Putting Mindfulness at the Heart of Company Culture: An Interview with Colin Jansen from The Kraft Heinz Company

Kraft Heinz is putting mindfulness at the heart of its culture. It’s a big job, but the diversity team is up for the task. Here’s the team lead’s story.

Kraft Heinz puts an emphasis on mindfulness

The Calm Team

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As Manager Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, International at The Kraft Heinz Company, Colin Jansen was tasked with introducing Calm as part of the company’s broader wellness strategy.

He was made for this job. He just didn't know it yet.

(Want the full version of the story? You can find it here.)

How did you come to be where you are today at Kraft Heinz?

I had far from the typical journey into HR! I came from a background in innovation management and studied in both the Netherlands and Australia, so I already had some international experience. That landed me my first job at Scotch & Soda—an Amsterdam-based fashion brand—as part of the business development team.

It was great, but to progress in my career I needed to move on. That led me to Kraft Heinz. The company has a great culture centered around meritocracy and ownership—which resonated a lot with me—and they offer a lot of opportunities to develop yourself. I started out as a program manager for the EMEA region and immediately joined the internal business resource group for LGBTQI+ inclusion—called Proudz!—so I was involved in that side of the workplace from the beginning. I actually helped to organize the Pride activities for the Amsterdam office.

A couple of years on, I was offered the opportunity to become a manager of the innovation team in Kraft Heinz Australia. But, of course, the pandemic put a stop to those plans. Thankfully, I already knew the International DI&B Director quite well through my work in the LGBTQI+ resource group. She was the one who offered me the role as Manager Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, International.

I think it turned out to be a much better opportunity, to be honest. I’m developing a really interesting career, and the job is very close to my personal passions. I'm really learning a lot.

You don’t often see “Belonging” attached to a D&I job title. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

At Kraft Heinz, we consider it important to distinguish between diversity, inclusion, and belonging. For me, diversity is about representation in numbers—you know, hiring people from diverse backgrounds, ensuring they have a fair representation, that they’re promoted equally. Then inclusion is about making sure everyone has a seat at the table; making sure everyone’s got a voice to speak, and has the chance to share their opinions. Finally, belonging is about how people feel—it’s about making sure everyone is enabled to do their best, to be who they really are without fear. 

We don’t want representation for the sake of representation. We want people to really feel like they’re cared for and valued.

You started the job during the pandemic? Was that very challenging?

I think it was more a combination of factors… you know, starting a new job during the pandemic and during lockdown; taking on a role in diversity, inclusion, and belonging; and doing it just as the Black Lives Matter movement took off. 

What made it most challenging for me was the fact that I’m so passionate about what I’m doing, so it was really hard to set boundaries. I knew people in our company were going through a rough time, and my job is to make sure that they feel like they belong, that they feel heard and happy in their roles.

Was it hard to maintain a work-life balance?

A little bit. I was finding it hard to switch off and stop working, take breaks, things like that—just because it’s a job that’s really close to my heart. And the result was that I was getting more stressed without noticing it.

I only actually realized something was wrong when I had my 360º internal peer review. When I read what people said… It was quite a wake-up call. Because a lot of the habits or behaviors that they highlighted were things that I knew I only did when really stressed. And when I questioned why I was so stressed? It was because I was so invested in what I was doing—but I wasn’t taking the necessary breaks, and I was working crazy hours.

So I made the decision to rethink how I approached my work and managed my time.

Do you think it’s easy for people to lose control of time management while working from home?

Oh yeah. Especially in an international company like Kraft Heinz—you’re fielding calls from all around the world, at all hours of the day. On a typical day, I might have calls as early as six am to talk to Australia, or late in the evening to speak to North America.

In that situation, it becomes especially important to manage your time and well-being. After all, in order to perform as well as you can for the people that you want to support, you need to be in your best shape.

So how do diversity and inclusion relate to mental well-being?

Underrepresented groups tend to face more mental well-being challenges than privileged groups. There’s additional pressure there, and it really has an impact. On the flip side, there’s also stigma around mental health in the working world—which means these underrepresented groups can face twice the difficulty compared to other groups. So it’s clear that, in order to truly be diverse and inclusive, we need to address the stigma, address the bias, and do what we can to make sure people are supported.

That’s why we think it's important not just to hire diversely, but to make sure that the people we hire are happy, feel like they fit in, and are appreciated.

Where did the idea to get Calm for the company come from?

My boss—the International DI&B Director —is a big believer in Calm. She uses it herself and she knew about the benefits of taking time for yourself and meditating—something I’m big on too. So, as the pandemic started, she essentially said, “We have to do something.” Because people were going to be extra stressed and dealing with new sources of anxiety.

We knew the best thing we could do instantly would be to give our employees Calm, as a tool to help with their mental well-being.

So we decided to run a pilot program to see if the benefits could be expanded across the organization.

What was your role in all this? How did you bring Calm to the company?

I was tasked with running that pilot program, where we trialed Calm as a benefit for our employees. We started with the UK team and then rolled it out to the Netherlands as well. The idea was to see how everyone liked it; from there, the People & Performance (HR) team could decide how to proceed.

The pilot gave us a proof of concept. The feedback from our employees was crucial—and it really supported our belief that Calm would be useful for a lot of people because the feedback has been super positive.

As a person who meditates regularly, what benefit do you think Calm brings to the table?

I see huge benefits in Calm. I do a lot of yoga and meditation, and I think Calm is especially good for people who want to get into mindfulness and meditation but who don’t know where to begin. It really opens that world up to people and removes the barriers to entry. On top of that, there’s a lot of other content too—which supports the fact that there’s no ‘one’ way to do well-being.

Did the breadth of content on the Calm app help to get more people interested?

I think so. It’s definitely part of the reason our employees love Calm. Because there’s the mindfulness and meditation content, but then there are also a lot of other things: whether you want to listen to music, or do something with your kids, or listen to Sleep Stories.

All these different things remind me, time and time again, why we partnered with Calm rather than any other wellness platform.

And how do you measure feedback? Is it anecdotal, or do you track numbers?

Both. People have been really excited about Calm. Even though we’re all working from home, I have people reaching out to tell me how much they enjoy it, how useful they find it. People say, ‘I love it, I use it when I wake up,’ and, ‘I like to do a little Calm session before I start my meetings,’ so that’s a really great sign. And we’re also getting clear usage numbers from the Calm team, which supports the anecdotal feedback.

I think something like 40% of the UK team uses Calm. And the Dutch team is getting to that level too. Those numbers are great, by the way. Because when you have a population of, let’s say, 400 people... if half of them are using Calm, that’s huge. So, for us, this is a very good result.

You ran a mindfulness challenge using Calm. Can you tell us more about that?

Yeah, this was around the middle of last year. We already had Calm as a benefit, but we wanted to do a session or something to get people using it more. So our Calm Account Manager actually came to us with the idea for a Calm challenge.

Basically, the idea was for everyone to explore different parts of the app over the course of the month. There were prizes for our employees based on their use of the app, and the goal for us was to get people into a good routine with it. If you've been doing it every week for a month, the hope is that you’ll continue with it and keep those good habits.

Do you think Calm is making an impact on well-being and resilience?

Yes, I think so. I do believe Calm—and mindfulness—has a positive impact on our employees’ mental well-being and resilience. On an individual level, Calm offers a great way to start. Some managers may not have known about mindfulness and its impact on their teams before this. But now they have a tool that they can use to help their teams—some even start meetings with breathing exercises, or use Calm Body to lead their team through some mid-day stretches. Things like that.

As an employer, providing Calm signals that this is something we believe in and care about. It helps to set the right culture.

It’s one thing to say, ‘Oh, we care.’ It’s another thing entirely to prove it through action, to actually live your values and your mission. This is one of the ways we do that.

And by paying attention to these things and making sure our employees have what they need to build mental resilience and take care of themselves, we’re sending a strong message. We’re saying: ‘We care about you. We want you to do well. We want you to be happy.’

What kind of traits or qualities do you think more resilient people have?

I’d say part of it is the influence of genetics; some people are more prone to depression and anxiety. But putting that aside, I think there are two basic factors that help people to be more resilient: passion and self-care.

Someone who is doing something that they love, something they believe in, is more likely to be resilient because they’ll have that drive. But that needs to be combined with taking care of yourself: getting enough rest, watching your health, spending time with friends and family, making time for other hobbies and pursuits.

How important is it to you, that Calm is evidence-based and rooted in science?

I think it's super important. Because if you don’t have that, it gives room for people to just dismiss it as a ‘hippy’ thing. With evidence, you can go to people and say, no, wait, this is fact-based. Studies have proven it. People benefit from this every day.

What would you say to other benefits professionals who don't understand the importance of a mental wellness platform?

There’s a lot of evidence to support the impact of mindfulness—the effect it has on your way of thinking, your work ethic, your approach to life. And mindfulness is natural. It’s there in the many ways you already relax.

So for anyone who thinks it’s silly, I’d say: just look at the numbers. Look at the evidence. And think about what helps you personally relax and get back on top of your game. Chances are, it’s actually a mindfulness technique.

It feels like not long ago, employers only cared about the work part. But now it’s becoming the employer’s business to keep employees happy and mentally healthy.

Exactly. It’s a journey we’re all still on—both at Kraft Heinz and as a society. There are still a lot of managers and employers out there that maybe don’t see it this way yet, or who don’t recognize the value of this kind of extended care. But we’re getting there.

It requires a societal and cultural shift. A lot of this goes back to how we’re all taught to deal with work from a young age—you know, ‘Finish your work or you can’t play.’ All of that has to be unlearned, in a way.

We need to remove the stigma surrounding people taking care of their mental health, and we all play a part in that. The more conversations we have about this—and the more mainstream that wellness becomes—the faster we’ll progress.

 

Interested to hear more about The Kraft Heinz Company's launch with Calm? Find the full story here. Or, to get more content like this delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for Breathing Space, our Calm for Business newsletter.

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