How are tech leaders improving employee wellbeing?
With the workplace expanding outside of the traditional office, keeping up with employee wellbeing has seen many more complex challenges within the tech industry.
“The whole world is the workplace these days,” observed Zoom CIO advisor Magnus Falk at a panel talk at London Tech Week 2022.
With that in mind, and the traditional touch points between employer and employee altered beyond recognition in a post-Covid world, how do enterprises tackle their responsibility of taking care of staff, beyond just financial means?
Falk says that “we’re kind of in this new era” with wellbeing in the workplace. Whilst the principles of workplace welfare have always been about allowing employees to have a purpose, and to have managers who care, “it seems to be that there’s now flexibility that seems to be really important now too”.
“But clearly there are lots of other things you need to do,” Falk said. “So, what moves the needle in terms of wellbeing in the modern, flexible, workplace?”
One key feature is how managers and businesses engage with their teams, especially if they cannot see them face-to-face.
Micheal Acton Smith, who a decade ago co-founded mental health app Calm, also spoke at the panel, enthusing about how taking care of your mental health through practices such as meditation has become more normalised over the past couple of years: “People thought we were crazy back when we started, but, fortunately, the penny has dropped with meditation and mindfulness.”
Greg Keller, co-founder of cyber security company JumpCloud, said his firm is completely remote in 12 countries and 41 US states now, while Ariela Safira, founder and CEO of mental health care company, Real, noted that the company had moved to a fully digital model: “Not only pivoted the workforce in the digital world, but also a product and the skill sets ended to a much more digital forward one.”
Keller says that JumpCloud saw the company move from an office-based traditional model pre-pandemic, to flexible working post-pandemic with around 530 more employees.
This huge working shift within the company only intensified the need to put systems in place to make sure employees weren’t burning themselves out at home, “because there is no separation anymore between their home environment and their work environment”.
“So being able to manage people and make sure that they are not over committing is important, because otherwise, they are doing themselves a disservice,” Keller noted.
To avoid burnout, JumpCloud tries to make sure that managers notice and care for different working patterns, “and especially noticing the differences between those that are parents and married, versus those that are millennials because they are usually suffering in different ways”.
Being cautious of employees overworking themselves is something Safira is also conscious of at Real, particularly as a startup: “We found pretty early on people are working non-stop.”
“Some things that we’ve implemented to alleviate burnout are things like a mental health break, where once a quarter, the entire company shuts off for an entire week.”
“So if members are reaching out to us via email, there is a vacation responder running during the mental health break.”
Real also rolled out a four-day workweek this year, whilst still offering unlimited paid time off.
“What we’ve found via surveys is that folks feel far less guilty to be away from work when it is a company-wide week off” because there is more of a community feel.
Safira compared the mental health break they’ve implemented to school holidays, where she says her employees said feeling less guilty at the time as they knew everyone had the same time off, and now they have an empty inbox upon their return.
Wellbeing in leadership
“The whole workforce shift has happened so quickly,” said Acton Smith. Calm has had about “120 million downloads on the consumer side” in the past couple of years, “but the fastest part of our business by far is companies bringing mental health into the workplace”.
Acton Smith believes that within the next few years every company in the world will have some kind of mental health support.
With one of Falk’s key principles being good leadership, “you need to have a leader who is actually attuned to being able to kind of get people on the right path”, he says. Which means, providing a positive wellness culture by setting an example to employees.
“As a founder, I will personally have a tendency to just grind and work and grind,” acknowledges Keller. However, “emails will never stop, the business will perpetually move, so you have to have that pause as a leader and demonstrate that you too can check out and take care of yourself.”
JumpCloud “pivoted from the traditional HR leadership model, and went to a people leadership model.” By doing this, it makes a point when hiring new managers to make sure that they are willing to take care of the mental health of their team and also train them and existing managers so they know how to do so.
Calm has created a programme called the mindful manager which helps train managers to take care of not only their own mental health but that of their team as well: “We kind of assume that people know what to do, but they don’t,” says Acton Smith.
To tackle this, both he and Safira recommend sending out anonymous employee surveys, “to take the pulse and hear what’s going on.” Not only that, but leaders should also spend time independently with their team to assess how they are getting on and to ensure that there is no burnout, from whatever level.
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