Stephen Sokoler
Founder & CEO Journey

Stephen spent years in the business sector, founding and running companies, including Altrum Honors, which helped organizations celebrate and inspire their employees. After years of personal practice, Stephen recognized that wellbeing needed to be shared with the world in a more approachable, accessible way. In 2015, Stephen founded Journey with a simple but powerful goal: help people live happier lives with greater clarity and peace of mind.

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Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 233. Today we’ll be talking to Stephen from Journey about the use case or business case for why his customers choose Journey.

Journey is the leading preventative mental health solution for modern companies.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think. Thanks, William

Show length: 26 minutes

Excel Powertools Shally Steckerl

 

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Music: 00:02 Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment in HR tech, that’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William Tincup: 00:24 Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup and you are listening to The Use Case podcast. Today, we have Stephen on from Journey and it’ll be learning about the use case for the business case for wise prospects and customers choose Journey. So let’s just jump right into it. Stephen, would you do us a favor, the audience favor and introduce both yourself and Journey?

Stephen: 00:48 Sure. All right. Well, nice to be here with you. Thanks for having me. I’m Steven. I’m the founder and CEO of Journey. We are a preventative mental health platform, so we help companies keep their employees proactively mentally and emotionally fit and well, so they can show up at their best every day for themselves and each other. I’m based in New York. I live in the West Village with my wife, actually just got married a few months ago. So that’s new in my world to say [inaudible 00:01:19]

William Tincup: 01:19 Congratulations.

Stephen: 01:20 Thank you. Thank you. And we are a fully remote … Going back to Journey, fully remote team that has serviced and continues to service some of the best companies in the world. We’ve worked with big companies like Nike, Disney, American Express, Facebook, and then we’ve also worked with small but mighty organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Harlem Children. So overall, it’s really about how do we help keep employees at their best. And then of course, on the business side, how does that reduce turnover and reduce burnout and reduce absenteeism and all those things. So that’s a little bit of a high level overview of me and us.

William Tincup: 01:59 I love that. So what I love about Journey so far is that it’s preventative. So we’re not reacting. We’re not this isn’t after the fact, it’s we’re trying to get in front of problems that we already maybe have some insight into or know that are there. So take us into some examples of … without company names and stuff like that. Just examples of things that when people think about preventative health, what they should be thinking about.

Stephen: 02:28 Sure. So let me actually take a step back. So everything that we do is rooted in these three core pillars, and that will lead into the answer to your question. So the first pillar is live group learning and peer support. So this is [inaudible 00:02:43] to having a live teacher that you can interact with and ask questions to, having the support of a group of people like you, whether that’s new managers or new moms or new dads, both inside your company or outside of it, doesn’t really matter. But having that peer support makes a huge difference in terms of health and wellbeing. So that’s the first thing.

Second thing is proactive health. So how do we encourage and inspire and nudge people to do something, even if it’s small on a day to day basis to keep themselves mentally and emotionally fit, right? We, as a society, have this idea of steps for physical fitness, right? We’re supposed to take a certain number of steps every day, whether we do or we don’t, at least we don’t. Right? And we’re trying to establish the mental health version of that so that people are doing something on a day to day basis.

And then the third pillar is culture shift. As you might know, if you’ve worked in an office, right? The culture makes a huge difference, right? It’s very hard to be mentally and emotionally well if you’re working the job of two people, if the expectation is you’re on 24/7, if your boss isn’t so nice to you on a consistent basis. Right? And so we work to create an environment where employees feel really seen and cared for and supported. Does that make sense?

William Tincup: 03:58 Oh, it totally makes sense. And I want to go through each one of those, the pillars. Is that what you call them?

Stephen: 04:02 Yeah.

William Tincup: 04:04 I drew them as a bar stool for some reason. Not sure why that is. Oh, it’s Cinco de Mayo, that’s why. So with peer support and the live group learning, what are examples of what people … because when we talk about health and you’ve talked about mental health, I want to make sure the audience understands categorically where you lie. Are you more on the health and preventative health or preventative mental health or is it a combination of both?

Stephen: 04:39 So we are a preventative mental health platform.

William Tincup: 04:42 Yeah. Okay. That’s what I thought.

Stephen: 04:43 Where we fit into the ecosystem is you have a medical plan for when people need significant treatment, right? And thankfully that’s in place. Companies have an EAP, 100% of our clients have an EAP, which as you know, you probably know, and everyone listening like EAPs don’t tend to get the highest levels of engagement, but they’re good to have just in case for assisting employees when something goes wrong. And then where the next step in that in moving from reactive to proactive, right? Getting employees to do something on a day to day basis, right? Nobody would say, “Hey, the best path for our employees is if they’re getting five hours of sleep, if they’re in Zoom meetings nonstop, if they never have a chance to breathe.” Right? And so how can we create good habits, help them create good habits by meeting them where they are.

And so going to your earlier question around, what does it actually mean? What do we do, right? And so we have a digital platform that has a ton of different content. So it has very diverse teachers. Over 50% of our teachers are teachers of color from all different backgrounds, with all different expertise. So that could be cognitive behavioral therapy, positive psychology, neuroscience, breath works, all these different modalities and classes that are very particular for people. So of course, we have general classes on things like sleep, right? Getting a good night’s sleep, super important. On resilience, on work-life balance.

But then we also have really specific classes for attorneys, for salespeople, for managers, for new employees, for parents, for kids, and then on and on. We have a new series called Breaking Silence Black Mental Wellness, because what we heard from our clients was their Black and brown employees weren’t getting enough support when it came to mental health. So we’re always trying to create content and features, really products that meet people where they are. So we have this digital product. Then we have a daily email newsletter called The Daily Journey.

So I don’t know about you, but many people start their day by looking at their phones and it could be stress inducing. How do we get people to start their day in a way that nourishes them? So this is an email with a bite size tip and a bite size video delivered every morning. We get super high engagement with that. Our newest product is a calendar integration, because for me personally, if it’s not in my calendar, it doesn’t get done. Even my wife knows that. Put it in the calendar, right? And a lot of people are like that.

And so this allows employees to put a 10 minute mindful break on their calendar. They can move it around, they can delete it. And every day it feeds them a new video, a new bite size video with a two, three, four minute practice to take a breath, to do a gratitude practice, journaling, et cetera. But it’s really about how do we integrate it into people’s lives so it’s easy, so they don’t have to go looking for it. So it’s not, “Oh, I have to do this two hour thing and it’s far away and everything else.” So we’re continuing to try to make it really accessible for folks.

William Tincup: 07:41 There’s so many things about this Stephen that I love and one of it is I want you to help us unpack the mental health journey where people are … Everyone’s different, right? And everyone’s at different stages and sometimes people just need meditation. And so, let’s see, it can be defined differently for different folks. As you do that, I want to talk about … obviously we care about the employee, but some of the employees’ mental health is tethered to their surroundings or their family or their kids or whatever. How do you see this touching the employee clearly, but also their world and the things that impact their mental health that are outside of work?

Stephen: 08:30 I love that question. I almost feel like I manifested that question. One of the things that we do is we believe that having a healthy family is critical to having healthy employees. And so when companies sign up with Journey, all employees get unlimited family memberships. So they can give it to not their spouse, but their children, or maybe they’re taking care of older parents or maybe they have an aunt and uncle that live upstairs or nearby. Right? And so we just think it’s really helpful to be able to share tools and resources and probably most importantly going back to that original pillar, support. Right? Having somebody who can say, “Yeah, I’m struggling with that too.”

It’s like earlier this week the whole Roe v Wade thing, right? What’s going to happen there? A lot of people are upset about that. A lot of people have heightened emotions. How do we support people through that? Regardless of your political point of view. So we’re working with our head of content to create a series called Mental Wellbeing for Social and Political Unrest. Right? So again, regardless of where you sit on this, it’s definitely drumming up a lot of feelings for people, for their families. And so we just continue to try to say, “Hey, we’re going to not only take care of the employee.” Because, as you know, if your household is stressful, forget even the work from home COVID thing, right? Even before that. If you have a lot of stress in the home, you show up with it in the office. If you have a lot of stress in the office, you show up with it at home. So how can we help people to learn to better manage that stress throughout all of their environment.

William Tincup: 10:15 So how does one figure out … First of all, thank goodness we’re talking about mental health. I think three, four years ago, maybe at a decade ago, it would’ve been so taboo. You and I wouldn’t be on this podcast and I’m so grateful not for the pandemic, but I’m so grateful that one of the silver linings is that people have more empathy and we’re talking more about mental health, which is fantastic. But at the start of this, how do you know where you’re at? You know what I mean? I’m trying to figure out like how does one assess, is there an audit or a checklist? Is there a way for someone to know that they’re doing well, that actually things are actually okay or things are … I think we know when things are really poor. That one’s pretty easy to figure out, but maybe we don’t know how close to the rails we are.

Stephen: 11:13 Yeah. Yeah. So another really good question. So we worked with Humana’s former chief behavioral scientist, a woman named Dr. Sue Zbikowski to create a clinically validated assessment form and a daily check-in. And what it allows people to do is exactly what you said, check in on how they’re feeling on a consistent basis. Be able to track that over time. And one of the nice things about it is after they do the assessment or the check in, it also makes a recommendation for them. So it might say, “Hey William, based on what you’re saying, we think this course on resilience would be perfect for you, right? Hey Natasha, based on what you’re saying, we think this class on sleep would be right up your alley.” So it’s not simply just assessing it, but also allowing the employee to take action.

William Tincup: 12:03 I love that, because it becomes a recommendation. And as it gets smarter, you can make even better recommendations.

Stephen: 12:10 Right. Right. Putting Journey aside, on a more philosophical level, there’s a couple things there around not knowing sometimes when you’re not doing great. If you had a moment to pause and reflect, you’d be like, “Oh, I’m actually stressed right now.” Before you went home and yelled at your husband or wife or were angry with your child for no reason. And so one of the things that we believe philosophically is if we can help people to bring some level of awareness to their mental and emotional wellbeing, have your thoughts over the last two hours been constructive, positive, reactive, et cetera. Right? Just that awareness makes a huge difference. So it’s not even, “Hey, we need you to go and do a four hour webinar on cognitive behavioral therapy.” Right? But even, can you pause in that moment and just take a second to reflect on it. So that’s one.

And then I think the other is like I mentioned the culture shift thing, but more societally. It’s okay not to be okay. And your point about stigma, that’s still not the case in most places. Right? You ask somebody, “Oh, how are you?” And you’re just being like, “Oh, how are you?” With the expectation that they’re going to say, “I’m pretty good. How are you?”

William Tincup: 13:43 That’s right.

Stephen: 13:43 Pretty good. Right? How are you? Actually, [inaudible 00:13:44]

William Tincup: 13:44 You don’t really want to know. You ask the question because it’s polite, but you don’t really want to know, “Hey, you know what? I’m going through some depression right now.” Right? You don’t really want to know. So that’s funny. The role of leadership. So I can see benefits, total rewards recognition. I can see HR loving this because they’re dealing with the attrition, they’re dealing with all kinds of things that are happening with their employees. And the fear of coming back to the office, all kinds of crazy stuff. And they’re in the front lines. They’re dealing with all that stuff. But I also can see, okay, this is one of those deals, if not properly, I don’t know, valued at the leadership and board level, that it’s going to be a nice thing for HR, but not everyone will take full advantage of it. And so what have you … in your experience with so far, your journey with customers, how have you seen leaders take this and run with it or not? What’s been your experience so far?

Stephen: 15:02 You see everything all over the spectrum, right? So you see a new HR leader comes in and they want to bring this in, but they have no executive or leadership buy-in and then doesn’t get the traction it has. We are on the verge of launching with one of the biggest retailers in America and the CEO has announced it to the board and they’re announcing it in a couple weeks to their whole team. And for them it’s like board level, CEO up and down the organization. So I have a lot of confidence that that’s one that it’s going to sing. It’s really going to be fantastic. And none of this is easy.

I mean, the truth is, as you know, given the work that you do and everyone listening knows none of these benefits you just put out there and that’s that, right? And there’s no silver bullet, but getting senior buy-in, making sure it’s properly communicated consistently, not just at launch, but over a year, over two years, making sure you’re being creative, telling employee stories, making it real, getting spouses to use it. There’s all these things that just take time and energy.

Back to your question, we’ve seen everything, right? You have leaders where they don’t get senior buy-in and it works. It’s rare. You have leaders where they do get senior buy-in. That’s that’s the best, of course, if you can.

William Tincup: 16:30 Yeah. I think for me, if senior leaders, the C-suite, the board, if they recognize it themselves or their family or whatever that this could actually be a tool for good. And it’ll make our folks happier and they’ll just lead the thriving lives, and yeah, some of that will come back to work, of course, but they’re just going to be better human beings. I think if they see that, the spend isn’t an issue and the adoption. Adoption is always an issue on some level. But if you’ve got a senior leader projecting and saying, “Hey, here’s how I’m using Journey. Here’s what I’m learning about myself.” And they’re being vulnerable in that way and communicative in that way, then it’s more apt to like everyone else will go, “Okay, well, if Janet’s using it, you know what, I should probably look at this. This is probably something I should do.” We’ll switch side for just a second. What’s your favorite part of the Journey demo? When you show Journey to someone for the first time, what do you just love showing them?

Stephen: 17:39 I’m really proud of the diversity of the teachers and the diversity of the content and how specific it is for certain audiences. It’s one thing to have a bunch of content that’s on like I said sleep or anxiety or things like that. Right? It’s great. It’s super helpful for people. But then we have a new series that went up last week called Breaking Silence Coping with Fertility Hardships. Right? And that’s very real for a lot of people. And to be able to shine a light on that and say, “Hey, this is important. And this is something … it’s okay to talk about it.” To me, I’m really proud of that. So both the diversity of the teachers and the specificity of the content in meeting people where they are would be probably the two things that I’d say I’m most proud of.

William Tincup: 18:29 Oh, I love that. And again, you’re talking about things that people are struggling with, but they’re struggling in silence.

Stephen: 18:36 Mm-hmm.

William Tincup: 18:36 And it’s like the more you can bring that silence out and go, “Hey, you’re not the only one that’s going through that. There’s been others in our company. Other people that we know that have been through exactly similar, same things.” And guess what, I think that gets back to one of your pillars. It’s this peer support. Again, that’s so powerful to then be able to say, “Listen, you’re not alone.” Which I think helps everyone when they find out that they’re not alone.

Let’s go to customer stories. And what I really like in customer stories is where … because you started this and so you probably had an idea of how people would use it and people are using it that way, of course. But then there’s probably always something that goes and you’re like, “I had no idea people were going to use it that way. That’s cool.” What are some or maybe it’s the most recent customer story, without names, by the way, no brands, but just something where you’re like, “That’s a really cool use of the technology.”

Stephen: 19:38 I think I’ve been most impressed by the way companies activate the program in their organization. Like-

William Tincup: 19:47 Oh, interesting.

Stephen: 19:49 Yeah. I mean, it’s one thing to say, “Hey, we have this great platform.” And I didn’t even mention the whole thing. We have the digital platform, but then we also do what used to be onsite live workshops. Now, for the last two years, they’ve been virtual, of course. And they’re starting to be live again onsite. They’re always live, but onsite. And then we also have a preventative mental health certification program. So similar to mental health first aid or CPR training, it’s all about how do we certify employees to know what to look for and respond skill for you.

Anyway, going back to your question, the thing that’s been most interesting to me is like, you put this in different company’s hands and of course we have lots of ideas, right? Hey, we did this at this company or that there, and let’s do posters with QR codes, but then companies come up with really innovative ideas. One, for example, is making manufacturing wristbands, right? Similar to the think like Live Strong, the old Lance-

William Tincup: 20:47 Right, right, right. Yeah.

Stephen: 20:47 That kind of bracelet. That has the link to Journey Live. So people can go on there. And mailing those to stores and homes all over the country. So to me, that’s really cool. That’s innovative, it’s different. It’s making it physical and tangible for people. Right? And it’s one of those things that spurs conversation. You don’t need 400 people in one office wearing it in order for somebody to wear it and be like, “Oh, what is that? Hey, that’s new.” Right? And then all of a sudden there’s a conversation. So I think I’ve been most impressed by how people bring this stuff to life.

William Tincup: 21:30 I love that. I love that because a lot of people think that it’s a game of user adoption. And to some degree, you have to get over that hurdle. Of course, you got to get people to adopt the technology, but really it’s a game of user satisfaction. You want them to see the technology as something that they can’t live life without. Right? And so they’ve got to adopt it. So you got to get that first, but that isn’t the end goal. Adoption’s not the end goal. You’ve really unpacked something that’s really, really interesting to me. And that people are being really creative in the way that they carry out a message and market the technology and market, again, you don’t have to suffer in silence. There’s help in this application. There’s all kinds of things that can be helpful to you. I love that.

A last question and really it’s about buying questions, but it’s more when you know you have someone that just gets it. And so you talk to a bunch of different people and sometimes you’re selling, you’re pushing a boulder up hill because you feel like they just don’t get it. And then there’s other conversations where you talk to somebody and you’re like slicing butter with a warm knife, they just get it. What are the tells of somebody that just gets it and those that don’t, it’ll be the opposite? But the other part of that is, what questions should they ask of you and Journey?

Stephen: 23:09 Yeah. So I’ll start with this sort of middle part of the question. One of the things that happens is we get on the phone with a potential client and we do a discovery call, right? We may not be the best solution for everyone and that’s okay. Right? But let us learn what you’re doing, what’s going on, what’s happening. And then we can say, “Okay, this sounds like it could be a good fit. Let us tell you what we do. If we both agree it’s a good fit, we could talk about next steps. Right?” And so we’ll have a conversation that’ll go something like this. “Hey, tell me what’s happening in terms of mental health.” “Oh man, really bad. People are stressed. We just laid off some people or we’re growing so quickly and we can’t hire people fast enough so everyone’s taking on two jobs or people are really stressed about the war in Ukraine and they feel helpless or whatever, right? Fill in the blank, doesn’t matter. And we’re having turnover because the great resignation and we hear from employees that they want more support.”

I say, “Great. Thank you for telling us that. And that’s very similar to a lot of other companies. So you’re not alone in that regard. Let us tell you a little bit about what we do.” Tell them. And they say, “Ah, this is great, really excited.” And we have a few conversations and we talk about EAPs and they say, “Ah, yeah, we have an EAP.” And we always say, “100% of our clients have an EAP. We have an EAP, good tool to have.” “Yeah. But nobody uses it. Our engagement’s really low.” “Yep. Again, you’re not alone in that one.” And then we go around and then in the end they come back and say, “You know, we’re going to stick with our EAP.” I say, “Okay.”

William Tincup: 24:52 If they’re comparing you to an EAP, someone’s in the wrong conversation.

Stephen: 24:56 Right. We say, “Okay, but just to be on the same page, we don’t replace an EAP, we compliment the EAP. And as you already said, two weeks ago in our first few calls, the EAPs not working, right? You’ve had it for three years, nobody’s engaging with it. Right? So if you know you have a problem and you know the tool you have doesn’t work, then how do you come back and say, oh, we’re just going to stick with that tool. Right?” So that’s where it starts to feel like there’s a little bit of a disconnect. And I think the people that get it, they get it right away. The good questions that I like are the ones about ROI, the ones about how do we make the business case, right? Let’s not do this because, “Oh, I think Stephen or Chris or Audrey are nice people or because Journey is a nice looking product. Let’s do it because it’s going to have real business results.” Right?

Because it’s going to help you reduce turnover. And turnover is pretty darn expensive. It’s going to help you reduce healthcare costs because people aren’t going and getting pills and doing all that. And that’s really good for your people. Right? And so it’s something where when HR leaders lean into that discussion, I get very excited, because I think that’s really important, especially when they take it up the ranks to go try to get approval on it. So I don’t know if that answers your question.

William Tincup: 26:18 Oh yes, absolutely. And again, just wonderful product and a wonderful … just great timing as well. So Stephen, thank you so much for carving out time first us today and being on The Use Case podcast.

Stephen: 26:34 Yeah. This was a lot of fun. Thanks so much, William.

William Tincup: 26:36 Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to The Use Case podcast until next time.

Music: 26:41 You’ve been listening to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case podcast. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite platform and hit us up at recruitingdaily.com.

The Use Case Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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