Jason Medley of Codility On 5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees
An Interview With Luke Kervin
First and foremost, engagement. There have been many studies on the correlation between mental health and employee engagement, and we also know that employee engagement is a key indicator for the success of an organization.
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 Jason Medley.
Jason Medley is Codility’s Chief People Officer where he manages the People Ops, Talent Acquisition, and IT & Security teams. Jason has experience scaling multiple VC-backed technology companies through hyper-growth. As a recruiting leader and thought leader, Jason works closely with customers, Go To Market teams, and Product to help push the limits on Codility’s capabilities in the market.
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?
Growing up, I was a military brat and we traveled around a lot — I went to eight different schools in 12 years. These experiences made me incredibly curious about people. No one ever says they want to go into HR when they grow up, but for me, it made sense. I love people and HR, when it is operating at its best, is a human-centered function. Finding a career in HR has helped me tap into this passion and do some really great things. I started my career in recruiting. I’m very social and finding a job that enabled me to bring people together to work on a common goal was really interesting to me. My first job was recruiting in healthcare but after a few years, I realized I really missed traveling and needed a break, so I decided to sign up to teach English in South Korea. I thought I was escaping a career path in HR, but while I was in South Korea, I got wrapped back into the recruiting world for a tech startup, and I’m very grateful for it. The HR world just kept finding me and it didn’t take me long to realize that I could channel my passion for people in a really fulfilling way by taking a people-centered approach to build teams for tech startups.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
We don’t stop being human when we log on to work. Life continues, the joy of life and the grief of it. When you serve the people of an organization as an HR team member, you really get to experience the breadth of the human experience. For some reason in my career, I’ve experienced a lot of death in my work. One particular story fundamentally changed my understanding of what a company can do to support its employees, especially when life is hard. I worked with a 26-year-old engineer who had recently gone out on maternity leave. Two months into her leave she reached out and wanted to get coffee — I of course thought I knew where this was going and assumed she wouldn’t be coming back to our company after her leave. But when we met she did not look well. She asked what she needed to do to extend her life insurance policy as part of her benefits, and then she shared the awful news that she had stage four colon cancer. My heart sank. I thought, surely there was more that we could do to help her navigate this terrible situation beyond her life insurance policy. Just a few months later I was crushed to learn that she had passed away. I remember being in a team meeting in San Francisco and just losing it in front of my team. The loss we felt as a company paled in comparison to the loss her family was experiencing. When I spoke with her husband after her passing, he was under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress, and it made me realize how much more we as businesses can do to really take care of our employees and their loved ones. For most people, work is a necessity, it’s how we pay our bills, how we survive. But there can be so much more to it, and we have a responsibility to show up in meaningful ways to support our employees’ overall wellbeing, especially when life is really hard.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
At Codility, one of our values is “We’re human,” and I think that mindset is critical for leaders, especially in tech, to avoid burnout and enable people to thrive. So many workplaces have stripped us of our humanity which is why people are burning out — we need to be more human at work. We have to acknowledge and respect that there are stressors at work and outside of work that impact the ability of someone to show up to work as their best self. And, by the way, we can’t forget that the factors that contribute to burnout are different for each individual. Each person and their experience are unique and everyone should have an equal opportunity to thrive.
I believe we have a moral imperative to create cultures and policies that support well-being in meaningful ways that help employees thrive in their work and life. Research shows that one of the best burnout prevention methods comes from company leaders who send strong messages that health, wellness, and work-life balance are critical to productive and meaningful work. We must be mindful to create a healthy working culture and give our employees the benefits, resources, and support they need to do their best work. We also have to walk the walk ourselves as leaders — leading by example and holding our own mental health and well-being as a top priority.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
The first thing I would recommend is to listen to your people. Your people actually have a lot of the answers and if you really listen to them — and I mean intentionally and actively listen on a reoccurring basis — It will help you understand what’s going on in your organization and how you can show up for your employees. The other thing I would recommend is to look through the lens of humanity in everything you do and every decision you make. Of course, we’re a business and we need to be profitable. If we’re not meeting our goals and objectives, then we have to make difficult decisions. We have to fire people, redirect projects, or say “no” or “not right now” to great ideas. Especially in these cases, you have to look at how you show up as a leader through the lens of humanity. If we always ask ourselves and our fellow leaders “how do we do this in the most humane way?” and consider the impact on the humans we work with, our intention and our authenticity will come through. And that’s where loyalty, respect, and culture are built.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Yes! This lesson actually came from a direct report of mine — a really amazing human being, and it helped me understand the importance of prioritizing my own wellbeing. Now this person was an incredible woman, a single mother who had experienced a lot of hardships in her life. A little background before I share the quote. I’ve always struggled with being present — I spent a lot of my life always ruminating about the past or the future, but really being grounded in the present took me a long time to learn. When she shared this piece of wisdom with me, I was really stressed. Being in HR, you take on a lot of other people’s stuff. I wasn’t doing a good job of releasing it and it was really wearing down on my mental and physical health. My cup was empty. What she told me was so simple and so poignant. She told me, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” I think about this quote all the time, especially when I’m stressed, and it always reminds me to take care of myself first. If I can’t show up for myself, how am I going to show up for others?
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?
So the first, and most important step we have taken at Codility to support our employees’ mental wellness is to take time to really listen to our people. I’m not talking about a basic annual or one-time employee survey. Sure, that can be a good mechanism to get feedback from employees — but what I’m talking about is actively listening to our people. When we support our people as humans first, we can help these individuals thrive. Which is why we continue to invest in training and encouraging our managers to be better listeners and to communicate to leadership on a regular basis what they are hearing from their people. For example, one initiative that came out of listening to our employees in the last year was how much we needed to invest in mental health in order to provide the support that our employees needed and make sure we foster an environment that allows them to do their best work. As a result, we created a multi-pronged strategy that incorporated our employee’s ideas and feedback to quickly meet the demand of mental health.
Second, we have invested specifically in mental health benefits and resources for our global team with access to mental health coaches and therapists. Recently, because of the war in Ukraine and the stress that our team, particularly those employees in Europe, have been experiencing, we reached out to our team to ask them how these benefits are working — if they felt supported to take care of their mental health with the existing resources. We received feedback that employees who are already in therapy couldn’t leverage the resources available through our benefits because their existing coach or therapist was outside of the network. We want our employees to seek mental health support in the way that best suits them. So, we demonstrated that we heard them by allocating $1,000 USD per employee to use for therapies of their choosing. We are committed to continuously assessing these benefits to make sure they are meeting the needs and adjusting accordingly when we need to.
Third, we are intentional about creating a culture where there is psychological safety and trust, where our employees can openly talk about mental health. We offer our employees 27 days of paid time off and four mental health days per year that do not have to be approved. These days are offered in addition to PTO days to recognize and bring light to the importance of mental health.
Fourth, we allow our employees to work in a way that works for them by offering realistic work-life balance and flexibility. We are mindful of creating a healthy working culture and giving our employees the assistance they need to do their best work. We are all humans in different places in our lives and careers. Life is not linear and it shifts as we shift and as the seasons of our lives unfold. We recognize that how and where you work can make a big difference in how you are able to show up in work and life. We are a remote-first company, and we understand that not everyone thrives in a fully remote or in-office setting. So, for those who want the option of both, we have invested in hubs at WeWork locations in San Francisco, London, Warsaw, and Berlin where we have the highest concentration of people. We’ve also invested in global WeWork access for all employees so they can work from any WeWork location of their choosing.
Lastly, we have established five Employee Resource Groups (ERG): 1. LGBTQIA+, 2. Women, 3. People of Color, 4. Parents and 5. Neurodiversity — to give our employees a safe community at work to talk about the challenges and stressors they face while promoting unity and inclusion. These ERGs are voluntary and employee-led, and the feedback from our employee base has been extremely positive.
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?
Last year at Codility, we initiated a conversation with our employees about their journeys in mental health in a dedicated Slack channel. To get the conversation started, we asked a simple question: How has therapy changed your mental health trajectory and impacted your life? Participation was voluntary, and employees had the option to remain anonymous. Leaders and employees from across the organization participated in the discussion, and it was really cool to see everyone lean into the discussion. This conversation, which lasted about six months, helped to break the stigma of talking about mental health at work and started to position the topic of mental health as a normal part of the conversation at Codility.
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?
Since mental health hasn’t been a regular part of the conversation in our society, when people are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, etc., they don’t necessarily think about it as a signal that they may need to take care of their mental health. While it is getting better, there is still a lot of shame in expressing that you are not feeling well mentally, and many people don’t know where to access support. When you’re physically sick, you might get a sore throat or fever, and the next course of action is well known; you go to the doctor or take medicine to alleviate your symptoms. But when it comes to mental health, many people struggle to know what their symptoms mean and may not know what actions they can take to help improve their mental health. The best thing we can do as individuals is model the way and openly talk about our mental health. For example, If I’m having a really tough time and feeling stressed and burned out, I share it with my team and take a mental health day instead of keeping that to myself. This signals to my team that they aren’t alone if they ever feel the same way and that it’s okay to take time to take care of your mental health. If we all are committed to being open and vulnerable about what we’re going through, it helps others see that we all can struggle with our mental health sometimes, and that is okay. Modeling can help to normalize and take the shame out of accessing support when you need it.
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?
First and foremost, engagement. There have been many studies on the correlation between mental health and employee engagement, and we also know that employee engagement is a key indicator for the success of an organization. A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that employees who felt that their employer supported their mental well-being were more likely to have higher job satisfaction, more trust in their organization and leaders, and a higher sense of pride to be working at their company. Investing in your employee’s mental wellness is one way to demonstrate that you care about your employees and their total well-being which will always have a positive impact on engagement. People who are engaged in their work and in their life bring creativity, energy, and focus to their work which ultimately helps contribute to a more positive workplace culture.
Investing in building a culture that supports its employees’ mental health also humanizes your organization. Let’s face it, people don’t want to work at inauthentic companies anymore. They want to work for a company that sees the humanity of their people, recognizes the realities and struggles of life, and supports them along the way. This has a direct impact on a company’s ability to attract and retain talent. At Codility we try to be as authentic as possible and are committed to getting better at that every day. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect; we’re not, but we’re actively working on it and I think having a strong mental health culture enables that.
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?
When I used to work in an office, I always used passing through a doorway when going from meeting to meeting to take an intentional breath. It was a great trigger to remember to breathe, let go of what just happened, focus on the present, and reset for what was next. It’s harder to do that in a virtual environment when I’m not moving as much. So, I’m conscious of taking a moment, just a gentle pause, to breathe in between virtual meetings. I also try my best not to take every meeting on video — I’ve found that I need to move my body, especially when I’m back-to-back. Movement is critical for me in managing my mental health; whether it is just a walk around the block or something longer, it helps me to be more present. Sometimes, I will turn my camera off, pop in my earbuds, and walk around my neighborhood during a meeting.
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?
We have so many tools available to connect and collaborate with our colleagues and customers. I must admit it can be a bit overwhelming having so many channels for communication. For many people, this is a significant factor in undue stress, anxiety, and burnout. For me, it’s less about making changes to these technologies and tools and more about how we optimize the way we use them to complement and ease the burden of work. We must find ways to reduce overwhelm by integrating these tools to make a central channel for communication when possible.
I also think it is critical for leaders to set very clear expectations of when employees need to be available and responsive. If your team works in different time zones or works asynchronously, employees receive notifications and pings from the various communications tools at all hours of the day. For example, it can be very overwhelming to wake up in the morning to a bunch of emails, chats, and texts from colleagues who work in a time zone that is ahead of yours. You start your day feeling like you are already behind, and you’re just responding to everyone else’s needs and not able to start your day out with intention. This situation can really grind on your mental health. As leaders, we must support our employees in finding a healthy work-life balance and encourage our employees to set boundaries in how and when we use all of the communication tools that are required in our work.
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. 😊
Radical humanity in the workplace. I’m very passionate about teaching leaders and managers to be more human and authentic at work. When leaders embrace their vulnerability and tap into their empathy, they have the power to fundamentally change our work environments to be more compassionate and inclusive. We’re at an intersection of work culture — so much has changed since the pandemic, and we have such an excellent opportunity to evolve how we work. How we work and communicate is deeply ingrained in many corporate cultures, so much so that I think it’s hard for leaders to see a new way. We have been doing work the same way for generations. But, as the last few years have shown, traditional work isn’t working anymore. While there have been incremental improvements, we have barely even scratched the surface when it comes to adopting a more human-centered approach to getting work done. Just think about the potential and passion that we could unlock by taking this approach to work! I know it can change business, and I’m pretty sure it could change the world.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!