How HR Leaders Can Focus on the Whole Lives of Workers–and Boost Productivity Too

BY Christina Cook | May 25, 2023

More than a year out since the onset of the Great Resignation, business leaders are still adapting to seismic changes in the workforce. Workforce talent is demanding empathy, flexibility, and respect for their personal lives, while HR leaders are focused on productivity and retention. Leaders are faced with the challenge of creating structure and expecting strong performances, while still honoring the individual needs of their employees.

At the From Day One conference in Dallas, Associa’s Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Chelle O’Keefe, said “leaders can focus on the whole person by really knowing who your employees are. Supporting the whole employee isn’t about offering everything to everyone. It’s about identifying the key needs of our employees, and making sure that the benefit offerings speak specifically to who they are and what they need.”

While HR leaders are eager to support their company’s talent, CFO’s might have a more tempered response. Thinking about whole-person health may seem like an added cost, especially now with an uncertain market. Liz Pittinger, head of customer success at Stork Club, offered insights into how benefits can actually reduce costs for self-insured employers.

First, Pittinger said, “If you’re going in front of the CFO, you need to know the key concepts that are going to draw them in. You need to know your data points. And if retention isn’t your overarching strategy, it should be, given the Great Resignation.”

On average, it costs a company 1-2 times the leaving employees salary just to hire, train, and onboard a replacement. So, how do you drive retention?

Pittinger said, “The data shows that if you are a company with a strong DEI strategy, you are more likely to outperform all of the other companies that don’t in terms of revenue, market share, and employee performance. Do you have a DEI strategy that’s supporting women?”

Pittinger said that at Stork Club, they don’t call it the Great Resignation. She said, “We call it the Great Confrontation. We have millennials out here saying: “We’re going to leave if you don’t have inclusive fertility benefits for everyone. If your company offer inclusive benefits, employees will stay.”

She said, “Recognize where women suffer in silence. That needs to go away. And you’re the folks in the room who have the power to drive those conversations forward.”

Dr. Lia Gass Rodriguez, chief medical officer at ActiveHealth, said that in addition to a successful benefits package, “you have to think about body, mind, and spirit. You need to take all of the things into consideration. Having a shared understanding of what that is, is key.”

When thinking about the whole person, she said, companies “need to be reactive. There are some people who already have high cost conditions.” ActiveHealth takes a data-driven approach to identify what opportunities exist for a person whose health needs improvement, whether in mind, body, or spirit.

There are also proactive solutions. ActiveHealth educates its clients with services that will help them take control of their health before it becomes a reactive problem. Rodriguez said, “We take a data-driven approach to try to offer a multi-modal engagement solution. That data can help us predict where additional support might be needed.”

She also suggested focusing on deliberate solutions like preventative health. She said, “’you know how we’ll talk about generational wealth? Well, I like to say generational health. Taking proactive steps to manage health and well-being trickles down in a positive way.”

Will Maddox, right, the senior editor at D CEO Magazine, moderated the conversation in Dallas (photo by Steve Bither for From Day One)

An important aspect of whole person health includes considering how benefits and policies will affect the workers. In any business, there are inherent differences in the amount of responsibility, compensation, and influence that employees have. HR leaders are learning best practices for balancing those realities with a desire for equity and equality in the workplace.

Jennifer Chopelas, head of HR for Merlin Entertainments Limited, said, “Some of the successes that I’ve seen is equity and fairness coming from our global key stakeholders. They are essentially putting their money where their mouth is. It’s not a wink and a nod to we care about diversity. No, we mean it, and we want it to be part of our culture. We are filtering this down to our team level. And we want our employees to feel their true authentic self at work.”

In companies like Merlin Entertainments, teams have age ranges starting as young as 16, going all the way to post-retirement age. So, a culture of equity and inclusivity translates when working together.

Still, potential challenges arise in sensitive conversations. Chopelas said, “In a leadership meeting, we could be talking to someone in their 20’s and someone in their 50’s. The older person might be thinking, am I the right person to talk about race? But, if we’re not willing to have that conversation in a respectful space in the workplace, we can’t reach that goal of equality.”

Ultimately, companies need to make their DEI efforts a part of the culture.

Chopelas said that at Merlin Entertainment, they are rolling out equity training. In the training, she said, “I ask them a simple question: Within the role that you sit in now, how can you contribute to equity? It might be as simple as senior leadership influencing the budgeting for DEI initiatives, and frontline team leaders can find out more about their employees, and if they need accommodations or a particular area of support.”

Finally, Chopelas said, “It’s really about getting to know our teams, building a rapport, and meeting them where they’re at so that we can ensure they have the proper tools to do well in the workplace.”

Christina Cook is a freelance writer based in Dallas, TX, where she covers a variety of topics, with favorites including Art, Film, and live Theatre. Her work can be seen on, RedDirtNation, and Christina is also a creative writer. Her children’s book Your Hands Can Change the World was a 2017 regional bestseller.


An Exploration Into How We Can Eradicate Unintentional Bias and Discrimination

Human judgment—and the prejudices and unconscious biases that it can give rise to—will always be with us.That’s why Jessica Nordell’s critically acclaimed book The End of Bias comes with the subtitle, “A Beginning.”One approach that can help reduce discrimination, Nordell found during her research, is to use objective criteria in making decisions about health care assessments and corporate promotions, among other examples.“It's not so much about changing hearts and minds as it is about changing the decision-making environment, changing the structure within which people make a decision, so that their own biases are less likely to play a role,” said Nordell, an award-winning author and science writer.In assessing the results of anti-bias and anti-discrimination interventions, Nordell focuses on examining data and looking for measurable change, she said during a session at a From Day One conference in May in Minneapolis, where she is based.“I tell stories about people and organizations and cultures that have actually changed in measurable ways and then try to explain and explore what allowed them to do that,” Nordell told moderator Stephanie Sisco, an assistant professor in the College of Education & Human Development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.Nordell cited a group of trauma surgeons at Johns Hopkins University as an example of the difference that objective criteria can make. After the surgeons began using a computerized checklist, instead of their clinical judgment to assess patients for blood clots, those patients began getting appropriate treatment at much higher rates. The gender disparity for women, who previously were almost 50 percent more likely to miss out on blood clot prevention, disappeared, even though the doctors had not set out to decrease the bias.Businesses have seen positive results from similar efforts. “One approach that decreases discrimination against women and underrepresented minorities in corporate environments in terms of their ability to be promoted into management is using consistent, objective, transparent criteria for making decisions,” Nordell said.Jessica Nordell, pictured, signed copies of The End of Bias for the From Day One Minneapolis attendees (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Where many psychologists see two kinds of bias, prejudice based on deeply held beliefs and unconscious bias, Nordell believes another form also exists: unexamined bias.“That better captures the fact that there’s a kind of unknowable combination of conscious and unconscious things happening,” Nordell said. “If we’re holding beliefs that we haven’t examined and we’re acting on those” that requires “deep, personal introspection and deep grappling with our belief system, with our values.”Nordell told Sisco that she had written about bias and discrimination for years as a journalist but became impatient reporting on those issues and trying to persuade readers to care. She wanted to know what to do about bias and discrimination and wanted to read a book that offered “a thorough examination of what change’s people’s behavior, what changes organizations and what changes cultures to become more fair.When she couldn’t find that book, Nordell wrote it. She spent five years on The End of Bias, which she thought would be an 18-month project.While we may never reach the end that the title suggests, Nordell believes “that we can get a lot closer and we can do a lot better.”“We can relate to each other in much more humane ways than we have,” Nordell continued. “And that’s really my goal with the book, to, wherever we are, move us more in that right direction.”Todd Nelson is a Minnesota-based journalist who writes for newspapers in the Twin Cities.

Todd Nelson | June 02, 2023

Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters

Whether you’re a human resources professional in the private or public sector, motivating employees goes hand in hand with keeping them. And neither task is an easy one.A five-person panel recently went through the ups and downs of that process in a discussion titled “Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters” at From Day One's Minneapolis conference. It can be tricky to zero in on the intangible but important sense among employees that their work has meaning not only to the company but also the world at large. Part of that equation has to do with having employees buy in to your company’s mission, according to Laura Lorenz, vice president of human resources for 3M’s Transportation and Electronics Business Group.“The focus is aspirational,” Lorenz said. “We’re the world’s largest provider of N95 masks, and during COVID we kept our prices the same. That was a source of pride for our people.”In the public sector, keeping workers motivated and happy can be extra challenging. Toni Newborn, chief equity officer and director of human resources for the City of Saint Paul, said that tight budgets and the structure of the city government can be an obstacle.“We have 15 operating departments that are essentially their own businesses, with 3,000 employees,” Newborn said. “Our challenge was that during COVID, our budget wouldn’t allow people to work from home. So we set up a fund to create stipends for people to make working remotely a little easier–for Internet, for day care. It was a gesture that government employers usually don’t offer.”Ryan Faircloth, politics and government reporter at the Star Tribune, left, moderated the panel discussion (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)A natural outgrowth of retention effort is a benefits package, and as surveys have shown, the one most sought after among employees is one that provides help in having and caring for a family.“When people talk about work/life balance, what they usually mean is work/family balance,” said Jeni Mayorskaya, founder and CEO of Stork Club, a company that provides family and fertility-based benefits. “Twenty-five percent of women who give birth quit within a year. It will happen if they don’t get the support they need at work. They’ll put their family first.”Another obstacle in the way of attracting and keeping employees can come from above, according to Hannah Yardley, chief people and culture officer for Achievers, a Toronto provider of employee voice and recognition solutions.“I believe more than 40 percent of H.R. leaders don't think their leadership teams are ready to make change,” she said. “Leaders aren’t listening, and if you don’t take action, employees won’t trust you to make the changes they want.”One method for finding out what employees want is by, yes, asking them. Newborn said that when Saint Paul put together an employee engagement survey not long ago, a city employee of some 45 years said it was the first one he’d ever seen. “We didn’t know how important it was for employees to take ownership of city policies,” she said.One important thing to note is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to attracting and keeping workers.“Like everything in H.R., there’s no one simple answer,” said Julie Kline, chief human resources officer for North Memorial Health. “There’s no, ‘Oh, just offer better benefits.’ With COVID, we needed to look at what would motivate our employees. And for them, it was providing a solid foundation. It doesn't sound exciting. But the reality for us was that we really had to look at how we could provide them with stability in their roles.”Dan Heilman is a Minneapolis-based journalist.

Dan Heilman | June 01, 2023

After Three Years of Crisis, What Will Keep Employees Engaged and Motivated?

Over the past three years, workers have had to learn how to adapt and build new skills in order to succeed in a constantly changing work environment. In the aftermath of the pandemic, this same workforce is now experiencing extensive burnout. Now, organizations are tasked with finding ways to help their employees exit survival mode, through means of building an inclusive culture that supports a sense of employee engagement.During a panel discussion at From Day One's Brooklyn conference, moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, a group of panelists offered their perspective on how their business is renewing a sense of meaning among its employees.Widespread Employee BurnoutAccording to Dale Cook, co-founder and CEO of Learn to Live, people often think in two ways when it comes to burnout.“There’s the external forces that we all experience, heavy deadlines, heavy workloads, life pressures. There’s [also] the internal side of how we manage those things on a day to day basis.”He said that when his organization works with partners, they tend to focus on the internal side: the things that are within their control, like reframing mental health, and providing the right tools at the right time. Cook cites his own experience struggling with mental health in college and his access to mental health services as a key influence on his company’s mode of helping others do the same to manage their burnout.And yet, Lydia points out that frontline managers are often the ones truly shouldering much of the burden as they watch their teams get burned out. The key to combating this and building stronger relationships with employees, Dale said, lies in a manager’s ability to be vulnerable with one’s own mental health journey.One of the biggest shifts that Liz Pittinger sees as head of customer success at Stork Club is in the transparency behind communicating any strategic decision-making for the sake of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She points to how fertility journeys and menopause are silent stressors that contribute to burnout. These are aspects of health care that Stork Club incorporated into its benefits portfolio.The critical aspect here is how these decisions are shared to the organization at large, so that people have an understanding as to why certain health care benefits are necessary.Engaging the WorkforceA simple change in scenery could be the key driver in building engagement among employees.At MasterCard, Charman Hayes highlights the value of in-person connection with colleagues. As EVP of people and capability, technology, Hayes helps underpin activities like volunteering, mentorship, game engagement, and learning and development to fulfill human connectivity.“It's been a great opportunity since we've come out of our basements and our bedrooms.”Noting MasterCard’s goal in using technology to bring people together, Charman indicated that human connection can be tastefully met in person where it matters, and they can also be met virtually.Giving employees a sense of purpose through social impact programs is a priority at NBCUniversal. Jessica Clancy, who serves as SVP of corporate social responsibility, said the media company’s Talent Lab allows employees to be “nominated for a learning experience that wraps around inclusive leadership, the principles and values we care about at NBC, and integrates it with social impact.”The full panel of speakers, pictured, discussed how they are focusing on engagement, inclusion, and motivation within their organizations (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Clancy said that having employees “not just participating in community service, but actively working on leadership development alongside young people from that community” is an important differentiator.“It really helps employees to think about the skills around empathy, listening, inclusivity that they are practicing in the community, and that they’re going to bring back to the job,” she said.From a leadership perspective, ensuring employee engagement is often personal.“I feel a very deep sense of responsibility to ensure that we are positively impacting lives, whether it's other employees in the organization, fans, especially in the community more broadly,” said Jane Son, co-head of foundation and community engagement at the New York Mets.Encouraging Empathy and Inclusion in the OrganizationAccording to Dale, isolation is one of the leading issues for mental health. “As much as we’ve advanced our conversation together around destigmatizing mental health, it’s still the number one barrier for people in the workforce that often translates into fear of discrimination.”To combat potential discrimination, his organization offers programs and services that are completely private and confidential.For Stork Club, the path to effective inclusion in their mission is simple: reduce the cost of health care.“Every single day, we're dealing with people who are desperate to start a family or not, who don't know if they can financially afford it. When we promote empathy, we start with the member experience,” said Liz.“When our care navigations share member stories with us, we’re getting the celebrations, the picture of their newborns, and we convey that back to the customer and through the entire company to make sure everyone understands and feels connected to what our purposes are.”Discovering the Next Steps in Professional DevelopmentOften, a natural transition from volunteering in the workplace is finding an opportunity to utilize new skills and apply it to positions of leadership, development, and service. This makes internal initiatives like that of NBCUniversal and MasterCard useful for those in leadership to recognize when an individual wants to evolve to the next stage in skill building.“Leaders can talk about the skills they need for projects, and employees can share that they want to build on and develop those skills,” said Charman. “We add this into our talent review process which translates into human resources.”At Learn to Live, there is a strong belief that acts of service is an important part of a mental health journey.“What I'm intrigued about is that interconnection between best practices, community service, and skills building, coupled with how people are working on themselves at the same time. That intersection is something worth exploring for organizations,” said Dale.Tania Rahman is a native New Yorker who works at the intersection of digital marketing and tech. She enjoys writing both news stories and fiction, hot chocolate on cold days, reading, live music, and learning new things.

Tania Rahman | May 31, 2023