Mental Health Awareness: How technology can help HR drive employee wellbeing
This is Part One of Two of an article by Emma Morris, SAP SuccessFactors Manager at Delaware. In recognition of the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, the folks here at Business Chief want to remind you to take care of your mental state, focus on self care and - if you're struggling - consider talking to somebody. Stay healthy, folks.
We are seeing more open discussions about well-being and mental health across all areas of life. Increasingly that openness is permeating the workplace. Most businesses today don’t just want people to be happy at work… they need them to be. Happier people are more productive. One study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. When it comes to salespeople, happiness has an even greater impact, increasing sales by 37%.1
As well as the obvious boost in productivity, happier employees have a positive impact on recruitment and talent management processes. Employees that are happy are less likely to leave, and lower attrition rates not only improve businesses reputationally, but also financially: businesses don’t have to spend as much time and resource on recruitment. As a result, businesses are directly seeing the financial benefit of ensuring that their employees are happy, leading to an even greater focus on well-being.
There are still barriers to overcome, of course. Some are generational. Older workers may be more reluctant on occasions to adopt a stronger focus on wellness and well-being, for example. Others are technological. Is implementing new technology to utilise data-driven insights into employee habits and happiness a good investment for your organisation, or is it one step too far into the ‘Big Brother’ space? It is one thing to have dress-down Fridays, complimentary fruit in the office, flexible working, or even mental health coaching at work, but how can businesses utilise the latest tools and structure this in a way that provides clear evidence these initiatives are working?
Businesses and employees want to know that their efforts are supported by real-world metrics. Employees are more likely to buy into an approach if it can tell them that they have, for example, taken five less sick days than they did last year, before the analytics were implemented, or that they are 17.5% happier than they were 12 months previously. This may sound flippant, but in a competitive environment where calories can be tracked through your watch, credit scores obtained via your mobile, or ‘likes’ can be impacted by the algorithms on your favourite social media platform, why shouldn’t happiness be measured in a similar metric?
Scoping an Approach
So, how can businesses overcome these barriers and how can HR drive the process? First, there needs to be a focus on ensuring that the organisation as a whole is open to change. Everyone needs to be on board and perceive their organisation’s effort to change, both culturally and operationally, is genuine.
Everyone needs to know what the strategy is and what part they can play - both individually and collaboratively - in helping to achieve it. It works well if you have a sponsor or an advocate, whether that is the CEO or the HR Director, for example, who is prepared to say they have a personal connection with the approach and effectively own it. That will be a powerful message in terms of driving buy-in and commitment – literally leading by example. That kind of cross-business sponsorship and engagement has to be genuinely organisation-wide in order to truly work. If HR is pushing this desire for wellness and well-being at work and the finance team is unwilling to fund its initiatives, that could block change from the outset.
But it is also important to recognise that this is not just about scoping out an approach to drive employee well-being and then achieving a cross-business agreement to deliver it. If you all agreed to be nicer to each other, or if you invested in ice cream Thursdays, you may well see more smiles around the office, but can you prove return on investment on smiles alone? (It turns out you can, but that’s a separate conversation). You need the right systems and solutions in place to back this up with clear data. There are technologies available to track behaviour, providing data that can demonstrate whether the approach is working and which areas or issues require a particular focus. It may be that a certain business site is not responding well, or there may be specific policies, such as parental leave or flexible working, which need addressing.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.