Employers provide increased incentives to employees to improve their overall wellness.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing John Peebles.

John Peebles is the CEO of Administrate, a SaaS training management platform and one of Scotland’s fastest-growing tech companies. Headquartered in Edinburgh with offices in Dublin, Bozeman, and Beirut, Administrate is a learning infrastructure used by large enterprises to define, deliver, and track their training operations. Hundreds of companies, thousands of users, and millions of learners access Administrate every day.

He serves on the board of TuringFest, Europe’s best technology conference, and is a former board member of Current Health, one of the UK’s best healthcare tech success stories.

Before Administrate, Mr. Peebles helped start Fort Lauderdale-based Sentry Data Systems, where he served as Chief Information Officer and VP of Operations.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I have many years of experience working in the start-up environment, including the start of my career as a developer. I love working in startups because it is exciting. You’re building something new, maybe something that hasn’t quite existed before. You’re putting your ideas and your work out into the world to see if they survive. While exhilarating, it is also incredibly stressful. In my role now as CEO, I have all of the adrenaline of building something and have a team of people around the world who depend on me and my decisions to pay their bills and support their loved ones. This is common, of course, to every business, but in the higher stakes situation of startups when you’re adding investors, prospective customers who need to see your concept work, and the scaling challenges of a rapidly growing business, you quickly find yourself in ideal conditions for burnout. I experienced that in a significant way in 2015. The stress placed upon my mental health produced physical illness. It was scary. It sidelined me at a critical time. It was a huge wake-up call that the way I had been working and living was not sustainable. And now, as a leader, I wasn’t just gambling with my own quality of life. I had a responsibility to lead in wellness as well, in addition to our work. My personal experience with burnout is absolutely my motivation for helping to create changes in the way we work at Administrate.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

When we think about wellness, we tend to shape things via our core value of sustainability — are we living and working in a way that will be sustainable for our customers, communities, team members, and ourselves? This includes many factors, including hours worked, how our teams feel about their work, mental health, to even more mundane but super important things like workstation ergonomics and quality equipment. Like many companies, we love analytics and measurement, and we do keep track of several metrics around how we’re doing in these areas. Some are individualized, but some aren’t. For example, we believe that privacy and safety around mental health issues is fundamental, so we only track how many sessions our team has with our in-house therapist — we don’t know who has gone to a session.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Over the years we have seen a high correlation between team members who work more sustainably and their success. I’ve also seen that teams and departments do their best work when working in a more sustainable way. The great thing about this is that we’ve also seen success and accomplishment as massive drivers of employee morale and satisfaction. This means teams can often click into a really powerful positive feedback loop.. By working more sustainably, they do better work, which creates more success, which means they’re even more energized and can continue to improve how they’re working.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

My personal view is the WHO estimate is probably significantly under-baked — I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t n’t a 10x or higher return on investment in mental health, as that would certainly track towards our experience. And here’s the thing — these investments don’t cost much relative to their benefits. Working fewer hours but achieving the same results has no cash impact and should be a no-brainer decision. Methodically tackling mental health issues each week or month is far more cost-effective than waiting until things blow up and a team member has to take time off work or leave.

I’m not sure why leadership doesn’t pay more attention to investments in this area, but I suspect that these topics can make us uncomfortable and demand high standards. High productivity is more challenging to manage, but I think the payoff is well worth it.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

The first step is to not think of wellness as a program — it needs to be a core value of the company. Just providing gym memberships or fitting out a yoga room won’t create a culture of wellness the same as installing a ping pong table won’t morph your company into a cool startup. Wellness needs to be a priority from leadership down to each individual. We’re human, so even when you have this culture, things won’t be perfect — they certainly aren’t here, but at least we have a shared understanding and agreement that wellness is a priority at our company.

In terms of recruitment, I struggle with this one, as I tend not to broadcast some of the things we do via social media or our careers page. There’s so much virtue signaling without any real substance behind it, and I’ve always wanted to make sure we’re truly living out our values internally prior to discussing them externally. That said, it’s been 7 years since we started working a 4 day, 32 hour week and providing mental health support, so I guess we can start mentioning it at this point!

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on-demand mental health services.

Just a quick interjection that I don’t agree with unlimited PTO as a policy — I made this mistake at my previous company. What happens is employees take LESS time on average than they would if there was a clear guideline. At Administrate, we provide a very generous holiday allotment, and it’s our managers’ job to make sure their teams are taking it. We feel like that gets us a better outcome overall!

What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: We provide free, anonymous, confidential mental health sessions with a licensed therapist. In addition, team members can gift a session to anyone (friend, family member).
  • Emotional Wellness: One metric we keep an eye on is a weekly check- in from every team member. How is that person feeling? Mental health plays an essential part in this, of course. We also provide coaching to each of our managers, a holistic approach towards their performance at work and life.
  • Social Wellness: Mental health plays an essential part in this, of course. We also provide coaching to each of our managers, a holistic approach towards their performance at work and life. I’ve always been proud of the fact that our teams often hang out after work as well — some of the best ideas have come from these gatherings!
  • Physical Wellness: In the past, we’ve had wellness programs running during the summer months that encourage better eating and exercise, including group activities, but all of that went on hold during COVID-19 unfortunately. We’re looking to restart focus in this area.
  • Financial Wellness: Our team has access to financial advisors to discuss their pension / 401k and financial planning options.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Investment in your team always pays off. We’ve seen improvements in productivity, retention, recruitment, and overall employee net promoter score due to our investments in employee wellness.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We don’t think reskilling is the right word — instead, we believe that we’re liberating leaders by helping them see that leadership covers more areas than just KPIs, but also includes managing the whole person and investing in them. We believe that employee and team wellness translates to business wellness, and imparting that belief at every level is key to our overall success.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Before meetings, at Administrate we ask everyone what color they are today: red, yellow, or green? Green means things are going great, yellow means they’re concerned about something, and if someone is red, we stop and see if there’s anything we can do. Sometimes these issues are confidential and not work-related, which is ok too, but at least we know the person is in emotional distress. We’ve found this to work well and it helps create trust within the team.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. More focus on results, less focus on hours worked.
  2. Employers provide increased incentives to employees to improve their overall wellness.
  3. Increased incentives are provided by employers to employees for improving their overall wellness.
  4. Additional research by companies into how they can impact the productivity of their workforce.
  5. At some point, a long-overdue backlash against open-plan offices.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an acceleration of interest by companies seeking to build a culture around employee wellness. That fills us with optimism, and hopefully, it means we’re past the initial skepticism stage, and into a season of implementation.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I’d love to connect! Send me an email at [email protected] and tell me what you’re doing to address this important topic! I love hearing about things other folks are trying.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

Thank you, Karen, for this opportunity to share my insights and opinions with you and your audience