Creating a Positive Work-Life Integration | EPISODE 6 | featuring Adam Russo


In this episode, Adam Russo (business and leadership coach and TEDx Speaker), visited the podcast to talk about striking a balance in the work-life tug of war as well as how technology and remote work are shaping work culture and mental health.

Thanks to Adam for being on the podcast. You can find him here:



CRAIG: Hey everyone. Welcome back to the 101 Digital Podcast. I’m Craig Meyer, the CEO of 101 Digital, and we’re kicking off the month of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’ve got a perfect guest for it today. We’ve got Adam Russo here. Can you tell our guests a little bit about yourself and what you do?

ADAM: Sure. I’m a social worker by training. I’ve been a social worker for over 20 years. I started a practice here in the Naperville area about 15 years ago, just myself. It was incredibly successful. I grew it, scaled it to about 80 providers and 140 employees and then wound up selling it in 2020 to a large national behavioral health group where I became a regional VP of operations, overseeing four states and about a thousand providers. And over that period of time, really valued leadership and leadership development and its impact on mental health, especially as a mitigating factor for depression and anxiety. And I always incorporated those things into treatment. With that as my background, decided to move on and become a business and leadership coach. And now I’m the founder of Reliable Coaching and Strategy, helping business owners, leaders, entrepreneurs with their people process strategy to help them achieve the success that they’re looking for.

CRAIG: Yeah, I actually think that’s like a perfect combo, right? I’ve actually thought about it a lot how you had the kind of therapist side and talking to people and now on the business side, obviously that’s extremely important as well, right? You’ve got the knowing people, their tendencies and how they may work. And then, like you said, developing on the leadership side. I think it all just really comes together very well so I think that was a really good transition for you.

CRAIG: One of the questions I wanted to ask you about is mental health days. I feel like it’s one of those things that a lot of companies have been trying to navigate, especially with recent times with people being more remote, being isolated and more mental health issues happening over the last couple of years. What would you say is how companies should navigate it and what are some of the things that you’ve seen people be successful with?

ADAM: Yeah, mental health days. It’s an interesting thing right? Because I think what’s happened is a lot happened on the pop culture front with it on one hand, right? So mental health has been more and more at the forefront of things over the past few years. And there’s a need to, obviously, take care of people’s mental health, right? I think to make it a priority that people don’t get overwhelmed. And companies have embraced that on some level. I think it’s different per company, right? Some I think offer mental health days as a benefit just because they feel like they have to, everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to be left out. Others really put a value on it. But I think there’s an importance of mental health days. I think what’s important though too, is how are people taking them? I think, again, pop culture view of mental health is, “I’m going to check out.” Right? “I’m going to lay in my flannel pants and on my couch, under a blanket and binge Netflix and have chips falling down my face and that’s my mental health day and now I’ll go back to work tomorrow.” And the reality is that when people do that, it actually hurts your mental health more than helps it.

So, I think we’ve got to turn around this concept of mental health days and how do you use them to be helpful for oneself? Because if you’re vegging out on the couch watching Netflix, all those things that you were stressed about: the things at work, the things at home, with your kids, with your spouse, maybe with your parents or extended family, finance. All those things? They’re still there the next day and you didn’t do one thing on your day off to address any of them, right? So, if we’re going to use that time to be productive and to really be good for our own mental health, we’ve got to then take ownership of “Well, what can we do?” So, it may not mean anything about literally controlling any of these things or stressors because there might not be a way to. But could it mean you know going to a forest preserve and walking on a path for a couple of hours just to kind of clear your head? Or engaging in a hobby or something that can kind of keep your mind active, but off of some other things to help kind of decompress? Do yoga, you know, any of those kind of things beyond just vegging out on the couch because that can make people feel worse.

CRAIG: Yeah. I personally can attest to that where if you are as I say laying on the couch trying to watch TV show, the thoughts of work are going, again for me, creep into my head right, If I’m say golfing or, like you said, going out on a hike, a run, that’s where really you do kind of turn everything off and allow yourself to recharge. So yeah, I think that’s a really good way to do it and think about it. But yeah, I mean everyone obviously is going to have their own way of doing it.

ADAM: Yeah, they will. And again, if we’re talking about an organizational side where if we’re saying, “Organizationally we want to take care of our people and we want to give them some of those extra days during the year to take care of themselves.” I think it’s really good for organizations to, not only encourage people to take the days, but to use them effectively and not just use them to sit around. Because if the purpose of the day is for mental health, I think it’s also good for organizations to help their people really understand what can be beneficial for them.

CRAIG: Yeah, definitely. I think another thing too that I just thought of was, there’s a part with technology that plays into that as well, right? People can be accessible at any time. So, I think the business as well needs to make sure that you’re not hitting them up with emails and other things. You really should have some sort of secondary contact for those people so that they can actually do that.

ADAM: Yeah, and what you’re talking about leads into a whole other separate thing of organizational culture, right? “Are we offering mental health days?”, on one hand, but is the organizational culture one that you’re not allowed to take them? And how does that play in? In making sure, like you’re saying, that there’s alignment between what the messaging is from an organization and how they’re viewing things and how things get managed versus how does that line up to individuals in their ability, you know, to take the time that they need?

CRAIG: 100%. Yeah.

CRAIG: The next thing I wanted to talk through was leadership and coaching and within organization, allowing people to fail and also giving them the comfort that it’s okay to fail, right? So, can you talk about the coaching side of that, the leadership side of it and, again, just learning from failures and allowing people to understand that it is okay to fail?

ADAM: Yeah, it’s a really important topic and one that’s been researched quite a bit. I think Angela Duckworth wrote a book called “Grit” some time ago that speaks a lot about the growth versus fixed mindset and all of that learning from failure all comes from all that research. And a big part of it stems, first of all from our culture. Our culture, especially with our young people, doesn’t value learning from failure because if you think about the educational system, it values a lot of accuracy, precision, you know doing, it right the first time. It’s a very slow methodical process. And what we’re teaching kids at young ages as they get older, doesn’t necessarily translate into experimenting with something new and failing at it because we’re not valuing that at young ages. There was a study that was done some time ago where researchers looked at patent submissions that people had made and they looked at them and they pulled out the patents that were society impacting, right? They had a large-scale effect. And they wanted to know is: Were these patent submissions the first submission that the person had? The fifth? The hundredth? Like what number was it? And what they found is virtually all of them were like 50 or more patents that these people have had prior to really hitting a home run with one of their ideas. None of them were a first idea or a second idea.

CRAIG: That’s really interesting.

ADAM: And ultimately, you know the learning from failures kind of part of it, but the larger part, especially using that study as an example, the iteration of ideas gets you to better ideas. And if you don’t allow a process to go through the iteration of ideas, organizations and individuals tend to get stuck because they feel like they have to do right that first time. And the likelihood of, again, hitting that grand slam on the first pitch is it’s not going to happen. So, getting comfortable with the iteration of ideas knowing full well that you’re going to waste time and energy but ultimately getting to the place where you want to be. And so reframing wasting time and energy to part of a process in learning and development is incredibly important.

CRAIG: One of the things, the first thing that you said was, in our society, not allowing people to fail. I was thinking about myself personally, right? And I think I do have a difference of how I do handle this personally, like at home with my son, where it is hard to kind of just watch him struggle with something new and you want to step in and help him, right? But to your point, you should allow them to fail so that they understand what that’s like — to fail at something to potentially be frustrated about it, but to realize that it’s not the end of everything, right? They will get better at it. I feel like I do a better job of that on the professional side though where I let my team fail at things, right? Give them the resources to understand how to do it, but then allow them to execute on it. Like you don’t have to always handhold with them. They have to build that confidence themselves. So, is there anything else that you have going on that leadership side of it and what leaders can do to facilitate that failure in a successful way?

ADAM: Yeah, I think it goes on two levels, right? Because on one hand, like what you’re saying, that if you look at it organizationally, the higher of organizations has to be able to encourage that type of thinking and way of doing things as far as their culture goes. That can be set up, but then individuals themselves also have to be prepared to go through it because as much as an organizational culture can set the table for that, a lot of individuals aren’t prepared to actually go through it because like you said, if an individual’s coming through and they’ve never really experienced failure and never really were able to, yet they’re in the culture that encourages it. There’s not alignment in that. And if there’s not alignment then there’s this push pull that’s going to happen within an individual in that level because they might be really scared about failing even though the organization’s encouraging it. So it doesn’t necessarily get to the endpoint that the organization might want because the individual’s going to feel a little ambivalent inside. So, it kind of works on both levels and paying attention to individual’s abilities to be able to handle that and what’s their process of learning in it. Some are more comfortable than others. So, putting all those things together is important.

CRAIG: How have you seen people be successful in getting out of that then? If they are someone who struggles to allow others to fail, how do you kind of talk them into a place of where they can allow that, right?

ADAM: Yeah, I mean I think it goes to what you said. The idea of not everything
has to be perfect and helping people understand: “Why is perfect important?” Because when you can kind of dig a little bit deeper down people, there’s a value proposition as an individual behind “perfect”, right? If I’m not great at what I do, therefore I must be terrible. And a lot of times it boils down to something like that which is really poignant for individuals and it’s hard to handle because on one hand, there might be a point of view of saying, “Look. Try it out. If it doesn’t go well, that’s okay. We’ll learn and we’ll move forward,” but the experience of that might be, “If I don’t do well, I’ll get fired, maybe people are going to find out that I’m really bad at this,” right? And so, it’s a big disconnect and so that’s where effective communication is a big part of it.

CRAIG: Yeah, that makes sense. And I try to tell everyone here that if you fail, it does not mean that your job’s on the line, right? If you’ve taken the precautions, you’ve learned it and you’ve tried and you still fail, again, that’s going to happen. I think that everyone’s going to then grow from that. Like there’s this sense of building yourself up from those failures. So I think that’s one of those things that, you know, if people understand that and hear that from others that it is okay, I think people will just be better off. And I think we’ve talked about it off camera too, that sense of allowing that and feeling okay about it. Obviously also then reduces anxiety and potentially depression and things like that.

ADAM: It does and that’s the idea of the leadership piece being that mitigating factor for any mental health issues. Because the more people get comfortable in those types of things, you know, failing and things not being perfect, understanding that if something doesn’t go well, it’s not the end of the world. You know, there’s depression and anxiety that come up. Life is hard. Everyone gets hit on the chin, right? At multiple times over the course of their lifetime. And the more those leadership skills are in place, the better able people are to kind of get themselves back up and mitigate the symptoms of anxiety and depression because they’re feeling more secure in themselves. And that when there’s that security and confidence, that then can help them move forward.

Along the process of thinking about failing too, think it was Edison when he invented the light bulb, the story is that he failed 10,000 times before he created the light bulb. And he was asked: “What was it like to fail 10000 times before you created this?” And he said, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times. The light bulb was just the invention of 10,000 steps.” And so, the mindset of how you go into it is incredibly important because it doesn’t mean you can’t get to where you want to go. It’s just a matter of what the process looks like.

CRAIG: The next thing I kind of wanted to get into was, same kind of parallels, work life balance, right? And this is kind of where the technology piece comes into it. 101 Digital being a managed IT and cyber security company, I feel like that’s something that we always need to talk through because one, we help facilitate it, but I think there is also a negative impact to some of the technology. And so from a work-life balance, I think a lot of people now think that since they’re working from home, either always or more often, that they’re always available, right? Because their home is now their office, they’re always in it. So whether it’s Teams calls or Slack, people are getting messages. It could be 6:00 at night, 7:00 at night, people thing that they have to attend to it. I think part of it, obviously, is creating boundaries and you can probably speak better to it than me, but what do you kind of see as some of the ways to effectively kind live in this new world of this hybrid, again with technology kind of coming into it: How do you see people manage this to not affect their mental health?

ADAM: Two things. Like you said, boundaries is incredibly important and I think that works on two different levels. One, it has to come through organizationally. If their organization has an expectation of, “Hey, turn your devices off at a certain time,” or whatever the case is, right? You know, feeling comfortable turning it off. Well, people need to turn it off. And they have to be able to go and support what the organization is saying as far as setting those boundaries. On the flip side, if the organization is saying we expect all these kind of different things, people have to decide, “Well, how am I going to work within this culture?” So individuals setting their boundaries is incredibly important. I think, in much the same way, that I explained it to my kids when introducing devices to them, that you own devices. Devices don’t own you. So that’s why you can silence them, you can turn notifications off, you can make yourself as available or not as you want to be, but you can’t always have your notifications on and then complain you’re always getting notified, right? Like at some point you kind of make your own way on that.

CRAIG: You got to take some ownership in it.

ADAM: Exactly And, you know, I think the other part too. I believed it for a while. So I’ve heard a lot about work-life balance for quite a number of years and especially as technology has gotten more and more into the workplace and then especially over the past two years, like you’re saying being home, and tech is all over what’s happening as individuals. To me, it’s really less about work-life balance and more about work-life integration because of the constant accessibility. To say that there’s always going to be a very clear delineated line between the two, I think it’s getting harder and harder to do, and I think it becomes more of a fight that individuals have with themselves about how to create that line. But, if you have appropriate boundaries and you can be fluid with them, meaning “Today I have my kid’s baseball game at five and my daughter’s recital at six, so I am out at 4:30 and I am not checking anything.” Right? The next day you might not have anything going on and you might be more you might want to make yourself more available, right? So the idea is, how do you set boundaries in a way that’s effective for you? Not necessarily about everybody else. And if people can navigate those in a way that’s effective for them, I think there’s an integration where it can be successful, but I think at the same time again, making sure that that those lines are working for all parties involved: family, work, kids etc.

CRAIG: It’s really interesting too that you put it that way of what I would consider kind of like a flex schedule in a way, right? Where it’s like certain times of the day, maybe you’re not going to be accessible. And I think that’s where technology has helped too though. Let’s just say I want to go on a vacation, but it’s extended past the amount of days I have off, but you still want to be in that environment, right? So, we’ve actually even had staff where they want to go to Florida, but they still want to work. Like they’re going to visit family and it allows them to do that. So I think that is the good side of the work-life balance with technology, but I think the key thing that you said there though is, it’s kind of what you make it. Because I could be someone who’s checking my phone, checking my phone no matter what. Always. But that’s again where I personally have to take some ownership of it. No one’s telling me I need to do that. And I think that’s where again sometimes people get confused and think that they have to because I know that years ago, that’s kind of how I felt. Where any notification that came through, I had to attend to it. I think that’s kind of what technology in a way has done. They’ve almost either gamified it or some psychological factor that notifications have to be cleared no matter what.

ADAM: Well, I mean we’ve all heard of Pavlov’s dogs, right? I mean when you get the ding on your phone, you’re no different than the dog. That’s the way it works. And so that’s why turning notifications off is so important because if you eliminate the ding, then you can control what you want to do.

CRAIG: Yeah, I agree. I guess this kind of goes with this as well because, again, down the technology side. But one of the things I really wanted to ask you about is team building, building a culture, in this hybrid environment. Even with our team, we’ve got a lot of people that are fully remote, we have some people that are not even in the state, but I do think that we’ve been able to create a really good culture mostly because of the technology. We talked about this earlier that like if it wasn’t for the video aspect of it, it would be more difficult I think. I think having that video aspect, we actually have a team huddle every morning, where we’re all on camera. We’re able to see each other, talk to each other, see emotion and I think that helps. But there’s probably, whether it’s companies that don’t have that technology or don’t have that culture, where they’re trying to build that. I think it makes it difficult. So can you kind of speak to where you’ve seen companies be successful in creating that good team collaboration and culture using technology and maybe some pitfalls or missteps that people have had?

ADAM: Yeah, I think technology is definitely important especially with this remote culture and things and it makes an impact. And it’s not that good culture can’t be built, it just has to be so intentional on the part of the organization because first of all, every organization has a culture whether they’re being intentional about it or not. So, there’s going to be a culture. So, the question is: how is that going to build? If everyone’s in-person, it naturally builds because people are crossing paths more, they’re having lunch together, they’re stopping in people’s offices. It becomes more of an ad hoc kind of everyone’s meeting when they’re available. But remotely, that doesn’t happen. So there has to be a little bit more intentionality to, how is this communication going to work? From a team perspective, like you’re talking about, daily meetings, or from a leadership perspective, I think managers have to be more intentional on setting meetings with their team just because they’re not going to bump into them as often. And maybe that monthly meeting isn’t enough. Maybe it has to be every week, even if it’s only for a half hour or something. But there has to be more intentionality on that communication. And then, how do you engage the team whether it’s for purposeful “work” issues or a little bit more social, off the cuff, everyone just get along kind of thing, right? So, you know whatever platforms organizations decide to use and set up for their teams, it’s not only about setting it up and talking
about how it’s going to be used, but those leaders also themselves have to be active in them because otherwise, you talk about missteps, that’s where the danger can happen.

CRAIG: Yeah. Like you said, one of the biggest things is being intentional about it and that is why we have those team huddles, right? I mean we would have them even if it was in-person, but we’ve been intentional about telling people: have your cameras on, being at that meeting, making sure you don’t schedule anything else for that meeting. It is intentional, whether or not I thought about it until you’ve now said it, but it was the intention of it. And also, to the work culture thing, you can’t just be like, “Hey, we want to be an organization that’s fun, laid-back.” You have to actually then be intentional about it and take steps towards that, right? One of the things that I heard, I forgot where it was from, but work culture is essentially the things that you allow to happen, right? So, if there’s toxic things happening in the organization, your work culture is probably going to be toxic. So, you have to be intentional about not letting those things happen and providing a good work environment.

ADAM: Yeah, and I think in those pieces you talk about that the toxic culture and what’s allowed, that’s where I’ve seen a lot of leaders have tripped over themselves because they’ll say this behavior, whatever happened, is inaccessible, but then they’ll say, “Oh, but this person did it? They’re our best salesperson” or “our best tech” and now and then all the excuses start coming in about what’s actually allowable and what people don’t realize is that whether you’re all remote or whether you’re all in person or a hybrid or whatever the case is, the culture is going to impact what people do and it’s going to impact the point of view that the team has on their own company. So, when things like employee retention are such a big deal, it’s really incumbent on the organizations to create an organizational culture where people want to stay and say, “Hey, the grass is not going to be greener somewhere else.” So, it’s always the organization’s responsibility to control and manage their culture all the time and not check out from that.

CRAIG: To kind of go full circle on the culture being intentional, as we talked about earlier, this allowing people to fail, I feel like that’s part of our culture as well, right? I can tell you for sure, here we make it intentional to let people know it’s okay to fail.

CRAIG: I think all of this has been awesome. I really appreciate you coming on here. Kind of want to give you the time now to let people know where they can find you, also a little bit more about what your current business does as well.

ADAM: Yeah. So, Reliable Coaching and Strategy: business leaders, owners, entrepreneurs, helping them with people process strategy so that they can achieve success. I’m working with people in various industries and their businesses are all in different places, but they’re all looking for the same thing. They want to grow. They want to have a good environment, good culture, good process and they want to be successful. And that success is defined differently by everybody. Some that’s more defined on the personal/family side than it is financial. Some of it is just about the challenge of growth and the steps that are in front of them. But working with them to be able to achieve what they would like to. My website,, has all the information about me. I have video blogs of coaching tips and things like that that people can just pull from and see if there’s anything that’s helpful for them to use in their organizations and I’m happy to always do free consultations.

CRAIG: Well, I think you’re going to be extremely successful with that because like I said earlier, I think it’s just a good transition from what you were doing previously. So, thanks again for coming on and if anyone wants to find out more about 101 Digital, you can find us at and thanks again for tuning in. Really appreciate it.