Listen to this episode here: ALEC: Ask, Listen, Encourage and Check in

This week in TALKING NUMBERS we focus on a special topic: Mental Health. In today’s society, many people are well physically and financially, but mental health is often missing. To raise the awareness, we have Daniel Tramontana coming from BGL, sharing his experience of looking after the wellbeing of oneself and others around by using the “ALEC” method. Let’s get into it.

How have you been personally during the lockdown?

It’s quite interesting. Since the beginning of March, we’ve got 160 staff and we had to move everybody out of the office, and put people into an environment working from home. It had its challenges and we have had to come up with corporate solutions together with our HR department.

The number one thing that we wanted to make sure of was that our people were well looked after. To make sure that they felt supported, and that we always act in their best interest. And the upside is you’ve been able to do things a little bit better or have more balance in your life. Then there’s also the whole element of missing the social interaction, the face-to-face engagement, those incidental conversations…which in a sense, make a real difference in being able to have meaningful conversations, and get a really good gauge for where your people are at – that’s been a challenge.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I started at BGL in February 1997 and have been with the organisation for 23 years. I’m in an industry that I’m just so passionate about.

I went to university and studied a degree in Computer Science and Accounting. I actually worked for my dad’s accounting practice for a little while. I went into an IT firm and then ended up at BGL, responding to an advertisement that was no bigger than the size of a 10 cent coin in The Age newspaper.

I think when I entered the business, there were about eight of us in total, and now we’re sitting at about just over 160. It’s been an amazing journey. What we’ve been able to do is that we’ve had to go through three cycles of reinventing ourselves. We went from a DOS-based product to Windows-based products and into cloud-based products.

The whole process of reinventing, recreating and repositioning makes an amazing journey.

Why are you so passionate about the industry?

There are so many things: the amazing network of people I have, friends that I’ve made, the individuals that I’ve learned from, and to know the businesses they’ve run and the tools with which they operate with.

I just never thought that I’d be able to create such great connections with people within that industry. The other thing that I love about the industry is that not only are they engaging with individuals and small businesses around, they actually make a difference.

More than tax, accounting and all these financial affairs, they become their friend, their advisors, and they take on a lot more than what they’re really equipped to do. The things that I’ve seen in the last two to three months have just been outstanding, in the way that they’ve connected, embraced, hugged, cried, and being able to bring a lot of their clients through the other side.

Today our topic is mental health. Could you share with our audience why you are so passionate about mental health?

At the end of day, people matter. And for me, if a person is well physically and financially, but that piece of mental health is missing – then they’re not complete. Because no one is exempt from it. No one is immune to it. And all of us know someone that has been impacted. You know, those that struggle to live with it every day. We also know those that have been able to come through and get to the other side of it. And I just love to be able to create awareness about it (mental health issues). Many people experience it. And there is always hope. And I like to focus on the hope and the optimism while still dealing with the reality. People can overcome and get through with the right support, the right questions and the right people around them.

When I read some statistics around the people getting help for mental health issues like anxiety, I was shocked that it takes up to 10 years before people seek help. Also there are 65% of people who experienced mental health issues but didn’t get help at all.

And obviously we can change it. There is an acronym called ALEC, which stands for ask, listen, encourage and check in. We need to ask the question: “are you okay?” Follow it up with observation. Care about your colleagues, your family members, your kids, your kids’ friends. We can look after each other.

Do you think the pandemic has caused some mental health issues?

One of the things that’s happened is some data has been collected, about certain factors and attributes of us as human beings and how it’s been impacted. It’s interesting that according to the stats, we’re more concerned about the global and the Australian economy than the actual virus itself. And most people were more afraid of a friend or family member getting the virus, rather than getting it themselves.

And I’d just like to just focus on those for a second. In this time, confusion and fear has gone up by 300%- 600%, optimism is reduced to 25% and happiness is reduced to 25%. That means overall, our emotional wellbeing is decreasing. During these times, things like substance abuse has gone up.

Some of the mental health issues are associated with the virus, which I think it’s just going to go on for a long time. And the one thing that we need to do is be able to openly talk about it.

Do those numbers that you just mentioned – is there a higher percentage for men?

A lot of men are more reluctant to talk about it because they don’t feel supported. It can be very overwhelming when you’re having issues. And that goes for both genders. But today we’re just focusing a little bit on men’s health here.

These days have not been easy for some people, especially those who have lost their jobs or have financial issue, which would further cause their relationship issues or substance abuse issues. What’s some advice that you could provide to them?

Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and say, I’m not okay. It’s okay not to be okay. Because at some point in your life, whether it be for a minute, an hour, a day, a month, or years, you’re not going to be okay, and it’s okay. It’s about having the awareness to put your hand up and say “I need a bit of help here”.

You should turn to trusted friends. You turn to those that will be able to put their hand down. You want to be around people that don’t judge you for what you’re going through. They’re not there to diagnose. They’re not there to tell you to get over it. They’re there to say, “Hey, when you get knocked back down, I’m going to pick you up. If you fall backwards, I’ll be there to catch you. If you take one step up, I’m going to be the first to celebrate with you.”

You guys have also brought out a great little initiative, I only recently saw it released online. Would you like to give us a little bit of information about Guest Track?

This was actually an idea that our CEO Ron Lesh jumped on board when he went to his local restaurant. And then he put it out to Matt Crofts, our Head of Simple Fund 360. James Luo, our Head of Development and Credit Reform basically said, ”Look, I’d like to create this particular app.” When people visit a premise, it can be a restaurant, a business, a school, a sporting club, or any facility, there’s a QR code for people to easily scan when they’re coming in. We pick up the details of that person that’s entered the premises or the venue. And if there is an issue, such as a little outbreak, the users will be able to go back, look at specific dates and see exactly who’s come in at any particular point in time. And then they can trace back those individuals to make them aware of an issue that’s taken place.

And the beauty about this is it has all been driven by giving back to the community. This product is free of charge to all. So, if anybody’s interested – it’s available on our website, it’s Guest Track powered by BGL.

It’s just a fantastic initiative, and a way we can give back and help businesses get back on their feet in a small way. We know it will make a difference and create safe environments.

Let’s talk from a business point of view, could you share one piece of advice to our audience?

My advice is quite simple, there are two points

  1. Optimism. The problem is the amplified negativity often comes across stronger than the positive. We need to be really careful of what we’re not doing. Be really diligent about what we let into our minds and things that out of our mouth, and make sure that we’re balanced with a great level of optimism.
  2. Power of disposition. And what I mean by that is that no matter what may come, no matter what you may be confronted with, how we look at that thing and how we choose to react can be the difference. In a sense, either going forward really strongly or staying in a place that’s not right. And no matter what you go through, the change of position is so important. There is hope we can make something of this. Let’s look this thing in the eye. And, and in a sense, dictate to what it’s actually going to look like in the near future, rather than accepting what it’s presenting to me at this moment.