Imagine paying your team to take extra days off, or offering discounts on insurance, prizes and gifts! This is the world of wellbeing incentives, and the idea is to push staff even further to take time off. It goes one step further than unlimited PTO by actually telling staff “we don’t want you here!!” — in the nicest way possible. Some employees feel guilty when they take time off, but incentives are sending a clear message from the top — we NEED you to take time off. Sharpen your axe so that you can cut more wood when you’re back.
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 Tomas McKinless.
Tomas is the Founder of Abralytics, a privacy-focussed alternative to Google Analytics that aims to make website analytics easier to understand and more accessible.
Tomas is based in Dublin, Ireland and he leads a fully remote team of software engineers, product designers and marketers in building and running an innovative software platform.
Prior to founding Abralytics, Tomas spent over 10 years building software in a wide range of work environments, from large corporations like Oracle to scrappy startups like Reflex Gaming.
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.
When I got my first job in the software industry, it was an internship at Oracle in Dublin. I believed so much that I didn’t deserve it and I was so nervous on my first day that I would be found out to be a fraud. My plan was to take note of everything that was said that I didn’t understand and then spend my evenings researching and studying so that I would be able to catch up and not be found out. Hilariously, I even contemplated “wearing a wire” to record my 8 hour work days.
Despite my first week going well and not being as intimidating as I had anticipated, I never really got over the idea that I didn’t deserve to be there. As a result, I was always working long hours in order to try to be the best employee I could be. This mentality carried on for the first 10 years of my career.
It wasn’t until the pandemic came along that I realized how much of my personal wellbeing I had been gifting to my employers over the years.
Working remotely for my employer during the pandemic meant that my office was now at the end of my bed, and since everything recreational was closed, meetings started to creep later and later in the evening — it’s not like anyone had any plans they could use to get out of them.
I was no longer working from home, I was living at work, and something needed to change.
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?
It’s important that people who work with and for me know that life comes before work.
Wellness for us is not just about company policies and processes, it’s also about setting an example. I’ve worked in organizations where the managers/owners are online and will respond to emails/queries 24/7. They put work first and life second. You’ll never hear of these people taking a long lunch to go to the gym or a late morning to drive a friend to the airport. These people are inadvertently setting the bar for their teams. As the founder, I try to be an example of life before work — that means being open to my team about what I’m doing and why. “I’m WFH today, got a gym class at 2pm”, “Will be online a bit later today, still tired from my trip at the weekend.”
The reality is that a lot of employees do put their personal lives first, but they feel guilty about it and/or feel obliged to lie about it. There’s a lot of dentist appointments and plumber visits that are actually mental health days — and that’s ok — but I want to build businesses where people feel that they can be themselves as much as they’re comfortable with.
In terms of measurement, we combine 1-on-1s, 360 degree feedback and anonymous surveys to get a clear picture of the teams wellbeing.
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?
Our productivity is measured in terms of valuable software delivered to clients. We’ve gotten quite good at measuring this and refining the measurement process over the years and believe it’s a good indicator of productivity.
Every month, we conduct a retrospective ceremony, which is a part of agile software development. This ceremony allows us to reflect on the previous month — what went well and what could be improved, as well as looking at our productivity metrics. The most important part of this ceremony is the feedback from the team itself — this is qualitative information about the health and wellbeing of the team. Good examples of feedback we’d get in this meeting are “client meetings are starting too late in the evening”, “SometimesI have back-to-back meetings and don’t have time to even get a coffee between”.
It’s important that all of this feedback is taken on board and actioned, and the following month we review all of these actions to see if we’re moving in the right direction in terms of team health.
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?
There needs to be a mindset shift, from “how much should we spend to keep our team happy” to “our purpose is to create an organization that thrives — inside and out”.
With this mindset, you can’t spend too much on employee wellbeing. The only higher priority is financial security for the business.
Think of it like a pyramid of a healthy business, financial health is the foundation and employee wellbeing is the next level up — everything else comes after.
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?
In a toxic workplace, word will spread, employees will leave and bad reviews will be scattered around the internet by former employees. We gently encourage our staff to use these review sites and ask them for testimonials for our website — we want the world to know we’re genuinely a great place to work. I think this helps get candidates in the door.
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.
- Mental Wellness:
Every year we bring in a consultancy for a day of mental health training, which is less about becoming mentally healthy and more about understanding that mental health is a part of everyday life and the workplace and remembering that it’s ok to not be ok.
- Emotional Wellness:
On a regular basis we ask everyone to join us for a seminar on emotional intelligence, as well as recommending books. We also cover the cost of Audible subscriptions for everyone.
- Social Wellness:
We have an assigned social events team lead who loves to plan and organise a team event every quarter — go-karting, mini-golf — and now that travel has opened up we’ll be planning a trip out of the country for the entire team.
- Physical Wellness:
As well as a gym subsidy, we have a personal trainer join us every Thursday morning for a HIIT session in the park across from the office.
- Financial Wellness:
We have a financial planner who we pay and the team has access to. Usually they do a 1-hour session to get set up and then check-in when it suits them.
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?
Knowing that your team have all of the resources and support that they need, as well as the processes around employee feedback, will mean you — as a leader — can focus on working hard and building for the future. Without these in place, you may need to wonder if the staff are overworked, stressed about money and possibly mentally unwell.
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
We don’t treat leaders any differently from the rest of the team. Everyone gets the same emotional intelligence and mental wellness training — it’s important that everyone is on the same page. Our team members will one day be the leaders, afterall.
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?
Implement a monthly retrospective. This allows you to gather anonymous feedback from the team, then decide on ideas to try to tackle the issues. In the month ahead you, as a team, will tackle 1 or 2 of the ideas and then reflect on if progress is being made. This is the process of continuous improvement that we use and it’s common in the agile software development world.
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
- Remote working.
Although it’s now quite pervasive, remote working still has a long way to go, especially when it comes to supporting employee wellbeing. It’s also important to make the distinction between “working from home” and “remote working”. The former is widely adopted, the latter not so much. If Sarah wants to have an extended holiday by blending in a week of work in a co-working space near her holiday villa — what’s stopping her? This will require a few considerations, particularly around income tax, but the impact on employee wellbeing is huge.
2. Async meetings.
This is the concept of conducting a meeting asynchronously, i.e without everyone online at the same time. Conor needs to pick up his kids from school, but there’s a meeting at 3pm, should we cancel it? Move it to tomorrow? This puts pressure on Conor and the team to be in a certain place at a certain time unnecessarily.
Async allows Conor to send his updates beforehand, or later that evening, and have the meeting proceed as normal.
Companies that have adopted this have reported very good results, it’s especially popular with the employees who benefit from the flexibility.
3. Wellbeing monitoring apps.
These have been growing in popularity over the last few years and saw a surge during the pandemic. What these do is enable the company to have a finger on the pulse of their team’s wellbeing. Collecting data in an anonymous way allows team members to be honest and feel listened to. A great example is this app — https://yourwellspace.com/.
4. Wellbeing incentives.
Imagine paying your team to take extra days off, or offering discounts on insurance, prizes and gifts! This is the world of wellbeing incentives, and the idea is to push staff even further to take time off. It goes one step further than unlimited PTO by actually telling staff “we don’t want you here!!” — in the nicest way possible.
Some employees feel guilty when they take time off, but incentives are sending a clear message from the top — we NEED you to take time off. Sharpen your axe so that you can cut more wood when you’re back.
5. Leading by example.
This one is more subtle than the others, what it really means is a shift from the old-school mentality that everyone needs to work at least as hard as their boss. Leaders have begun to realize that they need to be the example for everyone in the company, there’s little point in introducing all of the wellbeing incentives and tools if an employee still feels that their manager is working longer and harder than they are — maybe they should put in a couple more hours too?
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
I’m personally optimistic because of the recent successful seismic shift to remote working, the introduction and adoption of wellbeing tools and incentives, and the shift towards a more equal workplace. I think that the working environment has already gotten more friendly and kind in the last decade and it will continue as more organizations realize that there’s a point of diminishing returns in terms of working staff harder and harder.
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’m happy to be reached on my email at [email protected]. You can also check out our blog (https://www.abralytics.com/blog) where we’ll be rolling out a category of employee wellbeing posts following this interview.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.
Thank you for the opportunity.