Sometimes It’s the Little Things That Make the Biggest Impact on Mental Health

How Alteryx backs formal wellness initiatives with simple gestures to support employees
Written by Kelly O'Halloran
July 19, 2021Updated: July 19, 2021

Global Payroll Manager Sonia Reauso had initially scheduled one of Alteryx’s new mental health days to spend time with her family. 

While that sounds pleasant, most parents will empathize with Reauso that a day off with the kids is no day off. 

“It can actually be very stressful,” Reauso said.

Then, Reauso received an email from the People and Culture team just days ahead of her PTO. The email read, “This day is for you, and you are allowed to take care of yourself.” 

“That really struck me — that my employer would encourage me to take it for myself,” Reauso said, who then pivoted her plans. After her day off, Reauso said she was better able to be present and empathize with her coworkers. And, she felt like she was able to be even more present with her family during her non-work hours.

This email may seem like a small gesture, but in this case, it yielded big returns. “If the People and Culture team hadn’t sent that email, I wouldn’t have taken the day off to care for me,” Reauso said.


This day is for you, and you are allowed to take care of yourself.” 

Reminders like that one, alongside a dedicated online resource center and a number of new health and wellness programs, align with Alteryx’s reprioritization of mental health support at a pivotal time when employees are calling for it. A recent McKinsey study, for instance, showed that 60 percent of Gen Z employees look at mental health support when evaluating employers, and 57 percent said they review it when deciding to stay or leave an existing employer.

Built In connected with Alteryx Chief People Officer L. David Kingsley, Payroll Specialist Erica Guzman and Reauso to learn how the changes that the big data and analytics company introduced have helped employees.


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First, what inspired Alteryx to refocus on employee mental health?

L. David Kingsley, Chief People Officer: We’re mindful of the toll the last 14 months have taken on our people, their families and communities. It’s been hard. We recognize that this isn’t like someone pushed a “pause” button and now someone has to push “play” as things open back up. Society has changed the channel and is running on a different frequency than we had before 2020. The workforce that is returning to the office in some cases is a different workforce than it was, and it needs different things. As leaders, we needed to make sure that we’re attuned to that.

What formal initiatives has Alteryx launched surrounding mental health support?

Kingsley: On the first Friday of every month, we introduced “Breakthrough Fridays,” which call for no meetings. This encourages people to take a breath from the video calls and reflect on what they need to do personally and professionally. Maybe that means taking a class to further skills or a day of PTO, because how much easier is it to enjoy time off knowing that no one else is in meetings?

We also added four mental health days this year plus two companywide holidays to show support for Mental Health Awareness Month in the spring and Mental Health Awareness Day in the fall. These are in addition to the PTO we already offer. The feedback has been great, and we found that the new companywide days off helped to ensure that people really are taking time to unplug and spend time on things that are important to them outside of work. 


How much easier is it to enjoy time off knowing that no one else is in meetings?” 

Sonia Reauso, Global Payroll Manager: Alteryx’s benefits team started hosting a mental health first aid training course so that some of the core People and Culture team members and managers can become certified. This has helped us recognize signs and symptoms that suggest a potential mental health challenge and offered ways to interact with a person who is struggling, such as connecting them with tools and professional support. 


Color Check-Ins

Some Alteryx teams have implemented “color check-ins” at the top of every meeting so that managers and leaders can get an early read on how their direct reports are feeling that day. If someone replies with “red” for instance, that indicates a struggle or challenge. “By knowing that, the leader can then consider saving a potentially contentious topic for another meeting,” Kingsley said. “Before the pandemic, we may have never thought to ask that.”


How else are employees encouraged to take time off?

Kingsley: We started doing methodical systematic outreach to employees who have not taken their PTO and are approaching their PTO accrual cap. The intention of the note is to remind them that the cap is approaching and to go ahead and schedule some PTO. We’re also talking with leaders about “taking the PTO challenge” that involves them taking a vacation and truly being offline to set the example and challenge others to follow suit. 

Erica Guzman, Payroll Specialist: Sonia is my manager and is a perfect illustration of someone in leadership leading by example. She reminds us on Fridays to have a hard stop at 4:30 p.m. and fully disconnect, and we know that she’s going to do the same thing. Our director restates those sentiments as well. They both do an amazing job of reminding us to take care of ourselves while remembering to do it for themselves.

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What smaller changes has Alteryx made to bolster mental health?

Reauso: On my team, we’ve introduced a moment of gratitude every morning to start our workday. In a group chat, a different person shares a thoughtful quote that inspires all of us to find something to be thankful for. It’s a great way to begin the day and has helped us be more grounded and kind to one another. 

Additionally, since the face-to-face interactions are currently gone, our other senses are heightened like listening and being more in tune to people’s reactions on camera. We’ve had to make actual efforts to reach out to one another, check in and have honest conversations that go beyond the usual “hello.” 

Guzman: One of our core values is “customer first.” For our payroll department, our “customers” are Alteryx colleagues. As such, in an effort to be more kind and open with one another, we try to make our customers as comfortable as possible, especially because we hold sensitive information. Sometimes we’ll reach out with a friendly nudge saying we noticed they hadn’t filled out their timecards and offer to help or answer any questions. If we learn they’re moving, for example, or preoccupied with something in their lives, we’ll ask them to tell us about it and talk with them for a few minutes. Then we offer help with whatever is work related. We’ve noticed this has helped employee morale, especially with our new hires.


A Moment of Joy

Kingsley’s team introduced two to three minutes of mindfulness and meditation at the start of every meeting since the beginning of 2020. This past June, however, the team kicked off a meeting with a “moment of joy” that included a live performance of a few hits from Disney’s “Frozen” by a Broadway singer. “We are humans first and workers and producers second,” Kingsley said. “We have to make sure we keep those in order.”

How did you gather information on what types of wellness programs would be most useful for employees?

Kingsley: We relied on the wisdom of our people. When you give someone the space to tell you what they need, they will be upfront and candid about it. We take in feedback from our employee resource groups and rely on employee engagement and pulse surveys with great regularity. During last summer’s pulse check, what came out of talking with our teams and collecting feedback was the call for mental health support. 


How will you measure if your new initiatives are effective?

Kingsley: We’re going to monitor our PTO utilization. We’ve also thought about using some of the insights from Microsoft Outlook by looking at how many hours a day on average people are in meetings or the amount of emails people are answering. We’d want to do that in an overt way and make sure our employees know the data we’re following, but we think this information could be helpful in informing us whether we should cut back on meetings and create more dedicated-focus time blocks. Whatever additional things we introduce, they’ll be driven by the voice of the customer, who — in our case — are our employees all around the world.

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