Social Wellness: A key part of social wellness is having a network of people you trust, can be candid with, turn to for support and have fun. There are a number of ways we encourage and foster those kinds of relationships. We have six employee resource groups that provide employees with the space to connect with people with shared interests — including a working parents group “The Village,” groups that unite diverse employees across dimensions of race, ethnicity and gender identity, as well as “Freshmen Homeroom” to support colleagues new to the workforce.

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 DeAngelis.

Anne DeAngelis guides business leaders on how to best reach one of their most important stakeholders: their people. ​With more than 20 years of global employee experience, DeAngelis advises clients on internal communications during the toughest transitions they face, crafting employee experience strategies, change management, employer branding, recruitment communications, executive communications and hybrid work dynamics. She leads a team that keeps its fingers on the pulse of evolving workplace expectations, with learnings applied to both clients and the Zeno Group network at large.

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, the formative moment was one many working women experience — the daunting challenge of being a working mom. It was a couple months after I told my boss that I was expecting our first child, he asked me into his office and said, “How would you like to return to the office?” I wasn’t sure what he meant so I jokingly responded with “on the train, like I do every day.” What my boss was suggesting was that I consider a flexible work arrangement when I returned to work.

It had not occurred to me that this was an option. It was far from the norm at our company or on our team, so I was happily surprised. My boss recognized the keys to keeping a high-performing employee — trust, respect and a willingness to try something new.

And that was the start of my career-long journey into changing how work shows up in my life. I had several work arrangements over the years: a 32-hour work week, 2–3 days in the office and 2–3 “telecommuting” days, and a job share with a woman who easily became my trusted “work wife.” We adjusted as the business requirements shifted and we learned what worked for both the company and me.

All these arrangements allowed me to have a busy, satisfying job and also have time with my kids, like volunteering once a week in my son’s second-grade classroom.

It wasn’t always a healthy relationship for me and my job. I took calls, sent emails and joined occasional meetings on my days off (or as I called it “volunteering for my company.”) My laptop was always out and turned on, ready to go. Today, it is far more typical for people to have flexible work arrangements and acceptable for people to not be available on certain days of the week or times of the day. It is encouraging to see how we have all evolved.

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 Zeno Group, we say that it is a place where “careers are built and lives lived.” To me, this is another way to define wellness for our employees. We know that part of wellness is having a job where you are valued, can bring your whole self to work and be part of challenging and creative projects. You need to have a full, big, fearless life outside of the office.

We recognize the importance of measurement to hold ourselves accountable for that statement and are always looking for feedback from employees to ensure programs are resonating with them. The nature of our business allows us to closely track how many hours people are spending at work and what type of tasks comprise those work hours. This allows us to see if a person is spending more time working than is healthy and flag it to their supervisor. Our Talent team also watches the usage of PTO and regularly reminds people to take their well-deserved time off. We partner with vendors like Headspace and ComPsych to offer programs that promote wellbeing and work with them to understand at a macrolevel how employees are engaging with these benefits. This helps us identify areas where we could be doing more. And of course, we have pulse surveys and an annual engagement survey to hear directly from our people about how they are doing at Zeno Group.

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?

The research in this area and the impact to the bottom line is stunning. According to Gallup, there is $322 billion of turnover and lost productivity cost globally due to employee burnout. Another way to look at it, according to Gallup, is that companies are losing 15% to 20% of total payroll in voluntary turnover costs, on average, due to burnout. Beyond the data, we all inherently know what a great, productive day at work feels like versus a day when you can’t focus, concentrate or get things done. Whether you are burnt out, don’t feel psychologically safe, or depressed or anxious due to pressures in your personal life, your performance at your job is impacted and that can extend into the performance of your colleagues. It can be a toxic viscous cycle and thankfully leaders are increasingly understanding the value of investing time and resources into employees’ wellbeing.

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?

In addition to research such as the World Health Organization study you reference, leaders should also consider the cost of turnover. According to Gallup, “replacing a lost employee costs between 33% and 150% of annual salary depending on skillset and seniority.” By investing in wellness programs, you are tangibly demonstrating that you are willing to invest in members of your team, which would boost retention, as well as employee engagement.

Of course, the numbers are important to justify the investment, but for any leader who is stuck with moving forward, I would encourage you to talk to your employees about what wellness means to them and the programs they would most value. Hearing people’s own stories, in their own words — the pressures they face, the struggles they encounter and the demands placed on each of them — will be eye-opening. Talk to your HR leader to get connected to employees who have been public about the impact they have seen with existing programs or ask your communications leader to set up candid, roundtable employee meetings so you can learn more directly from the people you want to support.

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?

I love the premise in this Gallup article you referred to regarding wellness. It says “Wellbeing is about how our lives are going. It encompasses all the things that are important to each of us and how we experience our lives. It’s not only about happiness and health, but also about living life to its fullest potential.” As I said, we fully believe that at Zeno, and champion this mindset with our clients.

People who are considering joining our team will see this when they interview because it is such a strong part of our culture. Our careers site and job descriptions clearly outline our commitment to wellbeing and spell out our benefits. When a candidate is speaking with a member of our Talent team, they will also hear about programs that are designed to support employees across many pillars of wellbeing — physical, mental and financial. Additionally, we are on our social media channels recognizing members of our team who are being honored for their great work or sharing colleagues’ posts that speak to their experiences working at Zeno.

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.

When you read articles on the subject of wellness you do hear a lot about benefits such as unlimited PTO or telehealth. It is wonderful that these benefits are becoming normalized and expected, but I encourage leaders to think more broadly when they consider all the ways they can support wellness. Below are some of the facets of wellness and how Zeno is showing up.

  • Mental Wellness: We have a ‘Be Kind to Your Mind’ program which focuses on mental health, providing a paid subscription to Headspace and access to mental health and other support services through a best-in-class employee assistance program. But honestly, today these types of benefits are table stakes. I am extremely proud of the importance our leaders and our culture places on psychological safety. All the benefits in the world will not be helpful if people are working in a toxic environment where they don’t feel safe to raise up a question or idea. Professor Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School (the person who coined the term “psychological safety”), states that in a psychologically safe workplace “people should feel like they can ask questions, raise concerns and pitch ideas without undue repercussions.” Our motto of being ‘fearless’ is the rallying cry that I believe fuels this environment.
  • Social Wellness: A key part of social wellness is having a network of people you trust, can be candid with, turn to for support and have fun. There are a number of ways we encourage and foster those kinds of relationships. We have six employee resource groups that provide employees with the space to connect with people with shared interests — including a working parents group “The Village,” groups that unite diverse employees across dimensions of race, ethnicity and gender identity, as well as “Freshmen Homeroom” to support colleagues new to the workforce. Our offices support sports leagues that help us meet new people, have fun and get outside and move around — a benefit that covers several wellness areas. Our mentoring program is another way to connect people and find ways to learn from each other and our unique experiences. And while we love our colleagues at work, we believe in the restorative power of time off including Extra-Flex Fridays and our unique Spring holiday called, “Zeno Day of Play” which gives us time to connect with our family and friends. This was my first year to enjoy this special perk and not only did it mean I got to take my two sons to lunch and a movie on a day when most people were working, but it was fun to talk to my colleagues before and after our day of play to learn about how they enjoyed the day.
  • Physical Wellness: Physical wellness is the most traditional form of wellness — from health care benefits to step challenges — and yet there are many people who don’t feel like they can take the time they need to stay physically fit and active. In my personal experience, I think one of the most impactful things a company can do is have their leaders model this behavior. At my previous company we had an on-site gym that I tried very hard to get to a couple times of week in the middle of the day. When I spoke to fellow leaders about going to the gym, they would say “I’m fine if people on my team go, but I just don’t have the time.” I challenged them to go, not only for their own health, but because walking by a member of your team with your gym back slung over your shoulder is the most effective way to support that person feeling empowered to head down for their own spin class.
  • Financial Wellness: In addition to pay and bonuses, we support our employees’ financial wellness with a 401(k) plan, pretax flexible spending accounts, tuition assistance, life insurance and free access to a certified financial coach. Employees are encouraged to take advantage of our ZenoFit program which provides a monthly allowance to support activities in our personal life from a gym membership or spa treatment to a dinner out. I can tell you it still gives me a little thrill to take a friend out for coffee or a drink and know it’s on Zeno!

Can you help articulate a few ways how workplaces will benefit and transform if they would pay attention to employees’ total wellness, and incorporate some of the ideas mentioned above?

Embracing wellness, finding unique ways to support your teams, and building a culture that prioritizes all facets of wellness shows your employees you truly respect and value them. It takes you out of a transactional, check-the-box relationship and one that demonstrates the company sees members of their team as people — people with full, complex, messy and wonderful lives. Yes, you will see improvements to productivity and decreases to sick leave and medical costs, but also you will see people who are comfortable being open, sharing themselves and their ideas, while supporting their teammates. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place like that?

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

There are a number of ways we are underscoring the importance of a “Work Well” culture and it mostly gets down to modeling the behavior and talking about it — amongst our fellow leaders and with our teams. Our CEO, Barby Siegel, sends an email every Thursday night to the whole company sharing her thoughts and observations about what the agency, the team and her own family are facing at that time. She has been sending these out since the beginning of the pandemic and in those emails she frequently talks about her own experiences on how to stay well. Her consistent messages and examples are tremendously impactful to showing all leaders how to support this culture. At Zeno, we take an active role in caring for our culture. It’s on the agenda of every weekly leadership meeting with honest discussions and time to brainstorm ways to support the team at large.

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?

Start talking. Talk about your own experiences with wellness with your co-workers. What do you do to stay physically or emotionally healthy? How do you set boundaries? Hearing from colleagues at work about how they are tackling these issues gives people permission to follow similar courses of action. Also start asking people how they are doing. How are they really doing? And what would support look like from you? And then be sure to follow up! Speak with your actions, not just words.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

We are truly living in a pivotal time for work and our relationship with it. This experiment of working virtually, that the pandemic thrust upon all of us, proved that it can work. And people want to live their life AND have a rewarding career, not lose their life to their career. This healthier outlook is such a source of optimism for me. We don’t have to hide that we have a life outside the office, we can embrace it.

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?

Meet me on LinkedIn!

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