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Expert Interview: Brian Passon

July 24 2018 / by Mari Ryan

Brian takes great joy in being constructively disruptive, and helping people in organizations think and act in ways that facilitate their success and see what really is possible. Brian speaks and consults with people and organizations to inspire more meaningful, strategic, and joyful employee experiences. He believes that to change the culture of a workplace, we must focus on long-term objectives and that are supported with the right infusion of strategy, science, creativity, and “edu-tainment.” Along with being a co-founder and facilitator of Wellness Underground, Brian has also started and led several networking groups across the U.S. around employee health and productivity, and has facilitated the technology start up Quantified Habits.

Interview with Brian Passon


 Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Brian Passon. Hey, Brian!

Brian Passon: Hey, Mari!

Mari Ryan: Brian is one of the people I enjoy spending time with because Brian takes great joy in being constructively disruptive, and helping people in organizations think and act in ways that facilitate their success and see what really is possible. Brian speaks and consults with people and organizations to inspire more meaningful, strategic, and joyful employee experiences. He believes that to change the culture of a workplace, we must focus on long-term objectives and that are supported with the right infusion of strategy, science, creativity, and “edu-tainment.” I can’t wait to hear a little bit more about that. Along with being a co-founder and facilitator of Wellness Underground, Brian has also started and led several networking groups across the U.S. around employee health and productivity, and has facilitated the technology start up Quantified Habits.

Brian holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology of Sports and Science from Warner-Pacific University in Portland, Oregon, and a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology from Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. When he’s not trying to improve the culture, community, leadership experience and productivity of an organization, you can find him teaching his children about the finer points of woodworking and DIY-ing a Victorian house, while making carrot cake from scratch at the same time. Originally from Oregon, Brian calls Windsor, Connecticut, home with his wife and three adorable daughters that I love watching on Instagram. Brian, welcome. Thanks for being here today.

Brian Passon: No problem, thanks Mari.

Mari Ryan: Employee experience is something I’m reading a lot more about and hearing a lot more conversations about when I’m talking to Human Resource professions. I know that definitely impacts employee wellbeing. Let’s start first by defining employee experience. What is it you talk to your clients about in the audiences that you speak with?

Brian Passon: You’re right; I think the employee experience is something that a lot of wellbeing or H.R. professionals, or businesses in general, are talking a lot about. I think a lot of people when they think of employee experience, they hit one point or another on it, but the employee experience is really the sum of a collection of perceptions that employees have about being in, and around, and from the organization in the workplace. It isn’t one thing, it’s a collection of perceptions that employees have. That’s what makes it so fun for me, but also so difficult to define because it’s unique to each and every person; it’s their perception of it. One person might walk in one day and say they had a bad day at home, and they walk into the workplace and it carries over a little bit. The next person might walk in the same workplace, had a great morning, and already their perceptions are better. How do we create the place where we can give the best experience, so that no matter what happened before, during, or after work, that we can give the best experience so people are given the best opportunity to have the best experience, bring their best selves to work, or if they didn’t bring their best selves to work, then maybe the experience they’re having at work can help turn that around for them.

Mari Ryan: Let’s dig a little deeper then. What might be some of the elements that make up employee experience that drive these perceptions of the workforce?

Brian Passon: I think any point of contact is a part of the employee experience, even down to what your building smells like is going to be a part of your experience. For example, one of first times that you came to a Wellness Underground workshop, and some of the workshops I’ve hosted in various places, we thought about what kind of experience we want to create. One of the first things that I always think of is I wanted to feel like a safe place, a place where people can come and share, and be welcome, and feel like a big hug from grandma. One of the first things that I did is I pumped smells into the room, like apple pie, and for me it was just a few strategically-placed apple pie scents throughout the room. People would come in and say I don’t know what that is, but I just … They may not even consciously know that it smells like apple pie and it would feel like grandma’s house and a big hug.

So to me it comes down to any type of interaction you have with the senses of an individual, so that’s the smell, the taste, the touch, then sight, and then psychologically how do I feel? Do I feel like I can do my best work and share and be challenged and challenge others? It is both the fun and the pain of talking about employee experience because you can go as in-depth as you want and try to change her workplace into Disney World, but yet there are still places where people don’t like the Disney experience. It is a challenge and it’s something that we can always do better and that’s what draws me to talking about it is we could have a great experience, but it could still be a little bit better.

Mari Ryan: That is so interesting. As you know, I recently made a visit while I was speaking in Las Vegas to Zappos headquarters, and they are all about employee experience. It was so interesting because afterward I was having a conversation with a colleague about whether or not each of us thought that we could work there based on how that employee experience comes across. It was an interesting conversation to think about that not every way or culture and experience comes across as right for everybody.

Brian Passon: I think when you design that experience that you ultimately want, it’s going to attract the people who want to work there and it will detract the people who don’t. It almost makes your hiring a little easier. People go, that’s the place I want to work, or maybe that’s a healthy cultural, young, vibrant community of employees; I’m not going to fit there. So it takes some of the hiring away too, and makes it a little easier on that front. But you’re right, every employee, community, or experience isn’t going to be the right fit for everybody, so there is no way that we are going to create this great employee experience that appeals to everyone. That’s not going to happen.

Mari Ryan: Are you finding that employers are really paying attention to this? Are they thoughtfully crafting the employee experience?

Brian Passon: I think some of them are thoughtfully crafting the experience and definitely those are the ones who are on the front edge. I think those are the laggards who are … They don’t know that they are talking about employee experience, but they are talking about some of the components, like you said. What is our employee value proposition? What are our benefits? What are these different things that are part of the overall experience? They haven’t yet gotten to the bigger picture of wow, everything that we do speaks to our people in some way, whether it is positively or negatively.

I think we’re headed in the right direction to whether or not were all going to be talking about that in some way. Definitely the ones in the forefront, like you mentioned, Zappos, and the other companies that are thinking about what type of experience we want our employees to have while we’re here. A lot of employers will talk about the customer experience and then they are like well, screw our employees they have to work here. Rather than thinking wow, if we really thought about our employee experience they would be better equipped to deliver a quality customer experience.

Mari Ryan: So I’m curious, community and connection are two important elements of wellbeing and the wellbeing model that we talk about a lot. How does the employee experience create community in the workplace and create those connections for the people?

Brian Passon: The community aspect of wellbeing is definitely something that more and more people are talking about and I think the opportunity to create community is something that can be driven through the employee experiences, like whether it’s the physical space, or, like you mentioned, the psychological safety, but what are you doing even from a fun standpoint or a focused energy standpoint to create communities of people who are working together towards a common goal or common focus? Which you would assume a lot of workplaces that’s what they are, right? There’s a collection of people trying to accomplish a common task, so there inherently should be community, but it isn’t always how it goes. That’s actually why I created with a couple of colleagues of mine, Gino Church and Evan Boss, the Shared Shift Workshop, which then takes a pirate theme and what we can learn from pirates about community, and those five components to creating community and workplace. It’s just one of the ideas, but if you really want to create an employee experience center-like community you have to come back around and say, well, what are we doing to provide a community oriented atmosphere in the workplace? Then give people the chance to connect with one another outside of work, whether we’re doing a community project, or we’re just picking locks together. All of those types of interactions with other people create community. I guess, maybe you could say community is an employee experience with others. It’s your collective experience.

Mari Ryan: All right, that’s great. How does employee experience impact employee well-being?

Brian Passon: [laughs] I think if you don’t have a good employee experience and you are trying to talk to your employees about well-being, they are going to tune you out in the first place. If they are not having a good employee experience, they’re not going to listen to anything the employer has to say about wanting them to be healthier. So, if you don’t have that then you clearly aren’t going to get to well-being. Also, you might have a great employee experience, but then not deliver a great well-being experience, which is where I see some of the workplaces where they have all these great things, but they are also not delivering the well-being front. They are either handing it off to third parties or people are not really owning it and saying hey, well-being is a chance for us, this is another opportunity for us to create a great experience for our employees. So, I think that’s a huge component of that, the experience, as I mentioned earlier. When I think about in my life the chances were I changed the most, I was having some type of transformational experience, that’s what it was. It was a full immersive experience, where I was like wow, I do need to change the person, I need to do things differently, or I’m [indecipherable - 0:13:40.3] I should be.

I don’t know if you or anybody out there who watches hasn’t read the book The Experience Economy, but it’s basically saying we live in an economy that’s based on experiences. People want experiences more than things. I see the next phase of our economy is transformational, where people will pay for experiences and transform them into a better version of themselves.

Employers who are on that cutting-edge on the forefront of that are going wow, not only can I workplace be a good experience, but it can actually be transformational for our people so they can be their best selves here, or maybe when they go on to something else. I think that’s really where the magic happens is when you have an experience that can actually transform someone.

Mari Ryan: If our audience wants to learn a little bit more about the work you do and the fun you are creating, where can they find that information?

Brian Passon: Simply go to brianpasson.com. Pretty easy.

Mari Ryan: Brian, thanks so much for being here today, and thanks for sharing your energy, your excitement, and all the fun things that you are doing.

Brian Passon: Thanks, Mari. Thanks for putting this video series on. It’s great that you offering this to other professionals that are out there and can learn a lot from this. So, thank you.

Mari Ryan: Thanks so much, Brian.

[End of audio]

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, workplace culture, wellness, employee experience, company leadership, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, wellness strategy, wellness program, recruiting

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.