How does technology support engagement and wellbeing?

November 29, 2021

[This is a (kind of) transcript of COO Michelle Fogarty's keynote at Learnovation 2021 on the topic of "How does technology supports learner wellbeing?"]

TL;DR... here's a replay of my talk.


So let's talk a little bit about well being and that post in a post COVID world we have moved past the fruit in the canteen, and the yoga in the classroom or in whatever room you're in. 

I'd like to hope and think that when we talk today, and we think about wellbeing, really think about it in a broader way.

Wellbeing when I think about it, as an employee or an employer, or from an educational perspective, it's everything that I need to come and perform at my best. And that really performing at my best is in my home life, as well as my work life or my student life. 

So you'll see all the obvious stuff up there, like things like nourishment, and movement, and all of that kind of good stuff. 

I know earlier, you guys were talking a lot about mindfulness. And you were talking about growth mindset and all that kind of great stuff. When we think about wellbeing we sometimes forget about it is actually about the quality of the relationships you're in, at home or at work - the quality of leadership we experience, you know, our connection to the world around us and the connection to our community and things beyond ourselves. 

So, every time when I talk about wellbeing, I'm talking about all of those things. 

For most people that are thinking well, how do I get people to perform, whether it's in an educational or in a work environment to the best of their ability?

The way you can do that is by combining growth (in a great work or educational environment) with wellbeing. If you think about it, even if I come to work or education, and I'm looking after my mindset and an eating well, and I'm thinking well, and I have love in my life, and I can pay my bills, and all of that good stuff, but I'm actually in an environment that with poor leadership, poor relationships, I'm not happy in my job, I can't do my job, I don't have the tools to do my job, then I can never perform at my best. 

And conversely, the opposite, you know, if I have the greatest working or learning environment in the world, but my wellbeing isn't as good as it can be. I can never perform at the best of my abilities or anywhere near that.

So that's really the ‘why’ of wellbeing; why does that actually even matter to us? 

So let's talk a little bit about the real cost of an absence of wellbeing. 

You know, I've got to the point where I almost get a bit fed up updating these figures, because it's kind of depressing, they're not getting better. 

I'm a long time doing this, I obsess about wellbeing at work. You can see here what the stats (above) are telling us 

  • how distracted people are, the average employee picking up their 150 times a day 
  • 40% of people in the US believe it is impossible to have both a successful home and work life
  • 60% of people saying I can't bring all of me to work. 

And the stats to be honest, for Ireland really aren't any better. 

50% of employees are literally saying I would leave my employer if they don't care about my wellbeing. 

So on one hand wellbeing matters from a human performance perspective on a perspective. 

We also see the incredible loss to businesses when they don’t really care about employees. 

On the ROI of wellbeing, I get frustrated if I am honest. 

I'm like, Why can't? Why can't I get my point across better? Or why can't I help people understand why this stuff matters more? 

I think it's like everything. It's the gap between understanding something and doing something about it. Right?

So what is the ROI of wellbeing? Competitive Advantage, innovation, high performance. We know it adds to my ability to engage with all aspects of my life and my employment. We know all the science, about readiness to work and being part of stuff and play and all that. And that's great. 

But there's one piece of research I particularly love, if I be honest, because I think it wraps all of that up in one go. It’s was a long attitudinal study over seven years. On the S&P 500 Index they took 45 companies that scored the highest on health and wellbeing as an employer. And they looked at their share price performance over that seven-year period.

What they found was that those 45 companies outperformed the rest of the S&P 500 Index by 235%. 

If that doesn't tell you there is a solid ROI for companies to look at when they talk about wellbeing, I don't know what would. 

For me is the most important place to start before we even talk about the why and how technology supports wellbeing, is that there really isn't a lack of well being for a lack of content. 

I know there was a lot of discussions today talking about mindfulness and psychological safety and all that kind of great stuff. But none of these are topics that if you had an interest in you couldn't Google and find some absolutely top-notch content on the interweb. 

But, if we have a serious lack of wellbeing, which all the research and the data shows us we have, and it's not from a lack of content, then what is it from? 

I've come to the inalienable truth that there is a lack of wellbeing because behavioural change is really, really bloody hard. 

Behavioural change in everything, not just wellbeing, is hard. 

What I wanted to focus on is how can technology really uniquely impact that behavioural change? 

I've grown up in tech and in the tech industry. And listen, tech gets a lot of backlash, and it deserves a lot of a too. 

But there are so many ways that technology can really uniquely impact wellbeing beyond any of the offline stuff we do. 

I think that the first thing that technology can really, really help us with is creating community around people. We know from research that for real habit change to take place it tends to happen when the person trying to make the change is in a supported environment, right? 

The second thing we can do is we can deliver a level of personalization in a scalable way offline. 

The third thing, and it's kind of aligned to that personalization, we can literally have it on demand, in the flow of work. How exciting it is that you can have effectively your learning in your pocket, you can have your community in your pocket, you can have your accountability in your pocket. 

Skipping to number seven, I'm talking about these real-time insights, nudges,and reminders, 

  • You said this was important to you? 
  • Can you keep that up? 
  • Can we gamify that? 
  • Can we help incentivize you to keep that great behavior up? 

Circling back to number five, you really get a chance to bring the fun to bring the novelty to bring something new and fresh and exciting. People want to do stuff, that's fun. I want to do stuff, that's fun. 

A lot of time I get pushback... 

‘You're talking about wellbeing Michelle, and then you're putting something on someone's phone.’ 

I think that's a fair challenge, I accept there's tensions in these things. 

But there is a huge role that anonymity plays in technology, which can allow peopleto participate in things that they may not do face to face, or they may not have a comfort level around. 

 guess I'm trying to pull out the tensions here to say that actually, there's a good part of that, too. 

And then finally, the role that technology plays for accessibility. Technology can bring in all kinds of marginalized groups. And I'm not just talking about, say, someone with a disability, I'm actually talking in a more general sense.

It can bring all of us into the conversation, anybody who's worked remotely, or who's worked into distributed fashion, technology is a great way to bring people into a conversation that might not have been before. 

It's a great way from people from different geographies, from different groups from different diverse groups, to get involved.

I think that there's kind of three things that I would really, really call out.

We know there's the extrinsic stuff, right? 

People will do stuff for a goal

  • I want to lose weight
  • I want to run a faster 5K
  • I want to get the promotion at work

But the three basic psychological needs that we know we need to play to is

  1. Autonomy - Do I have a sense of ownership and choice about what I get to do? 
  2. Competence - Do I feel capable that I've actually got a chance of achieving this?
  3. Relatedness - The degree to which I feel connected to and valued by the others

I tie that together, then when I think about creating lasting behavioural change from a technology perspective, with four areas that I would say we should really focus in on because we know that they bring the greatest levels of reward, or the greatest levels of commitment from a technology perspective. 

  1. meaningful choices - being tied to either their values, their goals, or their identity, their why
  2. make those meaningful choices easy - knowing your why is great, but putting it into action is much harder. Supporting behaviours that users want to you want to change by breaking them down into manageable elements. 
  3. personalizing the experience - letting users select what journey they want to go on how much time they want to spend on it. 
  4. Make ir fun - engagement is always higher when people have joy in the process.

In the final part, I want to talk to you about all of this in practice.

I wanted to talk to you a little bit about a client of ours who are a tech company, they've about under 2,000 employees, and they really care about them. They're very sweet. 

They've obviously been working distributed, like most people, and have over last year (2020/2021) are starting to transition from hybrid.

They’ve got a lot of people on Night Shift, and they were starting to see an impact, personally and professionally for their employees. 

It wasn't ‘Oh, God, productivity is down, let's intervene’, it was actually, ‘ morale is a bit low, what can we do’.

I want to talk to you about one element of what we what’s in our product that we felt would really, really support them. 

We have something specific for people who were in a Night Shift world, and it's called our Night Owl Program.

It's just one of many things we do.

The first thing I would say is we always start with insights, right? 

So we would rather a user or a team or a company, select something they want to do, we would never impose it on them. The insight for this came from the Team Check-in feature, where the team is checking-in givng their sentiments, and what was and what wasn't so good in the past month? What was blocking them? What was holding them back? And then how are they feeling about that month ahead? 

Then what we do is bring the insights into a team talk where they actually talk about,’ hey, look at our analytics, what does that say? What might we if we want to do anything do off the back of it?’

I'll show you a little bit about how it worked out. 

This is not us, this is what the users found.

You can see pre-program 

  • 56% Found it difficult to Sleep
  • 35% found eating habits effected sleep
  • 46% found their environment effected sleep
  • 40% found were not happy with their work:life balance 

Post Program: 

  • 93% found they had learned how to improve their sleep
  • 97% found the picked up better eating habits
  • 98% found they understood environment and exercise effects on sleep
  • 96% found program helped them with work:life balance

I think that some things that really jumped out to me were when you see the very human piece of somebody saying actually, this is like my personal coach. That's back to the personalization, we talked about earlier.

Did this strike a chord

If your organisation is scaling (500+ employees) and looking to develop an employee engagement program, drop us an email at hello@PepTalkHQ.com if your interested in investing in a team engagement and wellbeing platform.


Michelle Fogarty
COO & Co-founder. Proud founding member SERIreland. Ex-Head of HR @ Twitter, Blizzard. Ex-Athlete, a bit broken but still goin!.
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