Companies constantly change, and that will never change. Create and manage a culture of change in such a way that people don’t fool themselves into thinking that the destination is the end of change. Change readiness is going to define the most successful companies and teams going forward. This trend is coming on fast, and I think it’s past due.

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 Robert Feeney.

Ringorang’s Chief Vision Officer Robert Feeney spent his early career in entertainment, developing a story format that merged mobile tech with reality TV and sponsorships from game and toy companies. Now known as Ringorang, this software solution combines principles from advertising, modern technology and the learning sciences to deliver habit formation in the workplace. Robert holds six technology patents and recently moved his Silicon Valley-based business to Wichita, Kansas.

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.

On a road trip from California to Arizona, I passed a billboard advertising a diner. When I first saw it, I thought, “Well, that sounds nice, but I’m not hungry. I don’t need to stop.” The second time, I was hungry, but I was also only an hour away from my destination, so I didn’t stop. On the return trip, when I saw that billboard, I was both hungry and far enough away from my destination that I wanted to stop and have a bite to eat.

Pretty common experience, right? For me it was an “Aha!” moment. I connected an advertising principle, known as frequency, with the moment in time I needed to consume something, and I took an action that I wouldn’t have taken if it weren’t for that frequency.

Acting on information is a moment-by-moment phenomenon. We make thousands of micro-decisions daily on what to engage with and how. This is especially true in our workday where information comes at us at an accelerated pace, growing in volume and stretching the limits of our bandwidth, which increases our anxiety.

That ever-increasing flow of information — communications, day-to-day tasks, health, home life, work life — it overwhelms you, makes you feel like you’re on a runaway train. It’s the cause of most of our breakdowns at work. We don’t know where that train is heading, and we don’t know if it’s ever going to get under control.

This presents an opportunity. As leaders, we can uplevel the way we deliver all that information by respecting what our employees are going through and supporting them by making that flow of information manageable. Not just cracking the whip.

The transformation I’m referring to, the opportunity here, is automation. It enables us to engage with critical information in the moment of need.

Automation could be artificial intelligence. Or it could be multiple billboards capturing the attention of traffic. I don’t need a bite to eat at a diner all the time, but when I do, I should be able to access it. Applying this to the working world, we can increase our bandwidth and reduce our overwhelm by accessing information only when it’s relevant.

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?

Wellness is empowerment. Our mission is to empower people to make the changes they need to achieve goals — and not just in the workplace.

Process is a key ingredient for wellness, and it’s underrated. A lot is made of the power of problem solving, critical thinking, creativity — and rightly so — but not at the sacrifice of process. A problem solver can waste a lot of time and resources creatively fixing a problem. Why is it a waste? Because there may be an automated process available already. Get the process in that person’s hands, so they can put their creativity into higher value activities. Get them unstuck from doing lower value activities. Doing this empowers a person to grow and to end each day feeling supported and accomplished.

“Wellness” is not a process, but processes prevent wellness failures. Processes have your back when wellness breaks down — like when you feel overwhelmed. That leads to anxiety, which leads to emotional, mental and physical health challenges because of work. Process helps. Most commonly, we have processes for taking a day off or a vacation or extended parental leave or remote workdays. Less common, at Ringorang, we have processes that ensure our team members don’t go home feeling unsupported. They know there are processes available to help them succeed as well as support from team members to create processes that don’t yet exist. That’s something to rely on.

We also use our Ringorang software for team members to develop habits — attitude, skill and knowledge habits. These amount to developing a default process of their own. A person can rely on habits when they must make heat-of-the-moment decisions. It’s like automation that’s natural to the brain. Our software delivers the reinforcements needed to develop those habits throughout the workday, in the form of light nudges of information. Another form of automation.

That’s how we contribute to wellness, and how we measure it. Measuring wellness in the workplace has been frequently associated with biometric screenings, health insurance reductions, getting everyone a flu shot — all great metrics. All great things. We measure wellness in performance, which may sound funny, but we’ve discovered that a well workforce is empowered — and an empowered workforce performs.

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?

In my experience, a lot of things employers do in the workplace to promote wellness are for decompression. Assigning a calm room. Meditation moments. Pizza parties. The foosball phenomenon. As delightful as those things are, they’re just mitigating symptoms. They don’t correlate with the problem at all.

For example, if you have a headache, you might take some Tylenol to relieve your pain — but if you have a headache because you’re dehydrated, Tylenol isn’t going to hydrate you.

Throughout my career, and through primary research in developing Ringorang, my team and I are going after a rarely addressed problem in workforce wellness. I call it “survival mode.”

Historically, when a new employee comes into a company, they get a firehose of information through onboarding that is propped up as a way of supporting them. Both the employee and the employer know that the information will not be retained. The brain isn’t designed to work like that. So, the employee is set up to fail, but the employer checks the box and covers their rear. Where does that leave the employee? Knowing they’re going to lose. It’s just a matter of time. So, the employee quickly tries to figure out how to survive in the workplace.

That is the context for every new employee. When they fail, they get punished. If that punishment is termination, they go into their next cycle of work thinking, “I’m going to be better at surviving this job.” With each new role, they’re getting further and further away from being an empowered, productive contributor to the success of the business. They get cynical. They feel alone.

A surviving employee is not productive. A surviving employee is not profitable. A surviving employee is not well. Empowered employees are.

We interrupt that cycle at the start by giving employees what they need in the flow of the work. In my experience, it is not pizza.

When they need a wrench, we give them the wrench. We don’t expect them to remember where to find it months after they forgot their onboarding training. We don’t punish or shame them for not retaining that information. Instead, we give employees what they need when they need it. If they don’t know where to look, then there’s something missing in the process, and we take responsibility for filling that gap. We support them. When they fail, they witness how we shore up the process, so it doesn’t happen again. They feel empowered and stay productive. That profits the employer and the employee.

We say that Ringorang is five to 10 years away from being able to show macro-quantification of what this means to industry. In the micro, our software has been used to transform sales teams by lifting the lower performing associates to the level of their higher performing peers. We have rescued a failing program in a company that couldn’t get the enrollment it needed from its employees by trading the firehose for nudges in the flow of work. We appear at the moment of need for people who are in the trenches fighting for their wellness, to empower them in the heat of the moment to make a different decision.

We have never thrown a pizza party. Our employees go home each day free of anxiety about surviving another day at the office.

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?

If there is a 4X return on health and productivity in the workplace, shine a light on that. Find the studies. Get the data. That World Health Organization study? What about it is like your organization? What situations can you connect to their data? Make a business case based on that, and then launch initiatives in your company to develop your own data — and then share it with others.

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?

I find “hiring” to be a cultural phenomenon itself. The popular assumption is you arrange your life around work. What if we arranged work to complement our lives?

Think about it: when you interview for a job, don’t you try to paint the best picture of yourself? You want the employer to hire you, so you hope they’ll accept whatever picture you paint. Once you’re hired, you go into survival mode and hope you don’t mess up. Most employers are fine with that because it creates a sense of power and obedience in the hierarchy.

We don’t do that. We dig into the realities of an applicant’s bandwidth, both in and out of the workplace, so we can support the employees coming into our workforce. A supported employee supports the business.

It’s easy for leaders to ignore all the other aspects of an applicant’s life, such as caretaking — whether that’s for parents or children — and health. It’s easy for leaders to dismiss those other aspects as subordinate to work, which is just not the case.

For example, if an employee needs to leave at 2 p.m. every day to pick up their child from school and take them to daycare for the remainder of the day, that employee must figure out how to fit work around an aspect of their life. An aspect that, honestly, takes precedence. Maybe instead of taking a lunch break and eating lunch, this is what this employee is doing. Now they’re not getting a lunch break, and that’s not healthy either.

Understanding an applicant’s needs at the outset is critical to the success of that person being an empowered employee for your business. We ask, “How can we support you in whatever situation you have that you need to address every day?” This way, the applicant doesn’t have to paint a fictional picture of workability that causes problems down the road.

If you’re doing a good job at supporting your employees in and out of the workplace, they’re going to do a great job supporting your business.

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

We moved our business to Wichita, Kansas, from Silicon Valley in California, where great tech companies are innovating these workplace wellness programs. Sleep pods at Google, for example. My company offers unlimited PTO and flexibility of hours and location. It’s good, but those programs don’t get to the source of the problem.

My philosophy is that there is one thing that enables employees to be well at work: when the company empowers its people to do what they’ve set out to do in the flow of their workday.

Give employees the responsibility, authority, clarity and tools to succeed. Moment by moment. Daily.

A four-day work week, in my opinion, isn’t necessary. I do a six-day work week. Is it because I’m special or more committed? No. We have student employees who work four days a week because of classes. Are they less committed? Again, no.

When I task an employee, I make sure I grant them the authority to complete that task. I make sure they have the tools to complete it according to expectations. I provide clarity on those expectations. I remove barriers for them. I pair them with others for support. I remind them of why the task is important and how it supports the bigger picture of what we’re all up to.

Think about how empowering and clear that is? Then, think about how often you’ve experienced the opposite -– where you don’t have clarity, you don’t have the authority or tools that are a match for the expectation. Leaders and managers don’t always get this right when tasking an employee– I certainly don’t. So, you have to have an active conversation with your employees, welcoming feedback, shifting where necessary, investing where necessary, day to day, so that employees know you’ve got their back.

That’s what promotes wellness.

Companies that don’t actively support their employees in the flow of the workday see breakdowns in wellness, and no amount of PTO and pizza parties will fix those breakdowns.

As a company, we can’t make an employee be “well,” but we can give them every opportunity throughout the flow of a workday by keeping responsibility, authority, clarity and tools in daily conversation.

  • Mental Wellness: When an employee feels overwhelmed — the runaway train — stop, clarify priorities, assess your tools, get feedback.
  • Emotional Wellness: When an employee is not communicating effectively, there is probably an emotional struggle there. Keep your antennae up for this. Sometimes it just takes a quick call or a hallway conversation to reveal where you can support.
  • Social Wellness: Largely, how a person is in the workplace is how they are everywhere. Watch where interactions break down, where people withhold their opinions, or where they dominate others. As a leader, you can share your observations with your people about their behavior and make it safe for them to share theirs. Even about you! Don’t let toxic behavior persist. It kills the trust of your people.
  • Physical Wellness: We have a fluid office structure that allows employees to sit or stand while working. If something is needed — lumbar support, preferred lighting, what have you — we order it. We have access to our building’s gym. These are tools. People have differing physical needs to remain present and productive, and we make those available. For example, they should be able to take a walk without worrying about it being a “working walk.”
  • Financial Wellness: We focus on helping our employees see the path ahead. Not just, “Here’s what you’re getting paid, and here are the benefits and perks.” Instead, we work with our employees to build their path forward in the company. That’s clarity. We give them the responsibility and authority to progress down that path and even shape it. The conversation is ongoing and is welcomed as a normal conversation at any time, not just at a scheduled review.

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?

It usually comes down to communication. Our culture is to have communication be in the daily flow. I mean communicating needs and intentions and shifts and, most importantly, the path to our mutual future. This is how we avoid survival mode and go home every day with a sense of accomplishment.

For example, I was sitting with an employee and saw they were discouraged. At first, I couldn’t quite get at the source of what was discouraging — no employee wants their CEO to see them discouraged, so they tried to mask it. I had an “in the flow” conversation with them, giving space to vent, and they revealed that they felt a growing pressure of responsibility. I realized I had failed to show them the path. Right away, we worked to paint it together. The employee lightened up; the weight lifted. Now, there was a clearly visible path forward and their responsibilities felt workable.

If leadership can get culturally great at having the conversation about the path forward to success, they’re going to have a massive positive impact on the mental wellbeing of their employees.

We’ve also talked about supporting employees within the flow of their workday, and I want to highlight that it is their workday. Sometimes, their workday needs to look different from everyone else’s workday. If they need to work from home or take a day off or sleep in because we spent the prior evening at a business development event, then they can. We offer absolute flexibility in location and time of day or days or weeks. Why? Because life doesn’t happen around work. Work happens during life.

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

The only way to make a change successful, such as reskilling leadership to adopt new workplace culture, is to create a “thing” around which the change can form. It cannot be just an idea. However well-intentioned an idea is, without a “thing,” you’re just blowing smoke.

One thing we have is process, and I mean more than simple step-by-step processes. We create documents, plans, workflows and utilize various software products, and we remind each other to use them the same way, over and over. When one of my leaders tells me about a conversation they just had with an employee, you’ll often hear me ask them, “Where does that conversation fit in our process?” We make real-time adjustments to our processes that way. I’ve found this empowers leaders to trust the processes, and it makes them feel confident in reminding everyone else to use them as well.

Another thing we have is our product, Ringorang. The benefit it offers is creating continuous behavior change at pace with continuous process improvement. It does this by keeping a flow of interactions between the company and its employees in minute-long increments throughout the workday — providing reminders, tools and the “why” of the work.

The most important thing we have is conversation, which doesn’t sound like a thing. However, when you repeat and apply a conversation to different situations, it becomes reliable. Pretty soon, after having that conversation repeatedly and reliably, the employee takes it on and takes it to their employees. Fostering a culture of continuous feedback gives our leaders the confidence to unearth hidden frustrations among employees, to look for where that employee needs clarity, authority or tools.

The “thing” you apply in your company must deliver change repeatedly and reliability because change is constant. Change readiness is a state of mind, a state of culture, and it feels good — as long as the path ahead is clear for everyone. As the CEO, I get very vocal about strengthening each “thing” we establish in our culture. Together, daily, we fix where it’s not working and celebrate where it does.

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?

If you don’t have a process or system in place right now to empower your employees to be successful, start there — and feel safe to start small. One of the greatest questions you can ask your employees is: “How can I help?” Now, if your employees balk at the idea of trying to figure out how you can help, sit and listen and offer repeatedly and reliably. When they answer, follow through. You work out how to provide the support your employees have asked for, which might then turn into your “thing.” You must ask, though, before you know what mechanisms of support need to be put in place.

Leaders support, so one small step is to try asking that question over and over.

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

  1. Support in the Flow of Work .

When your employee needs a wrench, give them the wrench. Micro-engagement throughout the day within the flow of work, supporting employees to perform, to succeed and to be well. When I was helping a Fortune 500 company develop cybersecurity awareness in its people, this issue came up. Cybersecurity can be anxiety-inducing — most of us don’t know what we can do to stay clear of smart hackers. Multiple employees in that Fortune 500 said that they changed how they reacted to phishing scams and had confidence in their reactions. This change occurred not from a classroom or e-learning, but from minute-long reminders delivered repeatedly in the flow of work.

2: Performance Enablement .

Wellness programs include training, which is not proven. What I mean is they have not proven that the wellness program measurably improved the company’s performance. If you’re not improving the company’s performance, then why is the company going to invest in wellness? We’re at the crest of a wave that will result in companies measuring performance as a way of measuring the effectiveness of all programs. Traditional training doesn’t get measured against performance, which is a problem we’re helping to solve. We all want our people to be well, but we need to see it impact the bottom line for our shareholders. We want our people to do the right thing, but the right thing needs to align with the company’s shareholder-invested purpose. The trend coming is a reverse-engineering of performance into measurable processes and human habits. I predict habits related to wellness will prove to be measurably impactful on performance everywhere.

3: Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality.

Virtual and augmented reality technologies allow people to be hands on when they’re hands off. VR/AR gets people familiar with a system without even using it yet. Familiarity leads to confidence. Confidence relieves anxiety and increases proactivity. A wise consultant told me: “You can’t help people change what they do until you change what they see.” VR/AR enables us to change what people see. People see details about a system through detailed overlay screens. They see scenarios played out in virtual conversations with different endings based on choices made. In the next decade, I predict 60% of training will be transformed into in-the-flow-of-work nudges, and the other 40% will be mostly VR/AR.

4: Upleveling the Dynamics of “Team”.

Being part of a powerful team does a world of good for one’s mental health. You feel you belong. You feel able and productive. The “team” trend I see is a middle ground between two very different workplace structures: 1) working in a hierarchical structure or 2) in a flat organization. These systems have their pros and cons, but they both neglect the dynamics of the team. In a powerful team, each member knows their responsibilities, authorities and tools, and they have clarity on their team’s (and their own) path forward. Upleveling the team as a productive unit is going to have a huge impact on how people work and work well together.

Not long ago I asked two leaders and a staff member in my company to team up on a short-term project. I gave them the responsibility, clarity and tools they needed, but that short-term project became a long-term project because they did not think they had the authority to make a thousand micro-decisions needed to complete it. They thought they had to keep coming back to check in with me. The team wasn’t a team at all. It was more like three people all talking over things and doing things but not feeling empowered to deliver without the daily engagement of a leader outside that team. Terribly inefficient. Empowering the team unit to be great makes the whole system work.

5: An organizational culture of change.

Companies constantly change, and that will never change. Create and manage a culture of change in such a way that people don’t fool themselves into thinking that the destination is the end of change. Change readiness is going to define the most successful companies and teams going forward. This trend is coming on fast, and I think it’s past due.

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

Getting to the root of the problem — with wellness, with work, with whatever — and solving it beyond treating the symptoms of it. We have a good shot at doing this, and my company has taken this on — not just because we believe in it, but also because we know it works.

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?

Please connect with me on LinkedIn at Robert Feeney (

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