Exploring the Human Factor at the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019


It’s no surprise that if you want your organization to succeed, you need to have good people running it. But a challenge that most companies face is to ensure the wellbeing of the people in their companies. So, how would you ensure the wellbeing and wellness of your employees? Well, that’s what we were about to find out at the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019.

In case you didn’t know, the SLASSCOM People Summit is a full-day conference about people. While previous People Summits dealt with the use of technology for interpreting and predicting how processes impact human resource management, the theme for SLASSCOM People Summit 2019 went back to the fundamental roots of the summit itself; People.

Why should companies care about the wellbeing of their employees?

Why would a tech company care about the emotional wellbeing of its employees? That was the opening question of Bill Duane at SLASSCOM’s People Summit 2019. Bill, a Well-being expert, engineering executive and organizational consultant at Google explained that Well-being programs are highly effective, but poorly executed. With VUCA playing a bigger and bigger role in how businesses carry out their work, our ability to predict what would happen next has greatly dropped over time.

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Bill Duane talking at the CXO Breakfast Forum

What is the mechanism of Well-being?

Bill went on to explain at SLASSCOM People Summit 2019 that if you’re good at what you do, you have little to stress over. This, in turn, leads to boredom. If you want to live a life that is impactful, you need to live outside your comfort zone. But if you get into too much stress or anxiety, you risk burnout and mental fatigue.

Bill went on to share that when a person gets into a flow channel, they are highly motivated to work and to develop their skills. You become completely obsessed with it and you’re “in the zone”. But once they get good at what they do, they can be bored. As such, they need new challenges.

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Bill sharing his views on wellbeing at the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019

Bill then shared his views on Project Oxygen. This is an 8-point plan by Google to help managers become better. The project revolved around one key statement: “People leave organizations because of their managers”.

Taking about Well-being and Leadership in the Human Era

So, what exactly is the deal with well-being? Why is it so important? Answering that was David Atkinson. Having worked at PWC as a Director and Wellbeing Market Leader, David started off by explaining that there’s a difference between wellness and well-being. Wellness is the absence of illness.

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David Atkinson talking about wellbeing at the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019 CXO Breakfast Forum

Wellbeing is the peak quality of life. David also added that an important part of a well-being strategy is for those in top management to follow the strategy first. Because employees follow what their superiors do, it’s important to set a good example. They will do what you do. So, whatever you do, do it authentically.

Well-being is a journey. Not a destination. If you’re planning a well-being program, do it from a strategy point of view. “It’s not about working 60 hours per week” David emphasized. Rather, it’s about developing a wellbeing strategy so that your employees are re-energized and motivated to work long hours if needed.

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David also shared that as a leader of your organization, you should be aware of the needs of your employees, show interest and be empathetic and to also provide resources so that your employees can unlock their potential.

Similarly, John Davis – Regional Managing Director of Duke CE for the Middle East, India and Asia spoke about reimaging leadership. John drew inspiration from sessions by both Bill Duane and David Atkinson. He emphasized that your reputation is how your stakeholders and customers experience your company.

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John Davis spoke about re-imagining leadership at the CXO Breakfast Forum of the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019

John went on to talk about 5 key points for a good leader. For example, you should always emphasize on good values. If you love what you do, and you feel that you’re making an impact then you’re on the right track.

You should also give your employees a purpose for doing what they do. It can be just a minute task, but if they can see its purpose as part of the bigger picture, they would be more motivated to work. Similarly, with Vision, Strategy, and Actions all executed properly, your employees would be motivated to work as best as they can.

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John continuing his session on how to be a better leader

How Do You Achieve Wellbeing in the workplace?

This was the topic of one of the breakout sessions at the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019. Carried out by David Atkinson, the session was held alongside two other sessions that were carried out by Madu Ratnayake – CIO at Virtusa and John Davis.

“Wellness in the workplace in Sri Lanka is new”, David shared. He also shared that human performance is not confined to the workplace. Most organizations do well-being in their offices very poorly. Happiness is the world’s number one indicator of well-being. David shared that well-being is something the US got wrong. For them, it’s all about healthcare costs. This is the second-largest cost in the US in comparison to employee cost.

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John Davis talking about wellness in the workplace which was one of the breakout sessions at the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019

“Every organization is in the people business”, said David. No matter your product or service, it’s all made by the human brain. It is the genesis of the company. David emphasized that HR must definitely change its operating model.

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David continuing his breakout session

A well-executed, well-being program should have employees who are fulfilled. When your employees are happier and managing their stress and all things that help them balance their energy, you achieve extremely high levels of well-being. This in turn, drastically improves the efficiency of your company.

Problems in implementing well-being?

Having wellness at a workplace can be intangible. So, business leaders don’t exactly know how to go ahead and work on a wellness strategy. David emphasized that senior leaders should be made to understand that wellness and well-being should be a part of their strategies.  

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Wellbeing is becoming more and more important at the workplace

When you’re setting up a wellbeing initiative, it’s important to set it up as a wellbeing strategy. If not, it would just end up being just another benefit rather than a must-have in the organization. Rather than spending more time on meditation and breaks, a well-executed wellbeing strategy can actually make you be more productive in less time.

It is also up to a leader to make sure that a well-being strategy allows an employee to be the best version of themselves and bring their entire self to work. well-being is not just another benefit. It has to be at a strategic level. Take out the words from the strategy. Instead, replace it with words like performance, effectiveness, etc.

When great minds meet at SLASSCOM People Summit 2019

Carrying forward the conversation on wellbeing in employees, there was also a panel discussion at the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019. Amongst the questions raised was one about mental illnesses and depression and anxiety. These will have a negative effect on performance on an employee.

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Further discussion of wellbeing took place via a Panel discussion

Most often, long hours at work, stress and anxiety can lead to employees having mental breakdowns and burnout. But how can an organization handle this in a way that the employee feels comfortable? Bill Duane explained that organizations need to have a destigmatized approach to it. Once that is done, appropriate measures such as counseling and medication can be prescribed.

Following lunch, we had Prof. Rob B Briner joining the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019 via a video call. Prof. Rob’, a professor of organizational psychology at the Queen Mary University of London spoke about evidence-based practice in the workplace. So, what exactly is evidence-based practice?

Well, Prof. Rob defined evidence-based practice in management and HR as the process of using the best available evidence from multiple sources to identify problems and solutions. Prof Rob’s session dealt with a number of theories and methodologies that are used to carry out evidence-based research.

For managers, evidence-based practice would be practices informed by the best available evidence. Prof. Rob also spoke about the challenges that evidence-based practice face. They are perhaps greater than the challenges faced by other evidence-based initiatives. For example, unlike medicine, nursing or education, management is not a profession. There is no knowledge for a person to become a manager.  

Prof. Rob then spoke about the Center for Evidence-based management (CEBMa). This is a leading authority on evidence-based practice in the fields of management and leadership. You can check out their website here.

Learning about Well-being through case studies

Following a group activity to break the Ice, the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019 entered the last stage of sessions. This took the form of a number of case studies. The case studies all revolved around how these companies had opted for a more people-friendly approach to wellbeing.

The Story of Hemas

For example, Murtaza Esufally – Director of Hemas Holdings PLC shared that the rate of people dying from NCDs (non-communicable diseases are affecting those at a younger age than before. Murtaza went on to explain that a majority of these deaths were preventable if initial preventive measures had been taken. But is the organization responsible if an employee falls sick? Work-related stress IS prevalent. With 12+ hours spent at the workplace, there’s no time to think of healthcare, which is why well-being programs are a must.  

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Murtaza Esufally at SLASSCOM People Summit 2019

So, can corporates make an impact? Yes, they can, Murtaza emphasized. This was the goal of Hemas Wellness. In a survey conducted before the initiative, they found that in order to improve wellness, you would have to increase education and awareness amongst employees, promote a wellness culture and drive sustainable behavioral changes. A goal of the Hemas Wellness strategy was to keep track of the four dimensions of a human. They are physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.

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The Ayubo App aims to be a one-stop hub to keep track of your health

Murtaza also spoke abut the Ayubo Life platform. This is a digital healthcare solution available for smartphones and tablets. It allows you to keep track of your weight, health, and even stress. The platform allows to store and maintain all your health records under one roof for ease of use in the event of a medical emergency. You can also ask questions from doctors, get expert advice and also make appointments and video calls with doctors as well.

How JKH implemented a Digital HR platform

Following that was a case study by Ramesh Shanmuganathan – Executive VP/Group CEO of John Keells Holding PLC. Taking the Human Resource angle of the company, Ramesh spoke how traditional HR is transforming into a digital one. As such, Ramesh shared a number of examples that JKH has implemented for its employees. For example, they have implemented platforms that can analyze data from your smart band to predict your health and perhaps even schedule your next checkup.

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Ramesh Shanmuganathan speaking about the Digital HR platform for wellbeing at JKH

Added to that, Ramesh shared that JKH has also entered into a partnership with FriMi so that employees can use their FriMi account to pay for any medical urgencies that might arise. If an employee is unable to clock into work and wishes to work from home, Ramesh shared that JKH also has procedures to carry out remote working. So, an employee can log in from a mobile phone to check-in to their workplace and then continue to work from home.

Going back to our roots with an ayurvedic lifestyle

The last case study was by Asoka Hettigoda – Managing Director of Siddalepha. While most of the sessions were about taking care of employees by digital and modern methods, Asoka shared that wellbeing can be achieved for almost no cost by using ayurvedic wellbeing. He emphasized that ayurvedic wellbeing is aimed for the future. Rather than being aimed at groups, an ayurvedic lifestyle is more suited to individuals.

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Asoka Hettigoda speaking on ayurvedic wellbeing

So, what exactly is an Ayurvedic lifestyle? Asoka shared that simple practices such as waking up early in the morning, drinking a glass of water and doing a few stretching exercises can help build up your wellbeing. Doing this generates self-esteem, discipline, peace, happiness, and longevity.

With Bill Duane coming back on stage to give us a summary of what we learned about wellbeing and wellness, the SLASSCOM People Summit 2019 officially wrapped up.


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