Dr Suzy Green: Workplace Wellness, Burnout & Some Positive Solutions

How do you know if you’re experiencing burnout? Are you aware of the connection between our immune systems and emotions? If you want to know more about these topics, then this is the episode for you.

Today we welcome a returning guest, Dr Suzy Green. Suzy is a clinical psychologist, founder of the Positivity Institute and on a mission to reduce the impact of mental health in our workplace, in our schools, and in our communities to “create a flourishing world”.

Dr Suzy Green: Workplace Wellness, Burnout & Some Positive Solutions Introduction

Well, today we are exploring workplace wellness. We’re looking at burnout and we’re looking at some solutions to those burnouts. And my guest, well, she’s back after I’ve already spoken to our guest, Dr Suzy Green, on previous occasions. We explored the Positivity Institute and her work there and the book that she’s written on that very subject. It’s just wonderful to have her back. I always enjoy talking to her.

She is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience in the treatment of mental illness. Suzy’s on a mission to reduce the impact of mental health in our workplace, in our schools, and in our communities. As a clinical psychologist who has scientifically investigated the impact of evidence-based coaching, Suzy is also committed to encouraging the use of coaching performance and well-being enhancement for all. 

Her extensive experience in the media includes having been a brand ambassador for ANZ, Fitbit, Nivea, Nespresso, and Officeworks. Now, when you speak to Suzy, you’ll see exactly why she would be such an ambassador. She’s also an official ambassador for the Starlight Children’s Foundation and regularly speaks at both keynote and panel presentations about Positive Psychology.

Now positive psychology is something that I have been aware of over the last ten years. It was actually the subject in one of the chapters in my book. I’ve been aware of the work of Professor Martin Seligman or as Suzy calls him Marty Seligman, who is a world leader in wellness, but in positive psychology. And he references and she references the term PERMA Model. We go into what that actually means.

Look, I just love the quote of the mission, if you like, of Suzy’s work, and that is to create a flourishing world. How’s this for a quote to inspire you? We help the world to flourish by creating meaningful and sustainable positive change. We are internationally recognised world leaders in applying cutting-edge scientific research to sustainably improve wellbeing and performance. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Dr Suzy Green.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:00] I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I am recording this podcast, The Gadigal People of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging.

Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, today we are exploring workplace wellness. We’re looking at burnout, and we’re looking at some solutions to those burnouts. And my guest, well, she’s back after I’ve already spoken to our guest, Dr Suzy Green, on previous occasions. We explored the Positivity Institute and her work there and the book that she’s written on that very subject. It’s just wonderful to have her back. I always enjoy talking to her.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:46] She is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience in the treatment of mental illness. Suzy’s on a mission to reduce the impact of mental health in our workplace, in our schools, and in our communities. As a clinical psychologist who has scientifically investigated the impact of evidence-based coaching, Suzy is also committed to encouraging the use of coaching performance and well-being enhancement for all. 

Her extensive experience in the media includes having been a brand ambassador for ANZ, Fitbit, Nivea, Nespresso, and Officeworks. Now, when you speak to Suzy, you’ll see exactly why she would be such an ambassador. She’s also an official ambassador for the Starlight Children’s Foundation and regularly speaks at both keynote and on panel presentations about Positive Psychology.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:41] Now, positive psychology is something that I have been aware of over the last ten years. It was actually the subject in one of the chapters in my book. I’ve been aware of the work of Professor Martin Seligman, or as Suzy calls him Marty Seligman, who is a world leader in wellness, but in positive psychology. And he references, and she references the term PERMA Model. We go into what that actually means.

Look, I just love the quote of the mission, if you like, of Suzy’s work, and that is to create a flourishing world. How’s this for a quote to inspire you? We help the world to flourish by creating meaningful and sustainable positive change. We are internationally recognised world leaders in applying cutting-edge scientific research to sustainably improve wellbeing and performance. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Dr Suzy Green. Welcome back, Suzy. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:02:45] Really pleased to be here, Ron. Thanks for having me. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:02:49] Suzy, the workplace has been a major focus. Well, it is always a major focus, but the last two years have been a particularly focussed time, and people are reflecting on their workspace and the health of their workforce and what they’re doing. When we look at a workplace, how do we define, say, poor health in the workplace?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:03:09] Yeah, it’s interesting, Ron. I mean, I tend to look at what we can do to create really flourishing workplaces, which I’m sure we’re going to get to today. But I think most of us sort of, whether it’s intuitively or have experienced what it’s like to be in a workplace that doesn’t lead to excellent or even good health outcomes, whether that’s physical or mental health. 

But increasingly, we’re recognising that it is the design of the workplace, the culture of the workplace, the leadership, you know, so many different what we would refer to as psychosocial hazards or psychosocial factors that affect our health and wellbeing. 

And whilst I’m absolutely for giving people skills and taking some personal responsibility for our health and wellbeing, I think it’s a really important acknowledgement that through COVID is increasingly being made that the workplace can either support our well-being or it can actively undermine our well-being at both our health and wellbeing.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:04:10] Hmm. I mean, when we think that we spend a third of our lives usually, and that’s an optimistic estimate for some people, they spend more than a third of their lives working. It’s a real it’s quite responsibility on the part of the workplace to get involved in that, isn’t it?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:04:27] Absolutely. And look, there have been laws globally and in Australia for what we might call work health and safety or occupational health and safety for a long time. But more recently, there’s been some rapid evolution which started with the release of a global or an international standard, which is ISO international standard, ISO 45003, which sits under another standard, ISO 45001, which is occupational health and safety. 

But this new one is specifically looking at psychological health and safety in the workplace because I can’t quite quote the stats, but and they do vary a little bit globally, but we know that increasingly, particularly stress-related workers compensation claims, there’s a majority of claims. 

There’s been a real move from physical claims to psychological claims. And so there is a recognition that there’s a shared responsibility for workplace, physical and mental health by the organisation and by the individual.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:05:28] Yeah. Yeah. And you mentioned the word stress, which of course, is a major focus of this podcast. And it’s interesting because we spoke to a CEO, a former CEO recently who identified worker’s compensation premiums as a major driver in pushing corporations to take the health of the workforce seriously.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:05:52] I know. And look, I think we need both the carrot and the stick if you like. And I think having legislation, and I think of just alert people to it differs from state to state here in Australia at the moment. But we’re going to see a lot more around that. So companies will be held legally, and they already are in terms of broader health and safety. 

But as I say, there’s going to be a much more specific focus on this psychological health and safety. But we really ideally, it’s the good and noble thing to do, really, is to create workplaces where people have the opportunity to flourish, to be their best selves. And in my, I guess, an idealistic world runs to self-actualize, you know, that they can be places where people truly can become the best version of themselves.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:06:36] Yes. Well, I suppose and maybe early in our discussion to talk about the meaning of life. But I’ve always thought fulfilling your potential was a good thing to aim for, whatever that means.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:06:48] Exactly. And I think, you know, we’ve got lots of research in psychology and organisational psychology on the impact of high rates of job satisfaction and engagement on productivity, you know, reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism. So we’ve got a pretty strong business case. 

And I think, as you said, COVID has really accelerated people’s awareness of mental, particularly mental health and the need to be much more proactive. And that, as I said before, means taking a good, hard look at your systems, policies, your procedures. Are they actively supporting or undermining wellbeing? And also, from my perspective, which is really our sweet spot at the Positivity Institute, is how can we promote flourishing through giving people the psychological skills which historically they wouldn’t have learnt until they did really suffer and went to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. 

So trying to equip people much more proactively so that when these challenges come, they’re better equipped. And as you know, Ron, part of our work is in schools, and we are seeing an increased uptake of, and it’s not just the independent schools now in public schools, kids, children being taught these wellbeing skills and building what’s being increasingly referred to as wellbeing literacy, which is a term that’s being research down at the University of Melbourne in the Centre for Wellbeing Science.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:08:14] Wow. That is so encouraging because some of the statistics that I’m hearing coming out of, well, youth, but in general in the population, I mean, I was going to ask about burnout because burnout is a big topic. And I think that’s really an opportunity to reflect on. And a lot of people would say, “Hey, maybe I’m suffering from burnout.” We hear the word a lot. What is it, and how common is it?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:08:42] Yeah, it’s really interesting. The term did exist prior to COVID, but I think there have been numerous factors that most of us are aware of that have heightened the chances of experiencing burnout. I was really fortunate to be the key researcher in this space. 

Christina Maslach speak at the Institute of Coaching over at Harvard a number of years ago now, which was one of those sort of moments where you think, “Wow, I’ve read all of her work, and she really has been the pioneer in this space.” And she originally, I guess, well, just to get it to keep it really simple, it’s just the adverse consequences of being in a work environment that has a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. 

But it’s particularly prolonged exposure to stress because, as you know, this is your area of expertise, Ron. We can have good stress and not-so-good stress, but this is experiencing prolonged chronic stress and often in response to stressors in the environment. So, yes.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:09:42] So then she found in her research three key components that make up burnout, where this sense of exhaustion which and I just listen to a podcast recently about burnout and the researcher was saying that a lot of people think because they’re feeling emotionally drained, that they have burnout. 

But that’s not the full, you know, the full definition of it. You have to also have this sense of cynicism or disengagement, and you become quite cynical about your work. And you can also have this sense of ineffectiveness that am I really making a difference here? Am I really doing? Am I my achieving anything? So I guess a lowered sense of competence as well.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:10:21] So it’s a big one. And again, did a bit of research leading up to today, couldn’t find any really rigorous studies here in Australia. But there’s been lots and lots of workplace reports done, and they vary from one in two people, one in three people, and one in five people reporting symptoms of burnout. So it’s a hot topic right now.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:10:43] It’s so interesting to hear you include those three because, you know, I can imagine that people just associating exhaustion with one.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:10:51] That’s right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:10:52] But disengagement and ineffectiveness tap so into the work that you do, you know, with the positivity. And we’re going to talk about that. But what are some of the long-term impacts of that on a person? You know, how do they manifest themselves? 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:11:09] Well, I think, and I’m not entirely sure the research on this, but I guess from my experience as a clinical psych, they particularly the increase of negative emotional affect. And again, I actually just found another study this morning showing with burnout that, there’s definitely reduced positive effect, which makes sense. 

So you’re not experiencing much positive emotionality and lots of negative emotionalities. And as you would know, over time, that could become a subclinical depression or even lead to clinical depression. 

But other outcomes can be increased uptake of alcohol. And we saw a lot of that in COVID, didn’t we, where people were sort of turning to alcohol to relieve some of the stress that they were experiencing. And there are a lot of physical health, like high blood pressure and type two diabetes. So there is a range of outcomes.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:11:57] And I know when I first looked at the research on stress when COVID hit, the decades and decades of research on stress, and again, you probably know more this than me on our physical health. So we know that, again, prolonged exposure to stress has a detrimental effect on our physical health through our immune system. 

But thankfully, an increasingly, we’re getting research to show that improved or enhanced positive emotions can have a buffering effect on our immune system as well. So which is why, you know, we try to, and it’s not toxic positivity by any means, but there’s a real business case, and I guess a health case to actively and intentionally trying to create a little bit more joy and positivity in our lives for our physical health as well as our mental health.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:12:49] It’s interesting, isn’t it, because, I mean, obviously, stress has been a major focus for me over many years. And I’ve kind of extended this definition of stress as being anything that compromises immune function and promotes chronic inflammation. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:13:05] Right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:13:06] Because that’s not just I mean, there’s a much broader definition of stress.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:13:11] Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:13:12] And we’re going to try and pick can and identify and reduce in as many different areas as we can. I know this is an overused word, but to build resilience. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:13:22] Yes.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:13:23] Back into our systems.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:13:25] Absolutely. But I think it’s so wonderful that through the work that you do as well, it’s the education, because I don’t think people, at least in my experience, the majority of people don’t understand that link between our emotions and our immune system and then our physical health. No. 

And I went to my GP recently, and she said that people are often hesitant to even consider that it’s just that its stress. It’s got to be. They focus very much on the physical symptom and that there’s something physical that needs to be fixed rather than recognising that there might be something emotional going on. And, of course, that can be a reflection of the environment that we’re in, not just trying to blame the individual for not coping or not being resilient enough. 

But I guess coming back to my earlier point, there’s such a much greater focus on the environments that we’re in and whether they are much like plants, you know, if it’s getting enough sun and water, then it experiences the heliotropic effect. 

You know, all living things move towards that which energises them and move away from that which depletes our energy. Just similarly to plants, we’re the same we move towards that which is energising, and we move away from that, which is de-energising.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:14:40] Wow. Oh, what a beautiful metaphor. I love that. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:14:42] Yeah. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:14:44] Yeah.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:14:44] I really think it’s used in positive organisational scholarship at the Ross School of Business, and Professor Kim Cameron talks about organisations that are I guess, obeying or, you know, that we’re really trying to create the heliotropic effect in positive organisations.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:15:05] When people come at work and, and are stressed what and then feeling burnout. What’s available currently now is a sort of a standard approach.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:15:13] Interesting. And just again, just before I came on this morning, an HR update came through on the role of the CEO in mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. And I think the stats were that 80% of the top 500 businesses in Australia have an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), but less than 5% of people in terms of uptake are utilising them, and I’m not sure that was just one study and that could be, could not be, you know, because as I said, it just flashed up before I came on. 

But I do hear I speak to a lot of HR Directors, and unfortunately, even though I think the stigma is reducing and things are changing, there’s still some hesitancy about using EAP. Sometimes you only get three or maybe six sessions. And if it’s something that has been going on a long time, you know, you may not resolve it in six sessions. And you are probably aware that the Government extended the mental health referral scheme to, I think, up to ten..

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:16:15] I think.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:16:15] In session.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:16:16] I think in ten sessions. Yeah.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:16:16] Now because yeah, we may not address all those issues in six sessions, and I’ve heard people in the workplace say to me, Well, what’s the point? I’ll go to EAP, and then I only get six sessions, and then I’ve got to go and get a referral from my GP and then I have to tell the whole story again. So I think there’s this I absolutely think EAP is a non-negotiable and really, and it’s a wonderful service for people to have. But I think there’s a lot more work to be done in terms of increasing uptake and making it, I guess, a better solution in the workplace.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:16:49] The P in EAP stands for?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:16:53] Provider? I think because I’ve been thinking…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:16:56] Because that P…

Dr Suzy Green: [00:16:57] Provider.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:16:58] Yeah. Yeah. Because I think that P has great potential. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:17:02] Yeah, I like that. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I really, you know, I spoke at the National EAP Conference a number of years ago now on the benefits of coaching, which, as you know, is my background as a mental health and wellbeing strategy and to some of the EAP providers told me that that they do make coaching available as part of their broader service. 

But I guess my argument would be most psychologists haven’t been trained in coaching methodologies as such. And so I think there’s a definite opportunity for whether you’re a counsellor or a social worker or a psychologist to learn more of these proactive to help people move into the future, not just resolve the issues of the past.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:48] Mhm. And I mean logistically, when you think about it, and I saw another really disturbing statistic coming out of the Australian Pain Foundation saying that up to 44% of people in Australia have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, which is an extraordinary figure. And while there may be six or eight or ten sessions with a psychologist, I mean the workforce, there’s not the workforce there to deal with the problem.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:18:16] No, exactly. Exactly. And a lot of this, I guess, comes down to the leader as well. And increasingly, there’s a lot of pressure on leaders and managers and, you know, I guess themselves finding it challenging to manage some of these issues. But we do know that the energy this is some research, again, by Professor Kim Cameron out of University of Michigan that the positive energy of the leader has an impact onto everybody in the team and even back to their home environments as well. 

So I usually say no pressure, but if you’re a leader, it’s even more important that you’re investing in your own wellbeing and that you are trying to influence the organisation to create these flourishing workplaces for people to thrive in. Hmm.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:19:04] And we’re going to get on to that because but, but I think another thing I wanted to ask you before we kicked off talking about the positive side of this, what’s potential is this new working from home has been legitimised, hasn’t it? 

And I mean, it used to be seen as a soft option. “Oh, she wants to work. He wants to work from home. Come on.” That’s skiving off. But it’s been legitimised now. But that has a kind of impact. I mean, there are some challenges there, some positive ones. But what are some of the challenges of working from home?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:19:33] Yeah, you know, it’s been really interesting, and I just attended the Workplace Wellness Festival recently here in Sydney, and there was lots of conversation and debate about the pros and cons from a psychological perspective, there are three or four psychological needs that have been researched for decades that we know that if they’re thwarted. 

So if we can’t fulfil these needs much, again, like if plants don’t get some air and water, the same analogy, then our wellbeing and our mental health suffer. So their sense of competence, a sense of autonomy and a sense of relatedness, of positive relationships. But the autonomy piece, so what the flexible work environment has done is really, you know, really, I guess, fit into a greater sense of autonomy, which is a great thing for our wellbeing.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:20:21] So flexible work practises, the opportunity to sort of schedule your day as long as you’re getting what you worked on is a big tick for autonomy. I think that some of the nuances around this relate to some individual differences and also some environmental factors. So, for example, nice people wouldn’t know this, but I’m more of an introvert. Even though people think I’m an extrovert, I really crave my time to myself. I grew up pretty much as an only child, so I spent a lot of time by myself, quite like working from home, and I let my office go. 

I’m still here now working from home, but I guess I’m an extroverted introvert, so I am also craving to get out more and more, particularly and hopefully as the weather warms up. But I think some of the introverts really love being at home, whereas the extroverts really wanted to get out and that perhaps and again, I can’t quote any research on this, but then also the environment.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:21:20] So if you’re in a home and you’re alone, and a lot of young people my son was 26 home by him stay was with me for the first lockdown, and then he went moved out to his own place by himself. And a lot of young people were in that situation. And we know the statistics. 

You’re most at risk of developing a mental disorder under the age of 25. So I think a lot of young people couldn’t wait to get back to the office if they were home alone or if they were in, you know, shared places and perhaps there’s a lot of tension. And the same goes for those with young families. And perhaps if you are in a small space.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:21:59] So I think there are a lot of factors that affected whether you potentially flourished or didn’t flourish working from home and again, leading to our choices now whether we want to be back in the workplace or not. I know a lot of the companies we work with, there are still some quite some strict rules around returning to the office. And there was also this debate about the benefits of creating energy and positive workplace culture by having people in the workspace together. Because we know emotions are contagious. 

So there’s a positive energy contagion by being near each other. And then there were also discussions around how do we continue to create inclusivity, which is a big issue in workplaces now when we’ve got hybrid working arrangements, and then, of course, we’ve got people like Elon Musk, that is, I think it was Elon Musk wasn’t at all that basically said everybody’s back to work, you know. So yeah. So I think it’s an interesting time, but I really do think continuing to provide people with a level of autonomy because of what I quoted before the research says is a good thing.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:23:07] Hmm. Well, I don’t want to defend Elon Musk, but I do know that as a dentist, it’s very hard to work from home. And I imagine building cars is difficult unless you’re all in the workforce. But it is interesting about the autonomy part of it and the legitimising of it also. But this leads us into positive psychology and the PERMA model and how that translates into a workplace culture.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:23:35] Yeah, interesting, Ron. Because when we look at particularly workplace mental health, it’s a wonderful model. Again, this is based on some research by a professor down in Melbourne, Professor Anthony Lamontagne, and I’ve been using this model a lot in my work. It’s called The Integrated Approach to Workplace Mental Health, and it’s actually been picked up by the Victorian Government I’m aware of as well.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:24:01] So it says there are three, I guess, approaches to workplace mental health. One is to prevent harm. So that is assessing for and reducing psychosocial hazards. You know, whether that’s work overload, role clarity, there’s a whole range of these hazards. So you need to assess and, mitigate, reduce those hazards. And then the second one is to mitigate illness. 

So that is when people are, I guess, unwell, providing EAP, for example, or providing ways, whether it’s rehabilitation or ways

 to help manage the illness once somebody has an illness. And then the third one, which brought a big smile to my face, was called Promote Positivity or Promote Flourishing. And that’s proactive on, and of course, there are ways to do that at the individual, at the team, and at the organisational levels or more simply, me, we, and us. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:24:59] So when we’re looking at applying positive psychology in the workplace, we, we look at well firstly education because people don’t know what they don’t, but then how can they apply what they’ve learnt to themselves and that’s that personal responsibility. 

So if we use PERMA as a model, which is, as you know, Ron, positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment, then these five foundations of a flourishing person or a flourishing life, so at the individual level, I’d be asking myself, “What do I do on a daily or weekly or monthly basis to create more joy in my life?” So I am experiencing these positive emotions.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:25:39] Engagement. “Do I know what my strengths are, and am I using them regularly to build my levels of competence and to also build a sense of meaning by using my strengths in service of others?”.

R is Relationship. So, “Am I mindfully present, you know, rather than multitasking and not being fully present with somebody? Am I building a high-quality connection with someone? Am I validating their perspectives even if I don’t agree with them? And do people feel energised when they walk away from my interaction?” That’s relationships.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:26:12] Meaning. “I know what my values are, and am I actually living those values at work and in my life more generally?” And sometimes people can make very small tweaks to live their values just a teensy weensy bit more. 

And I’ve seen wellbeing go up significantly, just that awareness of what matters and then making some small tweaks to living those values. Also, “Do I have a purpose?” And some people don’t tend to think about an overarching purpose of their lives, but at least some level of meaning and knowing what matters is important.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:26:47] And then Accomplishment. So again, “Do I set some goals?” And if you’re not necessarily. You know, a goal-person. Do you know what gets you out of bed in the morning? And do you know what you want to accomplish? And are you getting a sense of confidence? Are you making progress toward the things that matter to you in your life? 

So I ask myself that at an individual level. I would also encourage people to think about getting a coach if they’ve never had one because it can really accelerate their goal striving and well-being. Then at the team level, there’s a wonderful opportunity for the leader to introduce, I guess, a model like PERMA and then look at at the team level, same sorts of questions. 

How are we building positive emotions? Does everybody know what their strengths are? How are we relating to each other? Do we use a coaching approach? Do we know what our purpose is? How does it align with the company vision and strategy, and are we again clear on our goals and getting a sense of competence?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:27:43] So again, there are many, many different strategies and initiatives you can use. And then finally, at an organisational level, do our systems, our policies and procedures… Do they all align, I guess, with theories like self-determination theory? You know, are they building competence? Do they give people a sense of autonomy? Do they help create positive relationships? 

So it’s taking a much broader lens at, as I said, systems, policies, and procedures. And are they in alignment with what we know from positive psychology will lead to enhanced levels of well-being and reduce levels of mental illness?

So it’s a big job. It’s, you know, it’s organisational development and organisational change. And anyone working in that field will tell you that’s the long game. And it’s not something that you get. You start here, and you get there, and you finish. It’s ongoing how do we keep this culture positive and flourishing as particularly through people’s life journey from onboarding, through development right through to perhaps outplacement or retirement? It’s the whole lifecycle of an employee.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:28:53] You know, it’s funny, as you’re speaking and you saying it’s an ongoing thing. I think one of the things I’ve observed in my life, and I know this is with my wife, too, is that as a male, we are often very solutions-focussed. Like we’ve dealt with that issue, we’ve done that, yes, we dealt with workplace health last year. 

That’s been done and where, you know, women tend to see it as a more ongoing conversation, a continuous process. And I wonder where if we saw more women in charge of companies, we would see perhaps that it is. I hate to stereotype it.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:29:28] Yeah, they are broad gender generalisations. We have to be mindful of that. But I think, mind you, I’m a bit like solution focussed too, right? So I like to set a goal and achieve it. Basically, you should focus on that figure. Sometimes it is important to sit, as you know and increasingly, in psychology more generally, we’re being encouraged to sit with the discomfort. 

And even from a coaching perspective, often people want to rush to a new job or a new relationship. And part of coaching is helping people to sit with the discomfort as we systematically look at the different pathways that might be available. 

How do they align to my values? How do they leverage my strengths? So there is a tendency because most of us don’t like the discomfort or the anxiety with not taking action, but there’s real benefit in sometimes sitting, and I think there’s real wisdom in taking that approach as well. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:30:25] Hmm. It’s interesting, too, that you mentioned defining three paths to burnout as including disengagement and ineffectiveness or accomplishing, you know, feeling there’s meaning and accomplishment. I mean, the PERMA approach ticks so many boxes in this puzzle. It’s a really great structure, isn’t it, to approach these issues?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:30:47] It absolutely is. And, of course, there are many, I would say, pathways to PERMA. There are lots of.. so PERMA, if we look at it, as I said, is the foundation of a flourishing life. But there are lots of pathways, for example, lots of pathways to build positive emotions, you know, and I guess the types of activities that one person might engage in to build positive emotions might be different from the pathways that another person utilises to build positive emotions. 

But it really comes down to. I guess self-awareness. And, you know, even yesterday, I was having a discussion with someone, a client I’m about to work with. And he said, you know, it’s people have what does he say? It’s common sense but not common practise. And I think… 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:31:32] Interesting.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:31:33] …And I think even in physical health and nutrition, you know, I worked in a dietitians office when I first finished my doctorate. I worked there for, I think, 12 or 18 months. And I had person after person coming in saying to me, “I could be a dietitian. Suzy, I know what I’m meant to be doing. I’m just not doing it.” 

And I think we’re at the same point now psychologically. We’re at a point where we can prescribe activities that we know, and research supports can boost our psychological well-being. But that gap between knowing and doing is a challenging one, which is why, again, I think coaching, in its very many forms, doesn’t have to be professional or expensive. It can just be even a coaching conversation with a colleague or, you know, is really the secret sauce in translating knowledge into action. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:32:23] I was going to ask what some of the challenges are, and that is one I mean, you’ve dealt with companies, and you come with this wonderful model that, you know, if only they would embrace it. What are some of the challenges there? What’s the blockage? 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:32:40] To embracing, I guess, more of a positive approach?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:32:44] Yeah

Dr Suzy Green: [00:32:44] I think, you know, historically, it was seen as a bit fluffy or a bit Pollyanna-ish. But yeah, the research, I mean, I know I had a lot of people who used to look to me like Pollyanna before, but it’s very hard to argue with the research now. And when you have organisations like Accenture, who we’ve worked with, this is our fifth year working with them on the Leadership Development Programme, which is based on the science of positive psychology and positive organisational scholarship. 

We work with large pharmaceutical, global pharmaceutical companies, and a range of companies in all industries, really construction. We’re working with a wonderful medium-sized construction company here in Australia. I had gone along and spoken to a group of CEOs, and this CEO completely understood it. And I can tell you, not everybody in the room did that. He could absolutely say that there was a duty of care from a health and safety perspective. 

But he also could say that that was what was going to attract and retain people, and they wanted to have a positive workplace culture. And he realised they were doing many wonderful things, which many companies are doing lots of wonderful things. But I think what a positive side and puzzle scholarship do is it brings the scientific underpinnings, and it provides a framework so you can see how all of the initiatives actually connect to the science. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:34:08] And in fact, that’s what we do when we work with schools and when we work with organisations is to firstly map out all the different initiatives, perhaps even using PERMA as a model. But what are you doing already to build positive emotions, engagement, you know, blah, blah, blah? So I just think it provides a wonderful framework. 

So I think a lack of understanding of what it is. And so education’s really important for people to know that there is very hard, rigorous science supporting everything that we present from an education perspective. And I think, you know, I mean time everyone’s just so busy they and that was that that comment before it’s common sense but not common practise and I did write a blog on LinkedIn earlier this year, which I called Wellbeing Information Overload, and it was like when COVID hit, it was, you know, companies were just throwing information, putting it on intranets, sending out emails. 

But overwhelmingly, people would say, “We don’t have time to even reflect on this, let alone read it.” So if you’re going to provide people with education and resources and initiatives, you also need to provide some space to personalise it, to contextualise it, because otherwise, it’s such a waste of time and money. And, you know, and we’re really creating the environments that we’re aiming to create.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:35:36] So when you come into a company, and you get by and from a CEO, how do you assess success? How do you measure success?

Dr Suzy Green: [00:35:44] There’s a range of, I guess, metrics that you can use in saying that it’s not always easy. I’m always really hard upfront about what we want metrics, but I can tell you time and time again, it’s been very, very difficult for us to enact that for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the company will say, people, fill out enough questionnaires as it is. We don’t want any more metrics. We know this works. 

We don’t feel that we need to show the metrics, which makes it hard for us because when we go to another company, we want to take the metrics. And that’s been my whole background has been in, you know, assessing wellbeing and wellbeing outcomes that you can use. There are we can sometimes create our own, I guess, survey based on some validated psychometric measures like well-being measures like strength knowledge, strength use, flow, and how often people are in the flow. So sometimes we can create our own.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:36:39] There are some existing well-being measures on the market now technology platforms are a number of tech platforms that have well-being assessments now. Yes, so there are ways to do it. And then you can also look at existing internal. Like absenteeism, the whole range of other promotions. 

So existing pre-existing metrics that you can also look at. But of course, you know, can you say it’s just down to your programme when there are so many variables that happen in a workplace? So it gets very messy and slippery sometimes to do this real-world research.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:14] But Suzy, providing a structure like you do at The Positivity Institute and the work that you do it is almost a no-brainer to any thinking CEO or HR person. I can only imagine. And in schools too. This must be an exciting new area to be working in. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:37:30] Yeah, it’s wonderful in many ways. Schools are ahead of organisations, I would argue. Not all schools, but you know, this field of positive education, which launched about 2008, 2009, when Geelong Grammar first brought Marty Seligman out, and it took a little bit of a hit through COVID. We had so many cancellations and postponements, and as you know, the schools suffered probably one of the professions or industries that suffered the most through COVID, particularly teachers and anyone working in a school, and of course, the students. 

But it’s wonderful to say we’ve just run two programmes down in South Australia just in the last week. So schools are starting to re-engage again with education, and we have our Positive Education Schools Association conference coming up at Ravenswood here in October. I think it is. So I think we’re going to start to see a re-emergence of that.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:38:25] But I also wanted to, just while I think about it at the same time, Marty Seligman published this seminal paper on Positive Education, which was 2009. There was another paper he published on Positive Health, and I think it was the same year. And because Posad had really just took off. 

Nothing much happened in the pause health field. But I’m really excited to tell you that we’re really starting to see some movement in that field. I think it’s the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland now have a master’s of health coaching and a Diploma in Positive Health that my colleague, Professor Christian Van Newberg, is running over in Ireland. 

And we’ve also just started work here with intensive care, New South Wales. So we just held a well-being summit with 100 people about three weeks ago, starting to explore what are the factors. And again, this is we’re very mindful to acknowledge that clearly, there are workplace factors that impact health care workers, and that’s a big part of the pie. 

But again, looking at some of the existing initiatives and there are some wonderful initiatives already existing across the state. And then also looking to what else we can do in terms of education and coaching and other support to support staff in intensive care.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:39:47] I know that you mentioned he’s talked about positive health because whenever we reference it in our programme, we always use the term PERMA.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:39:59] That’s it.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:39:59] H and because I think he kind of came to the point where he thought, yes, it’s good to have all those five things but to have good health that facilitates those first five things makes them more achievable, or at least. 

Dr Suzy Green: [00:40:13] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. They’re strongly connected, as you would know. Sometimes we see the term a V and values for vitality as well. So yeah, there is increasing in this area of positive health, which I would say watch this space. It’s very exciting. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:40:29] Well, Suzy, what a note to finish on. And thank you again. Always so great to catch up. And I love everything that the positivity institute and what you are doing. Keep going.

Dr Suzy Green: [00:40:41] Thank you, Ron. And thanks for the opportunity to speak with you again today and for the wonderful work that you always do.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:40:50] Now. I always come away talking to Suzy Green, feeling positive, feeling uplifted, feeling… Well, her amission is to create a flourishing world. And she certainly has that impact on me whenever I talk to her. 

And I hope that has inspired you as well. I just love her approach, and we will, of course, have links to The Positivity Institute and Suzy’s work and her book. So I hope this finds you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well.



This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.