TAFEP Hero 2023 Nov
Q&A: Shootsta founder and CEO Mike Pritchett on workplace mental health

Q&A: Shootsta founder and CEO Mike Pritchett on workplace mental health


Vital Stats: Mike Pritchett established video production company Shootsta in 2014, which teaches companies to produce their own video content. In six years, he has opened branches in Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, London, and San Diego. He is also the founder and director of Shootsta’s Sydney-based sister company Trapdoor Productions.

Q With a background in Australia, why are you interested in developing your brand in Asia?

I had a job at a global media company 14 years ago, and I spent a lot of time in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. I got to know the regions quite well and fell in love with them. On a business level, since we work with large corporations, these markets are very much their enterprise. So, if we are able to work with clients in multiple regions, it really helps them.

Q What are your views on mental health in the workplace?

It’s something that should not be a silo and put into a programme. The most important thing about workplace mental health is that people are passionate about their work. Mental health awareness is embedded in our overarching culture and ethos, rather than having an individual programme.

Our belief is that you can’t put somebody in a job that they don’t enjoy, push them, and then have a mental health programme on the side.

That makes no sense. You need to make sure you are fitting the right person in the right role, and you care about that person as an individual in making sure they are doing something they love.

As an entrepreneur, I see my role similar to an architect’s essentially. An architect can design a building in a way that contributes to people’s lives and makes people feel good about themselves. Bad architecture drains people and makes them feel unwell. An entrepreneur has the same opportunity, where one can create a positive workplace that is beneficial for their team to come to work each day to thrive, express themselves and enjoy their time at work.

Q Is it hard to talk about mental health in Hong Kong?

The culture of Hong Kong and Singapore is harder than other places. There is still very much a culture of wanting to “save face” a little bit and appear to have it all together – which is the case globally. But in Australia and the UK, that has been broken down a little bit where people are more willing to be exposed and transparent.

There is also a lot of pressure in Hong Kong on being successful, and I think that pressure can cause people to put on a façade, pretending everything is OK, when it might not be.

Q How does Shootsta identify employees who might be experiencing burnout?

Our UK-based people manager coaches regional VPs on how to check-in during meetings. In the first five minutes of every meeting, everyone will speak out about how they are feeling and what mental state they are in. In some offices, line managers will like to ask their team to use a number to rate their current emotions, and then elaborate on that.

The “check-in” conversation is not just an option, but mandatory for all, which gives everyone permission to talk, even introverts. If somebody is not as engaged as before, there’s usually an issue, and it is time to pull them aside and have a chat afterwards.

The rationale behind check-in is that – for example – if I come to a meeting and my dog died the night before, when the people in the meeting snap at me about something I didn’t finish, that can cause a spiral because I am already down about something that’s got nothing to do with work, and somebody else is lumping more on top of that.

However, if I have an opportunity to tell my team about the sad news, no one is going to dump extra pressure on me. They will cut me a break. The opportunity to say something – that alone – is an important step.

Spiralling up and spiralling down often comes down to the energy of the people you are spending time with, and the positive attitude you put out yourself.

Therefore, as mentioned earlier, we always encourage a PMA – a positive mental attitude. In an environment where people can be toxic and bring each other down, we have to be alert about the early signs and rectify them. Otherwise, we can end up with people draining from each other, and that is a spiral that is very hard to get out of.

Q Would you describe the day-to-day work at Shootsta as high pressure?

We are a start-up and we are scaling up. There are deadlines we need to meet, and we are in a race. It is a stressful place, but it is important to understand the difference between good stress and bad stress. It is also important to shape a workplace where people know what they are working for and that they can achieve milestones along the way and do something useful for the world, instead of trying to make the environment so Zen that no one has any stress – which is not the reality.

The reality is that stress can be exhausting, but it can be fun as long as it is the right kind being managed correctly and being framed with that positive mental attitude.

That’s an approach we are trying to achieve at Shootsta.

Q How do you help employees find the good kind of stress?

We talk about flow a lot – getting into a headspace by doing something you love and focusing solely on that. It is the most efficient way to get most things done. We encourage them to remove distractions such as emails. I don’t check emails at all. I even cancel all my personal emails. I understand this is not possible for everyone, but I advise my employees not to check them minute by minute, and also to disable pop-up windows, alerts and turn their phones off.

We live in a very distracted world. We are answering to everyone else’s requests.

We encourage our teams to focus on what matters.

We also have OGAD: One goal a day. I always ask my team: What’s your OGAD?

We motivate employees to think about the one thing they need to achieve every day, rather than coming to work with a to-do list of 5000 unimportant things. If you achieve that one goal, you should feel good about yourself.

Q Is the key to workplace mental health “doing what you enjoy”?

Yes, enjoy what you do and have the ability to focus. Distraction is a key issue, and that can lead to feeling overwhelmed later. To get into one’s flow, we ask employees to partition their work, to compartmentalise. If they have a huge task to do, break it up into chunks, and just focus on one part. Multitasking is the biggest fallacy in today’s generation. It is not good for mental wellness because you are doing things half as well, and not enjoying any of them.

Q With recruitment, how do you make sure that you hire the right person?

We place a huge emphasis on recruitment. We hire first for passion, next for attitude, and then skills. Level of education and background come way past that. We ask potential candidates to create a video on their personal lives, followed by a video call and in-person interview. Depending on the person, there could be second and third interviews. We like taking them away from a corporate environment and meeting them at a café to add a personal touch. I like asking silly questions.

One question I always ask: If money wasn’t an issue in your life, what would you do? For me, we are in the video industry, if somebody tells me they want to start a charity and go to Uganda, my feedback will be: That doesn’t cost anything. Why don’t you do it now? I don’t want people working with us just for the money, but because they enjoy what we are doing and building.

Q Can you recommend a book for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan. It is holistic about the entire workforce. For example, how things work, how to give employees what they want, but also get the best for your company. The book circles back to the fact that in the Industrial Age, as an employer, you would ask employees to sit and do their task for hours because the goal of their labour was to put together an assembly line. But now, we need more from these people. We are buying their headspace and creativity. So you can’t just make the same request and ask them to go harder. You need to work out the trigger of people: What they are working for out of their life and this job.

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