Confidential coaching at all levels: Without qualifiers like promotion or performance issues. Future AI app allows employees to speak freely and soundboard, which picks up on tone and prompts personalized reflective questions and, ultimately, provides guidance to trusted resources or suggestions.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alice Carleton.

Alice Carleton is a leadership coach, educator, and culture strategist whose work spans twenty-five years across multiple industries–from global luxe cosmetic companies including Kiehl’s L’Oreal USA to tech startups in the creative and culture space. Since launching her NYC based company, True Intent in 2015, Alice joined Ceros, a global remote-first company on a mission to unlock creativity through liberating technology, as Head of People Potential, in 2021. She currently leads Ceros strategy and innovation for all things culture, learning, and leadership development–creating original content and experiences that engage and equip emerging leaders and their teams to unlock greater empathy, trust, confidence, and potential.

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.

In all candor, in my early thirties, when my career was taking off, I struggled balancing drive and achievement with healthy boundaries, including how I worked and how much I worked. When on a deadline, which was almost always, it was especially hard for me to pause and step away from a project. I had a wake-up call when I stayed so late night after night on a large project and deliverable that I ended up working through the night and into the next morning more than once. I had pulled all-nighters in the field for tight store openings before, but this was different. These all-nighters were unplanned, unintended and unprofessional. This experience early in my career forced me to look at my relationship with work at a deeper level and motivated me to make real, systemic change. There have been a few instances since where I have still struggled in the moment to set healthy boundaries, but I can honestly say it’s now the extremely rare occasion vs. the norm. And it has directly influenced my career path since. Now, 20 years later, I provide coaching and guidance to new, ambitious professionals and high-achievers who often face similar challenges and choices.

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?

At Ceros, we prompt a weekly one-question Polly via Slack, asking every employee: How are you? Take a moment to reflect. Are you feeling CONNECTED, VALUED, ENERGIZED? Are you GROWING, MAKING AN IMPACT, HAVING FUN? Individuals can respond by answering: Mehh — It’s Complicated — Mixed — Yeah! — F%@k Yeah!! We also conduct semi-annual NPS surveys.

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?

Correlating workforce wellness and its impact to organizational performance, one of the main connecting dots is focus. When an organization prioritizes wellness and balance as part of a human-centered culture, employees are more likely to maintain — or more quickly regain — a level of focus that in turn positively impacts their productivity. For example, Wellness Fridays at Ceros. We introduced Wellness Fridays when we shifted to remote-first in 2020 amidst the Covid pandemic. They have become foundational to encouraging work/life balance, and a great payoff in exchange for slightly longer days Monday through Thursday, both of which our employees have fully embraced — top-down and company-wide.

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?

Experience matters! Given the eclipse of the Millennial over the Boomer population in the workforce, combined with Gen Z now entering the workforce, decision-making by prospective and active employees is driven more and more by their holistic perception of and experience at a company. This directly impacts acquisition, engagement, productivity and retention statistics. For example, when presented with comparable career opportunities, the companies that prioritize life/work balance and wellness perks — like remote/hybrid options, wellness Fridays, access to coaching or therapy, drop-in connect opportunities, class passes, etc. — often win out. Salary will always be a predominant factor in decision-making. However, in more and more cases, the value of a culture that prioritizes balance, autonomy, support and related resources tips the scale. As long as a candidate or employee sees a salary/compensation package as equitable, they may choose to leave money on the table in favor of joining or staying with a company that intentionally cultivates — and invests in — a human-centered culture.

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

At Ceros, we communicate our commitment to wellness and human-centered culture in a few ways. Currently, our About Us page and our company profiles on sites like BuiltIn intentionally feature benefits such as:

  • Remote-first “work from anywhere” culture
  • Unlimited Vacation/PTO
  • Wellness Fridays (year-round)
  • Personal & Career Development
  • In-house Confidential Coaching — open to all employees
  • Parental Leave
  • EAP

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: Comprehensive health insurance, EAP hotline plus eight therapy sessions.
  • Emotional Wellness: Unity moments (“drop-in + connect” weekly open zoom gathering).
  • Social Wellness: Connect at Ceros (activities, mixers and meetups focused on playing and recharging). We recently hosted a five-day offsite retreat in Mexico, open to ALL Ceros employees, that emphasized human connection, play, living our core values and the opportunity to recharge after two-plus years of remote-first.
  • Physical Wellness: WFH stipend for ergonomic comfort.
  • Financial Wellness: Carta partnership, 401K match, stock options.
  • ALL: Monthly, original Ceros workshops that intersect personal and professional development themes, such as resilience, balance and bandwidth, overcoming imposter syndrome, etc.

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?

When your employees speak about your company to their friends, family and community, and a sincere mention of a positive, “human-centered” culture that prioritizes wellness is part of the conversation, there is a “ripple effect” of associating the company with these priorities. Since word-of-mouth referrals carry significant weight for both candidates and recruiters, this alone will impact the application and conversation rates for offer letter acceptance.

The reality is that even before a global pandemic, flexible and hybrid work-from-home cultures, wellness days and unlimited PTO have become more and more prevalent, especially at startups. Since then, these benefits have progressively become the baseline for many tech startups and mid-size and enterprise companies. For companies of any size, these experiential and cultural perks will not only pay off with regard to attraction, engagement and retention stats, but they will also be essential to remain competitive with Millenials and Gen Z.

Related Articles: What Gen Z Workers Really Want The 40-year-old millennial and the 24-year-old Gen Zer are in charge of America right now

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

Our manager onboarding and resources intentionally interweave operations, protocols and culture equally as ONE STORY. For example, alongside the BambooHr performance management platform, we provide original and tailored resources and frameworks for managers and direct reports to have “candid conversations.” These conversations emphasize reflective, open-ended questions not only focusing on professional performance and development but also motivation and areas of interest. This opens the door to a more human-centered dialogue, especially if someone is struggling.

We have also created original content and opportunities for managers to model and leverage. These emphasize the value of balancing grit and tenacity (we are a fast-growing tech company, after all) with reflection, vulnerability and empathy.

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?

Leaders can model and encourage balance and human connection at all levels — daily, weekly and monthly. Leaders can actively live out a culture that encourages everyone to focus, perform AND maintain balance.

This includes small steps, like a collective commitment that everyone “steps away” from their work for a few minutes at least once each day, intentionally starting or ending a zoom call with real (not unprofessional, but more human-centered than work-centered) connection and conversation and, last but not least, make what your company offers in relation to wellness culture and benefits known — both to your existing and prospective employees.

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

  1. Remote+: Autonomy and flexibility of remote-first PLUS intentional IRL human connection.
  2. Confidential coaching at all levels: Without qualifiers like promotion or performance issues. Future AI app allows employees to speak freely and soundboard, which picks up on tone and prompts personalized reflective questions and, ultimately, provides guidance to trusted resources or suggestions.
  3. Drop-in “human” gatherings: Emphasizing low-lift vulnerability and high-yield connection.
  4. Systemic shift in “performance reviews”: Candid conversations vs. manager-led evaluations.
  5. Internal crowd-sourcing as normal: For culture benefits, culture connection, peer support, etc.

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

The diversity, vocalness and candor of our growing Gen Z workforce.

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? or [email protected]

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