voted the number one most trusted brand in Australia, because they do have a really diverse workforce that are that are encouraged to do the things in the organization. So your self care, crew care, then third element is redzone care. And that’s looking out for someone who’s not in great shape, being able to have the conversation, but most importantly, than being able to guide them to the help they need. And, I think that as we have this ongoing turbulence, and in the last year, I’ve done, webinars to 1000s of employees in all sorts of industries across part, public sector, private sector, and that always have been out of the polls of the attendees, the most stressful element has been uncertainty. And the second thing has been isolation as well. So what are you thinking about doing in that scenario? Is that your sense as well across your department?

Emma Hogan  48:04

Yeah, so we do have a huge diversity in our, in our department, which I love, right? It’s just such brings me great joy. I guess the thing that I’m thinking about, and I like that the crew care and the redzone care. The other thing that we haven’t really been having a conversation about that I think is really important, is about judgment. Judgment on ourselves about how we’re feeling and judgment on others. So one person’s crisis can be another person’s easy day. And in particularly at the moment where there’s such a heightened sense of I don’t want to say a heightened sense of anxiety across our whole community, but there is way more variation in levels of mental wellness, I think in the last 12 months, then perhaps there wasn’t the 12 months before, let’s just say that. So I’ll give you a personal example. I worked on this COVID challenge all year. And then I was taking three weeks off for Christmas. I was in desperate need of a break and I was really, really excited to take three weeks off and see my family and I was going on leave on the 18th of December. I was having a week with girlfriends and doing bits and pieces and then I was having two weeks with family. And I live in Manly and they or Fairlight and the Avalon cluster Northern Beaches shutdown happened and I ended up being in my home. For two weeks. No family could come. Our Melbourne family that were coming that was canceled. My husband who’d been really really excited suddenly found that his holiday was from the study to the lounge room and not you know the study all around Sydney and all the things we plan to do and normally when I’m upset about something like that all my plans are ruined, I would get, you know, have a bit of a whinge and maybe a cry and I would go to bed and the next day I would dust myself off and move on and understand the privilege that I have and how lucky we are here in this country. And I genuinely couldn’t shake the feeling of resentment, that this thing that I had worked on, all year was now keeping me confined in my home and that I couldn’t have the break, I felt that I needed and I things, it was like this feeling of, I’d put all this control around what I was going to do at Christmas. Also, I had not planned any milestones beyond Christmas. So I suddenly found myself thinking, gosh, I’ve got nothing to look forward to that I can use to think okay, well, Christmas isn’t where we are, but the next thing will come. And so I had all of these feelings, and then I had all of this judgment about those feelings about will you live in a nice house in a nice suburb, you have nothing to whinge about get over it, people are in a much more difficult situation than you. Now, I did get over it. And I did manage to, I started designing what my next year was going to look like I did a vision board with lots of bright colors, and just really helped myself move out of that mood. But the judgment I had on myself about the feelings, I would never have put that judgment on anyone else. But the feelings that I put on myself because I was so exhausted, and I just didn’t have the energy left for the self care that he might have invested in the self care in the first place, this probably wouldn’t have happened. So 2021, as hard as I find self care to be, I’ve made a couple of daily commitments to myself around how I’m going to take care of myself to have the energy for everyone else, and the job that I’m in rather than leaving myself to last. And whilst that’s been hard, it’s really working, it’s really paying off dividends. So the self judgment around how you’re feeling is really challenging. And then if you go and share that with someone else, and they say, Oh, don’t be silly, you don’t need to worry about that. Sometimes that can help, but sometimes that can make you feel like, despite someone’s good intention that can make you feel like, Oh, this person doesn’t think my problem is as big as I think my problem is or doesn’t see it in the same way. And whilst talking can really help I think empathy is required. And not everybody knows how to do that well, or they’re scared, they’re going to get it wrong. And so they don’t have the conversation at all. So the more tools we can give people to feel comfortable in the space and ask people are you okay? But without judgment, asking people to suspend judgment. You don’t need to save the person, you just need to hear the person and help them vocalize what they’re, where they’re up to. And that alone might help. Perhaps referring them to someone else might help. But you know, there’s it’s a tricky balance around trying to solve somebody’s problem for them. And then when we think about collectively, are we okay? I think obviously, the judgment about how the team is performing can often differentiate as well, which is if you go back to my comment earlier about having clear goals for the team, that’s how you remove the judgment. Have we made the goals or not? Where are we or not? And I just think that’s really important, because I think positive conversations about mental wellness can be very quickly shut down. If people think judgment is a problem, and I don’t think we’re really talking about that.

Graeme Cowan  53:31

No, I really agree with it. And this, this still is significant. There’s been great progress made, you know, groups like Beyond Blue and Black Dog, and R U OK? made some really good, great progress in senate talking about it in general terms, but there still is a lot of stigma in the workplace, people still feel concerned about disclosing that they’re struggling.

Emma Hogan  53:54

And in some instances, they should be concerned, we’re not there culturally, I think it would be a falsehood to, for me to turn up tomorrow and say, or, as I have been saying, I’ve been saying I really want this to be an inclusive place to work where everyone can have open conversations. But I don’t pretend that it is in every department because I don’t know who every team is and who every supervisor is. And people obviously part of your self care is knowing whether you can truly trust in that environment or not. And that’s why I say we are on a journey. We’ve got to keep trying keep sharing the stories of success, keep building tools, keep using safe work or other great resources. I know that you’ve got a fantastic R U OK? ambassador program. I know that I know other organizations have, you know, different methods by which people can really build skills and capabilities in this area, but it’s not going to change overnight. It requires all of us to be brave, to do our best to remove the stigma and when we get get it right tell the story and when we get it wrong. We learn from it and we do better next time.

Graeme Cowan  54:58

Tragically, you know something people have disclosed that they’ve experienced discrimination. And so what I suggest people do is to share it with someone at work who you like and trust, you know, someone who doesn’t matter what role we’re in, but just trying that in the workplace to get perspective. And that goes, Okay, maybe consider doing a bit more. But, doing it with someone that you feel really comfortable with, I think is a great first step. And also, you know, when people are going through it, and I speak from firsthand experiences, you really feel very isolated, you really feel really alone. But what I’ve found through sharing my story is that everyone else has a story. Either them or someone, or someone personal. It’s been wonderful chat. Emma got a couple more questions if that’s okay. Firstly, what would your advice be to someone in DCS who’s been great on the front line and there’s just secured the first manager type role, what advice would you give to them?

Emma Hogan  56:03

Yeah, I think you know, it’s very common to take someone and promote them, and then expect them to know how to do everything, isn’t it? So my advice would be, find people who are leaders who you will really respect and admire, get to know them, talk to them, copy them, replicate them, read and see what resonates with you and make sure you know, where all of the internal resources are to help you be a better leader, because there’s lots of them on the internet, etc. But often people just don’t think to go there. And then wheels are reinvented when they don’t necessarily need to be. And I think ask for help.

Graeme Cowan  56:42

Very good, unless you’ve had a couple of stints learning things at Stanford, one, what’s been something significant that you’ve learnt there?

Emma Hogan  56:53

Oh, I went to Stanford for six weeks in 2013. And when you go there in your room, in a room with 190 leaders, no one cares what you do, they only care how you contribute to the group. And I learned that I had a lot more knowledge about broader business issues than just the technical skill that I had been like, you know, that I’d been doing for years, which was really around HR and communications. And it was a life changing experience for me. And it gave me a lot of confidence to come back and say, Actually, I’ve really got transferable skills, and I really want to play in the customer and digital and COO CEO space, and I want to move out of the people space. And I think before that I wouldn’t have had that confidence.

Graeme Cowan  57:34

And finally, what what advice would you give to your 20 year old self? Knowing what you know now to your 20 year old self. What advice would you give about career and life?

Emma Hogan  57:49

I would say work hard and the opportunities will come. But be thoughtful about the opportunities you take. I think for women in particular, women who perform well often get given lots of opportunities. And they’re so flattered by the opportunity that they take it without thinking about whether or not it’s an opportunity that they really want. And so I would say work hard, review the opportunities that come but be thoughtful about which ones you take. And I would also say it all works out in the end.

Graeme Cowan  58:23

I heard Jerry Seinfeld talking about you know, giving new comedians advice, and his number one thing was do the work. Just make sure you do it, learn from it and keep going. And but I really like to have a perspective you’ve just added as well about, you know, choosing the right role asking some mentors, if they think it suits you, and also doesn’t play to my strengths. If it doesn’t play to your strengths, and then play the passions, it will be very hard to be good at that role. Thanks very much, Emma It’s been a real pleasure having you here today. I really love how you are pursuing a culture of care and our culture of high performance. And I’m sure the many things that people can take away from this. Thank you very much.

Emma Hogan  59:08

Thank you for having me.

Graeme Cowan  59:11

Excellent. Thanks, Emma. That’s been wonderful. Thanks. I we’re launching the podcast series on on March 8th.

Emma Hogan  59:24


Graeme Cowan  59:24

And but they’ll then be one, one episode after that. So we’ll make sure that I keep you informed about when it happens. And because it may be something that you may like to share across your department as well, in addition to yourself is lots of other really wonderful male and female CEOs as well. Yeah, that’s great.

Emma Hogan  59:46

Fantastic. Well thanks for inviting me to be a part of it.

Graeme Cowan  59:48

My pleasure. Thanks. Bye.

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