Mentorship Programs. Another trend that’s taking flight are formalized mentorship programs. This serves both social wellness and professional development goals because it enables strong networking and ease of transfer of knowledge. From a bench perspective, this will also help people identify potential homegrown talent within the organization.

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 Anastasia Apostol.

Anastasia Apostol is the VP of Operations with New Apprenticeship. She has spent over a decade in EdTech, focused on supporting work that transforms lives through learning and education. Her passion though has always been with developing people, building high performing teams, and contributing to a “people first” culture within her organization.

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.

For me, it was the birth of my son. I didn’t have much balance between work and life prior to that; I mostly prioritized work and wanting to make sure everything was done well. I always encouraged my team to maintain that balance because I knew if they didn’t, they would eventually resent the work — but I didn’t adopt the same attitude. However, when my son was born, I realized the importance of being more present for all aspects of my life and that I should be a model for this attitude to the rest of my team.

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?

Wellness is ensuring there’s a healthy appreciation and encouragement for proper maintenance and care for one’s — social, mental, physical, spiritual and intellectual needs. Here at NEW, we do our best to make sure our team knows we expect 100% at work, but also to give everyone the flexibility to design their workday around their life priorities. Everyone on our team works hard and meets their objectives / deadlines. As long as we continue to perform, we trust our team to get the work done whenever they need to get it done. In terms of how we measure wellness, we don’t have anything official but we make it a point to temp-check our team’s sentiments every week. Our HR platform also sends a monthly survey out to understand how our team members are feeling about their work, so we can identify red flags and institute improvements where possible.

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?

We’re a missional company that feels passionately about the contributions we make towards transforming people’s lives, so we’re all intrinsically motivated to perform and give this our best work. As a team, I would consider our productivity to be pretty high; with that said, for me the impact of a well workforce is the fact that despite our high productivity, we all continue to come into the work week, day in and day out, with an attitude to perform. We can only continue our pace if our workforce feels well on all fronts — mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, socially. So as much as possible, it’s important to me as a leader that we encourage the team to do what they need to do to take care of themselves, and in turn, the work is taken care of by the team.

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?

As an organization, I think the leadership team has to decide whether or not they believe people are their greatest asset. If an organization agrees that people are their greatest asset, then the next step is to invest into that asset, and these wellness programs are one great investment that a leadership team can make into their people. An organization thrives when people are motivated to give their best, not obligated to get the work done; if people feel refreshed, renewed, cared for, supported — they are more likely to be in the “motivated” bucket than the “obligated” bucket and that could be the difference between being good vs great.

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?

I believe being remote-first and letting the candidates know that we put a high premium on providing them with the flexibility they need to maintain a healthy work/life balance is a very attractive proposition for incoming hires. We also try to incorporate more team-oriented initiatives like fitness competitions and professional development sessions to help everyone stay inspired and engaged.

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: We have professional coaches in the organization who conduct sessions to help us increase our understanding of mental wellness and professionalism.
  • Social Wellness: We are planning to revive quarterly meetings where the whole organization gets to come together, see each other and spend time together (especially in this remote world!).
  • Physical Wellness: We have a fitness competition that we’ll be running once per quarter to help team members stay motivated to stay fit.

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?

I think if we were to amp up the prizes for the health fitness competitions, more people would participate and we could really have a higher impact on helping everyone stay healthy. Also if we can expand the coaching program so we can have a monthly session to help us increase our professional capabilities — or even better, have executive coaches for our manager team, we would see a massive increase in productivity and support.

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

We have our professional development sessions to help keep our team engaged and to teach them skill sets that we’ve learned along the way. I think if we can keep these initiatives going, our teams will feel encouraged because they’ll get to apply these strategies and continue to experience growth.

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?

I would focus on starting today and just making a difference in your immediate environment first. It’s okay if the ideas you have are implemented just within your team; test it out, learn from it, and improve what you can impact. If it works at that level, then start to pitch it to your management team. At this point, you have anecdotal data — if not quantitative data — to share with them that ideally will help spur the idea onto a larger audience.

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

  1. Mental Health Programs. I think more and more organizations will start to provide mental health programs as a wellness perk for employees. Options like free counseling services, discounts for counseling apps (e.g. Betterhelp, Talkspace, etc.), or investing in in-house support to help employees have an outlet when they’re feeling burnt out or overwhelmed will make for a great investment in the future workplace. It will also help people manage their stressors, which will lead to an overall increase in productivity — or at least sustained productivity in the long run.
  2. Fitness Programs. This is already an investment that most companies are making in the form of discounts for gym memberships or having gyms within the building to help people have access to fitness during the workday, but I can see this perk expanding. For instance, maybe providing people with standing desks to encourage standing throughout the day. Or having more competitions to encourage people to stay fit throughout the workday. Or even more, maybe providing virtual fitness sessions to help people stay fit virtually could be other ways to encourage fitness programs.
  3. Social Apps within the Org. With everything being remote nowadays, I can see companies investing more in social programs to help encourage relating with one another remotely. New apps have come out that randomly pair people within the intranet to help them all get to know each other, and network within the organization.
  4. Mentorship Programs. Another trend that’s taking flight are formalized mentorship programs. This serves both social wellness and professional development goals because it enables strong networking and ease of transfer of knowledge. From a bench perspective, this will also help people identify potential homegrown talent within the organization.
  5. Early Dismissal / 4-Day Work Week. Another trend that’s starting to gain traction is early dismissal on Fridays or a straight 4-day work week. This one is pretty self-explanatory, in that it’s giving more time back to people so they can do more with life and feel refreshed when they come back into work. It also encourages a healthy work/life balance.

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

Honestly, it’s just the fact that more and more corporations care now about their employees’ overall wellness and are making it a focus to make sure people have a healthier work/life balance. I remember a time not so long ago when the perks Google provided were seen as incredible because of how much they cared about their people. Today, more and more companies are rivaling the perks that Google provides and more leaders see these perks as ways to edge out their competition when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. I hope the trends above continue and that at least one or two of these perks become as staple as providing health insurance.

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?

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