Billy Parish Of Mosaic On 5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees
An Interview With David Liu
Link work to meaning. I’m always inspired by how many new hires tell me they joined Mosaic because of our clean energy mission. Leaders play an important role in giving their team line of sight into how their day-to-day work matters.
As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Billy Parish.
Billy Parish is a problem solver at heart, and he has taken on the world’s greatest problem — climate change — from every angle possible. He is an activist, a political influencer, an author, a crowdsourcing leader and a board member. He is also the successful founder and CEO of Mosaic, a leading innovator in clean energy finance.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I was studying climate change at Yale, and I took a summer trip to India after my sophomore year. I went to the source of the Ganges River, in the Himalayas, where a group of scientists were studying a glacier. They said the glacier was melting faster than anyone could have predicted, and the water source for millions of people was at risk. It was the first time I had really seen climate change face to face, and the impact it had on me was life changing. I knew I had to do something.
I dropped out of Yale and went on to co-found the Energy Action Coalition, which grew to become the largest youth-led clean energy advocacy network in the world with more than 340,000 members across 50 environmental and social justice groups. The coalition raised nearly $10 million in four years and helped more than 600 colleges make commitments to climate neutrality. I started out in student activism, then I had a realization that ultimately businesses were going to provide all of the products and services that people needed to combat climate change — and that we were going to need to revamp how those businesses operated. So I started working with organizations like Green Owl Records and My Energy. Around that same time, I co-authored the book, Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World. In the book, I write about how businesses need to transform to be part of the clean energy solution, and how we can create jobs that help people follow their passion — and have it be financially rewarding. It’s about how to build alignment with your purpose in your career, not compromise. It took me a while to realize that it’s OK to be profitable and make a difference.
The entire arc of my career the last 20 years has been looking for important parts of the climate problem to solve. Mosaic, the company I lead now, was a way to get as many people as possible meaningfully engaged in the transition of clean energy. It started with individuals crowdfunding loans to help install solar. Today, it’s about engaging each homeowner in the fight. We believe that every home can play a role in combating climate change by adopting things like solar, battery storage, and electric heating and cooling. But these sustainable home improvements can come with a large upfront expense that can deter widespread and rapid adoption. So we work with contractor partners in every state to help homeowners convert that upfront expense into an affordable monthly payment. I really do keep Mosaic’s mission front of mind every day: Empower millions of people to prosper by creating the best way to finance clean energy solutions. The frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather events continues to increase. We have to change the way we produce, store and consume energy now — we can’t wait.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I don’t know if it’s the most interesting story, but it’s very impactful to me. I’m honored to have been a Co-Founder and Coordinator of the Energy Action Coalition. We engaged and trained hundreds of thousands of young people, relatively early on in the climate movement here in the U.S. — this started around the 2004–2005 timeframe. I feel like it was catalytic for the movement overall, and our work then continues to have a substantial impact today. It was also around that time, I led a national campaign to create 5 million green jobs through a Clean Energy Corp program. This program was incorporated into the $80 billion green investments of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. In March of 2009, I led the Energy Action Coalition and organized PowerShift ’09. We brought over 12,000 young activists to Washington, D.C. for one of the largest climate-focused days of training and lobbying. It was true back then and it’s still true today; we can’t afford for the next generation to not be part of the solution.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think a lot of people get into our industry because they care about the environment, and they want to leave the world a better place than they found it. It’s easier to thrive when you really love what you do, and you surround yourself with other people who love what they do. On a personal level, I have to be mindful of my patterns of behavior to avoid burnout. During certain parts of the pandemic, I found myself on the computer all day, then watching Netflix with my family in the evenings.
I had to unplug to recharge. So I started an impromptu Mosaic reading list and crowdsourced book recommendations from the team. (I love that we already have almost 90 books on the list!) I’ve also strengthened my daily mindfulness routine by not checking my phone until after my morning routine and by starting up my journaling at night.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
As a leader, it starts with you — but it isn’t all about you. Let me explain. There’s a saying I’ve heard, “The difference between illness and wellness is “i” vs. “we.” Culture is not about what I’m doing for the company. It’s about what we do for each other. We allow people to bring their whole selves to work. I try to model that by being authentic and transparent with others, but it’s really about how the whole team shows up for each other. We encourage diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, experiences and personalities — and we make space for everyone to feel seen and heard.
You don’t have to be a type A personality or an extrovert to inspire change. We encourage a culture where everyone — intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs and everyone in between — has a voice. I regularly ask for feedback and encourage open dialogue and allow people to respond in ways they are comfortable with: anonymous surveys, Slack, group chats or one-on-one with me or their direct manager.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
It’s not a single quote, but fairly early in my career, I participated in a yearlong intensive training with Robert Glass at the Rockwood Leadership Institute’s Leading from the Inside Out. It was transformative. This yearlong training is really central to how I think about life and leadership, to my personal mantra, and the process I use to structure my thinking in both my professional and my personal life. It also reminds me to actively employ deep listening and be present in the moment — which can be sometimes challenging in a virtual work environment.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
#1: Make it okay to talk about mental health.
Now more than ever, we need to make space for our team members to share personal challenges and to model that behavior by being vulnerable ourselves. We had a spontaneous but very moving conversation about mental health during a recent all-staff meeting that I hope helped people feel safe to continue the discussion with their team.
#2: Link work to meaning.
I’m always inspired by how many new hires tell me they joined Mosaic because of our clean energy mission. Leaders play an important role in giving their team line of sight into how their day-to-day work matters.
#3: Build social connections.
Since shifting to remote work, we‘ve found different ways to give people a chance to get to know each other. We’ve had virtual trivia, painting, live DJs and regional meet-ups — and we work to make our company meetings engaging with polls, break-outs, time for reflection and active group chat.
#4: Encourage flexibility and time off.
As a remote-first company, many of our team members appreciate the flexibility that remote work provides. That said, working from home has also made it more difficult to draw boundaries. We have tried to find ways to support work-life balance such as adding additional company holidays.
#5: Support the whole person.
In addition to generous parental leave, we have a variety of benefits that support fitness, emotional health and physical therapy, including home office ergonomic set-up. We’ve offered workshops on topics like healthy meal prep and financial planning. And we help our team invest in their future with a 401(k) match and equity.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
At Mosaic, we have clearly identified business objectives and key results. We regularly share our OKRs in monthly all-employee meetings, allocate resources as needed and share our progress. The mental wellness of employees should be no different. You have to make it part of your day-to-day operations, dedicate resources to it, and have two-way communication with your team on how they’re doing and what you can do to support them.
You have to approach supporting the mental wellness of your employees like you would approach any important business objective.
You have to actively make the mental wellness of employees part of the day-to-day operations of your company. And you have to dedicate resources to it. Culture doesn’t just happen. People make it happen.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious or having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
Well, I’m not a mental health professional. And I haven’t done extensive research on mental health topics. So, I can only speak from personal experience. But I think one of the most important things we can do is listen — give people our full attention. And when I’m talking with someone, I try to always assume positive intent. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt, since you never know what else may be going on in their lives. I remember hearing about the Golden Rule when I was a kid, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” I like the updated Golden Rule even better, “Treat others the way they would like to be treated.”
This might seem intuitive to you, but it will be helpful to spell it out. Can you help articulate a few ways how workplaces will benefit when they pay attention to an employee’s mental health?
One of our company values is “Work with Joy: Happy people are more creative, collaborative and effective. We are committed to making a company people love to work at and with.” It’s not just your employees and your workplace that benefits — it’s all of your customers, partners and shareholders who also benefit.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
I have several different practices that I use. At Mosaic, we start our all-employee meetings with a meditation or gratitude exercise. This helps us to collectively center ourselves and be present at that moment. I also keep a gratitude journal and encourage others to write a few things they’re grateful for at the beginning of a meeting.
As part of my training at the Rockwood Leadership Institute’s Leading from the Inside, I also created a mantra that I’ve used throughout my career. “I am part of the beloved community. Building a more just and sustainable world — for my family, my community, and all of creation. I am ready to follow. I am ready to lead. Nothing to it but to do it.” These few sentences do a lot for me: They connect me, ground me in my purpose, and give me the confidence to do whatever I need to do.
I’ve also found yoga to be highly effective in helping promote positive mental wellbeing.
I work in the communications industry, so I’m particularly interested in this question. As you know, there are a variety of communication tools such as video conferencing, phone, text, and push-to-talk. What changes or improvements would you suggest for these technologies to help foster better mental health?
I think the best thing we could do for communication technologies to help foster better mental health is to make it OK to not communicate! We live in a world with 24/7 connections, which we all know is detrimental to our mental health. I know I personally had to change my morning routine. I would wake up and instantly pick up my phone, look through emails, Slack, and Twitter. Now, I start my mornings with a short meditation instead.
It’s important people have all of the communication tools they need to be successful. But they should also feel empowered to use them — and not use them — as needed. That it’s OK to snooze Slack notifications during lunch, not check email after work hours, or have ‘off-camera’ meeting days.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
100% clean energy for all. This is Mosaic’s mission — and a movement that impacts all of us today, tomorrow and for future generations to come.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I encourage them to join the Mosaic movement at joinmosaic.com.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!