“Happiness Index tracking to identify happiness in workplace.” with Samuel Hurley

Happiness Index tracking to identify happiness in workplace.We track employees’ happiness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It’s a simple survey that goes out via slack which asks, ‘how you are feeling today?’. Answers are then stored anonymously in a database and visualized over time.When they do the small survey, we encourage the team to view […]

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Happiness Index tracking to identify happiness in workplace.

We track employees’ happiness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It’s a simple survey that goes out via slack which asks, ‘how you are feeling today?’. Answers are then stored anonymously in a database and visualized over time.

When they do the small survey, we encourage the team to view this (below) ‘wheel of feelings’ above which helps to illustrate your trajectory to burnout which also helps give the team member awareness of their state of mind. To help combat burnout, we offer unlimited holidays, so a team member doesn’t get to the end of the year with no holidays left.

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 Samuel Hurley, 28-year-old founder of the London-based eCommerce startup, NOVOS. The company provides strategic SEO consultancy to eCommerce businesses and has worked with over 100 eCom companies across the world, helping their clients generate over £30 million in revenue. NOVOS has won awards for its company culture that emphasizes the importance of measuring employee happiness.

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 the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I was fed up with my job at a previous agency mainly due to poor company culture — it was having a horrific impact on my mental health and well being. I was interviewing aggressively with an element of desperation, applying to anything relevant and would have taken anything offered too. I remember having an interview and thinking I smashed it out of the park and would be offered the role so that I’d finally be able to leave the agency. The company rejected me because I was ‘too experienced’ and I wouldn’t be challenged in the role. I was so shocked that I even offered to take a large pay cut to join, but they were very strong on their company culture and would only hire for the right reasons. I felt deflated after this, condemned to seeing out the year in my current role. I went to Vegas for an event to forget about it and get mentally ready for the rest of the year. When I came back, I got an interview at Made.com, a popular eCom company, to lead their SEO (my dream job at the time). I passed the interview and worked at Made for two years, made them close to £20m via SEO and left to set up my startup. If it weren’t for that rejection, my career would have taken a very different turn, and I doubt I’d have my own company without my eCommerce experience at made.com.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Working hard until you burnout isn’t a good thing — working efficiently is. It took me a while to figure this out. In our industry, you need to be reading to stay ahead of the game and improve. If you’re not taking time away from routine tasks to read, you’ll stagnate and fall behind the times.

We have this wheel of feelings and ask team members to tell us how they are feeling every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

It’s great for general feedback and comments but also great awareness for the team to see ‘i’m approaching the burnout’ stage in terms of my feelings maybe I should take a few days off.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Company culture is crucial to the effective day-to-day functioning of the company. It guides the team on how to behave and what to expect from their co-workers while working together. It is essential if you want your staff to function as a team.

Build a company and culture that you’d want to work for. When we started hiring, my business partner and I wrote down everything we hated and loved about our previous jobs to align our culture to these.

Also, hiring the right people is so important. To do this, we create a scoring system around our company values to overcome any natural biases when interviewing. This way, we’re only hiring skilled people aligned with our values. Not doing so will bring everything crashing down, especially for a small company.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I’m a visual person so prefer graphs over quotes, and this is my favourite.

My ex manager often reminded me of The Feynman Technique: ‘’You can only truly master a subject if you can explain it in the most brief, simple way to a novice’’

I find this is very true — more so when you work in a niche sector like mine which has its own language filled with heavy jargon. The influence of the above quote extends beyond my work. For example, I now buy simple wardrobe essentials of reasonably good quality so that I can wear them all year round, and not chasing fashion trends or wasting money on clothes.

It’s very easy to mistake simplicity for basic. That’s not what we’re talking about here — cut the BS, cut the waffle.

The value of simplicity also forms the core of our work ethics. Our agency is a specialist within a specialism, and our simplistic approach helps us carve out our niche.

Two other famous quotes that continue to impact our company are the following:

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

-Steve Jobs

“To simplify before you understand the details is ignorance. To simplify after you understand the details is genius.”

-James Clear

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?

A comprehensive health insurance.

We have chosen a holistic insurance plan because besides covering the physical health issues, it also caters to mental health and provides a cover for counselling support. Through the plan, we cover the gym fee of our team by 50% and reward physical activity. For example, if you hit your fitness targets, you stand a chance to win an Apple watch.

Unlimited holidays

This may seem a little controversial by some companies standards but it resonates with our company values.

Here’s my reasoning behind it: Only a certain type of company would offer unlimited holidays, and therefore this type of company would attract a certain type of employee who will have a certain type of attitude or approach to work. If you are hiring people that will abuse the unlimited holiday scheme, then they don’t fit your values.

Virtual fitness classes

This one was born out of lockdown. When gyms were closed, and we could only go out once a day, it took a toll on everyone’s mental health. So we arranged this as a perk, and kept it ever since. It even got us featured in cosmopolitan along the likes of Google, Goldman Sachs and Facebook

Happiness Index tracking to identify happiness in workplace

We track employees’ happiness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It’s a simple survey that goes out via slack which asks, ‘how you are feeling today?’. Answers are then stored anonymously in a database and visualized over time.

When they do the small survey, we encourage the team to view this (below) ‘wheel of feelings’ above which helps to illustrate your trajectory to burnout which also helps give the team member awareness of their state of mind.

To help combat burnout, we offer unlimited holidays, so a team member doesn’t get to the end of the year with no holidays left.

Free headspace account

Developing a regular meditation practice has proven to advance mental health but encouraging this at the workplace can be challenging. We offer free memberships of the mental health app, Headspace, to our team and encourage them to take meditation breaks.

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?

In addition to the above, I think that there should be a legal requirement for businesses to have some form of mental health policy in place for their team.

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 and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?

The first step is to talk about it! We regularly check-in with our team and encourage them to tell us when they are hitting burn out. We recommend them to take shorter breaks like a Friday or Thursday off so they can have a long weekend off without it disrupting their work as much as a two-week-long holiday.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

I’d recommend starting by defining your end goal, e.g. I want to do X,Y,Z each week, then define ‘why’ — why do you want to do X,Y,Z — this is very very important if you don’t define the ‘why’ then you won’t maintain the habit. Then finally set yourself a realistic roadmap.

Here’s a personal example. Over lockdown, I put on weight from a poor diet and drinking too much beer, so I got a PT. Between us, we set the goal of:

  • 500 push-ups a week
  • 1000m swim
  • 20k runs
  • 3 gym sessions

It’s impossible to get to this goal instantly as there aren’t enough days in the week so each week I’d hit 25% of each, then 50% then 75% before eventually hitting the goal.

You can replicate the above easily across anything habit you want to do. The most important part is defining the ‘why’ and breaking down the end goal into manageable, achievable steps.

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 did get into meditation for a while. However, I found it wasn’t particularly useful for me. I felt I would overthink scenarios or feel guilty for not meditating. Instead, I take any principles I learned from the headspace app and do them weekly instead of daily.

I also take an hour to myself every Friday at 8 am where I reflect on the week and think ahead to the weekend. I realised that I didn’t reflect enough on what we, as a company, achieved each week. I also found that I’d still be thinking about work Saturday mornings. So, having this dedicated time each week helps me to switch off more, reflect on the week, finalise anything outstanding for the rest of Friday and then start to think about my life values outside of work ready for the weekend.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Starting with Why by Simon Sinek is a book that changed my life. I can say that my career progression and the quality of my work sky-rocketed after reading this book.

I’m very solution orientated and love to solve problems so naturally, I’d be thinking ‘what is the problem’ and ‘how can I solve it’. However, after reading this book, you also start addressing the following pivotal questions:

Why do I need to solve this problem? If we solve it, does it lead to something bigger or more impactful? If it doesn’t maybe it’s not as important as this other problem/challenge

This approach particularly helps with procrastination. If I have an enormous task that takes a few weeks to do, e.g. writing a whitepaper — it’s very easy to forget the ‘why’ of doing the task — but writing it down and revisiting the ‘why’ before I start certainly helps me get it done.

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. 🙂

AA framework for defining life values that is taught at school.

During my business degree, I learnt about creating company values and tying everything we do back to them. So, when I co-founded the company, I applied the teaching to create a strong framework of company values. However, what about the life values?

Only after some recent counselling where I was advised to create life values and want I from life, it struck me how I missed such an important aspect. It seems obvious and yet ignored.

I think if everyone aligns their key life values with what they do, it will help to have better self-awareness, a better understanding of day-to-day WHYs, and reduce the number of mental health issues across the world.

I’d also want to see gyms doing more about mental health. Many portray themselves as ‘health’ clubs but do nothing for mental health. It would be great to see them putting on group meditation, group counselling sessions or having slots where you can chat to a therapist without a long term commitment. It would be similar to how they do with ‘getting into PT’ as I see counselling or therapy as personal training but for your mind rather than the body. Sort it out, Branson! 🙂

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

I post all my work on our company’s blog and my Linkedin and available for a chat there.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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