Flexible wellness spending accounts — employees are looking for ways to exercise while at home or remotely. Organizations can offer spending accounts to cover the cost of home equipment, nutrition counselling etc.

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 Anne Bloom.

With over 30 years of human resources leadership across multiple industries and countries, Anne has guided, coached, and mentored leaders on listening, being empathic to the needs of employees and ensuring employees understand their worth to the organization. Anne is a strategic advisor ensuring mental, physical, and emotional health are top of leaders’ minds. Anne is a strong proponent in building morale, retention strategies and processes and policies that improve the wellbeing of all employees.

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.

Eight years ago, my health was in jeopardy. I spent 18 months visiting doctors who just wouldn’t listen to understand my symptoms. It took 18 months for my GP to stop, listen and act on what I was saying. After 18 months of pain, not being able to work, earn a living or even have a social life, a diagnosis was made, and I became an emergency surgical patient. I spent three days in the hospital and after the surgery was instantly free of pain. This life event made me realize I needed to spend my days doing what provided satisfaction and enjoyment. I discovered corporate work no longer gave me the enjoyment I craved so I left the corporate world and returned to my earlier roots of human resources consulting and haven’t looked back.

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?

Canada has not experienced “The Great Resignation” in the same numbers as the United States. We’re experiencing a “Great Transition” with employees not resigning until they have another role to go to; taking time off to spend with family and friends now we can congregate somewhat safely again; or simply waiting out the pandemic. Fortunately, Canada’s unemployment rate is a low of 5.3% as of March 2022 and is expected to continue improving for the foreseeable future. However, organizations recognize they need to be more mindful about what employees need and want. Leaders are more cognizant of what employees experience as they work from home. Some organizations are returning to the office in a hybrid model, while others continue with employees working from home. This new way of working gives employees the best of both worlds — the ability to work from home as needed and the ability to return to their office as little or as much as necessary. People want and need human interaction and employers are providing that based on work needs and employee needs. Organizations are measuring wellness by providing solutions that ensure productivity remains high and morale is being improved.

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?

When organizations shifted to working from home, many experienced a surprising increase in productivity and profitability. Certainly, some organizations felt the brunt of the pandemic and their profitability suffered, but I believe many noticed an increase in revenue. There were, and continue to be, mitigating factors — impact of the pandemic on business, the length of the pandemic, supply chain issues and employee morale. Employee wellness has suffered tremendously due to several factors — a lack of social interaction; families spending too much time together; bubbling with family members and family members not in bubble; leaders being thrust into managing remote employees without training on how to do it. Organizations that have implemented successful wellness programs are seeing the benefits. According to Sun Life Financial, they have realized:

  • 11% higher revenue per employee
  • 1.8 fewer absentee days per employee per year
  • 28% higher shareholder returns
  • For every $1.00 spent on wellness programs:
  • medical costs fall by about $3.27, and
  • absenteeism costs fall

This shows there are significant benefits in implementing a fair, consistent wellness program. Employees need to know they are valued and there is no better way to show it than establishing a wellness program that meets the needs and goals of all 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?

Over the last three years we’ve seen the impact of not having wellness programs. Morale, mental health, burnout, stability, people resigning, people looking to change their employment status, blended families, people moving out of the cities — all of this and more speak to a need for robust employee assistance/wellness programs. The negative impact of not providing support far outweighs the benefits. Employees have many different needs today. If their current employer is requiring a return to the office full time, some employees are looking for organizations that are remaining remote or hybrid. If leaders aren’t listening, employees are looking for a manager who will listen, give support and be empathic. There is a saying that I believe was once true — “People don’t leave companies, they leave their manager”. Today increasing numbers of people leave organizations that can’t or won’t give them the services and tools to do their jobs the way that suits them best. This means lower morale; employees looking to make a move or change; and higher recruitment costs. Leaders need to recognize the cost of losing high performing employees. They can’t afford to lose the long-term knowledge, skills and attributes gained over years as there is no short-term replacement. The cost of high attrition hurts the bottom line and impacts revenue. Employers and leaders must engage, motivate, and educate (develop) employees to achieve the sound benefits of high morale — increased revenue and profit.

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?

Three years ago, leaders were starting to have discussions on how to ensure future success. With the onset of COVID, the discussions moved into reality. The rapid change caused some angst with leaders and employees alike and yet, we are emerging with better employees and leaders with the understanding we have gained in how to work, socialize and be more human. Leaders have learned to accept differences in work hours and realize the work gets done and deadlines are met in spite of new working arrangements. Cultures and behaviors have changed and so has the dialogue during recruitment. Recruiters must be specific when discussing the work ethic of both current and future employees. Employees are looking for companies that have implemented wellness programs, processes, and policies and who understand their perspective of how work has evolved and what is considered the new normal. Retention strategies have also changed. Employees looking to move are asking difficult questions about DEI initiatives, work from home, work hours, compensation, wellness initiatives, etc. Nothing is off the table or taboo anymore.

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: There are some things that can be done every day to increase mental wellness:
  • Get plenty of sleep. People know how much sleep they need to remain coherent and active. Don’t skimp on being rested. Your mind, body, and soul all benefit.
  • Stop to enjoy small aspects of the day. Know what makes you happy and strive to meet that each and every day. Laugh, smile, be happy — it lifts endorphins and makes us all feel better.
  • Use a stress ball or other stress reliever. Take time throughout the day to get up and walk away from the computer. Give yourself permission to take breaks, take vacation and enjoy what makes you happy.
  • Perform a random act of kindness. Pay it forward. Buy a cup a coffee for the person in line behind you. Take a friend or relative to an appointment. Be approachable and be in the moment.
  • Exercise. Ride that bike, take that walk. Exercise at least three times per week.
  • Deep breathing exercises. Sit back, close your eyes and visualize your body relaxing. Roll your shoulders, unstress your neck, relax every muscle in your body at least twice a day.
  • Yoga. I don’t like yoga but for those who do, take full advantage of its healing and stress reduction methods and enjoy the feelings.
  • Pet a dog. There is nothing better than a dog you can talk to, walk, pet or just be with.
  • Emotional Wellness: Mental and emotional wellness are basically the same and the strategies above also support emotional wellness. Be mindful of how you are feeling. If you are having a bad day, let someone know. There is no longer any stigma about saying I need a “me” day to unwind and to destress. We all know our bodies and how they react to stress. Do what will destress you and make you feel better.
  • Social Wellness: I need my family and my friends to make me feel whole. Over the last two and a half years a lot of us have missed the contact with family and friends as we have stayed home to be safe and well. Being social, getting our lives back and enjoying the camaraderie is so important to social wellness. We all need to get out to start socializing again. Stay safe and stay healthy, but let’s get back to enjoying life.
  • Physical Wellness: Exercise, exercise, and exercise some more. Walk, run, ride a bike, enjoy the outdoors. I must admit I’m not a winter person, so I bought a stationary bike and ride it daily.
  • Financial Wellness: We all work to earn a living. We have bills to pay, mortgages, rent and incidentals we need to cover. You need to define your own financial wellness. Don’t work to pay your bills. Take time to have fun and work will cover the rest.

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?

Organizations are beginning to understand the importance of mental health and wellness on employees’ ability to complete tasks on a timely basis. There is no greater benefit to mental well-being than seeing an employee blossom and grow as they go through their day. When an organization shows their employees gratitude, worth and understanding they will stay. When an organization implements tools, processes, policies that include acceptable mental activities, retention will improve, productivity will improve and so will morale.

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

Leaders have learned to listen more, be empathetic, focus on the person and seen results as the bottom line will improves. As Richard Branson said, “ If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”.

Leaders are struggling with their company culture. Some don’t like the changes, while others want to change more. Culture change is a lengthy process, and until leaders support change, it won’t happen. Leaders need to accept what the last few years have taught us. Work better, smarter and meet the needs of all employees. This will in the long run, improve productivity, revenue, profitability, and morale. It will also improve retention and recruitment.

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?

Listen to understand, not to respond. Ask questions and be empathetic. We were all given two ears and one mouth so we can listen more than we speak.

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

  1. Robust mental health strategies — throughout COVID a high percentage of people had issues with mental health — anxiety, depression, financial stress, weight loss or weight gain.
  2. Fitness and wellness programming — provide employees with an outlet or membership to gyms and other fitness programs. Start virtual online fitness classes for employees on site and remote. This builds relationships and rapport.
  3. Flexible wellness spending accounts — employees are looking for ways to exercise while at home or remotely. Organizations can offer spending accounts to cover the cost of home equipment, nutrition counselling etc.
  4. Global wellness programs — The last few years have shown that employees can work from anywhere in the world. Boundaries have been reduced and people need a way to interact with colleagues regardless of where they are situated. Organizations should build the ability to provide global wellness programs that can be accessed from anywhere.
  5. Top-down wellness initiatives — The line between work and home life has been blurred with people continuing to work from home. Leaders need to implement wellness initiatives that remove the blurred lines. Some examples are provide time throughout the day where meetings are not permitted, end meetings early to allow employees to take a break or walk around the block. Managers can lead internal stretch breaks. Encourage employees to be innovative and create ways to help the entire team feel safe, relaxed, healthy, and engaged. Encourage team social activities, remote drinks, team building, etc.

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

I strongly believe we are heading towards a four-day work week. The implications of this are huge — three days to relax with family and friends. Three days to unwind and look after self or three days to do what has been put off due to lack of time.

Four days to manage workloads and reallocate time and efforts. The four-day work week will lead to ensuring mental well-being is managed, and processes are implemented to ensure health and safety are top of mind. The way this can be achieved is to ensure that employees are not working 40 hours in 4 days but only 32 hours in 4 days. We need to shorten the work week in both time and contributions to increase well-being and health.

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?

Anne Bloom is a certified human resources principal with The Osborne Group — helping organizations in Ontario succeed since 1993. We provide a wide range of professional interim management, consulting, planning, and project management services. Feel free to follow Anne and connect on LinkedIn. Anne can be reached at [email protected].

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