Fostering Workplace Well-Being Amid Today’s Stressors

BY Wanly Chen | February 13, 2024

With 81 at-home baseball games a season, Atlanta Braves’ executive vice president DeRetta Rhodes knew her employees would need to catch a break during their shifts.

Introducing the wellness room: a room that mirrors a living room, equipped with a sofa, TV, and refrigerator for anybody who simply needs time to rest. “It’s about creating space for individuals who need to be able to take care of themselves,” Rhodes said. “In the wellness room, people have the opportunity to go and take a relaxing break if they need to.”

In a recent survey, 77% of employers saw an increase in mental health concerns, with 16% anticipating an increase in the future, indicating that health and wellness will continue to be a pressing issue for employers and employees in 2024.

Rhodes’ approach is one of many other health and wellness strategies employers are taking to meet their employee’s needs. At From Day One’s Atlanta conference, leaders joined moderator Kelly Yamanouchi, business reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss their health and wellness focal points for the new year.

Changing Traditional Financial Processes

Whether it’s due to the rising cost of living, inflation or the flexibility of remote work, more workers are working two jobs than ever before. Eight million Americans reported working more than two jobs this past January alone. For workers who take on a second job to make ends meet, timely pay matters, says Jon Lowe, chief people officer of financial services company DailyPay.

“Today, the number of people who have more than one job is quite high and that creates a very high degree of stress. If you were a bartender around Christmas, you probably made a killing. But come January, when you’re working your part-time job and bartending on the side, there’s this degree of very high variance that we start to see,” Lowe said.

With more than 60% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, employers need to rethink the two-week pay cycle, Lowe said.

“When we look at this idea of earning wage access, we need to be disrupting this idea that two weeks is the right cadence to be paid,” Lowe said. “Today, we’re able to offer access to tools that technology allows us to do, where it recognizes the evolution of what work looks like and allows that degree of flexibility to be able to go and tap into resources that otherwise would not be available.”

Building Wellness into the Culture

For Kimberly Rath, vice president of home builder company PulteGroup, wellness programs play a key role in building a healthy foundation for a company.

The full panel of speakers from left to right: Steven Lester of Mayo Clinic, Josh Crafford of Synchrony, DeRetta Rhodes of the Atlanta Braves, Kimberly Rath of PulteGroup, moderator Kelly Yamanouchi of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Jon Lowe of DailyPay (photo by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)

“At PulteGroup, we build homes. If you think about how wellness comes to life for you, a lot of what you do or how you take care of your well-being is done in your home,” Rath said. “At work, it’s similar. Wellness is the health of an organization and how people show up for work. If we’re strategizing how we take care of our employees and build great places where people work, we're going to get so much more from our employees.”

From higher retention to increased productivity, employers can yield the benefits of happier and healthier employees. At healthcare clinic Mayo Clinic, professor of medicine and cardiologist, Steven Lester, M.D., discusses how supporting employees both in and off work can strengthen the overall performance of businesses.

“As an organization, we are optimizing our business performance by incorporating well-being into the design of work,” Lester said. “We have programs supporting the financial, physical and mental well-being of our employees at work and we are also thinking about how we identify and allow people to have purpose, meaning and belonging at work.”

Leading With Empathy

An overwhelming 90% of U.S. employees believe empathetic leadership leads to higher job satisfaction, underlining the strong value employees place on leaders who lead with purpose and care.

One part of empathetic leadership is active listening which helps in engaging with employees, Lester said. “We want to be actively listening to the needs of individuals and give them that safe, comfortable opportunity to engage and be heard, and know that the organization is here to support them and their well-being,” Lester said.

With the emphasis on supporting employees, leaders will need to shift their priorities, Josh Crafford, vice president of technology learning and development, of financial services company Synchrony, said.

“We're teaching leaders to be coaches and mentors and not care as much about the numbers,” Crafford said. “The numbers will come but the happier, safer and the more secure and connected your workers feel, the more productive they will be.”

Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.


Improving Employee Mental Health and Wellness Benefits

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to improving mental health. At From Day One’s Boston benefits conference, a panel of industry leaders shared how they promote mental well-being in their own lives.Jodi LaMae, benefits principal, global total rewards at biotech company Boston Scientific, enjoys hot yoga and walking her dogs. Navin Vettamvelil, senior director of total rewards at software company SoftServe, tries to swim four times a week, which he considers underwater meditation. Other responses included boxing, daily meditation, Muay Thai, and cooking.Mental health benefits are no longer a nice-to-have. Recent research shows that 77% of workers are very (36%) or somewhat (41%) satisfied with the support for mental health and well-being they receive from their employers. In a 2024 survey of 50 benefits leaders across the U.S., 94% of respondents say offering mental health benefits is “very important” to prospective employees—nearly triple the rate of benefits leaders who said this a year earlier.“It’s imperative that we let employees know that mental health is just as important as physical health. A lot of preventive medicine is covered, but many charge for therapists,” said Shawna Oliver, the AVP and head of global benefits and wellness at Manulife. “It’s important to signal to your employees ‘we want you to do this.’ The minute everyone starts talking about it, that’s when barriers start coming down.”Despite the strides made in the workplace, misconceptions and stigmas remain. “As a vendor who works for hundreds of employers, I found that there’s a recognition that mental health and substance abuse are highly stigmatized,” said Yusuf Sherwani, CEO and co-founder of substance abuse management clinic Pelago. “These are not things that people choose. Specialized solutions can be very effective. The final piece is about promoting utilization—by [letting people know] it’s safe, and it’s confidential,” he said.The panel of speakers from left to right included moderator Katie Johnston, reporter at the Boston Globe, Jodi LaMae of Boston Scientific, Robin Berzin of Parsley Health, Yusuf Sherwani of Pelago, Navin Vettamvelil of SoftServe, and Shawna Oliver of ManulifeAnother strategy to support employee well-being is focusing on preventative care. “When it comes to life therapy sessions with a counselor, we put limits” offering three sessions a month or ten a quarter, says Vettamvelil. “Our real focus is about the prevention rather than the cure. If you can nip it in the bud, you can control things down the line.”Robin Berzin, MD, founder and CEO of holistic health company Parsley Health, agrees. A lot of people aren’t getting the right care, she says. “When I was in training, we created a revolving door between primary and specialized care,” she said. “When 60% of adults have a chronic condition, that does not work. At Parsley, we treat the root cause to see if we can slow down the revolving door.”She reports that 25% of their users have two or more conditions. “When we look at the mental health component, I want to ask why everyone is so anxious. It’s not all in our heads. We sit 11 hours a day. A sedentary lifestyle will cause anxiety, insomnia. We’re not a set of organs in jars.” Investing in mental health benefits has a significant impact on ROI.“A lot of times when we say we cover mental health care people look at me like it’s a money pit,” said Oliver. The reality is that it’s less than 1% of the budget, and on top of utilization going up, she reports that short-term disability dropped. “Benefits are not a silo. It’s our job as leaders to say it’s the entire package.”The panelists agreed that communicating benefits is equally important to the offerings themselves. “We have a team that ensures there’s info on mental health benefits in the rec room,” said LaMae. Manulife is now actively planning out mental health month initiatives, offering activities nearly daily, says Oliver. It’s also important to raise these discussions and prioritize well-being as leaders. “We have to talk about it, and say ‘Hey, I’m going for a walk to clear my head,’” said Oliver. “If it doesn’t start with you, it’s never gonna happen.”Holistic care should also be family-inclusive. Sherwani urges people to see mental health and substance abuse not just as an employee challenge, but as a family challenge. “18 months ago we expanded to adolescence, previously an underserved demographic,” he said. “In terms of promoting these programs, people can just put up their hands and know when to reach out.”Not all cultures have the same openness toward mental health as America. Americans abroad might need services that are not as widely offered in their current countries, like telehealth, says LaMae. “Promoting wellbeing is important: make sure employees know about their benefits and they know how and where to get care,” said LaMae. “Work with ERGs,” she advises, “sometimes people aren’t comfortable going to HR, but having employees that double as well-being champions [really helps].”Angelica Frey is a writer and a translator based in Boston and Milan.

Angelica Frey | April 09, 2024

How to Make Reskilling Part of a Corporate Culture of Learning

“You will never hire your way out of your skills deficit,” said Marcus Cazier, head of learning and development for the Americas at bioMérieux.In the next two years, researchers posit that half of your skills will be irrelevant – a pattern that’s expected to continue. So how can employers get ahead of this skilling cycle? Offering insight and advice for other people leaders, Cazier spoke in a panel discussion titled, “How to Make Reskilling Part of a Corporate Culture of Learning” panel at From Day One’s conference in Salt Lake City.The other panelists agreed with Cazier: some sort of training will always be required. “If you hire for specific [technical] skills, you ignore the connection points existing employees inside your organization have. Those skills you can’t hire for, they’ll have to be developed,” said panelist Trent Savage, chief human resources officer at Mountain America Credit Union. “The question is: which type of skill do you want to spend time developing?”Additionally, establishing that your company values challenges and growth will make your best team members want to stick around, boosting your bottom line in the long run.“Promoting a culture that looks internally to find people that want different opportunities, that will help with retention,” said Donald Erb, HR channel czar at CollegeNET.How Do I Start Developing a Culture of Learning?Once you’re firm on the 'why' of reskilling, the real work begins.“At Campfire, the culture of learning really starts with our leaders,” said Steve Arntz, CEO of Campfire. But instead of letting inspiration spikes die off with executives, Arntz says they train down: each leader trains another, going into perpetuity.“This starts with getting my leaders to instill their teams with the idea that we need to learn, develop, and grow together. We need to find solutions together. And guess what? As a leader, I'm here to connect you to the resources that you need.”Leaning on those employees that are already seeking out those challenges is the first step, Erb says.“You’ll draw more people in because [your] reputation is investing in growth,” he said. “People get frustrated when they’re not even asked if they’re interested in learning new skills – I think it diminishes motivation.”Ciara Hulet, Morning Edition Host, KUER News, NPR Utah moderated the panel on the topic of skill-building Career ladders should look more like climbing walls, Cazier says.“The agility and the willingness to be flexible to do what the business asks you to do, that goes a long way,” he said. “Going up might not always be the right move, you may need to go sideways first.”What if My Employees Don’t Want to?If you’re in the process of establishing a culture of learning, you may receive some pushback.Nate Miller, VP of learning and organizational development at Vivint, had first-hand experience when, as part of Vivint’s acquisition, installation and service technicians were asked to begin participating in revenue generation.“There was reluctance to add this selling skillset,” he said. “It drove attrition. These folks chose their paths because they didn’t want to sell.”Miller followed Erb’s earlier advice and found leaders who are naturally high learners and helped them frame experiences as growth opportunities rather than job requirements. Then, those who took the growth opportunities were rewarded.“We integrated selling and technical skills into our scheduling software, so when we assign jobs, the most lucrative installation opportunities align with the most skilled revenue generators,” Miller said.Vivint also cut out their performance improvement plans. “They were working from a place of fear,” he said. “We had to shift it from a place of fear to a place of opportunity and growth by reducing the amount of threat in the environment.”What Skills Do We Need?It’s simple: ask your people.“You’ve got a traditionally top-down focus when it comes to budgets and implementation,” Arntz said. “But the frontline workers and managers, they know which skills they’ll need to adapt. [It may be beneficial] to allow people to choose their opportunities, which [are then pushed through] programs and initiatives at the higher levels.”“Years ago, to develop someone meant to send them to a training,” Savage said. “Now it needs to be on-the-job and it needs to be connected to the needs of the business.”CollegeNET uses “Focus Ring,” a peer-assessment tool that asks employees to respond to prompts and then evaluate their peer’s responses. “These are folks playing the same role as you in the organization, and you see how they address particular product knowledge questions,” Erb said. “That’s learning an immediate skill.”Focus Ring goes further by grouping answers by how highly they were rated. “If we have groups that have eights and nines, they’re good candidates to become mentors,” he said. “They’ve demonstrated they have that particular skill.”The Future of Skill DevelopmentIf you’re interested in technology development, Savage says HR needs your help.“We’re close, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “Skills-based platforms don’t necessarily connect to development or to performance, so you must use multiple mediums [to tie your data] together. My hope is one day we get a more holistic look, because today we’re using Frankenstein technology.”In the meantime, Arntz predicts AI will be pivotal.“Engineers are using Copilot to write better and faster code,” he said. “Someone will build a Copilot for conversations, an AI assistant next to them during performance, expectations, and hiring. [When this is developed] it will enable our leaders to be more effective than they’ve ever been.”Jacqueline is a writer and Master of Accounting graduate from the University of Utah. When she’s not in Excel or writing an article, she loves to run, play Candy Crush, and read novels.

Jacqueline Mumford | April 08, 2024

Cultural Transformation and Meaningful Work: Crafting a Fulfilling Workplace Experience

Crumbl’s mission is to bring people together by sharing their cookies. But how could they make that idea real to their employees? The opportunity came when a snowstorm shut down most of Utah and leadership asked employees to work from home. But this wasn’t a normal work day. Instead, on top of the workers' to-do list was to build a snowman. The contest was a catalyst for employees to create a memorable moment, says Josh Olofson, VP of talent and culture at Crumbl, who was one of five panelists discussing the topic of meaningful work at From Day One’s Salt Lake City event. “We really went for it,” Olofson told session moderator Mekenna Malan, editor of Utah Business. Crumbl asked employees to share photos on Slack, and the prize for best snowman was $1,000. Memory-building was the goal, not just for the employee snow day, but to bring that concept to better drive their work. “We wanted our employees to really feel how powerful that moment is.”It’s that act of integrating company values that helps nurture a purpose-driven workplace. How to keep that momentum going all year long? It’s probably something most companies are already doing—the key is to use them wisely.“One of the tools I think that is most often overlooked in our space is effective one-on-ones,” Olofson said. Leaders need to make sure they’re not being reactive during these meetings, but rather proactive. One-on-ones are an opportunity to be open and connect and plant the seeds for change. Of course, companies should share successes with each other, but as Olofson says, sharing failures is just as vital. Those one-on-ones are a great place to share those.The panelists spoke about nurturing a purpose-driven workplace at From Day One's conference in Salt Lake City“When you open yourself up as a leader and you’re willing to share your failures, then your employees are going to be less against change, because they’re not going to be as afraid to fail themselves,” he said.Where to Start? Start-ups have the unique challenge but also opportunity to create meaning and purpose in their company culture from scratch. Panelist Brooke Shreeve, chief people officer at Weave, said the trick was to go back to basics. “We did our first engagement survey, and we realized we had an identity crisis,” she said. What was Weave? They sat down and hashed it out and the result was Strategy on a Page: all the company’s vision and purpose at a glance. They rolled it out at a company meeting, and copies remain available at all times to every employee. “It’s on every desk, so it’s a reminder every single day on what we’re doing, why we’re here and what we’re trying to accomplish.”After the rollout, leadership offered continual updates of what they were accomplishing with those values in mind. The result? Focus. “It put everybody on the ship rowing in the same direction. And that is huge.”That’s the power of engagement surveys, and why leadership should not only read them but take action. While companies can’t do everything employees want, Shreeve says they choose specific items to address, and they share that with everyone. “That really has helped make a huge impact on our company.”Personalizing the Worker ExperienceIt’s astonishing to think that five generations of people are in the workforce, says panelist Dan Kwong, vice president of talent and Culture for Woodward. The wants and needs of each generation and each person is different. “The opportunity is knowing your people,” he said. “Who are your people? What do they care about? What are their needs? What are their values? How do they like to work?”Generally speaking, most people want flexibility and autonomy. But those things can look different depending on the employee. “There’s some give there. It does not have to be nine to five behind a desk.” And it’s especially important for HR to have space to really engage in and relate with folks, he says.Recruiting must also be more personalized, Kwong says. The key is looking beyond the resume, removing barriers, and setting employees up for success. Integrate company values in the recruiting process and continue it during onboarding, he says. “Even without telling that individual what the mission is or what the values are, they should be able to feel it. They may not have the words for it. But once they’re hired after a robust process, then you can share those words. It’s about connecting the dots.”After that, keeping lines of communication open is key, it’s important to discuss employees’ aspirations. What do they really want out of work and life? Especially since upward movement isn’t always available. “Growth does not always mean a promotion,” Kwong said. “There is growth. But it starts with that one-on-one conversation that starts with leaders role-modeling those behaviors.” Next comes building the structures, frameworks, and programs, Kwong says. It’s a Marathon, Not a SprintNurturing a purpose-driven workplace takes time, says panelist Daniel Allred, VP of human resources at ZAGG Inc.“It’s a process,” he said. “You can’t put in place corporate values tomorrow that are going to get you exactly where you want to be. But you do have to take steps today to get alignment behind, starting at the top with the senior executives.” The forward movement is the important thing to focus on, especially as things constantly change. ZAGG has experienced a lot of change as of late that wasn’t always handled well, says Allred. But they learned, and now they do things differently. They found that meeting regularly, monthly rather than sporadic, and transparency work best. “We put on the screen every single month exactly what we’re tracking,” he said. “We were very open and transparent about the hurdles we’re facing, where we fell on our faces and where we succeeded.”That regular, open communication has helped alignment fall into place. “It’s not a two month process. Sometimes that takes place over a year. And so acknowledging that continuing to push forward even when it gets hard and discouraging, that’s what’s really going to make the biggest difference.”The company recognized that managers needed a way to recognize team members, so they instituted the ZAGG Champion Awards, a gift card as a way to say good job. The hope is that as the employee enjoys the gift card with a loved one, they can connect the dots that they earned this reward for working hard on a project. Hope for GrowthKnowing what’s possible can help employees find meaning in their everyday work. For panelist Tracie Kalmar, head of human resources at ApplicantPro, the hope of growing in the company needs to start at hiring. “My favorite demographic to hire right now are women returning to the workforce after a break to raise their family or to go to college,” she said. Since there is a gap in their resume, they worry. But Kalmar offers hope. During the interview process, she shares how others have started in one position, but then grown into another position. So even before day one, potential employees can see where they could go. She continues this regularly by emailing open opportunities weekly, plus sharing internal promotions. “I love talking about it. I can actually say I see it happening. And it’s real.” Seeing those doors open for others helps new employees have hope and find purpose in what they are doing.Carrie Snider is a Phoenix-based journalist and marketing copywriter.

Carrie Snider | April 05, 2024