A fluid workplace: Rather than Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from home and Tuesdays and Thursdays at the office — or any arrangement — we expect to see more flexible hybrid arrangements that work actively around workers’ lives and that don’t need to be closely monitored because companies have realized that productivity is not at risk.

Asa part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Schrecengost.

Alexandra is the Founder of Virtual With Us, curated virtual experiences and Culture With Us, the missing link between hybrid, remote and in-person employees with offerings for unique corporate gifting and bespoke hybrid experiences for corporations. If email and Slack aren’t exactly your idea of engagement, let Virtual — and Culture With Us tailor hosted activities to the interests of your corporate sales team — from wine and beer tastings to cook-along culinary demonstrations and luxury gift boxes.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Like many other professionals, I found the pandemic to be a turning point both in my overall career and in my relationship with work. It was challenging to take on the scrutiny Black and Latina women are so frequently subject to in the workplace during a time of reckoning with racial justice in America. This coincided with finding myself deeply entrenched in a culture of overwork and burnout, wanting to be a loving, stable presence in my twin sons’ lives, and of course, weathering the onset of the global pandemic. This resolution to live a better life motivated me to leave a job that couldn’t accommodate my desire for more inclusion, better balance, mental health, and sense of gratification (and certainly wasn’t going to improve during a pandemic), and led me to start a company that specialized in and advocated for just that.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Thanks to the changes I’ve made in my own professional life and the resulting improvements in wellbeing I’ve experienced, I define wellness within my company as “nothing less than anyone needs to do their best work.” That means colleagues know without a shadow of doubt that they can take the number of days off they need, and not one day less. We avoid after-hours emails, and enjoy wellness-focused retreats together so that we’re always on the same page when it comes to balancing work and life.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Thanks to my own experience, I’m keenly attuned to the first signs of burnout in my employees, and I take their health and wellness as seriously as my own. When employees feel their best and are encouraged and supported when they advocate for their own wellness from Day 1, we can truly do our best work together. Although Culture & Virtual With Us is a young company, many of our colleagues have been here since we opened our doors (so to speak) and I anticipate working with them for many years to come. At a small new company, retention is absolutely essential for the kind of growth we’re seeing. Through our extra effort and maintaining open lines of communication regarding employee wellbeing and inclusion, we’re reducing our cost of turnover as close to “zero” as possible and seeing the kind of outstanding productivity that only comes from very happy employees.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Truthfully, I have trouble understanding why companies feel stuck when it comes to wellness programs. You don’t have to be a titan of industry to understand why people leave their jobs for greener pastures. In comparing the cost of inclusivity-focused wellness programs to the cost of lost productivity and turnover — to say nothing of the cost to morale when a company has trouble retaining top talent — you’ll see that investing in wellness is a drop in the bucket. Implementing high-quality wellness initiatives is like purchasing employee retention insurance: why wouldn’t you allocate funds towards something that could protect your bottom line in such a holistic, thoughtful and effective way? You should always celebrate and hear your employees.

Employers feel more challenged as they tackle balancing leaders and employees who want to be back in the office, those who want to stay remote and those who want a hybrid structure. Whatever the model, employee wellness should be an integral part of how they operate. There are really no excuses.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

We’re a culture and wellness-first company — that’s what we’re built on and why we exist, and we 100% practice what we preach. It’s important that each candidate is excited not only to help us grow our business but to enjoy their work while they’re doing it, and enjoy their lives when work is over for the day. We get them excited about those benefits and balance from our first interaction to the extension of an offer. When employees feel included, the sky is the limit when it comes to what they can do for themselves and the company.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: Mental Health Days are once a month. Not related to PTO and support emotional wellness as well.
  • Emotional Wellness: See above and below.
  • Social Wellness: Team retreats both in-person, virtually and hybrid take place quarterly as well as team outings in certain locations with the distributed workforce so the team feels like they are a part of something special. Additionally weekly water cooler chats allow our Culture and Virtual team to discuss their weekend plans, ongoing stresses, brainstorm ideas, etc. Our next team retreat will be a virtual escape room this month and in August the group will meet in-person in the North Fork, New York for an exploration of salt caves with meditation, yoga on the beach, paint and sip and team collaboration brainstorms.
  • Physical Wellness: The Culture and Virtual team will participate in a Walk to Africa giving back to Self Help Africa during National Volunteer Month and encouraging physical fitness anywhere from hiking/walks to running, cycling and yoga.
  • Financial Wellness: Our company provides 401K with a financial advisor for safe harbor and planning so the team can have support as they explore the market and invest in their future for financial healthy.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

One important point to note on this topic is the popularity of job review sites like Indeed and Glassdoor. Those reviews are there to stay — good and bad — and have more influence on employment than employers may realize. In this day and age when employees are advocating for a workplace that works best for them, particularly with regards to wellness, you want to be a company prospective colleagues flock to, not avoid or rule out because its decision-makers “feel stuck.”

These new, progressive conditions prospective employees have during their job search are likely here to stay, and are long-overdue. Unless businesses can adjust their models to accommodate professionals’ perfectly justifiable insistence on inclusion, wellness and balance, I predict they’ll continue to see reviews that reveal what it’s really like to work there (and why prospectives might want to seek employment elsewhere).

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

Thankfully we haven’t had to — our wellness-first approach is a pillar of our values and always will be. Anyone I’d hire for a leadership position would have to firmly commit to espousing an inclusion and “work well” culture.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Holding each other accountable and helping one another enforce inclusion and wellness is a wonderful pact your team can agree to make together. That’s a small but effective step towards building a culture of accountability that makes a company a truly great place to work. Even one person, especially higher up the ladder, being resistant to accommodating their colleagues’ wellbeing can throw off that balance, so it’s important to commit as a team flying under one inclusion and wellness flag and create opportunities for change.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. A new approach to unlimited PTO: Plenty of employees see “unlimited PTO” as a benefit of working at an organization and no longer interpret it as “unlimited PTO” because their workload prevents them from taking even a normal number of vacation days (like 15). Companies shouldn’t be proud or ambivalent that their workers aren’t taking vacation days, they should see that as a sign that their workers are likely not performing at their full potential. As the workplace wellness trend advances, enforced time off and company-wide days or even weeks off may emerge as a solution to chronic burnout.
  2. The end of after-hours hours: Many European professionals enjoy laws that prohibit employers from contacting them after normal working hours. As American professionals demand better working conditions across the board, companies that initiate and enforce a “no after-hours emails” policy are likely to see their efforts pay off in the form of better company culture.
  3. A fluid workplace: Rather than Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from home and Tuesdays and Thursdays at the office — or any arrangement — we expect to see more flexible hybrid arrangements that work actively around workers’ lives and that don’t need to be closely monitored because companies have realized that productivity is not at risk.
  4. Access to holistic benefits: Providing employees with a holistic benefit stipend to use as they wish — on a nutritional coach or smoking cessation program, for example — in conjunction with company-sponsored programming like fitness classes, healthy meals, guided meditation, and guest speakers is a great way to encourage and spread wellness in the workplace.
  5. The C-Suite shows up: Leading by example is by far the best way to establish and cultivate a strong company culture. Should the executives be so frantically busy that they could never make the time for a half-hour stress-releasing yoga session with colleagues from different departments? Or should the CEO be seen among them, prioritizing a healthy break despite a busy workday, and feeling gratified leading by example? That’s for each company to decide.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

Not every workplace trend snowballs, but wellness has definitely proven its potential. I personally think inclusion and wellness-focused workplaces are inevitable, perhaps because the pendulum swung so far the other way when we were all too busy to notice. I’m especially optimistic to see what a huge industry workplace wellness has become — more than $20 billion per year, and that’s expected to quadruple before the decade is over.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Follow me at @alexschrec and @virtualwithus @culturewithus to see all the exciting things we’re planning for prime entertaining season.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.