A red flag on the table and abundant thanks
Many ways to ensure corporate wellness have been implemented at programming enterprise Geniem in Tampere. On a bad day your workmates stay with you, on a good day thanks are given abundantly.
A total of 54 programming professionals work at Geniem, most of them men. The pace of recruiting has been brisk, as a couple of years ago there were 23 employees.
HR manager Essi Wäck, project manager Jani Mäkelä, and web developer Visa Hakkarainen are discussing the well-being of employees in the firm’s culture team. Last year the focus was on removing barriers that prevent job satisfaction. We decided to form teams for different customer groups. Small close-knit teams bring stability to work in which the projects change continually.
– We got to know each other and our strengths and weaknesses better. When we go out to eat with our own team members during free time, we get to know each other as friends. If you hear that someone is having problems at home, it’s easier to be more merciful to them also at work, says Mäkelä.
At the same time you learn to recognize warning signs. You can ask: Is everything alright, is something weighing on your mind, do you need help?
– If I notice that someone can no longer keep work and free time separate, I tell them to leave their laptop at the office during the week-end, says Wäck.
All channels open
A strong Slack culture has often proven useful. Also coping at work has been discussed on the Slack instant-message application meant for spreading general information. Games, music, films, after-work activities and sports have their own forums. Geniem has also its very own “baby.fi” where employees express their thoughts on different aspects of everyday family life.
– Different channels may be used for exchanging ideas also with people with whom you wouldn’t otherwise chat, says Wäck.
When one employee shared his story about his burnout and depression, it encouraged also others to open up. Nowadays it is easy to get peer support. Jani Mäkelä feels that people are willing to talk openly, and they are not ashamed of mental health problems.
We have a custom that everyone here knows and uses.
– If someone notices that a person or a project is up against any problems for one reason or another, they raise a red flag. We all know this custom and follow it, Wäck says.
If you need help, you can wave a red flag also yourself. Once Hakkarainen waved the flag when he felt he couldn’t get ahead with a project.
– A couple of guys came to help me with the project, and we got it going again. Sometimes the solution can be simple, it’s enough to have another pair of eyes look at the problem. The job gets done in a day, instead of having to struggle with it by yourself for a week.
When you see a red flag on someone’s desk, the person’s work tasks are gone over thoroughly. We discuss, organize and prioritize. The situation has to be evaluated so that other employees or customers aren’t affected negatively.
Our occupational health service has a close relationship with us.
– The occupational physician and nurse know how important preventive care is for us. Our health services include work guidance, the services of an occupational psychologist and psychotherapist, even human relations counselling for couples. Many kinds of support are available.
Right now there is an on-going questionnaire survey charting the employees’ central motivation factors.
– This viewpoint is new. It is now possible to get honest feedback on how the employees are really coping, and which issues are most important to them, says Visa Hakkarainen.
Prevention is essential
Mental health problems are the number one cause of sick leaves in the IT sector. This is shown in the Work Life Services’ comparative data on different lines of work collected by Mehiläinen Healthcare Corporation.
People who do hectic and cognitively demanding work under time pressure need brain maintenance. There must be a balance between work and free time. Everyone at the Geniem office spends one work day a month doing something else than their normal work tasks. The employer also offers opportunities to try out new physical activities.
Essi Wäck hopes to see a more positive approach to the public dialogue on mental health, focussing more on preventive measures.
– The emphasis should be on searching for different ways of maintaining mental health, instead of concentrating on already existing problems.
Taking care of the employees’ mental health is also an asset in recruiting. Wäck believes, however, that all IT workplaces are in good shape in this respect, because the competition for professionals is tough.
– Recently also other business sectors have started to follow the example of IT enterprises in looking after their employees.
Listening and observing
How does Geniem train and guide its personnel to promote their mental well-being?
– We engage in sparring and coaching-like discussions. And we have lectures, for instance on empathetic interaction, work management, motivational factors, prioritizing, and self-management. Our employees select the topics, Wäck answers.
Hakkarainen and Mäkelä have found the lectures useful. Now and then it’s good to have external professionals telling us how something can be done better.
We listen carefully to our employees’ wishes.
– If a person who comes back from a long sick leave feels that they are not ready to plunge into a hectic project right away, we try to find them lighter work, Wäck says.
Once a year the entire staff goes abroad for a week.
– During the week we improve our mental resources, in other words, we concentrate on our inner growth. But the main thing is that we are together for a whole week, Mäkelä sums up.
Do the benefits cover the costs?
– Absolutely! Essi Wäck assures.
– After each trip our team spirit is stronger than ever, and the experience is important especially for new employees.
Differences are appreciated
What is the recipe for satisfying work? Wäck lists factors that make working at Geniem enjoyable.
– Trust: the employees trust the management, the management trusts the employees, and the employees trust each other. Open communication. Honesty: we say things as they are. Doing things together. A sense of humour. A balance between work and free time. Challenges that are motivating and rewarding. We value and appreciate people’s differences.
The employer has a positive attitude to tele-working, and working times can easily be modified. If there are no obstacles as regards the project, a night owl or an early bird can work whenever it best suits them. One can also decide to start working part-time without having to give any justification.
Thank you is always in place
Not all practices suit all workplaces, but one trick of the trade is useful everywhere.
Essi Wäck thinks that Finnish people should learn to give more positive feedback. Saying ‘thank you’ goes a long way. Every week Geniem’s executive team sends a thank you card to some employee’s home.
– It’s a small but significant gesture. Getting a thank-you message is always a nice surprise, knows Visa Hakkarainen.
And of course we have our own Slack channel for sending thanks.
– The appreciation doesn’t stop when you thank your workmate and pat him on the back. In addition, everyone gets to know about it, says Jani Mäkelä.
In the same way, showing appreciation verbally has been made easy. Time for expressing thanks is always reserved in the programme of the staff Christmas party and during the week abroad.
– Everyone in turn can get up to thank a team or an individual. Many people have done this several times. These moments have been truly memorable, says Wäck.