Mental Health is Important for Every Collaborative

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we wanted to highlight the importance of recognizing and supporting mental health as a critical and necessary element of a robust and sustainable collective impact effort.

We frequently receive questions from a wide variety of collaboratives that are experiencing challenges related to the mental health of their team and partners, and the impact that this has on the collaborative’s work. For this episode, we invited the national nonprofit Mind Share Partners to address some of those questions. Mind Share Partners focuses on changing the culture of workplace mental health so that both employees and organizations can thrive.

In this discussion, we discuss four key topics that we often hear from collaboratives:

  • How to deal with burnout
  • How to manage conflict within the collaborative
  • What to do if the collaborative doesn’t have a culture that supports the mental health of its participants
  • How mental health can affect a collaborative’s sustainability and ability to make progress on its long-term goals

In this discussion, we dive into these four topics with Mind Share Partners’ Bernie Wong and Carrie Grogan. They provide guidance and examples of what a collective impact effort can consider if its goal is to build a strong and sustainable culture that prioritizes the mental health of participants in the work.

Ways to listen: You can listen below or on your preferred podcast streaming service, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Please find a transcript of this talk further down this page.

Resources and Footnotes

More on Collective Impact


The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

Listen to Past Episodes: You can listen and subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we wanted to highlight the importance of recognizing and supporting mental health as a critical and necessary element of a robust and sustainable collective impact effort.

We frequently receive questions from a wide variety of collaboratives that are experiencing challenges related to the mental health of their team and partners, and the impact that this has on the collaborative’s work. For today’s discussion, we invited the national nonprofit Mind Share Partners to address some of those questions. Mind Share Partners focuses on changing the culture of workplace mental health so that both employees and organizations can thrive.

In this discussion, we talk about four key topics that we often hear from collaboratives: How to deal with burnout; How to manage conflict within the collaborative; What to do if the collaborative doesn’t have a culture that supports the mental health of its participants; and how mental health can affect a collaborative’s sustainability and ability to make progress on its long-term goals.

We dive into these four topics with Bernie Wong and Carrie Grogan from Mind Share Partners. They provide guidance and examples of what a collective impact effort can consider if its goal is to build a strong and sustainable culture that prioritizes the mental health of participants in the work.

Moderating this discussion is Collective Impact Forum executive director Jennifer Splansky Juster. Let’s tune in.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s podcast of the Collective Impact Forum. I’m Jennifer Splansky Juster, executive director of the Forum. I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation with Bernie Wong and Carrie Grogan from Mind Share Partners.

Mind Share Partners is a national nonprofit changing the culture of workplace mental health so that both employees and organizations can thrive. For those who aren’t familiar with Mind Share Partners, I’d love to orient you to a bit more about their influence on the field of workplace mental health since its founding in 2016.

Mind Share Partners was among a select number of organizations asked to provide feedback and contribute to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace. They’re also a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review including a chapter in the HBR Guide to Better Mental Health at Work, and they recently published their latest, their 2023 Workplace Mental Health Report in partnership with Qualtrics so a lot of wisdom we will be drawing on in today’s conversation. We find ourselves in challenging times here in 2024, and with this comes the work that all of you who are listening to this podcast are doing to make your communities a better place, and the work we all do can be really rewarding but also really challenging for one’s own wellness, especially mental health.

In today’s conversation with Bernie and Carrie, we’re going to dive into a few challenges that we frequently hear from folks doing place-based collaborative work and explore them from a workplace mental health perspective. So without further ado, I am delighted to introduce Bernie Wong formally, knowledge lead and principal, and Carrie Grogan, principal, into this conversation. So I’d love to start, Carrie and Bernie, by having each of you introduce yourself and your role in the organization.

Carrie Grogan: Yeah, so I’m Carrie. I am a principal of Mind Share Partners and have been with the organization a little over two years. So as a principal I train and consult organizations on their workplace mental health strategy and culture change. I’ve worked with a wide range of organizations from small nonprofits to large global corporations, and I also facilitate our mental health employee resource group community. A fun story that I often share is that I actually was a member of that community before working for Mind Share Partners. In 2020 when everything went to hell, I was working in learning and development, and really could see that our organization needed some support in mental health, and so I found that community which at the time Bernie was leading and just kind of fell in love with Mind Share and became a super fan. So when the position opened, I gladly joined on so that I could be a part of this movement.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Welcome, Carrie, and what a great endorsement of the work to be someone who experienced it and so motivated to join the team. Bernie, over to you.

Bernie Wong: Hello, I’m Bernie. I’m a founding team member at Mind Share Partners, now the knowledge lead and principal alongside client work and admiring Carrie’s facilitation skills. I lead the development of Mind Share’s perspectives and expertise on the topic of workplace mental health, and I’ve led our three national polls on the state of mental health among U.S. workers.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Well, so great to have you, Bernie. Carrie and Bernie, really looking forward to today’s conversation, and we’re really excited to focus this discussion as we said on supporting mental health in the workplace, and especially in the case of collective impact that can mean both within one’s organization, the day job you hold, but also within the work that you’re doing with your collaborative or your network of partners. Through our work we often hear comments and questions from people doing collective impact, place-based collaborative work that touches on mental health, and we’re hoping to share some of those questions with you to get any thoughts and considerations and advice that could be helpful for folks listening to the podcast.

So we’re going to explore four areas today and I’ll preview those now. The first we want to talk about is, number one, coping with burnout. The second is managing conflict. The third is creating a culture that supports mental health, and the fourth is sustaining yourself and others over really complex, long-term work like the kind of work that everyone listening to this podcast is engaged in.

So with that preview I know folks are ready to dive in and will definitely listen all the way through the end since those are such meaty topics. Let’s start with the one I mentioned first, burnout. We hear this a lot in the collective impact space, especially because the work can be really challenging for folks engaged in doing really deep equity-focused, cross-sector, cross-partner work so maybe you could help us out though and start with letting us how you would define burnout.

Bernie Wong: Yeah, definitely, I’ll set the foundations and Carrie will come in with extra insights. The World Health Organization defines burnout as something that results from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been effectively managed, and researchers typically align around six main causes.

The first is one we most often know and talk about which is workload. That’s the time, people, and resources to do the work alongside the quantity and intensity of work.

The second is the lack of autonomy, a sense of control, decision-making power and influence over our work alongside the balance of collaboration and independence.

Third is community, having a felt sense of support and psychological safety and belonging in the workplace. Next is feeling appropriately rewarded. This certainly includes financial and social recognition but also a sense of impact and opportunities for growth.

The last two are ones people don’t often think about as much. One is a sense of fairness that means fair decision making, equitable treatment, and a sense of civility at work. And last but not least is an individual’s felt sense of alignment with the values of the organization, its leaders and management, both in spoken values and in their actions. This last one in particular I foresee becoming only more important with just the overall collective shift in expectations among workers, especially young people around the ethics of employers with layoffs, mandated returns to office, and the role that businesses continue to play in politics.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Oh, my gosh, Bernie. There’s so much to unpack there. Thank you, and I will be the first to say that when I think of burnout, I almost normally only think of the first and maybe the second and third that you mentioned so I’m really grateful for you outlining all six of those, and I know we’ll talk more about them but that is such a helpful grounding. I’m curious, Carrie, did you want to add to that?

Carrie Grogan: Yeah, I think such an important thing to keep in mind about burnout is that some of those causes that Bernie listed are universal, but it really does vary by the individual so one person’s sense of inappropriate workload, what autonomy looks like, what they want out of their manager or their community might be really different from someone else. Burnout is really about that relationship between the individual and their work environment. That’s often referred to as job-person fit.

If Bernie catches me online at eight p.m. my time, it’s often because I’ve taken the opportunity to get outside and see the sun and taking a break between meetings during the typical workday so I catch up after dinner but for someone else, working late hours could really indicate a lack of boundaries and then trending towards burnout. My indicators are when I start snapping on people and I’m not friendly and I’m not participating in stuff, that’s how you can tell that I’m burned out.

So we can’t automatically assume that late hours mean that someone’s burnt out or that someone being quiet means that they’re burned out. We really have to evaluate for ourselves what those sustainable ways of working look like so that our high-performing work culture doesn’t create an unsustainable expectation of just continuous, 150 percent output.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, and for folks listening to this podcast, many of whom are really mission driven and so passionate about the work folks are doing, that’s hard, right, to have those boundaries when we always feel like we could be doing more for the mission and the cause and the community that we’re supporting so I appreciate you naming that for us, Carrie. Are there other things that you see in your own work related to burnout that you’d be interested in speaking to?

Bernie Wong: Yeah, I’ll speak from the knowledge research lens, and Carrie has ample experience working with nonprofit clients so from the knowledge research lens, workload has always been historical focus. As you said, it’s the one people most know about but despite the many levers around it like the autonomy and flexibility, it continues to be a challenge in many workplaces, and what’s struck me in kind of watching the workplace mental health movement is that many of our models of work are built in a way that kind of fundamentally creates tension around workload. We hear about lean teams, optimizing people resources, downsizing, layoffs, and of course historically under resourced teams in purpose work, and workload is the experience of work too.

There’s a body of research that finds as our work lives have become increasingly intertwined with technology, we’ve become more productive, streamlined and optimized, all the great things, but at the same time work itself has become more punctuated and unpredictable and hectic and intense so this is part of the reason why we’re of mixed optimism at Mind Share when it comes to the popularization of mental health days and time off as one of the go-to strategies employers use to mitigate burnout. Mental health days and time off can definitely be effective when implemented frequently and alongside a broader ecosystem of support but what we forget is that when the culture and experience of work itself isn’t sustainable, taking time off and coming back is only creating these cycles of burnout that will only continue if employers don’t solve for the work itself.

Carrie Grogan: We saw this a lot in some of our YMCA clients with just really high burnout levels, especially right after the pandemic, especially among leaders and managers. There were so many workplace factors and indicators there, the high-stress jobs, the emotional investment in clients, a lack of resources, and an inability to take time off. There’s often this feeling especially among purpose-driven work that we create value through our presence, and so if your value or your presence is unique, then you have this idea that things just can’t go on without you. There’s a feeling of guilt from taking time off, when taking a step away but we have to replenish ourselves in order to see relief from burnout.

We have to find a way to take that step away and really get ourselves back up, fill that cup that we talk about, not just to refill our ability and our tank to keep going but it also demonstrates to others in the organization that burnout is a norm, and there’s an expectation that you have to endure this culture, and that’s how we see especially younger folks in this work not being able to maintain these expectations over the long haul. So we aren’t meant to operate at that level and have to really take the responsibility of self-care as seriously as we take the commitment to the work.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thanks, Carrie, and you began to speak to this a little bit but I’m curious what other considerations you might have for folks as they are thinking about trying to avoid burnout or shift their own experience and perhaps influence the organizations in which they’re working?

Carrie Grogan: Yeah, I mean burnout is primarily a management and an organizational issue, right? Thinking about the way that we resource, the way that we set our staff up to be able to handle the workload but there’s also a lot of things that individuals can do to help themselves. One is just noticing those indicators that burnout is happening.

Like I mentioned, when I become exhausted and quiet, when I become really cynical and mean, that’s a good indicator that I am starting to trend towards burnout. Feeling less effective or less capable than normal, those are all indicators that we need to notice in ourselves before it gets to a crisis point.

From a responsive lens you can reflect on the factors that are within your control to change. If you aren’t feeling a sense of autonomy, you can ask for clarity on your role or decision-making authority around things like work schedules or timelines or priorities. You can also seek greater connection to your colleagues, fostering that sense of community and belonging. Even consider joining an employee resource group or an optional committee so that you can feel more connected to people and really start to replenish the joy and connection in the work or if you’re feeling stuck or disconnected from the work itself, really consider if there are opportunities to grow or expand your role or responsibilities in ways that might inspire and reinvigorate you.

But last, just be willing to ask for help in addressing burnout and see how your colleagues might be able to provide insight on ways to reshape your experience. When you’re kind of too far down that rabbit hole, it can feel really unimaginable of how to get out of it.

Bernie Wong: And what I’d emphasize is really thinking about this proactively. I think oftentimes, especially how much we pour ourselves into work, we typically respond reactively, and as Carrie said, we see it as a management-employer issue of managing burnout and doing so proactively but understanding that anyone and everyone wants individual skills and so just one concrete strategy that anyone can do on the more proactive preventative approach is talking about individual working styles and then translating those into broader norms.

For example, everyone at Mind Share Partners, we all complete a working styles worksheet where we reflect on what gives us energy at work, what drains energy, how we prefer to communicate, and the things we’re managing alongside and outside of work. Everyone does these worksheets and shares, and then we build work norms around them. We norm around urgency. We norm around workload and leaning in and out during busy periods. We norm around how we communicate over email, Slack, meetings, calls, and in all of those what we communicate about, and then when not to communicate like after hours, and then we have ongoing conversations throughout the year and make adjustments as needed. So all of this is set up in a soft way so that team members have timely clarity and transparency. They can contribute in decision making and engage with the work in a way that works best for them, and we make adjustments as life happens.

So it’s almost like a human, person-centered way of building work rather than creating the structures of work and then sticking people into it.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, that’s a really helpful, practical suggestion, Bernie, and for folks that are listening kind of wearing your collective impact hat, that could be a practice to do with people that you’re collaborating with too, a work styles conversation. I think it feels maybe more natural to do that with people in your organization, but I’d encourage folks to do that if you sit on a steering committee. Maybe the steering committee can share their work styles or if you’re in a collective impact workgroup, all of those ways of working closely in partnership with others could benefit I think from that kind of tool and conversation as well.

So this much broader definition of burnout I think is so helpful, workload, autonomy, community and connection, reward, fairness, alignment of values. I just name them again to help us think holistically about what might be contributing to a sense of burnout that folks might be experiencing.

So, I said we were going to have four topics we’re going to dive into. Burnout was number one. The second is conflict, and we hear a lot about how stressful conflict is and how stressful it can feel when it’s a regular occurrence in doing collaborative change work. So we know folks can experience conflict between staff members, across partner organizations, maybe with board members or other sources of conflict might be coming up for you but managing and navigating conflict really can take a toll on one’s mental health so when it comes to supporting mental health for folks who are experiencing conflict, and often those are folks who are facilitating the conversations that are steeped in conflict, we call it the backbone role. I’m curious what comes up for you and what you’ve seen in the work that you do with respect to navigating and helping to manage conflict.

Carrie Grogan: A story that shows up for me is work that I was doing with a national education nonprofit, and their staff was often traveling on site to a variety of jurisdictions across the United States. In spring of 2022, we learned that some of their staff were feeling unsafe and at risk. They were worried about their wellbeing on site and locations that were implementing anti-LGBTQ laws and DEI policies that they felt attacked their social identities. In some of these locations laws were changing quickly. There was a lot of uncertainty and staff was still needed on site, and the staff assigned to those locations were feeling like they had no choice, and they were feeling really scared for their wellbeing and uncertain on how to discuss those concerns with clients and with their managers.

We worked on manager conversation skills, like just workshop and worksheet so that they could feel empowered and equipped to proactively talk with staff about their assignments. It was really important for managers not to assume what solutions were best for their teams but to really work collaboratively toward solutions, and if a reassignment wasn’t a tangible solution, they also needed to understand what other support could be offered. We really helped to navigate those conversations between managers, individual contributors, and clients because expectations needed to be discussed explicitly and proactively so that that inherent conflict wasn’t insurmountable.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thanks. That’s a very helpful example. I can only imagine how challenging that was for folks that were facing that situation. I’m curious if there are other considerations, Bernie, that you’d like to speak to or things that are helpful for folks to think about with managing conflict?

Bernie Wong: Yeah, we have a few principles to consider. The first is really just starting with listening and empathy, understand that oftentimes conflict isn’t about a clear right and wrong but building understanding and alignment. Ensuring people have the time and space to feel heard will also help with not only conflict resolution but preventing future conflict and making the implicit positive intent that you hopefully have with your collaborators, making that explicit.

The second is really exploring too how your culture and systems may end up creating or incentivizing conflict. This can be things like inconsistent communications or not norming around consistent communications, can create conflict when communications are missed or information isn’t communicated well, and so really thinking about how our systems of communications may end up creating conflict. Another example is of course highly competitive cultures in our day and age that certainly can incentivize conflict that is a detriment to collaboration oftentimes and internally non-inclusive decision making too can erode trust and belonging and a sense of feeling valued.

So many of those kind of dimensions of burnout we named, addressing those actually creates fertile ground to prevent conflict. As Carrie said, cynicism is a core part of the experience of burnout, and a dimension that many people don’t realize, and kind of feeling cynical and detached from your work is certainly not conducive to a collaborative and holistic approach to the work we’re all involved in.

Carrie Grogan: And thinking about how to really address this proactively, it’s always helpful to be cultivating trust, really spending time on building that safety and sense of community so that conflict is really viewed as us versus the problem rather than us versus each other. You do this by checking in, caring about the wellbeing of your people and really showing up for them.

It’s important to have this process of building relationships so that you can navigate conflicts that are both large and small, right? This is ideally created together but things like just regular check-ins can really ease the tension of having to schedule time or particularly for managers, inviting input and gathering feedback regularly can help people raise concerns that would be difficult otherwise.

I’ve been told the story of eating your frog first thing in the morning, like that thing that you don’t want to do, that thing that you just want to get off your plate, you make it happen at the start of your day, and so if you’re starting feel tension build, if you’re starting to feel like a conflict is there, address it early. Eat that frog as soon as you notice that it’s there because it’s so much easier to address it as the problem instead of the person so being proactive in this is really huge.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Carrie, you really emphasized as part of that, the trusting relationship component which I think hopefully folks that are regular listeners to our podcast know that that is really a thread through any good practice of collective impact, is creating spaces and then really proactively working to build that trusting relationship which is really going to bolster and help you work through those conflicts like you were saying so definitely appreciate you elevating that. Very good advice. Tackle the hardest thing first, and I had not heard the eat frog expression so I’m going to use that.

I think we can move on to topic three which is another area that we get a lot of questions which is related to culture, and folks share with us that sometimes they can struggle to have a culture within their collaborative or their organization that recognizes and supports mental health access across the group. So I would love to hear from your experience maybe to start what a culture that supports mental health looks like and feels like for people.

Bernie Wong: Definitely. The word culture, what does that even mean? So at Mind Share for specifically a culture around workplace mental health we use a framework called the ecosystem of a mentally healthy workplace, and this ecosystem has three core components. There’s the people component, systems, and then accountability measures.

So in a mentally healthy workplace from a people lens, your leaders are openly and proactively advocating for mental health at work, they’re modeling vulnerability and healthy ways of working, prioritizing mental health as a company responsibility, and building businesses that properly resource and sustain the people who drive that business forward. Managers are proactively checking in on their team and comfortably navigating conversations around mental health with team members. They are similarly modeling mentally healthy practices and also designing work to be healthy and sustainable. And of course hopefully this translates to everyone within the org. They are comfortable talking about mental health at work too, anyone as they desire to. They have the time, finances, autonomy, and flexibility to manage work and life, and they are proactively leaning on company resources to support their mental health. So that’s the people lens.

In a mentally healthy workplace from a systems lens, your work culture is fundamentally designed in a way that supports and sustains the mental health of your people. Your policies are intentionally designed to protect the mental health of your people, and that can include time off, leave, even after-hour contact policies, and of course your resources. This covers the wide range of mental health experiences as well as the underlying determinants of mental health, again those dimensions of burnout. This can include benefits and self-care resources. It can also be parental leave, employee resource groups, and the many different resources that an individual person can use for their own kind of needs.

And the last dimension is the accountability lens. Mental health is a priority among senior leaders. It’s on their radar and they’re actively including it as a part of their conversations about the org. There is ownership of mental health strategy with involvement throughout the organization. Mental health is measured comprehensively, again not just the prevalence of mental health challenges but also the culture and systems piece, how safe do people feel talking about mental health, are they able to truly practice work-life balance, and hopefully these outcomes are tied to that mental health strategy. Mental health is also integrated into performance management, hiring considerations, the type of managers you promote and hire, and other systems.

Last but not least, mental health is interwoven into your equity strategy and initiatives as active efforts are made to ensure equity, inclusion, and belonging are felt uniformly across your workers.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Bernie. That is again such a helpful, comprehensive way of breaking down what does it mean, so what does culture mean? The people, the systems, the accountability, and getting feedback. I really appreciate the point about getting regular and consistent feedback from staff about how they’re experiencing that culture related to mental health. I’m curious what are some things that folks might consider if they’re hoping to encourage a culture that supports mental health in their organizations and the collaboratives in which they participate?

Carrie Grogan: We often partner with HR teams, DEI staff, and even ERG leaders to build out that sort of comprehensive culture strategy but there’s also a lot of actions that everyone can take in their day to day to cultivate a mentally healthy culture. Leaders can serve as those cultural pillars in an organization because ultimately, they’re responsible for the organization and how that culture is defined. They determine the conditions of work based on how they resource teams and individuals. Those leaders at the top level, executives, can speak out publicly on mental health to reduce stigma and really demonstrate that success does not require immunity from life’s challenges. It affects all of us. It’s human.

Managers can proactively talk to their teams about ways to work sustainably and really think about building in celebration, rest, and connection so that work boosts mental health rather than hinders it. Managers can also create safety so that people feel comfortable raising a hand and seeking support when they need it. That demonstration of mentally healthy behaviors of a commitment to working sustainably is a really key part to everyone feeling like they can contribute to this culture, and really everyone can model those behaviors. Self-care is not just a nice-to-have. The most well-intended leader can tell their teams all day every day that mental health is a priority but if their actions don’t show it, people are not going to follow suit.

So you can actually take your PTO and unplug during that time. You can add a line to your email signature that encourages people to respond at their own pace. You can schedule messages and emails that are sent after hours so people don’t feel pressure to be on constantly, and you can celebrate those healthy behaviors and lift them up as practices that you’re proud of instead of only celebrating when people are burning themselves out and working 24/7.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Very, very helpful and practical. Carrie, one of the things I wrote down that you said is that success does not require immunity from life’s challenges. I think that really underpins a lot of what you are sharing around uplifting the importance of mental health across organizations and having that demonstrated by leadership and folks within all parts of the organization and recognizing when that’s happening.

So I think the last area we want to explore where we get a lot of questions is in this realm of sustainability and I would say sustainability and resilience, and with respect to mental health, folks often find sustaining long-term collaborative work really challenging, and part of those challenges relate to partners turning over so a lot of new folks coming in or losing partners where you’ve invested a lot of time in building trust, challenges of not perhaps seeing big wins and measurable progress on really complex and wicked problems, challenges trying to fundraise and financially sustain the work over the long term.

These challenges can take their toll on the mental health of the people engaged in this work, and I’m curious based on you own work what you’ve seen work well or maybe some cautions or things that might not have worked so well when trying to sustain long-term work that’s really complex.

Carrie Grogan: Yeah, I think especially when it comes to those wicked problems, we don’t really celebrate our wins and our successes, and instead really treat it as an individual problem or an individual issue that someone needs to solve for.

One of the pitfalls that we see most often in this work is organizations who over-index on apps and self-help solutions, but those practices alone don’t account for the workplace factors that often contribute to poor mental health. There was actually a recent study from Oxford University that found that workplace wellness offerings like apps, coaching, and courses in time management or financial wellbeing didn’t have any positive effect, and resilience and stress management trainings actually had a negative effect because think about it. That’s what we’re telling people is I know the work is hard. I know we are on a long journey. Why don’t you just take a yoga class and that will handle it, and it’s clearly just not that simple.

So when we’re consulting with clients, one of our goals is to increase, yes, utilization of those resources through stigma reduction and education of benefits but ultimately workplaces have to think bigger and more strategically than that.

Some of our nonprofit clients can really struggle with sustaining culture change because they lack leadership buy-in and that long-term commitment to their culture. Culture is really set at the top and if behaviors quickly reset to those unhealthy practices or they reset to that individual responsibility. Then employees are going to continue to struggle in silence, disengage, burn out and lose steam on the important purpose-driven work that they’re trying to solve for.

Bernie Wong: Yeah, I’d say one principle to encapsulate that is really what works well is when you center the experiences and perspectives of your workers in your approach for mental health or more generally, if the challenges are about, as you said, collaborators dropping off, how can we build predictable systems that onboard new ones or sustain the individuals carrying the work in the interim.

Or, if it’s about feeling connected to the work, how can we lift success stories and build rituals around celebrating wins and the people involved. If it’s challenges with balancing meetings and work and focus times or unclear comms around urgency, it’s directly tackling those issues around work itself which is usually the case rather than just deferring your people to use mental health resources to cope.

Now if you don’t center your workers’ voices, this is where we see mindfulness programs in place for burnout which is about work or I’ve seen meditation booths for warehouse workers who didn’t even have time to go to the bathroom so ultimately what we see work most and what workers told us what was most helpful in our latest national poll was creating a culture of safety for mental health and above all, a healthy and sustainable culture of work itself.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, all these things that we’ve been talking about are interconnected so I appreciate you kind of tying back to some of the other conversation that we’ve already had as well.

For folks who are feeling challenged, are there other things you would encourage them to consider?

Carrie Grogan: Yeah, I often hear from leaders of organizations who worry that creating a mentally healthy culture is at odds with a high-performing workplace, and that really cannot be further from the truth.

I often use the example of my computer. It is a great system. It is fast. It doesn’t have viruses. There is plenty of storage. It’s doing great except that I often forget to turn it off for months at a time, and then it sounds like it’s going to blow up, and it takes forever to load the easiest simplest document. Sustaining high performance is the same way especially in emotionally taxing work. It requires rest and recovery and cultivation of the positive sides of the mental health spectrum like connection and purpose, belonging, joy. We have to focus time on that and really unplug and take some breaks if we’re going to replenish ourselves and continue to perform in these highly emotional roles and continue to perform in a really positive way.

Bernie Wong: And I think it’s worth recognizing too that those of us in purpose work were predisposed to burnout. Research shows that those driven by purpose work are more willing to sacrifice money, time, and their wellbeing for work. They’re more willing to tolerate poor working conditions and subsequently more vulnerable to exploitation.

So in the same way many employers are saying work is just about work, I think workers are just as aligned. Taking care of our mental health at work is about work. We need to fix the culture and systems of work that create burnout and disproportionately rewards the few over the many, and when we don’t do this, this is where we’re seeing workers decide that all of this may not be worth it, and they’re taking steps back from our conventional notions of achievement and success to do what is within the realm of control, which is engage in work in a more sustainable way.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, Bernie and Carrie, thank you for those considerations. We’ve talked a lot now about those four areas that I mentioned so burnout, navigating conflict, supporting a culture that promotes mental health, and working to sustain really long-term, complex work.

Are there any other challenges to having a mentally healthy workplace and work experience that you see a lot in your own work or additional advice and considerations that you’d like to offer for folks?

Bernie Wong: Yeah, nothing we haven’t touched on before frankly because as you said, they’re all interconnected but I’ll just emphasize a few of those points.

The first is that the issues of burnout and mental health is a culture and system issue. Shiny apps, even AI, won’t solve for broken cultures of work.

Second is you have to support core human needs. Those are the livable wages, the autonomy, the flexibility, belonging. These are things that every worker and human being needs.

Third is you can’t have a mentally healthy workforce in workplaces that again disproportionately benefit one group over the other or benefit a few over the many. Issues of equity will always be something we must calibrate continuously.

Fourth, a mentally healthy workplace is achievable. It’s possible if you prioritize it, especially among leadership. We see some of the most well-resourced companies in the world still struggle with burnout because they just don’t put their people first.

And finally, mental health is a collective responsibility. You, I, Carrie, folks in the collective impact network all have a unique role to play whether you realize it or not. A single one of us, even myself included, may not solve the entirety of the mental health crisis we’re finding ourselves in but we each have a unique role to shift that needle. Whether you’re elevating voices like you are now, Jen, or an HR person at a company making the right culture investments or just an individual advocating for a healthier workplace, we all have a role.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Carrie, anything you would like to add?

Carrie Grogan: No. Bernie’s got it. He’s killed the game.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Killed it. Thank you so much, Bernie. The last thing I just want to ask is how folks can follow or get more involved in the work of Mind Share Partners.

Carrie Grogan: Yeah, as a nonprofit we have a ton of resources available for free on our website for folks to utilize. That website is You can sign up for our newsletter. You can get toolkits, worksheets, visit our blog for helpful insights depending on identity group or type of work that you’re doing. If you’d like to learn more about paid consulting or training, you can reach out and schedule a strategy call. We do offer discounted pricing for nonprofits as part of our commitment to strengthening the social impact sector but mostly we just want to enjoy being a part of this conversation and have more and more folks joining this movement to really create workplaces where employees and organizations can thrive. It is possible with a unified commitment.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Well, Carrie and Bernie, thank you so much. It’s hard to believe that Mind Share Partners is not more than was it 10 years or so old because you all have been so instrumental in catalyzing this field and shifting the field to understand and understand the importance of workplace mental health, and that is more important than ever today in 2024 so thank you to you and your team for everything that you’re doing and thank you for spending time sharing your wisdom and your experience with us today.

Carrie Grogan: Thank you so much for having us.

Bernie Wong: Thank you.

(Outro) And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes for this episode. And if you’re enjoying all that we share at the Collective Impact Forum podcast, we encourage you to rate us on your preferred podcast platform, and share your favorite episodes with colleagues.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

In Forum news, we’re excited to share that registration is now open for some upcoming online workshops. On June 26, we are hosting the workshop Solving Difficult Collective Impact Challenges, and on July 16 and 17, we are hosting the two-day workshop Facilitating Collaborative Meetings. These are both great learning sessions so if you are interested, please visit the events section of to learn more and register.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast producer. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, let’s keep working towards collective impact.


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