In this interview series, you’ll hear from experts who are paving the way to centralizing mental health and inclusivity in their organization’s talent attraction & retention strategy.

Please introduce yourself and your company                                                                                                                                                                                                            

I graduated from Columbia University with a Mathematics and Art History double major, which I think completes one another perfectly. I am also the mom of Mila, a spitfire that runs through the house like the Tasmania Monster. I am also an avid reader, runner, and collector of memories. Besides that, I am a serial entrepreneur. I am the founder of Kizlar Sahada, a social enterprise that trains over 500 girls in 14 different locations around Turkey between the ages of 9-24 for free to empower them to challenge gender stereotypes. I am also the founder of SWEATers App, a platform for socializing through sports that is the official app for Istanbul's IAAF Gold Label Status Marathon. And finally, I am the founder of Wellbees, an employee wellbeing platform that triggers personal and cultural behavior change to create workplaces that people love Currently we serve 17 countries in nine languages. We like to call ourselves the Hubspot of employee wellbeing because the product can cater to all sizes of HR and across different needs. We also have an AI-powered admin panel that offers insight and suggests actions to HR professionals to drive new initiatives deriving from the reports we offer. 


Tell us more about your workplace culture                                                                                                                                                                                                    

One of the biggest success factors for us is the team globally. You have to have someone who is not competing with you but supporting you, listening to you, even I daresay understand you. The same goes for your team at work. The partnerships as well as the team at Wellbees made a huge impact on how successful we are. How? First, we have the same values. Then everybody on the team has an entrepreneurial spirit they can satisfy here by building up systems as we scale. Finally, we complement each other perfectly. Then not giving up. I learned early that making huge investments before you tested a market was simply wrong. So at Wellbees today we embrace "start small, fail quickly, reboot" a la Steve Jobs. Every idea that the team wants to have a go at gets tested. We implement it, look at the results, and then decide whether or not to replicate it on a bigger scale. That is our attitude to pretty much everything. We do not give up. We simply try different ways to crack the nut. Finally, listening. We are currently in so many different countries, languages, and companies. That taught us something. The power of the client. Our clients, namely HR professionals, and also employees who are using our product were our bosses for years. We knew only, and only if they were happy we would keep going. Not if we kept outside investors happy. This brought us to an incredible level of client-centeredness with an excellent Customer Success mechanism. Wellbeing at Wellbees is holistic: mental, physical, spiritual, social, environmental, occupational, intellectual and financial rather than focusing on only one so we try to provide our services to our clients always with this approach.


How do you think business leaders and organizations can break through some mental health barriers?   


According to World Health Organization in developed countries, the treatment gap (the %age of individuals who need mental health care but do not receive treatment) ranges from 44% to 70%; in developing countries, the treatment gap can be as high as 90%. The main barriers to mental health are the lack of mental health professionals, affordability, lack of education and stigma. There are various ways to address these problems. In a well-funded organization, professionals can equip leaders with Mental First Aid trainings, employ onsite mental health professionals, offer EAP or similar services, offer training on the subject to all levels within the organization, encourage leaders’ vulnerability, cover families within packages. In environments where fewer resources can be allocated leaders can be empowered to support employees to take personal actions. 


How can managers support employee mental health? 


I jokingly refer to the “unknowns I do not know of” when people from my team sometimes bring stuff to my attention at the company I had no idea about. It goes the same way for the majority of the population: Almost 1 billion people live with a mental disorder and 75% of them do not get treatment according to World Health 2020 numbers. So as managers our responsibility starts with putting the mask on ourselves first, understanding and educating ourselves in mental health that is, well, the numbers show it, everywhere. The next step would be to do the same for our teams. For individual change to happen people need to cross what’s called a change funnel. First awareness and education. Then comes engagement, interest, and then finally action. Basically, 99% of all change is intention, then 1% action. Our role as managers is to nurture this journey as much as possible with know-how, tools, and much vulnerability from our end by asking the right questions, and giving the right examples. 


What can be done to address and prevent a toxic work culture? What are the early red flags managers shall not neglect?   


Management Guru Drucker said:  “you cannot manage what you cannot measure”. This has been around for ages. Now with the new birth of EX (Employee Experience) as a new OS (Operating System) of HR not measuring is not a thing. Literally, if you want to hop on the train of EX, you should be measuring, asking, listening to employees all along. There are various ways to do that. I recently wrote an HBR article on this arguing most of the wellbeing investment we make, and we make lots of investments into it, corporations spend around 61 billion dollars on it. Yet, people still report that they are not feeling OK. This is, I argue, because of the fact that we measure everything but perhaps the most vital thing we do not: wellbeing. At Wellbees we call this Wellbeing Analytics. Measuring wellbeing would show the early signs of a toxic culture. The early flags are mood swings around the company, clusters of unhappiness around certain topics, and missing out on meetings, then days of work.  


Lastly, any tips for establishing open communication between management and employees                                                                                                                       

Daily contact and check-ins from managers are important to increase communication at all levels. However, all employees should be able to have their voices heard. Regular surveys, open forums or sentiment analysis tools like the ones we use at Wellbees are highly effective feedback mechanisms for employees to discuss and share their opinions and needs. They take the pulses of employees and provide regular insights into their general well-being and stress levels. In other words, apart from face-to-face meetings or unplanned dialogues, you can hear the thoughts and feelings of your employees with such systems, too. In addition, the inclusion of employees in company-related decisions to be taken will also show them that their ideas and values are cared for. Also, special investment in training managers for them to become more effective and open in communication with employees is important especially when it comes to mental health and wellbeing issues. We also call on all managers to change their company cultures towards having more conversations about social and personal lives to build stronger and closer relationships by creating social and unique company-wide activities or challenges for all employees and managers to participate in and communicate about other things besides work.