Burned-out workers? This wellness app shines a light on those most at risk

Why did a training firm founded by a celebrity media mogul move into the employee engagement and wellness space? For Thrive Global founder Arianna Huffington, who founded the company in 2016, it all started by listening to the needs of Fortune 100 clients and deciding to introduce an HR tech app that measures employee engagement and wellbeing and turning it into people data that can reveal the overall mental and physical health of an organization. 

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HRE recently spoke with Thrive Global’s Chief Product Officer Christopher O’Donnell, a veteran of HubSpot and other high-tech app firms, to hear why HR leaders need to know how employees truly feel, why employee burnout affects a surprising segment of workers and why Thrive Global is intent on building what it calls a human experience platform.

This interview has been lightly edited for precision and clarity.

HRE: Why did Thrive Global evolve from a leadership development firm to become an HR tech provider with its own employee wellness solution? 

Christopher O’Donnell: We were very much brought into the wellbeing solutions space by our customers. The first chapter of Thrive Global is well known for leadership and development, live training and offering insightful and deep content as one would expect given the history of our founder. In the second phase, Arianna Huffington and her team were pulled into what I think of as a number of successful technology pilots where bespoke solutions were created. We built a Microsoft Teams app for a top consulting firm and a mobile app for one of the biggest retailers in the world. We built a Salesforce app for Salesforce, so you can see the pattern.

HRE: Why are clients interested in employee wellness? 

O’Donnell: We’re selling to Fortune 100 companies and they have a real need for ongoing engagement. Also, many of these solutions are fragmented. We’re hearing from customers that there is a real need for what we think of as a human experience platform, [that is] one place where you get mindfulness, behavior change content and learning and development content. [Wellness will be a key topic at the 2023 HR Tech Virtual Conference from Feb. 28 to March 2.]

Basically, HR leaders have bought a lot of stuff and are not getting a lot of usage. CEOs are saying, we gave HR all this budget during COVID, but what am I getting out of it? That’s where we come in.

HRE: How does Thrive Global stand out in a crowded wellness solution space? 

O’Donnell: There are three real components. One is Cultural Activation, which is starting with leadership and doing live events like webinars. We call that Thrive Live because it rhymes, and we have that embedded in the product now. It has learning resources and homework that you can do in the mobile app.

We also have Pulse Check, [a module] where Thrive takes your “pulse of wellbeing” every morning by asking one simple question. These questions are scientifically-backed because we’ve read through all the literature about workplace burnout, which is an actual health condition recognized by the World Health Organization.

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We ask an employee, for example, how often do you persevere through challenges that you face at work? That makes the person think about their attitude and role at work vis-a-vis challenges. Then, Thrive can give them a piece of content that’s relevant to where they are right now. If an employee says I’m in real trouble on a certain dimension, we will give them different content to help them based on where they are. 

The third piece is people analytics. This daily question turns into the largest workplace wellbeing and behavioral data set that exists because we’re getting tens of thousands of data points a day. These are scientifically valid data points, which means that the charts that we show in customer quarterly business reports (QBR) could be publishable as research. 

HRE: What are some of your most interesting findings? 

O’Donnell: We’re starting to publish thought leadership where we found that an organization’s most energetic people are the ones who get the most burnout. They’re the ones who are so engaged that they actually start to be scared about coming to work for the workday because once they get into their work, their time flies. 

HRE: Isn’t time flying at work a good thing? 

O’Donnell: We ask them, does time fly when you’re working? Do you feel energized when you work? But we also ask, are you daunted on Monday morning? Those same people who are the most energized are also the most daunted on Monday morning.  

HRE: Do clients come to you to fix an employee problem when it’s too late?

O’Donnell: It’s never too late. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is now.

Registration is open for the HR Tech Virtual Conference from Feb. 28 to March 2. Register here.

Phil Albinus
Phil Albinus is the former HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children.