Windsor automobile dealership kicks worker psychological well being into excessive gear

When staff at a Mazda dealership in Windsor, Ont. aren’t selling cars, you can probably find them parked in the back room doing some mental health exercises encouraged by their boss.

Taking deep breaths, stepping away from the high-pressure sales floor to decompress, as well as reflecting on both the pros and the cons of a customer interaction are all techniques Windsor Mazda general sales manager Alex Zawany tries to teach his team.

“I’ve struggled with some poor mental health back in the day,” said Zawany, adding he’s learned tools to have a positive mindset. “I thought it would be advantageous to bring that kind of thing to the workplace … to create a more family-oriented atmosphere as opposed to a typical corporate structure.”

‘It just makes me happy at work’

Zawany’s positive approach to mental health is something that 25-year-old Ahmad Khalife has noticed as a sales and leasing consultant at the dealership.

Even though some exercises are just a five-minute mental health reprieve between customers, Khalife said “it grounds us.”

“I just feel like having that time is very important and it just makes me happy at work,” he said. “I’ve noticed a big difference in just driving to work. I’m excited to get there.”

Mental health educator Jenny Lee Almeida applauds Windsor Mazda for the dealership’s proactive approach to positive mental health.

“I thought it was really cool,” said Almeida, who works for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Windsor-Essex County Branch.

Jenny Lee Almeida is a mental health educator with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Windsor-Essex Branch. (Jason Viau/CBC)

A 2016 CMHA survey found that 42 per cent of respondents said their organization is “not doing well” when it comes to addressing workplace mental health.

Almeida said what Windsor Mazda is doing speaks volumes about a workplace leader understanding the importance of “mini mental health breaks.” Even those quick moments of reflection at work can bring about personal growth, she said.

She added that she’s noticed an increase in workplaces across Windsor-Essex putting more focus on employee mental health.

“What that’s showing is we’re slowly starting to decrease that stigma when it comes to mental health,” Almeida said.

Personal workplace culture

Beyond being encouraged to take mental health breaks, Khalife said his manager’s “personal” approach with staff is a bonus. The two will often go over professional and personal goals, as well as steps to achieve those goals.

“He’ll dig deep into my brain and make me feel like he really does care, other than ‘OK, I have to sell cars, hit my quota and my target,'” said Khalife. “This is a different relationship that is happening at the same time, but business is still being done. Work is awesome.”

That goes hand-in-hand with what Almeida said is important in a workplace — having a boss you feel comfortable reaching out to if you’re stressed or need mental health supports.

Zawany said he started this job four months ago. By pushing for his employees to also focus on their mental health at work, he said he’s also noticed an increase in the dealership’s sales numbers.

He said better sales weren’t the goal of his approach, but they are one of the benefits.

“Being of a sober and sombre piece of mind is really going to help anyone, in any arena,” said Zawany. “The proof is in the pudding.”

things you can do

There are a few steps Almeida said employees can take at their workplace to improve mental health in under five minutes:

  • During a visit to the restroom, use the time washing your hands as a moment to “ground yourself” by really feeling the temperature of the water, while taking deep breaths.
  • At your desk, close your eyes and run your pointer finger up and down the palm of your other hand, to your fingertips. Do this while taking deep breaths.
  • If you have a desk job, Almeida suggests taking a walk around your workplace every 60 minutes or go have a brief conversation with a co-worker.

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