Workplace wellness is a phrase we’ve been hearing lately. While it’s common to see a lot of millennials falling prey to anxiety, trauma, tiredness, and exhaustion, the question is how well corporates and organizational leaders are heeding to this issue.
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Aishwarya: Welcome to Lonepack conversations. I’m Aishwarya, your host, and with me, I have Ryan Bonnici, a renowned leader in today’s marketing world. Hi Ryan, it’s great to have you in our session today.
Ryan: Hey! It is nice to be here, thank you for having me!
Aishwarya: So, Ryan, you’re the Chief Marketing Officer at G2, one of the world’s leading review and app-listing platforms. You also serve on the Board of Directors for the mental-health non-profit, ‘Bring Change to Mind.’ How’s it to manage both nonprofit and revenue-based leadership roles at the same time?
Ryan: You know, it’s an interesting challenge, but it makes it really fun because I feel like a lot of the work I do at G2—which obviously is very revenue-focused is luckily in an area I really love. I’m super passionate about technology and software, and I love that role, and it pays me which is great. And then on the flip side, the work I do with ‘Bring Change to Mind’— well it doesn’t pay me in the same sense, but it’s a rounded area that is really important to me, and so yes, nice to kind of give back in a way that’s not revenue actually. So yeah, it’s quite fun but it definitely sometimes is a challenge of time for me to prioritize between the two.
Aishwarya: Oh yeah. I think the ‘giving-back-to-the-community’ part is extremely heart-warming and I can understand because I come from the same marketing background and I also ended up working in a non-profit as well. So I think, I sort of find a personal connection with you and I absolutely agree with the point that you mentioned right now.
So, you are a CMO under 30! Congratulations on this, and I’m sure this is not an easy journey. How’s it to handle the pressures of your role, and have those pressures ever taken a toll on your mental health?
Ryan: Thanks, I appreciate it. Yeah, it’s definitely unusual—when I was really little, at the age of 10, for some reason knew I wanted to be a CMO, and I really wanted to be a CMO at the age of 30, so clearly I’ve been a bit of an unusual kid but it was very cool to finally reach that goal. I think I got there a couple months after my 29th birthday. I think I was not even necessarily trying, I think I kind of forgot about the ‘30 age’ component. Because I didn’t really care about getting there by 30 once I got older, but when it actually happened, it kind of reminded me! Anyway, thank you for that! In terms of how to handle the pressures of the role, the thing that helps me the most is a few, but I have a really amazing team at G2 that I built so when I joined the business, I had maybe five people on the team, and now kind of a year-and-a-half, and our marketing team is around 60-70 folks. It’s been a really crazy year so that was a lot of fun but it was also pretty stressful, and I definitely in the last two years have needed to do a lot of things that helped manage the pressure. For example, I get a sports massage once a week which is not fun but painful; If I get really scared I get acupuncture every week; I go to the kyro, and doing a lot of self-care activities, and seeing a therapist regularly—weekly or twice a week to help me work on my mind—keep working on my body and keep both of them as healthy as possible.
Aishwarya: Totally! To start off, I think you wanted to be a CMO right at the age of 10. I’ve read this short story where you were fancied by the emails that your father used to get and you really wanted to be a CMO right then.
Ryan: Yes! My dad’s a business owner and I used to see him always on his phone getting emails, and I used to tell myself, “Oh my gosh that’s so cool. I can’t wait to have a phone and get mails and tell me I’m important and people need me.”
Aishwarya: I think that’s the best part as a child—seeing your father and getting inspired. Nice to know, Ryan. I love the way you brought the point about seeing therapists as a form of self-care and as a form of maintaining the body-and-mind balance. I really liked that point because most of the people today think going to a therapist is a sort of extra work and still many people think of it as a taboo. So I think this coming from you, from your experience, is a very good point that you stated. So, what are some ways you shattered the stigma around mental health within your organisation?
Ryan: I think shattering stigma is what ‘Bring Change to Mind’ is all about. When we did the research, we saw that there’s a lot of great services out there for people to become aware of their mental health and their mental health challenges and proactively seeing therapists.
We see great results. My wife actually is a clinical psychologist. We met in Psychology class, back in university, and what we understood in the world is that the problem wasn’t helping folks once they raise their hands because most people don’t ask for help. 80% of people who have a mental health condition don’t actually seek help and those who do seek help on an average do 10 years after when they are diagnosed with the symptoms and problems. 10 years is the average time that takes for someone to get help, and we researched and realised that the reason why people weren’t getting help was because there was this stigma around mental health.
I don’t necessarily sit every day and think about how I’m going to shatter the stigma around mental health—but I guess I try to be really vulnerable and authentic and talk to people about my own challenges. And, I think by me doing that, I’ve noticed other people have come to me and shared with me their challenges, and have said to me that they are talking about that has helped get therapy. I think the best way to drive change in that space is ultimately is to just be open and tell people the truth about what you’re going through, good and bad. I think that helps them to start to realise that it is a safe space.
Aishwarya: So, coincidentally LonePack’s motive is also to shatter the stigma around mental health. And, that was a very valid statement that you said—people have to be vulnerable about the emotions that they go through. And I think impact needn’t always be a greater thing, it can be a small act of kindness that can actually go a long way. So, as you said get the impact done with a self-motive and get that out to people so more people get influenced by you and try to do the same thing, and I think impact spreads in that way.
Aishwarya: In a recent article, you spoke about how being bullied had a part in your success today. Could you elaborate more on that?
Ryan: Absolutely. Growing up as I mentioned earlier, I was odd and a bit different and shy. I was also an only-child, and I wasn’t guided on knowing how to make friends. I was still a pretty nice kid, but I don’t know how I was really an easy target for bullies. That was tough and that shook me in a certain way, some of them which were good—but I’ve been able to work on the trauma from that, and at the same time it’s hard for me to say that I wouldn’t want to have that not happen to me, because I really like the person I am today, and I don’t know what kind of person I would be, had I not have that happen to me. I had to work on myself. I do not regret any of that stuff, but I definitely regret not getting therapy earlier.
Aishwarya: Yeah, I think recounting and getting back to childhood, and relating it to the present-day views is very important—and, it is good that all of us need to start doing that.
You’re featured as one of the Most Authentic CMOs by Drift, another giant in the SaaS industry. How do you think ‘authenticity’ can help C-suite leaders contribute to the mental health of their team members, and on the whole, the entire workforce?
Ryan: Authenticity can help C-suite leaders contribute to the mental health of their team members, because I think it’s so different from standard and the traditional leadership kind-of model and the leadership role that most managers take. I think it’s important to kind of think about management and leadership as two very-different things, and even if you are a manager you might not be able to lead in, so yeah and I think by the old-school way of management really was keeping control—not sharing everything with the team, keeping people in the dark, only telling them the minimum they need to know. If I think of a recent example for me was I had to let two people go on my team this week because they had really bad attitudes and you know we had given a lot of feedback on developing on these things, and they just didn’t, and I’m just simplifying obviously because I don’t want to get into the details.
Aishwarya: I understand.
Ryan: I was really proud when we had to tell this to the team—the bigger team—and when they asked questions, we were able to be really authentic with them about what we expect from them and why they shouldn’t be afraid about their own jobs, and I got 70 pieces of feedback and small notes saying that by being so authentic about the situation and telling around place that it does suck, it isn’t a fun experience for the folks to let go but also for us as a team we will grow stronger from it, etc. I think by opening up and by being authentic, it means that you get that back from your employees, and so now they are being more authentic with you which means as a leader you can do your job because you know where the problems or opportunities or difficulties faster because people are coming to you more quickly. So, that’s how it has impacted me.
Aishwarya: I think from your words I can sense that a ‘great’ team actually needs more transparency because it’s not just called a great team because they do great work or they do something really big. I think it’s more about how they treat the fellow people and what kind of attitude they have with the fellow people. And yeah, to identify the limitations, and to identify the strengths and addressing the issues good or bad—I think that forms the strength of the team and that actually grows to an organisation level as well the top management or the C-suite.
You wrote in your recent article for Harvard Business Review on how as a boss you encourage your employees to consider outside job offers. That’s interesting. Does it have anything to do with the mental health concept? Or, was it something else that drove you to pick this thought.
Ryan: So, I think where this came from for me in this concept wasn’t tied in with mental health, really, I was kind of examining my own career and I am often asked by my PAs and my employees the questions on career and growing and it reflects on the past decade of marketing, and how I have gotten to where I have got. And I think to be part of it for me was always being happy to chat with people if they talked to me about a role that is interesting or the company that is doing interesting things. And, I probably only reply and set up a call maybe with 5% of the people that actually reach out to me. Lot of them are maybe not the right roles or their companies aren’t the right fit for what I’d be interested in. I am always interested in learning about the roles out there and what my value or worth is. Being involved in those conversations just reactively helped me work on myself. Companies said they will pay me a certain amount to do this job at their companies—I didn’t want to work there. I love where I am working right now. Maybe, I have to speak to my boss that I am not at the right market pay right. Again, that allows me to have a simple and professional discussion like, “Hey! I like staying here but I’m getting offers that are 20% more than what I am currently on and I don’t want to leave but I am considering these offers at the moment just because of the fact that the extra 20% will be really helpful for me and my family situation.” Maybe I’ll have to do it, I haven’t done many times maybe once or twice in my career and my bosses have always been able to come back to me and offer me more responsibility and compensation. My message here is that you shouldn’t just go and try to, you know, blackmail your boss. In reality, you must do this only when you’re well aware of your path and are actually willing to leave, because it could go wrong and your boss might not want you on the team. So, you should never have that conversation unless you are going to leave if there isn’t a change at work. But it is also important to have that conversation. In my experience, my employees will come to me and chat with me when they are interviewing with a company and it is weird to say that I don’t find that weird at all. If they are on my team, I would love to coach them in terms of how they get their next job because they are going to leave being a total advocate for our company, me and their career. They might be referred by well-known people in Chicago, looking for jobs. It is not a bad thing, you don’t want the same people on you team, the same CMO forever and mix things up. I am realistic with my team about either being here forever nor do I expect them to pretend that they are.
Aishwarya: Yes, true, it’s a perfect analysis. Corporates work on this format. Most of the employees today want to work with more valued, proactive, empathetic and realistic leader so that they can be confident discussing issues, about their future growth opportunities that they get from outside; And, the way you mentioned that the people who are addressing this should be confident and have solid thoughts before talking about this to their bosses—I think on both sides having certain amount of realistic attitude, transparency and candidness really helps. It is wonderful to know that you’ve been a leader who does that.
What’s your view on employees taking days off for mental health, popularly known as the “mental health day?
Ryan: I think it’s great. More employees must do this and employers must openly talk about this as well as an options for folks to take. I genuinely think that the only way to make people realistically take these things seriously is for leadership teams to actually do that themselves and show that it’s an ‘OKAY’ thing to do. I have had days that I’ve cancelled on all my meetings in the morning just because I haven’t been in the right frame of mind for that day. I have told my employees that I’m taking a “mental health day” and that has encouraged them to know that they can do the same.
Aishwarya: Certainly. I think that the leaders set the right example, and the people who are hearing this right now, know that it’s okay to take a day off for mental issues; for their mental health.
How important is mental health from a workspace angle and what are some simple steps that a team can take to ensure emotional wellness?
Ryan: I don’t think your mental health at workplace is different from that of your home. Everything is connected—how you’re sleeping, how stressed you’re, and how you’re at work with all these things. I think some really simple things folks can do is get better at identifying when they have a low mental health score. For example, they wake up and have the lowest score for their mental health for a certain day so instead of having lots of coffee and sugary drinks, sit with your emotions and try to work out on what is making you feel down. I turn off most notifications from my apps on my phone—it doesn’t buzz unless someone is calling or sending me an SMS. My screen also is completely muted so the only way I see a notification is when I go into the app itself. That was a really conscious thing I needed to, I was getting overwhelmed and anxious that day my phone was just ringing every second. Putting about a few intentional change in notifications was one big way to help. Finally, identifying if your work is a safe space, looking at how you can have conversations like that with your boss and your employees around mental health. That doesn’t mean the boss has to ask, “how is your mental health today,” although asking questions might help employees open up but they answer in work-related terms. Instead of asking questions like “How are you doing?” for which most employees answer, I ask “How are you doing outside of work?” or “How are you doing as a person?” That is showing my employee that this one-on-one, this conversation and relationship, is a safe space for them to open up.
Aishwarya: Yes, great. I see three things that you’ve mentioned—dealing with your emotions, muting your notifications, retrospection and having a proper conversation with your boss or anyone you feel like talking at workplace. I think coming to the closure, I have one last question that is the most debatable and important one that most corporates need to look into.
As a top-tier management leader, do you think every company should invest more on providing mental wellness support in the form of therapy sessions, relaxation benefits and so on?
Ryan: Absolutely, I really think that for any company to be successful, it’s because of their employees. So, you need to hire the best employees, run the best training for them to become better and keep learning. You need to support them in their journey and just as you’d allow someone get extra training in their job area to make them better. I don’t think there is any difference in terms of training around how we function in our health. Businesses today are very comfortable today in giving gym compensations for employees by having internal gyms. More companies now are creating really amazing cultures and motivating employers are doing the same with mental health too. Yes, I’m a big fan and I’m excited that more and more businesses and some of the world’s best leaders are realising that it’s not just about the work, it’s about the person that gets the work done too.
Aishwarya: Yes, certainly.
Thank you, Ryan, I think it was a great opportunity for me to speak to you about how mental health is perceived in the corporate front, especially coming from a C-suite leader, and what your honest experiences are being a CMO of a world-renowned company. We are immensely pleased and we extend our hearty congratulations to you on behalf of Lonepack for all the amazing work that you are doing. Thank you once again!
Ryan: Thank you for having me, really had a lot of fun.