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Building a Culture of Wellness in the Workplace

To mark World Mental Health Day, Xero establishes a new wellbeing leave policy


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In Colorado, our default is to think about wellbeing in physical terms. Wellbeing is about the freedom to go skiing, hiking, bicycling and enjoy the outdoors. But there is another, equally important, component to wellness – mental health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five U.S. adults experiences a mental health episode in a given year, and about one in 25 experiences a mental illness that significantly interferes with their life activities.

Workplace stress is an important component of this story. Nearly 40 percent of American workers describe their jobs as “very stressful,” and the World Health Organization-led study estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.

My company, Xero, feels the impact of mental wellness in the workplace both from the perspective of our employees and from the vantage point of our millions of small business and accountant customers, each of whom strive to create work environments that are supportive and productive.

To mark World Mental Health Day Xero is launching a new Wellbeing Leave policy. The program allows staff to take time off for their own personal wellbeing, in addition to vacation or sick time-off for physical or mental illness or when a partner or dependent requires care.   

At Xero, we believe supporting the total wellness of our people is an essential component of building a compassionate, successful business. And while our new Wellbeing Leave policy is an important piece of the puzzle, there is more that needs to be done to put together a culture of wellness in the workplace.

Here are five additional steps all companies – big and small – can take to create a supportive environment for employees:

  1. BE AWARE

Many of the triggers of workplace stress and anxiety are predictable – seasonally busy periods, major projects or cyclical downtime. Employers need to plan ahead and acknowledge these challenging periods. At Xero, we work hard to give employees the motivation they need at peak periods, but also the wind-down time they deserve when work quiets down. For example, we recently changed our vacation policy to give U.S.-based employees additional vacation between Christmas and New Year’s.

  1. BE UNDERSTANDING

Different people approach work and workplace stress in very different ways. It’s important to take the time to build mutual understanding among teams of different styles and different triggers. At Xero, we use tools such as DiSC personality profiles to give teams the opportunity to learn about each other so they can work together with more compassion.

  1. BE VULNERABLE

Build in regular forums for leadership to communicate directly to employees about the challenges they’ve gone through on their journey. If 40 percent of the workplace experiences stress, then that inevitably includes at least a few members of your senior team. At Xero, we’re proud to have leaders who are comfortable opening up about their own struggles. It is one of the most powerful ways of showing your team they have license to be open and honest about the challenges they are facing.

  1. BE TOLERANT

Fractures in mental health can be hidden, hard to detect and inconsistent in its manifestation. It’s vital that employers are tolerant of employees who are experiencing mental health issues. They may be struggling to communicate or showing signs of frustration is seemingly unrelated ways. Giving employees space and time, and the benefit of the doubt, is a powerful tool.

  1. BE COMPASSIONATE

Above all, a culture of workplace wellness depends on creating an environment where the leadership team cares about employees, employees support each other, and there is a collective will to build a team that is stronger than is individual parts. There is no single handbook that can guide you on this journey. At Xero, we have found that it depend on being deliberate and consistent over time about creating a compassionate culture where everyone has the potential to do the best work of their lives. And where no one is punished when they can’t.


Julie Boardman is the head of people and culture at Xero (Americas).

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