Tony Bates of Genesys: 5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees

Companies have a responsibility to create programs, groups and policies that support employees’ mental health and well-being. This should be the status quo. If leaders and managers aren’t taking care of themselves, they can’t lead effectively. As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of […]

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Companies have a responsibility to create programs, groups and policies that support employees’ mental health and well-being. This should be the status quo. If leaders and managers aren’t taking care of themselves, they can’t lead effectively.

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 Tony Bates.

Tony Bates is the chief executive officer of Genesys. He leads the company’s strategy, direction and operations in more than 100 countries and oversees a global team of more than 5,000 employees.

Tony has decades of experience steering business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies through major market transitions and rapid scaling. A passionate technologist at heart, Tony began his career in network operations and internet infrastructure, teaching himself to code during his daily train commute.

In addition to his role at Genesys, Tony currently serves on the board of directors at both VMWare and eBay.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. To give you a bit of background, while I was at Cisco, I helped scale its service provider business and enterprise & commercial division. Yet, I’ve always been drawn to the enormous potential of communication technology to make collaboration easier, which led me to Skype.

Candidly, I had my eye on Genesys for a long time. It really is my dream company to be a part of. Its ethos and long-term vision align with my values. Empathy is at the heart of everything the company is doing — from our teams to the technologies we build and the customers we serve. This is more important now than ever before. In the midst of a global pandemic, people are working, teaching and shopping from home. Today, consumers want to be seen and understood.

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

It was at my first job as a network operator at the University of London Computer Center. Upon joining, I quickly realized there was no company handbook to help me understand my role and responsibilities. I was on my own.

I utilized my 1-hour plus tube ride there and back every day to teach myself how to become a system administrator and programmer. I did this for almost 6 years. It was sort of like my version of the Gladwell “10,000-hour rule” and really gave me the time to discover and learn. The irony of those train rides is that they changed my whole journey to the US and to Silicon Valley. Without them, I don’t think I would have ultimately become the CEO of Genesys.

Looking back, I realize I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. Having dropped out of college to pursue my interest in computing and landing at the nexus of the UK Internet and its transformation was pure serendipity. I also had an incredibly empowering boss and mentor, John Seymour, who let me take on challenges way beyond my knowledge. I feel grateful he saw something in me, and I try to give back and mentor in a similar way. When I started at Genesys in May 2019, I picked someone to mutually mentor who started on the exact same day as me. It is something we all should do.

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

Burnout is happening faster than normal — we’re all glued to screens and many people don’t have dedicated workspaces. The leadership team and I urge employees to find their outlets for stress relief, reset and to make time for it.

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

  • Don’t just talk the talk…walk the walk. Many companies talk more about what they’re going to do than doing it. Leaders must remember that words and actions matter.
  • View everything you do through a lens of empathy. One of the primary reasons I joined Genesys was because I value the company’s emphasis on empathy. Being an empathetic leader is about being attuned to the unique needs of individuals and helping them take the appropriate actions.
  • Engage in active and frequent communication. The past six months have caused a lot of uncertainty and employees are looking to business leaders to provide honest and ongoing updates. A regular cadence of employee communication helps put minds at ease and proactively answers lingering questions.

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

The best quote comes from my mother: “Never judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes.” She instilled this in me at a very young age and it has stayed with me ever since. There have been many times throughout my career where I have found myself or a member of my team judging others without having context or empathy. It is a constant reminder that everyone is human and going through many things in their own life and at work. We always need to lead with empathy. This insight my mother instilled in me is like a beacon in the way I try to lead and approach decision making.

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 you have taken to help improve or optimize your employees’ mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • At Genesys, leading with empathy is a priority. One of our first steps when the pandemic hit was to launch our “COVID Task Force” to lead a focused effort to engage employees on how to move forward together during this precarious period. To ensure that employees are set up for success and feel supported while at home, we created self-service content spanning topics like staying connected, navigating uncertainty, managing virtual teams, building resilience and developing coping skills.
  • This year, we introduced “Free Fridays,” giving employees every Friday off during August. Summer is a great time to be outside and enjoy family and friends — those moments can help people relax and recharge.
  • At Genesys, we have always offered employees weekly sponsored exercise sessions such as Zumba, yoga and strength training to help them feel centered and take a break from work. We have continued this throughout the pandemic.
  • An inclusive environment directly correlates to mental well-being. Amid the civil unrest stemming from racial injustices, Genesys engaged our employees in conversation to reiterate company-wide support for Black Lives Matter and our commitment to our black and LGBTQ+ colleagues. It’s a core priority at Genesys to close equity gaps and foster a culture of inclusion and equality. To that end, we have established new affinity groups and recently hired the company’s first global diversity, equity and inclusion officer to advance these initiatives.

What you are doing is wonderful, but sadly it is not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

Companies have a responsibility to create programs, groups and policies that support employees’ mental health and well-being. This should be the status quo. If leaders and managers aren’t taking care of themselves, they can’t lead effectively.

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?

It’s critical to raise awareness about the mental health crisis many individuals deal with on a daily basis and help people understand how to support others in these situations. I believe people are working hard to do their best. It’s critical that we each take a step back before making a judgement and ask ourselves: Is there something going on in someone else’s life that I don’t have insight into?

Right now, with everyone handling virtually all aspects of their lives from home, there is a void of human interaction that people want filled. We call this the “connection deficit.” We try to remedy this from a customer experience standpoint and it’s also important that we all remember how important it is to reach out to others for meaningful engagement.

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?

The key is finding a healthy behavior that you enjoy so you can make it a habit. For me, this is exercise. Not only does exercise help me stay physically and mentally healthy, it makes it easier to feel balanced. Whatever healthy habits you choose, make them a priority — the way I do that is by scheduling exercise into my calendar like any other important meeting.

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?

Meditation is something I try to practice, but I am a work in progress and am constantly learning. I like to use it to slow down my mind and remove distractions so I can be present. Even as much as a 3–5-minute session can create that. I am in a group of close friends and mentors and when we get together monthly, we first meditate to get grounded and take away other day-to-day distractions so we can be present for each other.

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

On the business side, the book I always go back to is “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by the late, great Clayton Christensen. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at a leadership event while I was working at Cisco and it stuck with me.

This dichotomy we face as business leaders in balancing decisions for our customers’ current needs versus adopting new innovations and potentially disrupting ourselves is always on my mind. One of the things I worry most about is what blind spots we may have in our business. It’s a reminder to stay very current on trends, disruptions and innovations beyond just your own areas of focus and disruption, especially because exponential technologies can happen from anywhere.

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. 🙂

I would love to see empathy at the core of how we all operate on a personal and professional level, and as a society. That starts by intentionally listening to people when they are speaking, being an ally for others even when you can’t relate to their situation and acting when someone is treated unfairly. On an organizational level, these are steps business leaders can take to inspire employees and help them stay engaged, feel valued and be innovative.

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

The Genesys blog, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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