Desire to put more smiles on faces at work drives founder of a new business.

When Olivia Storm realised there were a lot of "unhappy people" working in jobs in New Zealand, she decided to do something about it.

Despite not having a business background, she launched the Smile Initiative – a social enterprise with a goal of helping employers create mentally safe workplaces for their staff.

She took the plunge 18 months ago, setting up the business and forming a team of qualified mental health clinicians to combat "frightening" facts around suicide rates in New Zealand: "I was shocked when I learnt how many people who commit suicide have jobs," she says.

She says Department of Justice figures showed that of the 685 people who took their own lives between June 2018 and June 2019 by far the largest number - 307 or 44 per cent - were in employment (unemployed making up the next highest group at 185 or 27 per cent).

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"I thought most would be on benefits and while I've always thought mental health has been profoundly neglected, this (suicide figures) so shocked me at the time that I felt driven by a moral responsibility to do something about it."

That was the beginning of her "desire" – one of the Three Ds espoused by psychologist Sara Chatwin: Desire, Drive and Due diligence (link here to previous story; also see bottom of story)*.

This desire quickly led to commitment to make a difference, which can often be missing when it comes to failing to realise dreams. Setting up a business was a way for Storm to create a formal structure; a place to house her vision, where she could invite like-minded people to join her and set plans in motion to turn that dream into reality.

The result was the Smile Initiative: "It was not so much about making money or setting up a successful business. It was more around what I could do to help change and educate because I believe knowledge is power."

Storm's story has come to light through a New Zealand Herald content series run in partnership with business platform MYOB exploring the commonalities that set up business people for success. One of the key ingredients for success is growing confidence from desire and commitment, enabling business people to get what they want and to do what they want.

Storm has desire in spades. A qualified doctor, she is a psychiatry registrar with Counties Manukau Health, a job she does alongside her role with the Smile Initiative. She is also in the third year of studying to be a fully qualified psychiatrist.

"I'm fascinated by the mind," she says. "But I'm also driven because I feel there is not enough education around mental health. What there is, is not always accurate and it's hard for people to have to wade through it all."

But it was the statistics around working people that hit hardest: "I think a lot of people feel that they are just a number (at work) and are not truly valued. It is a huge problem," Storm says. "It is frightening how many unhappy people there are in workplaces; I think a lot of employers are too scared to ask if they are okay because they fear what they will say."

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A 2018 study by the New Zealand Workplace Barometer, a research team at Massey University's Healthy Work Group, found more than a quarter of workers surveyed said they felt depressed much of the time, with half saying depression affected their work or non-work lives to some extent. The study, which surveyed 1409 workers at 25 organisations, found workplace mental health had a debilitating influence on the lives of those who took part.

Storm believes the problem is of epidemic proportions, with more people dying by suicide than are killed in road accidents. Other research shows mental illness causes more lost work days and work impairment than many other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and arthritis.

She says people crying or isolating themselves at work are not the only signs of depression: "They may have cognitive issues, have trouble making decisions, take longer to do tasks or have strained interactions (with co-workers).

"The trouble is in New Zealand there is such limited data on this issue and, as a society, we have let a lot of people down."

Through her work with the Smile Initiative, Storm is already notching up some successes, first taking out the 2019 MYOB Head Start for Startups competition with a prize of business coaching and a marketing package to help build awareness of the brand, running education programmes for corporates, launching a mental health first aid kit product and training employers what to do and say to workers who may be depressed.

"We tell them it is extremely important to have a health and well-being strategy in place and that it is okay for workers to take mental health days," she says. "But it is a hard thing to sell to people who hold the wallet in a business. One of the big questions is whether businesses understand how they benefit if their people are happy; we tell them for every dollar they invest, they'll get four back. They have to be prepared to play the long game."

*Sara Chatwin's Three Ds:

  • Desire – "Success is all about desire and commitment. It is people saying, 'I really want to do this' and identifying a high level of commitment that will get them to be exactly what they want to be and do what they want to do."

  • Drive – "The energy and enthusiasm from identifying that desire; it turns the focus from dreaming big to creating a plan of practical steps to make it happen. It's when people take that first step towards their goals – and then they find that they have this real energy; they are positive and fully engaged and they are just going for it. They need to harness and channel that energy to achieve what they want to achieve."

  • Due diligence – "All successful business people say that, when they are asked about their success, they adhered to a plan. This is all about finessing that plan. It's when you really research, validate and refine the plan so you know exactly what you want to do and how to do it. Due diligence done well will uncover any show stoppers early to avoid nasty surprises down the track. You will find your confidence is at a spiking high – because you know, having done your due diligence, that you can achieve your goal."

To view article 1 - Cracking the success code click here