PROFILES in businesshealth® – Habanero Consulting Group

James Sloane, Director, Employee Experience  Habanero Consulting Group


Habanero Consulting Group provides culture and transformation and digital workplace services, with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto. Its goal is to help humanize the world of work through the creation of modern workplaces and the cultural, communication, collaboration, and content experiences that power them. Habanero has been on the Great Place to Work® list of “Best Workplaces in Canada – less than 100 employees” nine times, including four times as Number One. In addition, the group has been cited as a best workplace for Mental Wellness (2019), Inclusion (2019), Millennials (2018) and in British Columbia (2018).

Great Place to Work® (GPTW) is the global authority on high-trust, high-performance workplace cultures. Through proprietary assessment tools, advisory services, and certification programs, GPTW recognizes the world’s Best Workplaces in a series of national lists including those published by Fortune magazine (USA) and The Globe & Mail (Canada). GPTW provides the benchmarks, framework, and expertise needed to create, sustain, and recognize outstanding workplace cultures.

In a context filled with reminders of the negative consequences of mental illness, bh is curious about successful organizations that are also exemplary for their focus on mental wellness.

Habanero Consulting Group specializes in “Bringing life to work”®. At bh, we wanted to learn more about Habanero because Great Place to Work® (GPTW) recently named Habanero Number One on its list of “Best Workplaces in Canada  – less than 100 employees.” But there is more, in addition to capturing the top spot on that list, Habanero was also identified as a Best Workplace for Mental Wellness for 2019.  When GPTW teamed with Sklar, Wilton & Associates (SW&A) for a new publication on mental health, Trust as the foundation for mentally healthy workplaces: A guide for employers, Habanero was one of the companies cited for its initiatives. Being named Number One on a GPTW list is no small feat. The certification process is rigorous. Being recognized for mental wellness is special in a world where the business costs of mental illness exceed fifty billion dollars a year.  The human costs are even higher, as is obvious in bh’s earlier profile of SW&A which describes the workplace effect of the suicide of their founder, Luke Sklar. 

To find out more about Habanero and its culture, we interviewed James Sloane, Habanero’s director of employee experience.

How does it feel to be Number One on GPTW’s list of “Best Workplaces in Canada – less than 100 employees”?

It feels amazing to be Number One on GPTW’s list. I am happy to say we have been on the list nine times and Number One four times, including last year. That said, to be at the top is something we don’t take for granted and it was a lovely surprise to be Number One again. All of us at Habanero care about being a GPTW. Going through the certification process is a nice way to keep our eyes on what is important. Getting recognition for it is a special validation.

How would you describe what Habanero does?

Habanero’s purpose is to help people and organizations thrive – historically we provide technical solutions for the workplace but because of our focus on people, we have developed expertise in helping organizations understand their own culture.

We start with ethnographic research. We look at people’s experiences at work. We don’t focus specifically on technology, although, ultimately, we build technologies to help people feel efficient and impactful as they do their work. We also help companies evolve their own company culture, develop an organizational purpose and work in high functioning teams. In a word, we help companies create exceptional employee experiences.

How has being part of GPTW influenced initiatives in support of mental wellness at Habanero?

Being recognized for mental wellness is a reflection of the community we have created at Habanero which, in turn, reflects the standards set by GPTW. The list of GPTW’s Best Workplaces for Mental Health is based on feedback from employees. In addition to being GPTW certified, at least 80% of employees must agree that their workplace is psychologically and emotionally healthy. GPTW determines the best workplaces based on the overall Mental Wellness Index score from employees as well as the range and quality of the programs that encourage mental wellness.

At Habanero, we all care about being a GPTW as much as being a profitable company. Further, we believe that helping people thrive means helping people have amazing lives, not just amazing work lives. For example, Habanero supports employee wellness through two programs:

  • Coaching program – our employees all have coaches to help them thrive in all aspects of their lives, not just their work lives.

  • Wellness allowance – our employees receive an allowance to use on fitness, or anything related to physical, mental or emotional wellness.

As a consulting group, do you encourage your clients to support mental health in their organizations?

At Habanero, we are not mental health experts. People don’t come to us specifically for help supporting mental health in their organization, but through our project work we do influence wellness at work.

We spend a lot of time learning about our clients and we ask people about the purpose of their organization. If people can’t find meaning in the work they do, they are not happy, and their mental wellness is affected. We talk about psychological safety – a safe feeling for interpersonal exchanges and risk taking in teams. To achieve high productivity an organization must provide high psychological safety. To be innovative and bring forward new ideas, people must not feel at risk of being shut down or shamed.

Psychological safety fosters a good sense of well-being – work place stress comes from not feeling safe at work. At Habanero we have a mentally safe place to work. By modelling psychological safety at work, we influence the clients we work with.

Finally, what advice do you have for small/medium employers who have thought about becoming a certified GPTW?

If you  want to be a certified GPTW, it is important for everyone in the organization to genuinely care about being a great company, not just a profitable company. The certification process itself gives us a list of things to do – and think about – to help us “up our game” and become a better workplace. The process is also helpful in another important way. When we become involved, we feel we are not alone. We sense that we are part of a community of companies all striving for similar goals.

In the end, becoming a great company comes from culture and leadership – two sides of the same coin. Leadership is important. Leaders model workplace behaviour for others. In fact, at Habanero, we model behaviours for each other and that modelling is the source of our culture. Habanero is a flat organization. No one has a boss, but everyone has a coach. Everyone has a trusted relationship that supports their mental wellness and helps them thrive. Whether or not an organization is involved in a certification process, every employer can show leadership and strive to develop a culture of greatness.

The takeaway for employers

Clearly, becoming a great workplace is not a top-down endeavor. Every employee at every level must be involved in the process. Employers, however, have special responsibilities as leaders who set goals and model behaviour that creates a positive culture of psychological safety and mental wellness. It is important to have a purpose that extends beyond making a profit and reaches into what makes a great employee experience. It is an honour to receive external recognition for the nature of your workplace, but it is not essential for greatness. A great workplace can be achieved by any employer who follows the lead of Habanero and other exemplary companies that focus on people and create a positive workplace culture. Employers who are ready to move to the next level and join a larger community always have the option of stepping forward to begin the certification process. bh

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