Number of Employees
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services
Garmin International: Creating a Resilient Workplace
Challenges, setbacks, and trauma are realities in today’s workplaces. Garmin International has provided information and education to help employees develop skills in resilience, or the ability to bounce back after adversity, as part of their well-being programming. The communication campaign and activities were well received, and, as a result, employees and managers expressed appreciation for their increased awareness and more open discussion of mental health issues.
From Wellness to Well-Being
Garmin’s senior wellness specialist, Haley Akin, has been with Garmin since 2011. Each fall, she develops communication campaigns and activities on a particular theme. In the beginning, she covered traditional wellness topics, such as exercise and nutrition. After all, tracking the number of steps walked and setting activity goals were both natural fits for this company, which produces wearable tracking devices (as well as GPS navigation products). Akin began introducing campaigns on topics with a broader total well-being approach, such as financial fitness, sleep, and mindfulness meditation. To continue with this well-being trend, she began toying with the idea of introducing emotional well-being through a mental health campaign, but she wondered how the employees (called “associates” at Garmin) would respond. The Garmin population is primarily composed of male engineers, who tend to focus on numbers and technology, not feelings and emotional health. Akin’s wellness ambassador advisory members questioned whether the associates would speak up on the topic of mental health. Akin, however, knew from internal aggregated data that stress, depression, and anxiety were rising among Garmin’s associates. She believed that, beneath their stoic exteriors, many of Garmin’s workers faced situations requiring coping, resilience, and adaptive capacity, and she was determined to help workers find the support they might need but were unlikely to seek out.
Resilience, or the ability to adapt and bounce back after adversity, is important to individuals and organizations. Highly resilient workers are less likely to burn out, be absent, or quit, and they are quicker to rebound to higher levels of performance (Shatté, Perlman, Smith, & Lynch, 2017). Research suggests that resilience skills such as emotion regulation, effective thinking and problem-solving, mindful awareness, connecting with others, and developing a strong sense of purpose can be developed through intervention programs (Robertson, Cooper, Sarkar, & Curran, 2015; Vanhove, Herian, Perez, Harms, & Lester, 2016). Garmin’s experience with resilience building supports these findings.
Beginning with Focus Groups
Akin first convened some internal focus groups open to all associates in early fall of 2016 to explore how the company might introduce mental health topics in a way that would resonate with their population. Her goals for the initiative were (1) to determine what was culturally understood, (2) to find a common language, (3) to create acceptance and understanding, and (4) to learn how to help ourselves and others.
The consensus from the focus groups was that the term mental health didn’t engage people in an active way but that the term resilience was alluring and intriguing. In terms of visual images, focus group participants wanted to veer away from images of people who looked sad and slumping, in favor of images that depicted empowerment and positivity.
Developing a Communication and Information Campaign
Akin took the information and worked with Garmin’s communications staff, who developed an educational piece called “Adventures in Resilience: The Amazing Workbook.” The workbook, created in a graphic-novel format with coloring book pages, included information on resilience, goal setting, self-awareness, using your strengths, hope, and optimism. It was distributed by e-mail and in print in October 2016 and was a hit with her associates.
Akin also worked with her employee assistance program (EAP), New Directions, as well as other community resources, such as the University of Kansas Hospital’s Turning Point and the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Resilient KC program, for ideas in building employee awareness of free resources and available supports. They developed a 6-week campaign with the following components:
Six weekly sessions led by mental health experts, with 20 minutes at the end for dialogue and discussion that associates could attend live, by Skype, or by phone
Videos of the presentations, available for remote viewing from Garmin’s intranet
Weekly educational e-mails with supplemental information
Additional topics, including kindness, happiness, purpose, mindfulness, depression and anxiety, social support, how to talk to kids about mental health, and preparing for stressors of the upcoming holiday season
Quiet rooms, available for meditation and reflection at Garmin’s main offices Campaign Results Were Positive
Akin and her colleagues in human resources were pleased by the associates’ participation in the weekly sessions, and they were stunned by the many open conversations that were stimulated by the campaign. For example, one employee shared how much he struggled after a family member’s suicide. Another talked about his own suicidal thoughts. Some discussed the difficulty of caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease. Some of the employees spontaneously developed support groups of their own and asked for help with regular speakers.
Team leaders reached out to thank Akin for addressing the topics in the campaign, and some requested additional copies of the workbooks or educational information to distribute to their teams or family members. Akin was pleased that they had broached a topic that seemed challenging but clearly needed to be addressed.
A pre/post survey of associates showed that the campaign had positive results. All areas assessed showed improvements, including the questions from the PHQ-9 (i.e., the nine-item depression scale of the Patient Health Questionnaire, a validated standard measure of depression symptoms), which improved by 10%. Yoga attendance tripled, and EAP use increased slightly as well.
Note: Akin thought that the resilience training would be timely during the fall season, since the holidays were approaching, and this can be a challenging time for some in terms of managing stressors. She had no idea that the information and awareness about mental health resources would be so valuable just months later, when two Garmin engineers were victims of a shooting incident. EAP services provided additional information and onsite counselors to support associates as needed in the days following the shooting.
Organizations planning mental health programs can anticipate high participation and positive outcomes by providing opportunities to learn about and discuss resilience and related topics. Organizational leaders can use Garmin’s example to help their own work teams by raising awareness and building resilience skills.
Take-Aways for Employers
Use focus groups to discuss ways to plan communication and education campaigns that are culturally appropriate for your group.
Collaborate with internal colleagues, program suppliers, and community resources to optimize educational offerings.
Assess the impact of campaigns with pre/post surveys to document and share results.
The PHQ-9 is an example of a well-validated assessment to use. Employers have also used the Workplace Outcome Suite. Working with your EAP to assess changes in accessing care is also valuable information.
Garmin is a multinational technology company that provides GPS navigation and wearable technology to the automotive, aviation, marine, outdoor, and fitness markets. Their headquarters are located in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and Olathe, Kansas. Garmin’s workforce is 80% male, with an average age of 38, heavily populated by engineers.
Nancy Spangler, PhD, OTR/L, president of Spangler Associates, Inc., and consultant to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, is an organizational health and effectiveness specialist in the Kansas City, Missouri, area.
Robertson, I. T., Cooper, C. L., Sarkar, M., & Curran, T. (2015). Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88(3), 533–562.
Shatté, A., Perlman, A., Smith, B., & Lynch, W. D. (2017). The positive effect of resilience on stress and business outcomes in difficult work environments. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 59(2), 135–140.
Vanhove, A. J., Herian, M. N., Perez, A. L., Harms, P. D., & Lester, P. B. (2016). Can resilience be developed at work? A meta-analytic review of resilience-building programme effectiveness. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89(2), 278–307.