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Timely CEO Ryan Baker shares ten wellness policies that actually work

Wellness is one of the hot topics of 2019, but how do you implement policies that actually, meaningfully, work? Timely founder Ryan Baker says he takes wellness of his staff seriously, as people who are healthy, engaged and motivated will delight customers and make the company more successful. But that’s not the main reason he cares – he says it's looking after the wellbeing of Timely's staff is right thing to do, on a human level. Here, he shares ten tips on how to incorporate wellness into your workplace at a policy level. 

We promote wellness in a few ways at Timely, but we’re far from perfect. I’m sharing this because we’re always trying to improve our wellness game, and I’d love any feedback or ideas that will help us to make Timely an even better place for our people.

1. A safe place

Wellness starts with creating a safe place for everyone to work. The foundation for wellness is knowing that you’re accepted and supported. At Timely we have four company values and one of them is “Bring your whole self to work”. It recognises that we’re all unique human beings with our talents and our foibles. The more we’re open and honest about this, the more we can support each other. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. One of the symbols of this has become our Timely robes. On your one year anniversary, Timely staff receive a branded robe. Our Chief Marketing Officer wore hers recently at a board meeting while participating from home. No one batted an eyelid.

In a safe place, people are more likely to get help with their wellness when they need it. It takes a conscious investment to create an environment that is free from judgement and filled with support. 

2. Flexibility

Life happens and it’s unpredictable at best. Between your workload at the office and your commitments outside of it, it doesn’t take much to become overwhelmed. Not to mention the stuff on your wishlist that never sees the light of day; that painting course, the charity work, coaching the kids sports. 

At Timely we offer flexibility so that our people can make time for the things that matter to them outside of their job descriptions. It differs for different roles in the company, but in all cases, flexibility is incorporated. Working from home is a big feature of this and we trust our people to decide if they will do their best work today from their home or by coming into our offices.

Many of the crew take advantage of this flexibility to promote their wellbeing through things like fitness activities and outdoor pursuits.

3. Wellness leave

We recently replaced sick leave with wellness leave at Timely. We joined a handful of forward-thinking companies who are changing the focus from sickness to wellness. If you are not well enough to work, for whatever reason, you have 10 days a year to invest in getting well. There are no separate leave types in our payroll system for sick leave, caring for dependents or mental health days. All you will find is “wellness leave”.

What we care about is getting you well, not litigating the reason that you’re unwell. We give our people more days off to look after themselves and don’t make them classify or justify their illness. If you don’t trust your people enough to do this you’ll have bigger issues than their leave balance.

4. Wellness allowance

At times, cost can be a barrier to doing things that are good for your wellbeing. It’s only a small gesture, but once a year we pay our staff an after-tax bonus of $600 each. Folks use it for things like gym memberships, sports clubs, equipment, private treatments etc. This year I put mine towards a new bike which I ride to and from the gym near my house (but not often enough!).

We have a #wellness Slack channel where the team share ideas and experiences of their wellness endeavours. 

5. Employee assistance programme

We’re committed to the mental and emotional wellbeing of our people. Getting professional help when you need it is a good idea. However the cost of seeing a psychologist or counsellor can be a barrier for a lot of people.

We offer all of our team members five paid sessions per year through our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). We introduced this in 2017 and I would highly recommend it if your workplace hasn’t yet. In many centres EAP is a structured programme that is easy to sign up to. It’s also anonymous, meaning your people can access it while retaining control of the decision about whether or not to share details with you. 

Our hope is that, in time, seeing a counsellor is no different to going to a GP when you have the flu.

6. Paid parental leave

Bringing a baby into your family is a huge life milestone. It can also be a time of anxiety and stress. Parental leave is pretty good in the countries we have staff and can be transferred between partners which is useful. However it could be better and partner leave is miserly at best. In New Zealand, for example the entitlement for partners is one week of unpaid leave after 6 months of employment. One week? Without pay?

We think caregivers need more than a week off work at this important time. And not getting paid when you have a new baby to provide for is ridiculous. We provide two weeks of paid leave for both the primary caregiver and partner.

7. Health & safety

It’s easy to overlook, but part of our commitment to wellness at work is taking health and safety seriously. Our people have a right to be safe when they turn up to do their jobs. H&S is taken seriously across the whole organisation including our board of directors who conduct their own individual investigations into the safety of our people. Although we’re a young company we have documented policies, external reviews and incident reporting.

We don’t make things easy for ourselves with the whole working from home thing. This has made some of the more traditional H&S approaches difficult, but we don’t let that hold us back. One small thing we do is send all of our staff an emergency/disaster kit to keep at home.

8. Mental health first aid training

First aid training and first aid officers are pretty common in most workplaces. These are a good idea and we do them at Timely. We also encourage our people to participate in mental health first aid training. This is less common, but we like to see it taking an equal position with traditional first aid training. On our team currently we have 27 first aiders and 30 mental health first aiders. We are really proud of that. 

It’s useful for colleagues to be able to identify and assist when a teammate is experiencing a mental health incident, for example a panic attack. Mental health first aid training equips you with some practical skills you can use for yourself and for your teammates. It also improves understanding and empathy towards various mental health conditions. 

9. Put yourself first

We always find it bloody hard when someone leaves the Timely team. Occasionally though, people recognise that the work they’re doing today is not right for them. It’s a difficult decision process and the circumstances will always be unique. Again, it starts with a safe place. We do our best to make sure people feel safe to share their thoughts and to have an open and supportive conversation about these. We look at their situation and what things we can or can’t change to help. We consider options like other roles, reduced hours, extended time off or extended EAP. But if we can’t create conditions for that person that are in the best interests of their wellbeing, it’s important they know it’s OK to put themselves first. 

If that’s the outcome, we focus on respecting their decision and support them however we can to transition to their next step.

10. Walk the talk

Lastly, it’s essential that your people, especially your leadership, set an example when it comes to wellness in the workplace. Too often wellness is a platitude written into a values deck, but non-existent in the corridors of the office. You can’t profess to caring about people’s wellbeing while at the same time celebrating a product team that worked all weekend to smash out a deadline, or admire Steve’s hustle for soldiering on at work while he’s got a cold. 

That product team better take some days off in lieu before they burn out… and Steve, you can get your butt home to bed please, you’re not helping anyone.

If you read this far, you’re a good person who cares about wellness. Thanks! 

I’d like to take a moment to thank all of our Timely people, past and present, who have put together these wellness elements. These things only exist through the thoughtfulness and bravery of people who have spoken up, led by example and shown determination to make Timely a place that promotes wellness. In particular and in loving memory of Angus “Adub” Weir who passed away on January 2018 and taught us so much.

Timely was founded in 2011 and provides business software primarily to the beauty industry. It’s used by over 36,000 people around the world. Baker was the worst coder on the founding team, so he got made CEO and now quite likes that job. This was originally published on Timely's blog

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