Removing the Barriers to Workplace Wellness

Alex Simmons, CEO at Boon
Oct 13, 2021

Employee mental well-being has been top-of-mind since the start of the pandemic, but employers are still struggling with how to get people the help they need. On this episode of PIVOT, co-founder and CEO of Boon Health Alex Simmons joins the show to discuss the resources for mental well-being available to employers today.

Of the 12 million people who left their jobs between April and August this year, nearly a third resigned due to burnout. Employee mental well-being has been top-of-mind since the start of the pandemic, but employers are still struggling with how to get people the help they need. On this episode of PIVOT, co-founder and CEO of Boon Health Alex Simmons joins the show to discuss the resources for mental well-being available to employers today. You’ll hear why resilience is key to overcoming stigma attached to mental wellness and how to blend professional development with mental well-being in your organization. 

On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [00:44-02:47] Why burnout is still a pressing problem in the workforce
  • [03:02-04:14] Why resilience is key to overcoming stigma attached to mental wellness
  • [04:22-06:23] The actual usage rate of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
  • [06:23-09:18] The convergence of professional development and mental well-being
  • [09:27-11:25] Where to start in introducing professional development and wellness programs
  • [11:25-13:20] The opportunities facing small businesses in light of The Great Resignation

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POPS Star Bio

Alex Simmons is the co-founder and CEO of Boon Health—a holistic, personalized coaching platform that empowers employees to become more resilient, authentic versions of themselves. He started Boon after spending most of his 20s working in investment banking and private equity. Eighty-hour plus weeks were the norm and after a while, it started taking a toll on him in the form of stress, anxiety and burnout. Alex’s wife introduced him to talk therapy, meditation and later coaching. The experience made him realize that the systems in place at most companies to provide mental health services – Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – weren’t working. That, combined with the growing mental health epidemic in the United States, led Simmons to start Boon Health in late 2019.


Alex: From a mental wellbeing perspective, all they had to take care of their employees was an employee assistance program.  they’re really more thought of as a crisis management tool than anything.

So you think substance abuse, suicide, serious depression. Here’s this hotline for you to call, to go get in touch with a counselor and you’ll see them for a couple of sessions. Now, one there’s a horrible stigma associated with using a service like that. And two, the user experience is generally not very good

Didi: POPS, the people ops podcast from Zenefits, the only show dedicated to small business. Sharing stories of pivotal people, moments. I’m your host, Didi D’Errico.

Between April and August, 2021, 12 million people left their jobs in the U S nearly a third of them resigned due to burnout. The challenge with burnout is by the time you recognize it.

It’s often too late to easily alleviate its impact. In this episode, we’re unpacking this pressing issue with Alex Simmons, co-founder and CEO of Boon. Alex started his career as an investment banker logging hundred hour weeks in an industry known for exceptional seller. An exceptional burnout while he found meditation and lifestyle changes helpful.

He realized there was a huge market need for career and wellbeing coaching to intersect 

Alex: my employer at the time did a lot of things well, but from a mental wellbeing perspective, all they had to take care of their employees was an employee assistance program. Yay. PS, as they’re referred to in the workplace, they’re now 75 to 80% of all businesses take care of the mental health of their employees.

But as I came to find out, they’re really more thought of as a crisis management tool than anything. So you think substance abuse, suicide. Serious depression. Here’s this hotline for you to call, to go get in touch with a counselor and you’ll see them for a couple of sessions. Now, one there’s a horrible stigma associated with using a service like that.

And two, the user experience is generally not very good. So most employees don’t even know that this service exists within their company. And I basically looked at this and said, okay, this is a broken solution. And there has to be a more accessible way to do this. And so what we started doing is partnering with businesses and instead of saying, Hey, when your employees are in crisis or needed.

Take advantage of this hotline resource it’s Hey, every single one of your employees is dealing with some challenge in their life, whether it be stress and anxiety, burnout, professional development, and being a better leader in the workplace, whatever it is, and Boone is going to serve as the matchmaker between your employees and our network of ICF accredited coaches that are matched to your specific employees.

Didi: With that background, let’s jump into the conversation, starting with why the concept of resilience is key to overcoming the stigma attached to mental wellness.

Alex: One of the thoughts was around. Okay. If we’re going to be selling into businesses, there needs to be a clear ROI associated with the service that we’re selling. It can’t just be about, okay, you’re taking care of your employees because that, that story doesn’t resonate in and of itself to employers. What we found was that there was decades of research that supported a very high correlation between resilience and levels of productivity.

Engagement wellbeing in the workplace by tracking resilience over time for the employees who are using Boone’s coaching program. We’re actually able to use that as an ROI metric with the companies that we’re working with. And again, you think about Boone as being this more accessible way of talking about and taking care of mental wellbeing in the workplace.

It’s not an intimidating term. It’s not taking a depression index or an anxiety index or something that feels very mental, healthy. Everybody wants to be more resilient. And so it’s this accessible way that’s not intimidating and is really a way for people to be able to track their progress over time throughout their coaching experience.

And when you think about building resilience, oh, everybody everybody’s trying to really do is build a more resilient toolkit to better handle the challenges that life is throwing.

Didi: I love the approach. When you’re talking about resilience, what are all the tent posts you can put together to strengthen an individual, to be able to go.

I really liked the approach that you’re taking at Boone to, to marry the mental wellbeing and the, and the therapist and the support. Well, along with the career coaching piece of it, because ultimately what you left in the olden days, you were, he was thought to, you know, leave your problems at the doorstep when you come to work.

And the reality is, is what is impacting you on a personal level impacts you on a career level. And if you can marry a healthy approach to both of them, as you mentioned on the EAP, Factor long before you get to the crisis piece, what a healthier, more resilient organization you’re creating. We recently did a benchmark report at benefits where we looked at five reasons why your people might not like the benefits might not fit anymore, right.

As the world has changed. And part of it is the uptake. So if you could kind of share a little bit of context on what percentage of people are actually taking people up on the EAP program, and why is that detrimental particularly to small businesses and thinking about taking care of their workers.

Alex: I don’t just think it’s for small businesses, I mean, I think it’s a, just a business problem in general, but the average usage rate across the countries about one to 3%.

So you think about a a hundred employee company. You’re talking about one to three employees using it per year. And you know, there’s a whole host of things that EAP can help with, whether it be, you know, Needing divorce help. You’re going through substance abuse. You know, there there’s a whole host of things that you can use it for, but when it comes to mental health, you’re talking about a very small percentage of the people who are actually taking advantage of it.

And what it really leads to is when people do actually try to take advantage of it and they see the lack of quality that the resource offers. when you’re thinking about how do I recruit and retain top talent at my company, It, it gives off the feeling to your employees that like my employer doesn’t really care about me because this is what they’re offering and it’s not much at all.

So you would assume that the reason why it’s not really getting utilized at such a high rate is because there’s not a lot to offer. 

Didi: Let’s talk a little bit about unconventional thinking and what your coaching model looks like. 

Alex: So when we first came to market, our whole mission was to be the most accessible mental health.

Platform in the workplace, through our coaching model, where we had the ability to say, okay, whether it’s mental wellbeing or professional development, we’re going to serve as the matchmaker for you. And what we found is that our average engagement rate I mentioned EAP is about one to three years. Our average engagement rate has been about 30% across the companies we’re working with.

So it’s about 10 X, the average EAP usage. And what’s been interesting about that is, I mean, there was, there’s so many interesting stats, but one of the ones that I always like to highlight is that about half the people using our service have never used coaching or therapy before. So this is really an entry point for them to start talking about what’s going on in their life.

And within that 50%. There’s a large percentage of people who are actually viewing us more as a professional development tool than mental wellbeing. And so while we initially came to market as this accessible mental wellbeing resource, what we’re finding is that a lot of people are seeing us, at least at first as this professional development resource, where they can talk to a coach about becoming a better leader in workplace.

How to better communicate how to have difficult conversations, whatever challenge they’re dealing with and viewing it more as a professional development conversation. That is something that is much less intimidating, especially to the modern day employee. And what we’re finding is that instead of thinking of ourselves as this exclusive, you know, accessible mental wellbeing resource, We’re more seeing that we are really serving at the convergence between professional development and mental wellbeing, where, whether it’s mental wellbeing or professional development.

Lots of times we are seeing that there is significant overlap in those two conversations. And while historically you’ve thought about, okay, professional development, budget dollars are over here, EAP and mental health dollars are over here. Those two things are very separate and running in parallel or are not related at all.

We are of the belief that those two things are very interconnected and belong in the same conversation. that’s not something that we’ve been staking our claim about and really being arrogant about what this big thesis our customers have been, the ones telling us this. And we’ve been seeing this with our coaching sessions.

So what makes our coaching model. Unique is our, I mean, yes, it’s a preemptive approach to, to think about life more from okay. How do I handle day-to-day challenges versus, you know, getting to the point of crisis, but also thinking about it. Okay. Accepting the idea that everybody has something that they’re dealing with.

Everybody has some challenge or goal that they want to attain, and everybody deserves a third-party voice in their life. That is non-biased non-judgemental that doesn’t have any emotional ties to what they’re talking about. 

Didi: Are you thinking about introducing professional development and wellness programs at your company?

Here’s Alex’s number one, takeaway. 

Alex: I’m a big believer. first asking your employee base, what they’re looking for. So employee pulse surveys are a huge thing around. Employee satisfaction. Do you feel like your employees are getting the growth that they need throughout their businesses? I mean, one thing that has been constant throughout this younger generation is their, their need for purpose for am I growing personally and professionally that has been.

One of the biggest changes generationally. So how do you ask those sorts of questions in a way that you’re getting the information you need directly from your employees? You’re not just delivering a program that you think they need. So there are several different ways to do that, but really making it a priority that like from the top and from C-suite, from your CEO, CFO, whoever it is, there has to be senior leadership buy-in behind this sort of thing.

So, beyond. The idea of getting these sorts of responses from your employees. It really does need to start with the top.I think of our services, the opposite of a check, the box sort of initiative.

At companies where, you know, it’s just the HR leader rolling this out, and there’s no senior management involvement. You can tell a big difference between those sorts of businesses and the ones that actually have their CEOs and CFOs vocal about the types of services that we’re offering. And I would say the same is true for getting the pulse of your organization.

They need to feel like you really care. And you’re not just asking these questions. To check the box and we can get this sort of information. that’s a really good place to start. And you know, just some questions around that, you know, are, are you happy with your opportunities for growth in the organization?

Are you adequately rewarded for your commitment and the team and, and growth that you’ve experienced at the company? Do you respect personal boundaries? What are your stress levels? Those sorts of questions I think are really important today, especially in today’s modern world where there’s. Lack of boundaries and you’re available 24 7, but you’re not.

And there’s a lot of great, 

Didi: a recent studies show that 95% of American workers are open to changing jobs. As you are looking at a service, that’s helping people connect with their staff, listen to their staff, help them be more resilient. What would you say to this? And, and do you think that it’s a good wake up call for business leaders?

Alex: The way that I would think about this, particularly for the small to mid-size business community is I actually see it as, as more of an opportunity, because I think from what I’ve seen, the, you know, the era of simply going into the office and collecting a paycheck are over this next generation of employees.

They want to be a part of something bigger. They want to feel a sense of purpose and they want to feel like they are growing towards something bigger than themselves. And. Within a small to mid-sized business, you have the opportunity to create that sort of culture in a much more tangible way. And so when you think about this great resignation, you have the ability at a small to mid-size business to connect in a more personal way with your employees.

And so I would just really encourage you as a small business. You can think of it in the sense of, yeah, I don’t have as much budget or as much professional development dollars for my employees and I don’t have the money to invest. But the reality is this is, to me, this is an opportunity where you can differentiate from some of these larger companies where employees feel like a cog in the machine.

They don’t feel like. They have the purpose or mission or anything like that. How do you compare against those sorts of businesses while you’re willing to invest in your employees? And they get the personal attention of being able to talk to their C-suite and senior level management on a consistent basis.

To me, it’s actually a net, a net positive. If you’re able to invest in the right way and your employees. 

Didi: I’m Didi, and this was PIVOT, a POPS show by Zenefits. If you want to learn more about inspiring people, operation stories, like Alex’s checkout, where you’ll find bonus resources, profiles, and even a link to order our new book titled you guessed it, people operations.

Also, if you have questions you want to answer on our show, check out the link in our show notes below and we’ll get it covered.


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