January 24, 2024

How Mental Health Support and Relational Wellness Helps C Space Employees Do Their Best Work

Jessie Stettin, Head of People and Global Chief of Staff at C Space, shares how the company approaches mental health by centering relationships with its employees, managers, and clients.

It’s one thing to build a work environment that’s collaborative, inspiring, and — perhaps most crucially — a place where people want to do good work, for both their coworkers and their clients. It’s quite another to do that in a way that makes the best in your industry want to work for you.

But that’s what C Space, a research and insights agency, does day in and day out. And as Jessie Stettin, the company’s Head of People and Global Chief of Staff explains, that is a reflection of how the company centers relationships with its clients, as well as its  employees and managers.

“We were founded over 20 years ago with the belief that relationships are the source of results," says  Stettin. "The stronger the relationship we can foster between our clients and their customers, the stronger their business will be.”

While more than half of companies in the US provide their workers with wellness programs of some kind, C Space approaches mental health through individual, interpersonal, and organizational spheres. C Space starts with building a foundation of support for employees, including creating employee resource groups, letting C Space team members take mental health days to avoid burnout, training managers to better support their reports, and making sure workers don’t have meetings on Friday so they can wrap up their work on their time.

But C Space also makes sure to let people bring their full selves, and their true emotions, to the workplace.

“As humans and as employees, we're emotional beings and yet there often isn't much space to bring that part of ourselves to work,” says Stettin. “In the US, when people ask how you're doing, there's an automatic response of 'I'm good,’ regardless of whether or not that is true. This generalized, positive leaning response can be so harmful in so many ways. An automatic response like that doesn't build any connection and it also takes away the space for expressing any other emotions.”

“As humans and as employees, we're emotional beings and yet there often isn't much space to bring that part of ourselves to work,”

At C Space managers are trained in how to have meaningful conversations with their direct reports, including practices developed by the Yale School of Emotional Intelligence to hit at what is known as emotional granularity, or an ability to uncover how one is feeling with hyper-specificity. It’s part of an approach that helps employees understand and communicate how they are feeling, so they can build and maintain strong relationships and do their best work.

“If someone says they’re feeling stressed, our managers will ask them to dive deeper and explore whether they are feeling nervous about something? Concerned? Unsure? Overwhelmed?” says Stettin. “They get really into the granularity of how someone's feeling, which can be a helpful signal to what action they should take. When emotions are too broad, it can be challenging to know how to help.” Even crying in meetings, he says, allows workers to feel even more comfortable expressing their stressors as well.

That work couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Younger workers, and particularly members of Generation Z, expect their workplaces to provide mental health support and allow them to express themselves at work. In fact, a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 61% of Gen Z and 48% of Millennial respondents said they would “strongly consider” leaving their current job for another company that has better mental-health support.

Stettin has seen that shift firsthand, particularly as he began leading teams at various companies. “Many of them, it was their first job out of school,” he says of his former reports. “I quickly realized the impact a workplace can have on someone's emotional wellbeing and health. And unfortunately, for many, the workplace caused distress.”

As a result, he’s spent five and a half years focusing on fostering a decidedly healthy culture at C Space. It’s an environment that centers diversity, equity, and inclusion programs through their practices and policies, including centering inclusion in their performance management and creating a safe-travel-policy that allows workers to opt out of traveling to clients who are based in locations that might be hostile to a part of that worker’s identity.

“DEI and emotional mental wellbeing are completely interconnected,” says Stettin. “If people don't feel supported and included, we're doing harm, we're not doing good.”

That support doesn’t exist in a bubble. Stettin also acknowledges that outside forces — the news headlines of the day, the loneliness brought on by the COVID pandemic, or even the struggles someone might face in trying to find a therapist they like — can hinder a person’s ability to show up and do good work at the office.

“We've always focused a lot on understanding what our employees are going through — and this predates my time here,” says Stettin. “Our belief has always been, especially as a research insights consulting firm, that the magic sauce is the people that we have. Yes, we have certain proprietary methodologies, but the real magic is the people and their teamwork.”

After all, C Space is in the business of helping their clients understand their customers and their broader market and the more granular they can be in understanding those experiences, the better suited their clients will be in taking action.

“The more specific we can advise our clients on how their customers feel when they see this ad or when they are going in for treatment at their hospital, the better we can help guide our clients,” says Stettin. And the better C Space employees can name how they feel, to themselves and their managers, the healthier they will be — and the more they can level up in their work, too.