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Meet the alumni whose startups are revolutionising workplace wellbeing

18 August 2022
By Scott Ellice-Flint, Tom Pastro and Angela Kwan
Transforming wellbeing in the workplace requires fresh thinking. Enter our Genesis alumni, whose startups are stepping up to make us happier and healthier at work.

We asked three founders from our Genesis Startup program to tell us about the work that their organisations are doing to transform wellbeing in the workplace.

Teaching the next generation

Dr Hayley Watson and Tom Pastro (MCom '13) are the co-founders of Open Parachute, a mental health prevention and awareness program for high school students. It aims to teach and prepare current students for the future of workplace wellbeing. Open Parachute now supports over 25,000 Australian students, and over 300,000 students globally.

Dr Hayley Watson and Tom Pastro, co-founders of Open Parachute

The link between organisational wellbeing and individual wellbeing is well established, and for Open Parachute, schools are ground zero. School teachers make an average of 1500 decisions per day. They work more unpaid overtime than any other profession and experience high levels of stress and burnout. Meanwhile, these teachers are training future generations of workers, who will eventually set out into the work force and face the challenge of managing their own mental health.

The Open Parachute curriculum programs have been developed using a holistic approach that includes teachers and parents, as well as students. As part of this, we have created a wellbeing program for teachers that helps them manage their personal mental health while developing skills to better support their students. By equipping teachers with this combination of skills, we are improving their organisational wellbeing from both a personal and professional perspective.

Parents of students receive regular updates throughout the Open Parachute program about what their child is learning, and acquire the skills to manage any questions their child might have. Indirectly, parents are also learning mental health skills that they can apply in their own lives. Workplace wellbeing is directly related to factors which include stress at home, so by helping parents to more meaningfully connect with and support their child, our program is reducing these home-life-related stresses.

Open Parachute is creating generational change by teaching mental health skills to young Australians.
Tom Pastro

We are preparing future generations of workers by helping them to build the resilience they will need to manage their own mental health in their personal lives and in the workplace, so they can make healthy choices in both areas.

Dr Hayley Watson and Guy Sebastian

Open Parachute has partnered with The Sebastian Foundation, the charity of Guy and Jules Sebastian, to make mental health resources available to schools across Australia. Read more about Open Parachute and The Sebastian Foundation here.

A quiet place

Scott Ellice-Flint (BA '14 MCom '16) is the co-founder of Recess (formerly Nook), the winner of the 2019 Genesis competition. Recess aims to help workers build hybrid office spaces to meet the changing face of work.

Sarah Ellice-Flint, Will Chambers and Scott Ellice-Flint, co-founders of Recess

At Recess, we're here to make open offices better places for people to work. More than 70 percent of workplaces are open plan and we spend more than a third of our lives in them. Unfortunately, these environments are not always conducive to productivity or mental health, as recent research shows.

According to a 2018 Harvard Business School study:

  • we are 15 percent less productive in an open office environment, as opposed to a traditional closed office plan
  • open office environments are having a detrimental effect on our health and happiness, in some cases causing higher levels of stress, conflict, blood pressure and staff turnover.

Open office plans are not going anywhere, largely due to the effect of rising commercial real estate costs on business balance sheets. And there are some positive features of an open office workplace, if executed through a well-considered design. That's why, here at Recess, we’re not trying to resist the open plan office but rather complement it with an intuitive product that aims to solve some of the pitfalls.

Currently, the options out there are ineffective, too expensive, cumbersome, or all the above.

Our solution is a soundproof booth delivered direct to businesses at an affordable price. Our booths provide a quiet space for employees to escape the distractions of the office, and an enclosed area to take or make a quick call without distracting their co-workers. With this, we're determined to make workplaces a more enjoyable and productive environment for all.

Giving back on a global scale

Angela Kwan (LLB '04 BA '02) is the co-founder of Catalyser, a software that allows large firms to coordinate their employee’s charitable activities. This software is described as an ‘all-in-one’ program which aims to achieve greater employee engagement and social impact success.

Angela Kwan and Aivee Robinson, co-founders of Catalyser

In 2019, more than 180 CEOs from some of the world's leading employers, including JP Morgan Chase, Apple and Amazon, signed a Statement on the Purpose of Corporation that outlines a new framework for business success based not just on shareholder returns but also commitments to supporting communities and investing in employees.

As the co-founder of Catalyser, I can confirm that this statement reaffirms the timeliness of our mission to help people to 'change the world from their workplace' with software that makes it easy for companies to engage their staff in community activities and report on their impact.

The concept of corporates 'giving back' to the community through corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs isn't new. What needs refreshing is CSR strategy and management.
Angela Kwan

Strategically, CSR programs should be investments that generate business return, and not just donations that are discretionary costs. A powerful example of how CSR investments can generate business value is through employee attraction, retention and engagement.

Research shows that turnover is reduced for employees actively engaged in company giving and volunteering efforts. On the management side, we need to realise that scaling programs and reporting requires systems. Catalyser has facilitated more than $5 million in donations of funds and volunteering time, including managing annual volunteer days where companies mobilise thousands of staff across multiple offices to give back together. Without specialised technology, community programs simply cannot be scaled or tracked.

With the growth of movements like Pledge 1% (where companies like Atlassian and Salesforce allocate 1 percent of equity, time, product or profit for the community) and more companies integrating their businesses with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we have the opportunity to align the future of work with a better future for all.

The Genesis program exists to support the most promising start-ups through mentoring from experts, assistance with media and a final award of $25,000. To find out more, or if you have an idea you think is worth consideration, visit the Sydney Genesis page.

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