Employee Wellbeing in The Tech Sector.
We recently had the lovely experience of chatting with the brilliant Emma-Louise Fusari - founder of In-House Health.
- Emma-Louise Fusari
- 23 mins
Tom: Hello and welcome to Episode 26 of the Make Things Better podcast. Today I'm joined by Emma-Louise Fusari. Really excited to have you on Emma, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
Emma: Yeah, I'm really good thanks. Thanks for having me.
Tom: Yeah, thanks for coming on. And it's been a big week for you, do you want to tell us about something that's happened this week?
Emma: Yeah. So I have won an award. So I attended the TalkTalk Northwest Woman in Tech Awards, and I won the Tech for good category for the work I'm doing with In-House Health. So I'll just sneak it into the video. I wanted to sing champion to Gary Neville.
Tom: I saw that you had a photo with Gary Neville, that's awesome but I'm sure you're more excited by actually winning the award, I suppose. How did it feel to win it?
Emma: If I'm honest, I'm still shocked. There was an incredible list of nominees that were up for that award as well. So it's still you know, we'll talk about it, I'm sure, in a bit. But actually winning a tech awards is like it's still weird to get my head around, I see myself as a nurse so I suppose so it was really good that it was in the tech for good category because that fits in nicely with what I do, my purpose and kind of why I'm doing what I'm doing.
So I'm sure I'll get used to it. And actually every time my husband says something, I'm like, "Have you got one of these? Stick the kettle on.
So I'll be using it for a while, especially at home, but for my own good.
Tom: Absolutely. Love that. Congratulations again. And yeah you mentioned there about your nursing, do you want to tell us about how you ended up doing what you're doing now? So do you want to tell us about how you ended up building In-House Health?
Emma: Yeah. So I have been a nurse for 20 years this year and predominantly my experience was in general practice so working in GP surgeries, running chronic disease management clinics, doing public health promotion, public health screening. So I left the NHS in 2016 mainly because I didn't feel like I was able to have any real impact on the outcomes for my patients.
I was seeing people when they already had a diagnosis of a chronic condition, whether it was physical or mentally. I was bounded by the red tape, the bureaucracy, the politics of the NHS and I had all this skill and knowledge but wasn't able to use it. I had kind of 10 minutes to to see someone and educate and empower them and that just wasn't happening.
And that's not why I became a nurse in the first place. So I left and I've done a various number of things and then I kind of missed my nursing, missing using that knowledge and skills, so I started doing some research on how I could get back into nursing, which didn't involve me going back into the NHS, how I could work for myself in theory.
And then I discovered this thing called workplace wellbeing and believe it or not, most people would probably believe it, but I didn't even know it was a thing. I've always worked in the NHS. Wellbeing of others is a priority of others but not the wellbeing of the staff. So I was like, "Oh, what's this?" And actually what I found doing my research is that what most companies do is actually similar to the NHS -it's reactive and it's not genuinely making a difference to the outcome of the patients. And that's kind of what started me on my journey to explore what I could do, what I could create, using my own knowledge, experience and thought leadership around that.
Tom: Yeah, and it sounds like what you're doing is often tackling the root cause rather than dealing with the symptomatic level.
Why do you think people are more depressed working in tech then? Because that seems to be quite a significant problem. You know, I saw on your website, I think it said something like five times as many people working in tech are depressed than in the average workplace across England or the United Kingdom.
Emma: Yeah. So, I predominantly work with digital tech companies and the reason I came to that is when I started on my wellbeing journey, I went into a digital marketing agency to do a pilot study on my health checks and how I collect my data. I went in and I was just like "Oh my God. Like, they've got bean bags and like break out rooms and a fridge and fruit and stuff". And I was like, "Oh my God, this is unbelievable." And then being a nurse and doing what I do, I went away and I did a bit of research into the digital tech sector and what I found was shocking, really.
So there was a study and it's quite an old study now and it was quite a small study, but I think further research has shown that there are studies that support it.
So if you work in tech, you're five times more likely to be depressed than the national average, 66% of the workforce are stressed. There's a high neurodiverse population. 28% of people have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition caused by stress at work. So it's not all this glamorous lifestyle that the tech world portrays to the outsiders, I find the tech sector quite strange, it's a bit of a bubble.
People are in this kind of bubble in the tech world and have no perception of reality and what goes on if other sectors and what goes on in the real world. So for me, I feel actually as a sector that's growing exponentially, no wonder it's kind of impacting on people's wellbeing. You know, the always on culture, the fact that there's high workload, there are lots of deadlines involved with that. People have to pay attention to detail, but actually because of the digital skills gap and you know, people are leaving this sector as well because of you know, work related stress and employee burnout. People are stretched thin. So it's no wonder that there's an impact on people mentally, either through stress, burnout or actually increasing anxiety and depression within that cohort of people.
So that's the long way round to answer your question. It's not as glamorous as it seems. And I think it's a ticking time bomb that's going to start impacting businesses now as we see more external factors impacting and this study was in 2019, pre-COVID it was an interactive media association study and so yeah we're still on the fallout from COVID.
We've got the cost of living crisis coming to bite us all on the bum. So actually things are only going to get worse for people. So now is more important than ever that we start to properly and I have to use that word properly, looking after people.
Tom: Yeah. And how do we do that then?
Emma: Well, we need to stop focusing on initiatives that are, well, yoga and massage and cycle to work and free fruit - the typical wellbeing initiatives that spring to mind. We need to be realistic in how we engage people in their health and wellbeing. So for me, like all those initiatives have a place, but, they're never going to get to the root cause of the problem. They are reactive.
And actually so I have these two characters that I talk about all the time. So I have skinny Susan, so skinny Susan's already healthy. She is already going to the gym and already does yoga. But now, her employer has given her all these really good benefits, but fat Bob the developer, you know, he's not going to put a leotard on and start doing yoga, but he's the guy that's going to have a heart attack or stroke or mental health breakdown.
So how do we engage fat Bob in his health and wellbeing? And I'm not fatist, it's just when I use those characters, people know exactly who I'm talking about in their workplace. So it's about engaging unhealthy people in wellbeing and it is about being more strategic about what businesses are doing and it's about taking health and wellbeing seriously because not only is it good for the people, it is actually good for business. It will improve your retention rates, it will improve your bottom line profits, especially when you are having to innovate and grow in the digital tech sector, because you always have to be ahead of the curve, you always have to be switched on to continue in the development of what you are doing for your own business, but also for your clients as well.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I like the example of fat Bob and skinny Susan, it made me think though. Within the tech sector, I think most companies, at least from my limited view of them, is that there will be one set blanket approach, maybe to mental health and wellbeing. But then if you do have different people, so you've got a skinny Susan and certain needs are already being met for her and then you have a fat bob and they need to have maybe extra support in some way.
Is there sort of a space there to kind of make a more tailored approach to employee wellbeing? Is that something that you look at as well?
Emma: Yeah. So I think it is a perfect example of how we have to be more inclusive in what we're offering people, especially whe we talk about diversity of the workforce. You know, when we talk about going for alcohol after work, that's not going to suit everyone in the business, whether it's for religious reasons or because people are parents or whatever it is.
You know, alcohol is is my biggest bugbear in the tech sector because it is an accelerant for anxiety and depression and poor productivity. So why are you supplying your people with that so-called benefit? Because it's not good for your business. And there are other things we can do. But for me, what I've developed and this isn't to be salesy, it's just telling you kind of how I've thought about it and how I'm trying to provide a solution on getting to the root cause.
It is data driven wellbeing and it's not about surveying your people twice a year and finding out what they think, because actually you don't know what you don't know and people don't often relate to having a specific problem. So we'll go back to alcohol. So for me, you know, I see someone in the health check and I say, #
"All right, Bob, do you drink much alcohol?"
and he says "No, not really."
"So when do you drink?"
"I drink when I watch the football."
"So how often do you watch the football?"
"Twice a week."
"Right. What do you drink?"
"I have three or four pints."
"Right. What do you do at the weekend?"
"I go out with the Mrs"
"Right. Okay. What do you drink then?"
"We have a bottle of wine and then a few pints."
And before you know it, Bob, who doesn't have a problem with alcohol, is drinking three times the recommended allowance. And you just don't get that from a survey. So, the Meta program, thanks to Zuckerberg for ruining the name that I chose. But Meta stands for the four step process that we do in this development program, which is measure, evaluate, transform and analyze.
So we start by measuring employee health data. So each employee is invited to have the opportunity to spend 45 minutes with a nurse, which is me at the minute. We look at all areas of health and wellbeing. So physical health, mental health, financial wellbeing, lifestyle and workplace culture and it's an opportunity for them to share confidentially kind of any issues they might have, but also to discuss things and for me to identify areas in which they probably haven't thought about, give them their own advice and recommendations.
Because, let's be honest, it's each individual's responsibility to look after themselves. It shouldn't all just be on the employer, but then we take that data, we anonymise it, and we show them the kind of leadership team where the problems are in the organisation across the workforce.
So our report might say 20% of your workforce have high blood pressure, 40% have got severe anxiety, 10% have got increased alcohol dependance, 20% have got issues not having enough savings, oh and your culture is toxic. But then the point is in how do we engage these people is that all the education and training we provide is based on the key problem areas for that organization.
So it's bespoke to the needs of the people. And you know, talking about digital tech and marketing, the health check, that's marketing to the employees. That's me saying to Bob, "Listen, Bob, if you don't sort your shit out, in five years time, you're going to have a heart attack." Then the next time the workplace do an initiative, Bob's like "Well, like Emma said this, so actually that workshop is for me."
So Bob's more likely to participate in those initiatives because the switch has been flipped and it is relevant now. Whereas before he was like, "Nah, that's not for me" So the health checks are like kind of the marketing piece to the employees. It's part of the value proposition to the employees about engaging them in the offering that I'm providing, but also the workplace is providing.
So we get better engagement, we get improved outcomes not just for the people but actually for the business as well.
Tom: Yeah, it sounds like it's quite specific really, isn't it. It's quite tailored towards people and I think, you know, with surveys it must be quite hard for employees to be truly vulnerable like you've given that example there with Bob. But realistically, it's going to be very hard to admit that maybe you are drinking so much or even be aware of it sometimes, it's hard to just simply be aware of your own habits and actions if you are so used to it.
Whereas if you are sitting down with a nurse for 45 minutes and having a proper sort of consultation you're going to be in a much better place to fully identify any issues and problems. And so once you do get to that root cause, you can really start to put in measures to improve things and have you found that there's any like common sort of problems that organizations, especially in tech, are struggling with?
And is there any sort of easy, quick wins that companies can put in place that tends to help? Or is it always quite specific and has to be tailored to each different organization?
Emma: So I'm just you know, I'm still a start up myself and I'm in early adopter phase of the tech and the program that I've developed. I think, like I said, alcohol seems to be a huge cultural problem across the UK in general, but we are seeing an increase in anxiety in people.
But if I'm really, really honest, the problems that I see comes from the fact that leadership teams, business owners don't recognize that part of the problem is them.
I see at the minute, a lot of people, especially younger people, haven't developed resilience. And that's something that I think needs teaching.
I think it's something around good health and wellbeing that is missing from the conversation. And we have external factors that impact on people's health and wellbeing. But fundamentally, if I come into an organization, no matter what I do, if at an operational level, people have too much workload, if leadership haven't been provided with the right training, if people aren't given the autonomy to do the work that they have been asked to do, if there's poor relationships in the workplace, if there's too much change and there is ineffective communication, people are not going to have good health and wellbeing.
And that's what has to stop with the organization. And that's part of my job because I've also developed the mental wellbeing audit and that looks at the operational frameworks around wellbeing. But actually if business leaders don't want to listen to that, then I'm not the right person to work with them because we will be telling them.
But I think across the board, wellbeing now has to be seen as a strategic arm of the of the business. Wellbeing has to be measured in line with all other areas of the business. And actually that's my kind of aim is to be able to correlate, improve wellbeing with improved KPI's, with improved OKR's, whatever buzzword you want to throw at it.
That is my fundamental aim to improve people's wellbeing, to improve business outcomes and be able to give them the demonstrable evidence that what they have invested in, that what they are doing with their people is good for them and is good for business and to have the data to back that up. But it needs to be taken seriously and not be this fluffy shit that people keep doing because they've always done it and it's not making a difference.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, makes sense. And I absolutely love how passionate you are about all of this because it's so so important. I think so many people nowadays are like struggling with their wellbeing as a whole and especially in the tech industry as we've talked about and yeah I think really employers need to figure out what's going on. And I was just thinking there about like our company at Hive IT and if I'm honest we do a lot of tech for good projects, but some of them are more tech for good than others.
I don't think we do any work that's bad, that's for sure. But what I was thinking about is that one of the best things about working at Hive is that I do think how we look after each other is quite an important thing to us.
So it's like it's not only about like the work that the company does, it's not only about the results that they get, but also like at the end of the day, is that company and the people within that company, are they happy because if they're not happy, then it's almost like, well, you can be making other people happy and improving the world as much as you like, but if the people in the organization themselves are not happy then it's not going to be sustainable and you're not going to be able to continue to do the good work that you're doing. So yeah, I think it's all so, so interconnected, isn't it? Anyway, we should probably start to wrap this up. So I've got two final questions for you. The first one is what are you goals for In-House Health?
It sounds like you're really busy and you know you're doing amazing getting this award this week as well. I'm just intrigued to know, like, what's your vision for the future now as well?
Emma: So I suppose part of the byproduct of working with a sector means that the more people you work with, obviously the more people you get to help but the more data I have. And it's about using that data for good. So obviously it's not shared with any anyone else. But it means is that I can start almost creating like the digital tech sector, a five year, ten year plan, this is the state of the health in the workplace.
This is how we can better look after people. This is how we can improve an attraction of people into the sector and and keep them, once we get them, how do we keep people? So that's kind of the wider view on the data. But I think short term, I need more people on my program using the tech, making it better impacting more people making workplaces healthier and happier for people to want to be there and to thrive so people can reach their full potential.
But like I said earlier, so that businesses can continue to innovate and grow and sustain themselves as well. You know, it's not just challenging for people, it's challenging for businesses at the minute. So yeah, I just want to help more people because there is a way that you can do it properly and be successful.
Tom: Yeah. So final question then. What can people do to make things better? And you can interpret this however you like.
Emma: Okay. So keeping on the theme of workplace wellbeing then, so making it better. So if you are listening and you are a leader of a business, an owner of a business, it's really important that you are role modeling the behaviors that that you want your teams to take on board, how you want them to be.
Active listening is really, really important and trying to understand what's going on with your people. And if you are in an organization and you are not happy and your boss isn't listening, then tell them. If you are fearful of telling them and think things won't happen, then you know it's probably not best for your own wellbeing to stay there. But if you don't tell people then how can they fix it?
So basically it's about effective communication and everyone listening to each other. And you just said earlier about, you know, what tools can people use? So I actually have, an unshameful plug - I have a wellbeing action plan. So you might already be using these in your business if you're not, it's a free download and I'll give Tom the link and he will put it up.
So wellbeing action plans are for employees to fill in so that they can look at what is bad for their health and wellbeing at work, how they can communicate that and then as a manager, as a leader, as a business owner, you can use that in your 1 to 1 reviews and it helps you embed wellbeing conversations into the workplace.
It is a free download and it comes with a manager's guide as well and how to embed that. And some emails as well that give you some top tips on how to make reasonable adjustments if needed, what's your legal obligations and the like. So I'm not a spammy person, so please do sign up and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Tom: Brilliant stuff. Yeah. Thanks so much. I'll have all of that stuff in the description (Links below transcript), so go check it out. All right. Thank you so much for coming on the show once again. I'll also be adding links to your social media below. So go and follow Emma. Congratulations again for your award this week. I'm so happy that you won Thank you for watching or listening or reading and I hope you have an amazing rest of your day.
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