Talking to a fellow working parent is what really sold Tiffany Harris on software company Folsom Labs.
Tiffany is the Head of People Operations at the company, whose tools to more efficiently design and sell solar arrays are helping to build a future of clean energy. She joined two years ago, moving her family to the Bay Area from Santa Cruz for the role.
She was nervous about the move. Moving away from the community, extended family, and school system her family knew and loved was a risk. (Not to mention Tiffany's roller derby league—more on that later.) But then Tiffany talked to Folsom Labs' Director of Sales and Marketing, Evan Sarkisian.
"One of the main points that he hit on was how family-oriented Folsom Labs was, and how supported he felt as a parent," says Tiffany. "They've definitely lived up to what Evan sold to me in my interview."
We sat down with Tiffany to talk more about her journey to Folsom Labs, including how the start-up has made wellness more than just a talking point, and what advice she has for others looking to prioritize their mental health and work-life balance.
Taking a chance on startup life
A few years ago, when her sons had gotten a bit older and they needed her less, Tiffany realized something big: she wasn't sure who she was when she wasn't being their mom. Or even what possibilities were out there for her.
"In a late night Google, I came upon the Santa Cruz Derby Girls. I decided right then that I was going to become a Santa Cruz Derby Girl," says Tiffany.
She joined, she adopted a derby name—Sin D. Savage, for the curious among you—and she got inspired. "It was an eye-opening experience. I saw so many women doing amazing things with their lives, many of them mothers," remembers Tiffany. She branched out from being a mom and a derby player and started working on the league's board; this led her to a role in HR and office management at a medical office, and from there, she found her way to Folsom Labs.
"It really seemed like a place I wanted to be, a place where I could not only benefit from being around great people, but where I could learn, contribute to that team, and use my skills to really drive what they were already doing," she says.
Fostering balance and inclusion at Folsom—for herself and others
Tiffany's role as Head of People Operations includes HR, diversity and inclusion initiatives, company morale, and, in the times of COVID-19, company engagement during a pandemic.
"A couple months into the pandemic, we began seeing signs of fatigue in employees," says Tiffany. "We had such a strong company culture in the office and really wanted that to transition to our remote team, but it was clear that everyone really needed time to recharge."
One of the limited available responses to stressed-out employees during a world-disrupting global pandemic is, of course, taking time off. But Tiffany noticed that Folsom Labs' employees weren't doing that. Neither was she.
"You're at home, so you have this false sense of being on vacation, but people weren't taking breaks. I found myself having my laptop in front of me most of the day," says Tiffany. She and the company's leadership team started telling everybody to take a day off during the month, whatever day worked for them.
They didn't, though.
It's a problem other companies, including those with "unlimited vacation," know well: despite the fact that vacation is allowed and even encouraged, employees don't feel comfortable taking it. Maybe they're worried about falling behind, or looking like they're not committed to the mission. But being a tech company familiar with the power of experimentation, the Folsom Labs team didn't stop with "maybes."
"We needed to rethink our approach and adjust," explains Tiffany, "so we decided to make the third Friday of every month a company-observed wellness holiday."
And it worked. "The first one people weren't so sure about, but now they're definitely expected," says Tiffany, who personally enjoys having the third Friday of every month off because it gives her some dedicated time to focus on her kids, her family, and her own wellbeing. "It's helped a lot of employees to take time for themselves, to breathe—they can schedule a hike on that day, or do whatever they might need to reset and recharge."
Folsom Labs' focus on taking care of their employees has included, in addition to extra days off, flexible schedules, low-stakes group discussions to talk about stressful topics in the news or in people's personal lives, and what Tiffany describes as "a culture of understanding, wellbeing, and empathy."
That empathy is reflected in the company's approach to DEI, too. Tiffany and her coworkers plan themes for each month that address different aspects of identity and social justice, from intersectionality to unconscious bias. Folsom Labs' employees read a relevant book, meet in small groups to discuss, and do team building exercises. In between themed months, they do a month focused on wellness "to give people a break and a time to reset and digest what they've learned."
Tiffany recently led an activity about intersectionality where team members talked about how they feel they're perceived and how they want to be perceived. "Getting to know people on that deeper level, you can gain a different level of respect for them—you can respect who they truly are," reflects Tiffany.
4 ways to find balance in your life
Tiffany considers herself to be energized by her work supporting others, but sometimes she has to remember to apply that same focus to herself. "Being a caregiver, you have to take that step back and realize that you need to focus on your personal mental health and wellbeing too," she says. She does that by:
- Staying positive. "It's easy to start focusing on negatives. The things you didn't get done, especially being at home. The things that you had planned pre-covid or things that you're missing out on. I try not to let those thighs take over my thoughts," she says. "My goal is to take things day by day, do things with intention, and pick a couple of things that I'm really thankful for."
- Give yourself five. "Taking a five minute break to sit in a quiet room to meditate or stretch. Making a commitment to be present in that moment—to not think about work, or the stuff going on outside the room has been a huge help for me," she says.
- Share your goals with someone else. "I find it helps when I vocalize my goals—no matter how small. Sharing goals with friends and co-workers gives me the extra push to hold myself accountable. It's also nice to have people around you to celebrate when you achieve those goals!"
- Celebrate your wins. "Even if they're tiny!" says Tiffany, who likes sharing updates in the Folsom Labs Slack channel for wellness. "Here, we definitely have people encouraging you on little wins, which is so nice."
One last one to keep in mind: pinpoint what's going wrong. That's something Tiffany has learned from running Folsom Labs' quarterly wellness survey. Instead of blindly diagnosing imagined issues, operating with a real data set helps Tiffany and her team really understand what's wrong and work to solve it. "We try to focus on the passion points of our team. This gives us a clear sense of direction to set attainable goals," she says. That seems like good advice for all of us to follow for ourselves, doesn't it?
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health has always been important, but has been an especially important topic to focus on during these last four weeks, when people of color have continued to suffer disproportionately from COVID-19 while also fighting for racial justice all across the country.
To continue the conversation, we wanted to highlight PowerToFly clients who are working to support the mental health of the people of color on their teams. Our hope is that employees and candidates seeing these initiatives will feel supported and encouraged—and that other companies will be inspired to follow suit.
Freddie Mac partners with the experts
"Supporting mental well-being is more important than ever. The global pandemic and recent civil unrest have shaped an environment that is especially ripe for generating emotional stress and triggers that may exacerbate or induce mental health conditions," explains Freddie Mac manager Sarah Crump. "We are committed to a stigma-free, inclusive culture and endeavor to support employees the best we can. We developed internal campaigns to share resources—including ones tailored for the Black community and allies—from our partner the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We also have increased communications around our Employee Assistance Program and raised the visibility of our workplace counselor."
Learn more about Freddie Mac here.
MINDBODY centers wellness in everything they do
"Mindbody recognizes the systemic inequalities surrounding an individual's wellbeing specific to mental health, especially people of a minority demographic," says manager Morgen Monie. "We are committed to providing our employees and customers an environment where you can be your authentic self as a part of our team, or when working with our team." She highlights specific initiatives available to employees:
- Employee Assistance Program: paid-for visits for team members to meet with a medical professional, councilor, or advisor in topics pertaining to all dimensions of wellness.
- Wellbeing Day & Volunteer Day: days given to employees to take care of themselves, their families, and give back to an organization of their choice
- Free telehealth access, ensuring consistent access regardless of geography
- Free virtual wellness classes taught by Mindbody team members, including yoga and meditation
Learn more about MINDBODY here.
Relativity makes it easier to ask for help
"People often feel shame in admitting mental health struggles, so it's vital to normalize having open conversations about it at home and in the workplace," says Senior Wellness & HR Program Manager Cherry Mangat. "Minorities face additional barriers such as fewer resources, less dialogue and more stigma, so they're less likely to seek help. Especially today, these factors are magnified. Relativity aims to foster an environment where everyone feels welcome, safe and free to be themselves. We've focused on key areas such as launching an employee resource group focused on mental health, adding the Headspace mindfulness app, offering company-wide training, and creating a role dedicated to employee wellness."
Learn more about Relativity here.
Procore creates a culture of inclusion
"As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I feel fortunate to work for a company like Procore that puts their employees first and encourages us to do the same for our families," says Cynthia Griffin, Senior Recruiter at Procore. "Procore's African Descent Council (PAC) has been a pivotal part of my growth at Procore and has given me a sense of belonging and community that I continue to lean on today. Through our partnerships with Joyable and ComPsych Guidance Resources, we also have access to counselors, coaching, and other interactive resources that provide us with personalized support."
Learn more about Procore here.
Smartsheet shifts priorities to center mental health
"With work and life becoming increasingly intertwined amidst a global pandemic and the fight for racial justice, employers have a responsibility to both support and actively encourage good mental health practices among their employees," says Katie Bouwkamp, Smartsheet's Director of Global Culture Communications. "Smartsheet has made this a priority, adding several employer-sponsored benefits this year, [including] BetterHelp online counseling, a paid mental health day, and a 10-session wellbeing series. We've also made space for employees to share their own experiences and resources, including an employee-led workshop on mental health during uncertain times. This combination of employer- and employee-owned initiatives has allowed for more authenticity as we continue promoting good mental health."
Learn more about Smartsheet here.
PwC uses tech to support self-care
"At PwC, people are given the 'green light' to talk with a trusted colleague or expert help," says a PwC spokesperson. "The firm offers a comprehensive set of benefits around mental health and well-being through their Be Well, Work Well initiatives, including providing free 24/7 access to a coach or therapist through a mental health app and new benefits including executive coaches that provide 1:1 and group well-being sessions, access to meditation apps and the creation of an internal social networking community. The firm has also introduced racial trauma counseling in conjunction with the six actions they are taking with respect to racial justice."
Learn more about PwC here.
MongoDB destigmatizes mental health
"We want to break the stigma around mental health and provide employees with valuable tools and the support they need, at work and beyond, to face life's challenges," says Danielle James, D&I Manager at MongoDB. "We offer mental health programs where employees can receive confidential assistance from qualified professionals, including Employee Assistance programs, and free access to Headspace and therapy sessions. We host company and department-specific days off to support mental health, and regularly organize internal events to destigmatize mental health, including an employee panel sponsored by the CEO and educational sessions with health partners. Learn more about our benefits and read one employee's mental health journey."
Learn more about MongoDB here.
Autodesk recognizes the importance of mental health
"Mental health is as important to our wellbeing as physical health," says Industry Marketing Manager Leona Frank. "Supporting the mental health of minority employees through robust programs and accessibility to resources recognizes the impact of racial trauma on the community. It is not easy to experience tragic and repeated examples of racial violence and injustice in our world, and then come to work and be fully present as if nothing has happened to our hearts and communities." She says that taking care of employees' mental health is "good business," noting, "Mentally healthy employees make better collaborators, can drive innovation, and are more productive. Overall, they have resiliency that allows them to respond effectively to critical business needs. At Autodesk, we are provided with tools and resources like Bravely that helps us connect with a professional coach, Flexible Leave policies, including extended paid time off, parental leave, and caretaker leave, and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that give employees access to confidential assistance."
Learn more about Autodesk here.
Raytheon Technologies fosters a culture of learning through experts
"Our Raytheon Technologies Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a rich resource of information and resources to assist all of our employees," says Raytheon Technologies' Kaley Young. "We have on-site EAP consultants that provide short-term, solution- focused counseling to employees and their family members on a variety of issues, including those issues that impact employees from a minority background such as the effects of racism on mental health, medical care, and housing. Additionally, the on-site consultants [teach] seminars [like] 'Having Difficult Conversations During Times of Social Unrest.'"
Learn more about Raytheon Technologies here.