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 Rawckus.com, RedDirtNation, and DallasArtBeat.com. Christina is also a creative writer. Her children’s book Your Hands Can Change the World was a 2017 regional bestseller.


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