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“Support wellness.” With Amy Pooser

It is in everyone’s best interest to support the mental wellness of employees: happy and productive employees produce better operational results, which make happier customers, which create better financial outcomes, including shareholder returns. Ultimately, doing well as a business requires doing well by employees. With a workforce that is increasingly comprised of millennials, attention to […]

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It is in everyone’s best interest to support the mental wellness of employees: happy and productive employees produce better operational results, which make happier customers, which create better financial outcomes, including shareholder returns. Ultimately, doing well as a business requires doing well by employees. With a workforce that is increasingly comprised of millennials, attention to employee wellness is not a luxury but a necessity. It is a source of cultural differentiation and value creation.

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 Amy Pooser.

Amy is Convene’s global chief operating officer and chief people officer where she uses an intentional, business-centered approach to shape and evolve the company’s widely regarded culture, its people infrastructure, and its operations organization to drive overall business success. She is also a certified executive coach, board member, and culture and leadership authority and alchemist for early stage and high growth companies. Amy is also the CEO and founder of New Fashioned and a board member and the chief people officer of ProductLab, LLC and Sand Hill Pharma.

Part of the founding team and a former executive at athenahealth (ATHN), Amy has start-up-to-public company experience building the culture and leadership team at one of the most successful SaaS companies in healthcare. After athenahealth’s IPO, Amy moved on to found Hawthorn Tree Consulting, which later became New Fashioned, where she developed her executive coaching skills and leveraged her operating experience to deliver coaching, consulting, advisory and leadership search services that benefit notable PE/VC-backed growth companies and their boards.

Amy graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College, where she double-majored in political science and women’s and gender studies, with the equivalent of a minor in religion, focusing on Buddhist theory.

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 like to say I’m an unintentional executive. I graduated from Amherst college with a double major in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies and the equivalent of a minor in Buddhist Theory. I’m a big believer in the value of a Liberal Arts education, but it took a bit of thought to figure out my career path based on the educational path I took. I decided to explore the idea of being a lawyer but after a short stint as a corporate paralegal at Boston’s Oldest Law Firm, I soon left to work at athenathealth to lead their HR team. CEO of athenahealth, Jonathan Bush, asked me to join the company and I quickly accepted the challenge. I poured myself into the task of learning about culture, people and people strategy. I spent my weekends reading Harvard Business Review, Schein’s Culture and Leadership. I loved thinking about business differentiation and strategy, and I enjoyed formulating our people and operating strategy in a way that would drive our business outcomes. I stayed at athena for ten years and helped to build the company, scale it and see it through a very successful IPO. In the process, I learned an enormous amount about people, business and myself. I also burnt myself out in the process and sacrificed far too much of my family life.

Ultimately, I wanted to pursue a more flexible career that would allow me to walk more easily among the two worlds. I started New Fashioned a human capital consulting and executive coaching company that allowed me to balance the different aspects of myself and my life. In many ways, I was living my best life at the time and I was certain that I would never work for anyone else again. That was when I met Convene CEO and Co-founder Ryan Simonetti.

I began consulting at Convene in the spring of 2018. By that summer, Ryan was asking me to join full-time and become his Chief People Officer. There was something important, pivotal and essential about the experience. I was intrigued by the unique and amazing group of people at Convene, by Ryan’s talent and fearless leadership, and by Convene’s organizational culture. I was called and I answered the call.

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

It’s the story of my life-changing lunch with Jonathan Bush. As I evaluated whether I should pursue law school or a PhD right after college, some mentors suggested that I should work in a law firm before making the decision to go to law school. That seemed sensible to me so that’s when I went to work as a corporate paralegal at Boston’s oldest law firm. One morning, Jonathan Bush, who was a client at the time, called me and asked me to lunch. Normally, I would have kindly demurred, but I surprised myself when I agreed to meet him. During the course of a single, eventful lunch, he convinced me to abandon my plans to move to CA, give up my apartment deposit, my west coast boyfriend, my plans to get my PhD in Buddhist Studies at Berkeley and to remain in Boston and join athena’s “women’s health revolution.” You know that expression: when you make plans, the Universe laughs? Well, that was definitely the case for me.

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

Create a career path and life that re-energizes you and gives you opportunities to exercise your energy, brain and creativity in multiple aspects of your life. Ultimately, your life’s activities should be accretive and give you energy, rather than deplete your energy.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Work culture should be anchored in transparency, people-valuing practices, and compensation commensurate with work done. It needs to be specific to the business you are in and drive business outcomes, and leaders must reflect and reinforce the work culture in both who they are and how they lead.

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

Follow the thread of serendipity and no matter what happens, find the positive in it.

I used to think that the most productive people created a life plan and then executed against it. What I have learned in my 47 years are four related lessons:

  1. Life is about the journey, not about the outcome.
  2. Whatever happens on the journey that is life should be used for self-development.
  3. No matter what happens, attitude is everything. You can always make lemonade out of lemons.
  4. Rather than making a life plan, be clear about core values and bigger picture goals.

If I had been executing against some precise life plan, my life would be so much smaller and less rich than it is. I have focused on growing from my life experiences, both the good and the bad, and leaving situations better than I found them. I have five kids, one of them with severe brain damage, a flourishing human capital consulting firm, and I am also COO of Convene. It can be overwhelming at times, but it is very rewarding.

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?

At Convene, our approach to mental health is quite comprehensive:

  1. Through our partnership with Eden Health, Convene provides in-person, virtual only, and hybrid therapy options for all employees, including employees who have not opted-in to Convene’s medical plan. Employees who have opted-in also have access to behavioral health providers including psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed social workers, and other licensed clinical social workers. Convene also recently introduced a new benefit from Inkblot, providing video counselling delivered on a secure and encrypted platform. Employees can use Inkblot’s confidential service to be matched with certified therapists and coaches based on their needs and preferences.
  2. As a premium workspace provider, Convene also realizes that employees are navigating a world in which COVID-19 has significantly impacted their physical and psychological safety. Part of Convene’s new comprehensive operational plan to create the safest, healthiest workplaces possible includes a social contract that outlines etiquette and space use guidelines to provide peace of mind for people at the locations.
  3. Convene’s People & Culture team regularly prioritizes mental health by providing opportunities to discuss topics such as “Surge Capacity — Making Room for Play,” National Coming Out Day, Mental Health Awareness Week, and racism and its impact on mental health.
  4. We also design various initiatives to create balance and allow employees to live fuller work lives and complete lives. We offer meeting-free Fridays, the week off between Christmas and New Years’, time off for voting and civic engagement, very progressive parental leave policy. We also have a Convene Wish program designed to allow employees who win to take a sabbatical and pursue a “giving back” or volunteer wish or a “getting better” personal development passion or pursuit.
  5. Company-wide focus on gratitude and culture of humanity. We have various gratitude-based rituals that provide recognition and appreciation. My favorite is our tradition of writing hand-written gratitude notes to one another that our mailed to our homes. These thoughtful notes are often proudly displayed on desks and work-at-home stations as reminders of why we do what we do every day. These simple reminders often make it worth it.

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?

It is in everyone’s best interest to support the mental wellness of employees: happy and productive employees produce better operational results, which make happier customers, which create better financial outcomes, including shareholder returns. Ultimately, doing well as a business requires doing well by employees. With a workforce that is increasingly comprised of millennials, attention to employee wellness is not a luxury but a necessity. It is a source of cultural differentiation and value creation.

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?

Listen, validate, and provide a positive vision for the future. Leaders in particular — whether we are talking about our leadership as parents or leadership within a company or organization — must not only listen and validate when someone is challenged but provide a positive perspective and path forward. Adversity is a forcing function for growth, and there is always a way forward.

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 recommend several habits for optimal mental wellness:

  • Regular physical exercise
  • Eating a diet of whole, organic and nourishing foods that meet macro and micro-nutrient requirements
  • Laughter
  • Joy
  • Self-care
  • Sleep
  • Meditation or some calming practice
  • Spiritual practice

Whatever works for you, however you can incorporate these practices in your daily life, you must nurture your body, heart, brain and spirit in equal measure.

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 practiced various types of meditation throughout my life, as well as a number of other spiritual practices from a variety of different traditions. It’s a spirituality patchwork that may be anathema to those who pursue a more fixed tradition, but it has worked for me given the eclectic life I live.

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

A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. It showed me a vision of the world where intellectual pursuits could be a path to spiritual and emotional transformation. As a Catholic youth, the main character, Joyce, found the life of the mind to be a path away from the Church and to his own self-actualization. I took Joyce as inspiration and used him as a model for my own transmutation from a Catholic girl in the working class to an architect of my own intellectual, emotional and spiritual path. This book ultimately informed every aspect of how I have decided to live my life and created the sense of freedom from religion, duty and society that has enabled me to flourish.

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. 🙂

You never know what your idea can trigger. Homebirthing, humane birth, is the foundation for physical, emotional and spiritual health for both moms and their babies and I believe it paves the way to a better infancy, a healthier mom and baby relationship and is the foundation for a healthier life. For me, natural birth was an initiation and the first time in my life I realized how truly powerful I am. I wish that every woman had a similar experience (whether birth or not.)

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

You can follow our work at Convene via https://convene.com/catalyst/ and our work at New Fashioned at https://www.newfashioned.co/

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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