Episode 385: Managing Employee Trauma at Work With Matthew Brown From Schoox

Summary:Workology Podcast interview with Matthew Brown, Chief People and Culture Officer with Schoox, talking about workplace trauma.

Episode 385: Managing Employee Trauma at Work With Matthew Brown From Schoox

Summary:Workology Podcast interview with Matthew Brown, Chief People and Culture Officer with Schoox, talking about workplace trauma.

Table of Contents

We have policies for years that say we don’t retaliate, we don’t do these things. But we also are welcomed into a lot of organizations. Many of us are welcomed into the workplace with this mindset that you check your baggage at the door, you leave your emotions at the door, you don’t bring that stuff in. And that in many ways has perpetuated the trauma that continues to show up in the workplace because we’re asking you to be, not you.

Episode 385: Managing Employee Trauma at Work With Matthew Brown From Schoox

Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:53.23] Welcome to the Workology Podcast powered by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. These are two of the courses I offer for HR certification prep and recertification for HR leaders. Now, this podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer or CHRO. The CHRO is sometimes called the VP of People or Chief People Officer, and it’s an executive or C-level role that deals with managing human resources as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. The CHRO podcast series on Workology is sponsored by HR Benchmark Survey. Share your insights at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. Now, one of the reasons why I continue doing this series is because there’s a lot of mystery around that CHRO-level role, and I want aspiring creators to know the types of skills and experiences they need to promote into a future CHRO role, along with hearing from senior HR leaders how they’re partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. Now, before I introduce our next guest, I want to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Today I’m joined by Matt Brown. He’s the Chief People and Culture Officer with Schoox. Matt has 15+ years of experience in IT, HR, L&D, and talent management across multiple industries, primarily in the hospitality and restaurant spaces. Today he blends people, processes, and technology to better connect HR with learning and development, helping organize and create cultures and experiences that have a lasting impact. Matt, welcome back to the Workology Podcast.

Matthew Brown: [00:02:52.03] Thank you so much. I don’t, I don’t envy you. That was a mouthful. Take it out there. I’m just a fun guy that likes to do really fun things that put people in the center of all of it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:02.86] I am a fun gal that likes to, to, to put people in the center of it, so I know this is going to be a fun conversation. We talked, I mentioned the intro a little bit about how you got here, but let’s kind of back up. Tell us, how did you get started, especially in HR. And how has your work evolved over time into your current role?

Matthew Brown: [00:03:25.75] You know, I think, I always love sharing my story. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible because I’m a talker. I can go on for hours and hours. But I think, you know, I took a very, I would call it nontraditional path, especially given the time that I was coming through the ranks in the nineties and the early 2000s. I should put it out there first that I started my professional career without a college degree, right? Like that. Who am I? What do you do in, in the world? Why is this the case? I like to do things a little more difficult, right? Like the challenge, I, in 2016, went back and got my degree in HR management, which it did add some value, but I want to put that out there to begin the story just because I want people to know the only obstacles, the only barriers that you have are really the ones that you put on yourself, right? Just persistence and patience and looking for creative ways to leverage what you know, you bring. I got my first exposure to HR honestly by, I went to a training class. Years and years and years ago I worked for Chase Mortgage, now JPMorgan Chase Investment Services and I was just an eager participant in a training class, and I was so enamored by what the facilitator was doing, and I was there to learn a lot about the content, but I found myself really focusing on that art of training. So I created a relationship with that person and spent time really just digging in to understand like, How did you get here? What drove you here? Why this? Because I come from a family of educators. I’ve got a lot of teachers and between my siblings, parents, grandparents.

Matthew Brown: [00:05:06.81] And so I understand the mindset there. But I was, I was curious about it from that perspective. And so then I was able to kind of find a way to step into training. And I had a wide range of roles. I’m very technically minded, so my crossover point was easy to go in as a learning technologist. And then I went from learning technologist to instructional designer facilitator, and then it felt like there was something missing. Like training is only part of the equation. And when I got to a place where I saw training and HR start to come together, that’s when I knew really where I wanted to go and that I needed to go a little bit further in to satisfy what, what my curiosities were. Along the way, I tried some project management roles. I actually, again, being a technology guy, took some IT leadership roles and fun way to partner with HR or from an IT. perspective. And then when I joined Schoox, four and a half years ago, I was given the opportunity to leverage my experience as an HR practitioner and a people development specialist in some creative ways. We’re a tech company. We are a learning and talent development platform provider. So our CEO said, Hey, I think you’d be really great to start building the foundation for marketing. You are our customer, you know, you’ve lived that life. You know what they are concerned about. You know what drives them, what motivates them. So like help us in that way, which I thought, Never thought that would be a possibility but here we go. Let’s go do it. And then that ultimately led me to this role. Chief People and Culture Officer, which has been my proudest moment ever.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:52.00] I love the story and I love the nontraditional side of things. Frankly, I think we’re going to see more people stepping into the workplace, but specifically HR. I have a college degree, but honestly, as an entrepreneur, I feel like the best way for me to learn is YouTube and hiring a coach to say, Tell me all your secrets so, or reading a book. So I think nontraditional learning is fabulous. You don’t know the rules, so you don’t know what they are. Therefore you work through a more creative and different route. So that’s also why I think I love talking to you and learning from you so much, because you see the world from a really different lens than your average HR person.

Matthew Brown: [00:07:38.95] I am. I like to think so. I have some other time. We can sit down over coffee and I can give you the life story with all the experiences. But I, you know, years and years and years ago, I had a very pivotal moment in my life where I was forced to make a decision. And we’re always given choices, even when we don’t feel like we’re given choices. And that choice was I could be a victim of circumstance or I can choose to learn what I can learn from this particular event and feel myself going forward. And that shift really allowed me to unlock so much and much to what you said. I didn’t really know the rules and I didn’t want to know the rules. First. I wanted to just charge in and then learn as I go and continue to always be focused on never stop learning.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:29.08] It takes a special leader to support somebody like that, I will say, and I didn’t have that benefit. That’s why I work for myself. And I don’t always make friends. But it sounds like from our conversations like you have a really supportive CEO and leadership team and good relationship that is helping you and supporting you to make some mistakes, learn some things and just see and create like an HR department that operates differently the most.

Matthew Brown: [00:08:59.23] Yes, And I will say it wasn’t always the case. It does take a special leader to be able to navigate someone that approaches things the way that I do. A lot of starts and stops along the way. A lot of I like to tell people, you got to know what you don’t want in order to really lock in on what you do. And so I had a lot of experiences that taught me very clearly what I didn’t want and what didn’t work, and a lot of patience to kind of cultivate that into a strategy that I could share with leaders going forward. This is how I operate, this is how I show up. These are the the places where I need your support.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:38.20] I love that. So let’s kind of focus a little bit on skills and experiences. What do you think are the absolute requirements for somebody stepping into a Chief Human Resources Officer role in terms of experience? And, and this is thinking also to maybe somebody who’s just starting out in the industry.

Matthew Brown: [00:09:56.79] Yeah, there’s a lot of different ways that I could answer this question. But as you, as you stated when we first started, Chief HR Officer, HR in general is different from one company to the next. And the reason, because of that, the reason why is because we’re focused on people and no two people are the same, so when you get a group of people together in an organization, you really have to understand the dynamic at play and not just coming straight from a place and here’s what the book tells us to do. So I think, of course, there is a requirement to have a really comprehensive understanding of the HR domain, meaning functionally understand all of the elements that go into HR or understand that HR looks a little different at some companies. Sometimes it contains an operation slice, sometimes it contains training, sometimes it’s nested under operations. I’ve been, I’ve reported into legal, I’ve reported it to finance. I’ve reported in a lot of different places. So it’s, spend time really just understanding contextually what the function of HR is comprised of and then go a step beyond. And this is really the next piece that I’m going to share is something I think that’s highly relevant for where we are today.

Matthew Brown: [00:11:08.08] It may make some people uncomfortable, but I do that sometimes. So I think over and beyond that, it’s really mastering how you show up in the workplace with compassion, with empathy, and with patience. I think those three things are absolutely critical to be a successful HR leader, especially in 2023 and beyond. Self awareness, transparency and vulnerability are also highly critical in my opinion. These are some of the things that have served me very well. I have been on a lifelong journey. I’ve never been satisfied that I am fully self aware, so I’m constantly seeking to learn more about myself. I am constantly trying to create an environment of open, honest feedback, but also I am perfectly happy to let the facade down. I’m not going to show up and be the perfect leader. I’m human just like everybody else, which means I’ve got life problems, I’ve got work problems, I’ve got things I don’t quite know, and it’s okay to put those things out there. And it creates a level of respect that really can help fuel what you need when you’re driving the people portion of the business.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:18.91] Let’s talk about the size and the number of employees at Schoox. So company size information, how big is the HR team? Who do you directly report to?

Matthew Brown: [00:12:30.54] So I report directly to our incredible CEO. So I, at at Schoox, HR has an actual seat at the table, which is hugely exciting. So in my time here, we have grown from just over 30 employees to now, where over 275 globally. So we are in multiple countries, highly remote workforce. And it should also be said we are a very multi generational workforce. I think we, we actually contain five full generations in our workforce, which is awesome to see. People in culture team, as we refer to it here, is how we talk about HR. It’s a team of eight and we encompass every component of people’s strategy and people touch points in the business. So that is explicitly employee experience. All of the traditional HR functions, all of talent development, and we also have a unique place in that we somewhat serve as product advisors because our platform serves the needs of, quite frankly, my team. So we get a chance to bring our experiences forward to help influence the direction of the product alongside our customers.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:50.81] Awesome. Well, I know we’ve been talking about, like, the structure and your experience and your background, but I want to shift gears a little bit. This podcast, when you and I connected, I think at SHRM, actually, reconnected. We were talking about the topic of trauma in the workplace and you’re doing a lot of work in this area. So I wanted to make this podcast interview a conversation because I think we need to have more conversations around trauma because it exists and it’s here. And I think with the focus on mental health and more wellness, it’s becoming more common to, to talk about triggers and, and trauma in the workplace. So I wanted to ask you, how do you define trauma? And how do we help employees recognize that?

Matthew Brown: [00:14:44.15] You know, trauma has, I’ve been really spending a lot of time focusing in this area. The things that I suspected and the things that I’ve learned over time have just been substantiated and validated over and over and over. First is that trauma can be virtually anything that impacts your ability to function in the workplace if we’re talking about trauma in the workplace. But in general, you know, it is so subjective, and that’s probably the hardest part for people to really reconcile. What might be considered trauma to me or a traumatizing event might just be ,eh, for you, right? Like something that you just brush off. And so we always have to try and remember to honor this, that what is a big deal for you may not be a big deal for me, but that doesn’t allow me the right to minimize what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. Oftentimes when I have conversations with employees or with other HR professionals, we start talking about trauma. We find some broad brush definitions where people say, Oh, trauma is a car crash. Trauma is a death. Trauma can actually be a seemingly innocent conversation with your boss that gets into a heated place, which then triggers you to recall something that was very traumatizing from another employer, from even childhood. So it can really run the gamut. There are some definitions that we can anchor too, so I always like to say trauma includes but is not limited to things like PTSD, depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse, even life and relationships. But trauma really can be anything. And I think in order to help employees identify and recognize it, we have to talk about it in that way. Creating that space that’s safe so people understand you don’t need to minimize if you are feeling a certain way that is valid, that is your reality. And your reality affects how you behave, how you interact with others, how open you are to conversations. So being able to paint that picture wide enough for the organization so everyone understands trauma doesn’t just fit in a nice, neat little box.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:02.99] It’s a real individualized, I would say experience, but it is highly customized to that individual. So if you and I have the same experience like you were saying, it might trigger something else with me and you might be, be perfectly fine. I’ll, I will give an example. So for those of you that don’t know, I’m a domestic abuse survivor. I was married to an alcoholic, now ex husband for seven years. And there’s a certain time of year for me that just triggers things in my body. And it’s taken me a long time to even understand or recognize those. And in fact, I’m still processing and I have been divorced for, I’m trying to do the math in my head, over 15 years. So I think 17 years, actually. So, it is different for every individual. And it’s not just something that has to be reset. Like sometimes there’s something that I encounter or a person that looks like my ex, that’s like, I see the beard and the whole thing and it’s like, Oh, oh my gosh, what is happening? So I just want people to understand that it doesn’t have to be a traumatic event. You could just be going out and get in the mail and you come back and something really resurfaces.

Matthew Brown: [00:18:27.38] I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing that. And I, as an example that I can bring forward, I’ve had, as I’ve been doing a lot of this deep work, I’ve been able to really dig into past experiences and understanding how some of the things that I’ve experienced in the workplace as a gay, uneducated at the time, white male, puts you in a different box, kind of excludes you and some of the behavior, and again, we’re talking a different time in the world, and the nineties in the early 2000s. There were experiences that I had in the workplace that I just brushed off as this, this is what you got to do. And in 2022 and 2023, as we’re really seeing the workplace be more open to these discussions, it allows you to go in and explore things and you start to find that, oh, some of those experiences from 20+ years ago actually created the behavior that I exhibit when I get into these conversations, when I get into a vulnerable space, or I get that random unexplained message from someone saying, Hey, can we talk? Right? Like that, the first thing that triggers is, Oh, crap, what did I do? Is today the day I’m getting fired? Knowing that that is the total opposite of our culture and our intention. But those things just they stick with you. And no matter how much you process them, there is that intrinsic stain that gets left that catches you off guard as you were describing just right, just innocent conversations. Innocent interactions can bring it forward when you least expect it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:08.78] And that’s why I feel like when you kind of led with empathy, like and those kind of things are really important when you’re talking with employees, connecting with people. I mean, we’re in the human business, but it’s important for us, I think not, not necessarily to normalize it, but just to be open to share. I don’t share it with everyone. I’m sharing it, I mean, if you read my blog, you would know because it comes up. But it doesn’t define me as a person. Like, I don’t go out every day and have all these things, these things happen, but on occasion something surfaces. And then I have spent a lot of time ini therapy and work trying to understand, like how I can work through that so that I can be able to do my job or to function or to lead a team. It’s important, the work doesn’t stop. Even though this instance happened to me a long time ago, I am still experiencing it in different ways.

Matthew Brown: [00:21:12.86] Absolutely.

Break: [00:21:14.06] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology Podcast, powered by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. Today we’re talking about the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer with Matt Brown. He’s the Chief People and Culture Officer with Schoox. We’re also getting into trauma in the workplace. The CHRO podcast series on Workology is sponsored by the HR Benchmark Survey. Before we get back to the interview text “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. You can ask questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guess. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you.

Break: [00:21:59.80] The Workology Council is a mastermind community for HR leaders. We are a group of HR professionals with a common goal to succeed by leveraging the influence, resources, and expertise of others on an annual basis. This will be the HR business tribe that you’ve wanted to be a part of for your entire career. Learn more and apply at WorkologyCouncil.com.

Trauma-Informed Leadership

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:26.76] So, Matt, as HR leaders, how do we support our employees through trauma? Can you talk to us about what a trauma-informed leadership actually is?

Matthew Brown: [00:22:37.15] So there are, I think, are a lot of different considerations that go into how we support our employees through trauma and ultimately that create what we call that trauma-informed leadership mindset. And it all starts first and foremost with creating and maintaining and nurturing a psychologically safe environment. This is something that usually is a huge mind shift for employees in the workplace because of what it means. It means something very big, which is creating an environment in which people feel safe to be themselves. They feel safe to have open discussions about things that are weighing on their minds. It means creating a space that is free from retaliation, right? We have, we have policies for years that say we don’t retaliate, we don’t do these things. But we also are welcomed into a lot of organizations. Many of us are welcomed into the workplace with this mindset that you check your baggage at the door, you leave your emotions at the door, you don’t bring that stuff in. And that in many ways has perpetuated the trauma that continues to show up in the workplace because we’re asking you to be, not you. So I think creating that psychologically safe environment, focusing on the human first again, which is, is maybe opposite the things we’ve been taught. If you’ve ever gone into an organization where they said, check your baggage at the door, that’s saying don’t be a human. Humans are fueled by emotion. Even those who think they have it completely under control and can hide it all. You’re fueled by emotion.

Matthew Brown: [00:24:12.06] It’s what differentiates us from all the other species on the planet. I think in addition to those items being very cognizant to try and avoid making assumptions, it can be very easy for us to see something that looks a certain way and just leap right to assumptions because of our perspective and our experiences. But you have to really be careful not to do that. Otherwise, you shut down the openness that you’re starting to create and you shut down diversity and thought and, and appreciating difference. Tactically, I think one of the things that I’ve taken away from some of the experiences I’ve had and some of the training that I’ve gone through and just the broader conversations is a huge shift in mindset that can be one great example is instead of reacting with what’s wrong with you, shifting that mindset to really ask the question, What may have happened to you or them, or What are you currently experiencing that might be creating this particular situation? It’s a very different way to think about it. It often is something we have to recondition ourselves. We have to learn that behavior so that we can really start to get disciplined with it being first instinct to go that route. But something as simple as that can change everything. The second you ask what’s wrong with you, it can put defenses up. It can make people feel unsafe. And what we’re really trying to get to the root of is just understanding. In addition, you hear me mention diversity, but I think also creating intentional space for diversity and difference in all aspects, thinking about diversity, not just as human characteristics, protected classes of people, but diversity and thought diversity and experiences.

Matthew Brown: [00:26:06.58] Even if you and I were born on the same day in the same hospital, delivered by the same doctor, and lived next door to one another, we will never have the same experience. And it’s important to, to really understand what that means so that you can bring compassion in your, your thought processes as you’re trying to help interact with other people. And then the last thing that I will say here might even be the most important. And it’s something that I learned through that mental health first aid, like very, very stark reminder that you as an individual, should not neglect your own self-care. This can really easily happen if we’re focused on supporting everyone else, right? As HR professionals, as training professionals, we do for others, we rarely do for ourselves. And there’s a guilt that that many of us have again, right? Toxic mindsets that have been just passed down from generation to generation, often not with intention to be malicious. It’s just the way it’s been. But if you remind yourself that you cannot pour from an empty cup, right? Like you need to make sure your cup is able to hold the stuff that it’s free from cracks and holes and, and that you can always make sure it’s filled up so you can pour onto the organization what you need to.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:23.90] I think that’s a great point about the self-care piece and making time for you and whatever it is that you want to do. And it doesn’t need to be a whole formal thing. It doesn’t need to be like you’re going into a massage or you’re, could be you reading a book or taking a walk. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It just needs to happen.

Matthew Brown: [00:27:48.68] Honestly, one of my, one of my go to. So I am very blessed that I work remotely. Most of the time remote means I’m in my house, but when I find myself in the middle of a day where things just pile on and you start, you start just feeling a certain way, like, okay, something’s really starting to, to amp up. And I’m feeling maybe less than joyful in this moment. One of my go tos, weather permitting, is I actually take my socks and shoes off and I just go and ground myself in the earth. So I walk around in the grass barefoot for 10 minutes and it is amazing what something that simple can do for the brain, for the soul, for the spirit. I love that you brought that forward. It doesn’t have to be something, some big grand thing that we might think is the right way to self-care. It can be doing something that brings you joy for just a couple of minutes.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:38.48] I have been doing this thing where any time I hear a bell, whether it’s my phone ring or something on TV or whatever, I have been reading these books by this Buddhist monk on audiobook, and he calls it the bell of mindfulness. So it’s just a bell rings, maybe something tolls outside, whatever. And then that is your cue to be like, Oh, I’m so grateful to be alive and maybe take a breath and then send some love to yourself. It is a great little way. It just takes a minute, but it kind of helps me reset and get back into that place where I’m, I’m just in a good, a good headspace.

Matthew Brown: [00:29:19.89] It’s, it’s incredible how easily we get conditioned to do the complete opposite and to feel like putting our focus on us is selfish. But I love that we’re having this conversation because I think for me, when I started making that shift, it opened up a lot. PTO is a great example. I come from, come from an upbringing in the corporate world where there is a level of guilt that you feel for taking time off, especially if you’re, you’re, you’re in a high-pressure environment or you’re responsible for leading a team or you’re responsible, you’re the one person who does that thing. The organization is the one who is responsible for figuring out how to navigate in your absence. It’s not yours to carry. You should be thoughtful, but at the same time, for years and years, I refused to take PTO because I wasn’t going anywhere. And I just told myself that unless I’m getting on a plane somewhere, PTO is not something that’s accessible to me. Why would I do that? It’s kind of selfish. And here at Schoox, being in this role and really having the opportunity to make a difference based on some of my experiences, something as simple as just taking a day off here and there is such an incredibly valuable recharge that took me a minute to get comfortable with. But there are examples like that all around us if we, if we stop and really pay attention.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:50.95] I love all this conversation around trauma. It’s so great just to openly share because I think that sometimes we keep the stuff hidden. But you also have a great analogy for the structure of trauma. Can you talk to us about what the trauma triangle looks like and what it means?

Matthew Brown: [00:31:10.50] Absolutely. The trauma triangle is it’s a model that’s been out there for a while in these conversations. And once I came to learn about it, it really brought a lot of things into focus. It, it really articulates that there are three sort of principal roles or personas that people will identify with as they’re going through trauma navigation. And these three roles are the three points of the triangle. So people often will gravitate toward victim or rescuer or persecutor. And when, when you gravitate into victim corner of the triangle, essentially you’re, you’re feeling not empowered, you feel maybe taken advantage of. So kind of what you would expect that victim mindset and that’s something that is easily conditioned in all of us. It takes active work to, to, to resist the victim mindset. Rescuer is, we’ll say maybe the, the opposite end of the spectrum in the rescuer side of the triangle. Oftentimes the individual will just completely abandon themselves and their needs, which leaves them feeling very unsupported. And oftentimes you hear those words, I just don’t feel like I am supported. That’s a good signal somebody gravitating toward that rescuer space. And oftentimes the rescuer can be an enabler for others trying to help, trying to do good stuff, but maybe their cup’s not full. They don’t have themselves firmly grounded and planted. And so they’re maybe projecting a little bit along the way. And then the persecutor is, I would call it maybe also the projector. So in the persecutor space, you’ve really driven from this place where you’ve got anger and you’re holding on to things about that trauma that are informing how you approach similar situations going forward. It might affect how you even coach somebody or try to support them, right? You live in the anger and that anger can be misdirected in times of trauma going forward.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:33:24.96] I love visualizations. I have a link to the trauma triangle that we’ll put in the show notes of, of the podcast here. And then I’m envisioning maybe, and we’ll see how crazy we get with these videos, but we’re doing more video of us on the interview so that we can make more pieces of content. So it kind of envision us putting a actual depiction of a trauma triangle so that you can see. I, as I’m thinking about the triangle, I’m thinking like I have been all of these things, but maybe there’s one that I more go to, like in times of stress or just circumstances in my life that is more, it is not my favorite, but it just ends up being the thing. So I think the awareness piece is, is really important when we think about this and also thinking about family members or people that you’re close to or on your team, like where do they sit in this? I think the awareness helps you understand what their trauma response actually is.

Matthew Brown: [00:34:31.11] Yes, I think it self awareness is really the key to understanding how to identify within yourself so you can be more cognizant. I know for me personally, rescuer is my go to. It is free of the anger and rage because I tend to live in this place of optimism perpetually. But being mindful that sometimes if I go into that rescuer mode, I need to first check in with myself to make sure that I am grounded and able to to really be objective in the support that I’m providing and not let my experiences really color any sort of guidance. Doesn’t feel good. But right when you know there’s three points on that triangle and you we all fall to one of those three, it’s like pick which one of these less than ideal things you want to sign up for.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:35:17.79] It’s like the menu at the restaurant and there’s only three items and you don’t like any of them, right? So you’re picking the one that you would maybe, I don’t know, whatever it is. So it’s, I think it’s important for the self awareness piece. And then I also I’m thinking as again, I’m looking at the triangle like there’s different parts of my life that I have spent in one place in the trauma triangle than others. Certainly when I was a domestic abuse survivor or living it like I was completely unaware that I was in an abusive relationship. I had no idea. But everything was like on the daily, like I was the victim. Like all the things would happen to me and all, all the bad things. I still have to try to work through negative self talk and a lot of things that come through as a result of that time that I lived in that space. In the trauma triangle. So it takes a lot of work and self awareness and continuous conversations with, with myself. I say lots of nice things to me all the time to try to keep from having that negative self talk and those voices creep in telling me all the bad things that I heard for a really long time on the daily.

Matthew Brown: [00:36:34.87] I am in a cycle now for seven years of daily affirmations that start my morning. And oftentimes these filter out into my Facebook presence. And there is a quote that I revisit about ten times a year. And it I always botch it when I try to get it exact. So I’ll just express the sentiment in general, which is “You are the person that talks to you the most, so say nice things.” Right? Like your voice is the one you hear more than anybody else’s in the world. So try to find a way to make that voice. Say the nice things when the rest of the world may not.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:37:09.21] Agreed. Agreed. One question I wanted to ask is around psychological safety. So what is the most important thing that we should know about this concept of psychological safety?

Matthew Brown: [00:37:23.07] I think, you know, the biggest thing that that I want to make sure people know is that every single person in the organization has a role in creating and maintaining psychological safety. So by definition, it’s we’re talking about an environment in which people are comfortable being themselves in whatever that looks like. If I am, if I am assertive, then, right? Like help me channel that productively in the workplace, but don’t shut it down and say, Oh, that person’s always the loud mouth. If I am shy and I am not comfortable necessarily speaking up, foster an environment that makes that okay, but gives people an opportunity to step outside that because they feel like it’s safe to do so. For me, my, my background and most of my meetings, I try to always infuse a ton of my personality. So you will see my potato heads and my love for South Park and my love for elephants and my love for food. These are not things that we typically bring into the workplace, but when I am free to be me, I don’t have to think about how to govern myself. I just am. And that means that I’m in an environment where I’m psychologically safe. It does feel really uncomfortable for people when we start talking about this concept in the workplace, mostly because we’ve been conditioned. I’ve said it multiple times. We’ve been conditioned to check that stuff at the door, leave the emotion, leave the baggage at the door. We’re talking about the opposite of that, like undoing all of that. And it takes all of us. It’s not. One leader says from on high, we are now psychologically safe. Go be yourself. It’s active. It is daily. You’re going to get it wrong. So don’t expect to get it right every single day. You’re going to have moments where you take a step back. You have moments where you need a course correct. But it’s about being consistent and making sure that your leaders are leading by example. But everybody understands we all have a role.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:39:28.13] That lead by example piece is, is really key.

Matthew Brown: [00:39:32.06] I also often will say that people and trauma come in all different packages. So No two are going to be identical. And as long as you can remember that, that helps you maybe lead with a different, lead with love more than you might otherwise.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:39:47.93] I love that. I love that. Lead, leading with love even in the workplace. Like, you know, we, we have relationships and friendships and, and love for our, hopefully, our team and the people that we work with every single day. I’m going to link to this next part in the show notes, but what can you tell us about mental health first aid training that you took earlier this year?

Matthew Brown: [00:40:13.73] Life changing. I thought I knew a lot. I know a lot more. And I know there’s a lot I still don’t know. The Mental Health First Aid training is a wonderful program that’s offered all around the US. They have some international comparable programs. They offer training targeted for adults as well as for non adults. So teenagers, usually they target teenagers more so than than younger just because the brain is more ready to accept some of the concepts and processes. But it is a comprehensive program that enables us to be comfortable and confident serving as a mental health first aid responder, right? We teach you how to do CPR or we teach you how to do some basic things in terms of physical well being responder, mental health first aid should be no different. So it’s a skills based course that teaches people about mental health and substance abuse issues. They teach you how to prepare an action plan for yourself that allows you to be more effective as serving as a responder. And it also teaches you repeatedly like where the line is. So we in the workplace, even outside of work, because what I learned through the mental health first aid training program I take with me everywhere, I have to remind myself, be very careful. I’m not a counselor, I’m not a therapist. I am a point of contact that is equipped with techniques to help de-escalate situations and also plugged in to a wealth of resources. So as I get you de-escalated, I can also bring forward resources that make it easy for you to find the path to your own success.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:54.65] Thank you for talking about this, number one. And then two, I love you saying that you’re not the expert like you have the skills to de-escalate, but you’re not a therapist. You aren’t a mental health professional. I do think personally, I’m going to get on my soapbox a little bit with the increase of coaches and life coaches and all these different just the coaching industry, there are a lot of people who are trying to be a therapist and a mental health professional that don’t have the training to be able to really walk an individual through the entire path. They bring them in and then they kind of just drop them down and then they walk away. So I appreciate, that’s not our job as HR people either. We’re there to direct them to experts, EAP, other resources so that they can get professional level support from experts.

Matthew Brown: [00:42:52.85] I think in many cases HR serves as an advisor to the business, right? We don’t often come in and say this is how it must be done. We advise and we counsel where we can based on the best pieces of information that carries into this as well. So it’s a nice blend and reinforcement of that concept that I’m not the one that’s going to solve your problem. I’m not that counselor or that therapist. I’m not equipped for that, but I am equipped to help you safely find your path.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:43:22.79] I love that. Well, Matt, as always, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I’m going to link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes. But where can people go? Is there any other place for them to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing at Schoox?

Matthew Brown: [00:43:35.84] Our website is a wealth of information, our social media presence across all platforms at Schoox, certainly to see sort of what the company is doing. And then I am available on all the different social media platforms. MWBDawg is the name I embraced years and years ago, Dawg. And I just carried it with me. So if you struggle finding Matthew Brown in the sea of millions of Matthew Browns, The MWBDawg is the fast track.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:44:06.86] I understand what it’s like to have a very common name. There’s a reason that I remain hyphenated. Even when I went to college, there was another Jessica Miller, and I got her scholarship money for journalism, which, you know, I mean, I, I went back to the advisor department and sent the money. But it’s hard when you have a name that’s very common. So I think that it also kind of speaks to, like your personality, which I feel like is really eclectic and fun.

Matthew Brown: [00:44:35.99] I love that in, in this day and age that I am finally in the workplace free to be me. I’ve always been me outside of the workplace and I’ve tried to find the line where I could in more very traditional environments. And I’m happy to see that the world as a whole has evolved so far. We still have a long way to go, but we have made huge progress and that’s the reason why we’re able to have these kinds of conversations about this topic in the workplace. Thank you for the opportunity to have this chat.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:45:08.39] Absolutely. Well, I can’t wait to see what you can do. Honestly, I think you need a book. I told you that before on this topic because we need to talk more about trauma resources, conversations showing up as your whole self in the workplace because we are raising children or you have grandchildren that have this expectation. I have a 14 year old who shows up as herself her quirky self every day. I love it and I am not sure how she’s going to be able to survive in the workplace. Honestly, I think she’ll probably be an entrepreneur for that reason. But we need more of you and these conversations out there to prepare us for our kids coming into the workplace.

Matthew Brown: [00:45:54.50] I appreciate the the platform to be able to get the message out.

Closing: [00:45:59.06] The CHRO podcast series on Workology is sponsored by HR Benchmark Survey. Join us at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. These interviews continue to fascinate me. It’s really interesting to further delve into how a role like the CHRO, whose experience connects with the strategy, the operations of the overall business. The CHRO doesn’t just lead air within the company. The company depends on this leadership role to set standards and benchmarks for everything from human resources support to psychological safety, to learning and development. I appreciate Matt taking the time to share his expertise with us today.

Closing: [00:46:39.87] I’ll just leave you with this one thought. That self care piece that Matt and I talked about today in the interview is so important. How many of us have not taken vacation because we were the only ones that could process payroll or do this one thing at the organization? Sound familiar? I know, because it’s happening. It’s still happening. It’s time for HR to focus on themselves for a change. Take that vacation, take that time off, cross train someone to do the payroll and enjoy your day. We need us to focus more on self care so that we can better support the organization. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast. I would love to hear from you. Text “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions. Leave comments, make suggestions for future guests. I want to hear from you. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast powerered by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader and the innovative workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. That’s me. That’s you. Let’s change workplace together. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology Podcast episodes. Have a great day.

Connect with Matthew Brown.


– Matthew Brown on LinkedIn

– Matthew Brown on Twitter 

– Mental Health First Aid 

– Workplace Strategies for Mental Health

– NAMI  

– CHRO Job Description

– Trauma Triangle Resource

– Episode 382: Human Resources as a Business Partner With Lisa Novak From data.world

– Episode 383: Finding the Hidden Gems Within the Organization With Dr. Edie Goldberg, Founder of E. L. Goldberg & Associates

– Episode 384: ‘Is HR Your Friend?’ With Franky Rhodes, People Operations Partner at TravelPerk

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