These 3 local leaders know something about stress management—here are their top 13 tips


Man and two women at Protective Life, stress management
Matthew Kohler and colleagues at Protective. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

April is Stress Awareness Month and who can’t use some good pointers for how to keep calm and carry on. We reached out to three senior leaders at Birmingham-based Protective Life Corporation to get their top tips for stress management. Here’s what they told us.

Meet 3 senior leaders at Protective

Wendy Evesque: Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

woman who works at Protective Life
Wendy Evesque (Wendy Evesque)

Wendy leads Protective’s human resources team, with a focus on people and culture. In her off time, she loves spending time with her family, reading and being outside. 

Pooja Rahman: Senior Vice President and Chief Risk Officer

woman who works at Protective
Pooja Rahman (Pooja Rahman)

Pooja leads Risk Management for Protective and engages on a broad range of issues and company decisions. Family time and daily outdoor walks fill up her day outside of work.

Matthew Kohler: Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer

man who works at Protective Life
Matthew Kohler (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

At work, Matthew’s responsible for Protective’s entire IT operation, from cybersecurity to business systems. Hobbies are the secret to reducing stress. When he’s not at work, you’ll find him building, fixing, creating or fishing on the Cahaba River.

Since all three work in demanding leadership positions at a company that’s focused on protecting people’s well-being, we knew they’d have some things to teach the rest of us about stress management.

Wendy’s top tips for handling stressful situations

Matthew Kohler and a woman at Protective
Working at Protective. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

1. Stay focused on the critical few.

From Rich Bielen, Protective’s CEO, she’s learned to stay focused on what matters and has the most impact. 

Wendy’s learned that she can “really only successfully keep three to five significant items in the air at one time.” 

2. It’s not personal + it’s probably not about you. 

“Early in my career, a mentor coached me to always take a step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes people get emotional, but most of the time, they have good intentions. If you focus on understanding the underlying situation and how to help others, you get to a good place.”

3. Breathe. 

“I had the benefit of going through the Momentum Executive Leadership Program years ago. Barbara Royal always told us to breathe. Meaning literally, breathe, but also making time and space to slow down, take care of yourself, and reflect… even if only for a moment or two.” 

4. Have a strong network.

You need people you can trust, talk to and learn from.

5. Experiment + find what works for you.

This will shift and change as your career and personal life evolve.

6. Work + life are a blend.

“The lines are blurry and it’s hard to separate the two. I don’t even try any more. I wish I had learned that earlier.” 

Pooja’s favorite coping strategies for stress management

people working at Protective Life, stress management
People working at Protective. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

Here’s what Pooja’s learned over the years: 

1. Manage what needs to be managed now.

Solve the problem that’s right in front of you. 

2. Circle back around to see if broader changes are needed.

Once things have calmed down, go back to see if broader solutions might help you achieve better outcomes over time. 

3. Remember that you have the power of prioritization.

This helps individuals and teams refocus and feel a sense of control. Not everything can change, or needs to change, today. 

4. Communication is key.

“Direct, honest and respectful communications can make even the most stressful situations a little bit better.”

Matthew’s tips for keeping cool when things are heating up

1. Really good trusted working relationships make all the difference.

If you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and solve problems in a crisis, it helps when you and your colleagues know you’ve got each other’s backs.

2. Have a common goal to solve the problem and do the right thing. 

Putting the needs of the company first can help everyone stay focused on solving the problem at hand. 

3. Don’t abandon what makes you feel fulfilled.

“Hobbies help you get away from work when you’re not at work. And, depending on your role and interests, you need to make sure you’re satisfying those additional interests outside of your core job to feel more satisfied in your personal life. Ultimately, this helps you handle stress on a personal and professional level.”

Employee benefits can go a long way toward decreasing stress + advancing employee well-being

people working at Protective Life
People working at Protective. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

Finally, we asked Wendy about the benefits Protective offers their employees to make their lives less stressful.

She said they recognize that people are in different places personally and professionally, so they aim to provide a broad variety of well-being resources to meet them where they are and provide the support they need.

Here are just a few: 

  • Time + place
    • Workplace flexibility
    • Paid time off—for any reason you need it
    • Service time—give back to the community
  • Mental well-being support
    • Online resource center and mobile app with quick tools and videos
    • 1:1 counseling through BetterHelp for short-term or acute uses
    • 1:1 counseling through a mental health provider for chronic or ongoing issues, including anxiety, depression and addiction 
  • Physical well-being support
    • Online well-being platform that offers educational modules, virtual exercise classes, access to health coaches, points for logging healthy behaviors + the opportunity to participate in walking challenges.
    • 1:1 coaching provided by an on-staff dietician
    • Plus, in the Birmingham site, there’s an onsite health clinic, a gym and massage therapy.
  • Parental support
    • Paid parental leave benefits: 12 weeks paid leave for delivering mothers + 6 weeks paid leave for fathers
    • Maven—Maternity + Paternity support: health advisors can provide support around birth plans, delivery, adoption, return-to-work planning, breastfeeding + more.
    • Breast Milk Shipping services: for nursing mothers who travel for work. 

Does this sound like a place you’d like to work? Protective’s hiring. Check out their jobs listings today.

Sponsored by:

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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