It goes without saying, but it’s nearly impossible to separate how we’re feeling in our personal lives compared to our professional lives. That being said, how can we boost employee well-being around stressful public moments? (i.e., elections, the pandemic, and a potential recession.)

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 Bob Szuter.

Bob Szuter is co-owner of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus. Bob is responsible for overseeing all on-premise operations and general management of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, Understory, and the company’s brewery production facility. He studied finance & accounting at Ohio State University Bob and resides in Clintonville with his wife and two daughters.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. 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?

The past few years have certainly magnified the importance of being able to handle not only the ups and downs of work but also life in general. Wellness for WRB (Wolf’s Ridge Brewing) can be defined as being able to successfully manage the stress of working in hospitality while keeping top of mind employee growth and development. For the past two years, we have been working hard to develop our leaders with a focus on conscious business practices and building a culture led by a clear vision and values. We have quarterly check-ins with our staff and look to these to guide the overall health of our team.

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?

For WRB (Wolf’s Ridge Brewing), a well workforce is critical. Guest satisfaction (reviews), overall profitability, training expenses, and turnover are a few of the items we review closely to ensure we’re hitting the mark. We firmly believe that achieving our vision does not happen without employees that feel valued, empowered, and sustained.

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?

We’ve seen a lot of fear from other business leaders in implementing programs that would directly benefit employees, but that might not directly lead to higher sales or increased profitability. We try hard to analyze that fear internally and find what’s driving that feeling and go from there. As a commissioner on the Columbus Women’s Commission, I have seen how hesitant others can be to implement paid leave policies, engage in pay equity conversations, or look for solutions that would improve employee health. At WRB (Wolf’s Ridge Brewing), we’ve worked hard to drill down and look at the actual financial impact of some of these actions. For example, our paid leave policy costs less than 1% of total compensation but is an undeniable value to our staff. When we look to critique our understanding and feelings driving our emotions or reactions to business decisions, it can be helpful in leading with more intention and focus.

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?

This may be one area where we have the most opportunity to grow. Over the past few years, there has been such a demand for hiring that our processes haven’t had the chance to improve along with the increase in the need for staff. However, before each potential employee comes to WRB (Wolf’s Ridge Brewing) they know we offer employer-paid benefits such as paid time off, short-term disability, and a 401(k) plan. On top of that, we make it known there is access to multiple medical insurance plans and an employee assistance fund set up to help staff with emergency situations that will undoubtedly occur.

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 and Emotional Wellness: Expanding our PTO program and intentionally developing a culture focused on turning off whether on vacation or outside normal work hours has been impactful.

Social Wellness: We’ve always felt it’s important to create a safe and accepting environment. As we become more aware of our influence on others, we want to make sure we develop self and social awareness in all staff. We’ve been focusing on building this from the top down and pushing holistically through the business.

Physical Wellness: In hospitality and beer it can be difficult to turn down a drink. Ensuring that our staff understands the importance of moderation both in serving guests and themselves is an important place to start. We go further by encouraging physical activity to help with health, both mental and physical. Sharing incentives available through employer-offered insurance, such as a free Apple watch, are also helpful.

Financial Wellness: Though we’ve offered a 401(k) plan for staff for years, we try to engage more directly with staff about the importance of saving and planning for retirement. For us, that starts with the now. In Columbus, all our staff has access to a city program that gives them free 1-on-1 access with a financial advisor that isn’t affiliated with a financial institution. In addition, through our employee assistance fund, we offer short-term loans at no interest to help balance the ups and downs of life, so they don’t rely on high-interest loans or credit cards.

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?

By focusing on developing a sustainable workplace and workforce we’ve seen improvements in the ability of our entire team to be more impactful with their work. Specifically, to grow from 60 employees to more than 140 in a year takes serious focus and intentionality. Providing staff with the ability to validate their emotions, help them understand the thoughts driving action, and knowing they’ll be supported has been instrumental in being able to both keep the team healthy and grow our business with our vision at the forefront. Taking steps to improve the overall wellness of staff will make the work we do more focused and healthier.

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

We’ve been working to develop conscious leadership in our senior leaders as a starting point that we hope will allow us to better lead and support a “Work Well” culture. Understanding our influence on others and the ability in which we can respond to any situation is a truly powerful approach to leading our staff. We focus on open, honest, and transparent communication which includes sharing financial information with all staff. Additionally, we plan at least three out-of-work events every year that are focused on building and improving our connections and 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?

I encourage leaders to first look internally and understand how it is we are showing up (or not) for our team. Can we adjust how we lead to better support our team? From there, I think you need to engage with your team and work to find out what they value so you can build a workplace culture that is supportive of that. A bonus of gaining that valuable insight would be that you’ll have more fruitful and positive conversations.

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

  1. Are workplace wellness plans and programs actually hitting the mark? SHRM (Society of Human Resource Managers) reported that mental health benefits have a less than 10% utilization ratio.
  2. Finding the right mix of benefits that work for employees will become more prevalent as new types of benefits and programs are introduced into the market. It will be interesting to see if employees are interested in new programs and the impact it could have on our staff’s well-being.
  3. Do employees really want X amount of dollars off towards a gym membership or other specific wellness program? Or is it better to give them the freedom to choose how they utilize their wellness stipends? Referencing time on the Columbus Women’s Commission, how are companies utilizing wellness programs differently?
  4. How do wellness programs for employees lead to an increase in monetary and health profitability? How does employee and staff well-being and wellness translate into business?
  5. It goes without saying, but it’s nearly impossible to separate how we’re feeling in our personal lives compared to our professional lives. That being said, how can we boost employee well-being around stressful public moments? (i.e., elections, the pandemic, and a potential recession.)

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

I believe there is a fundamental shift between employers and employees and what work means to each. Understanding that we have the opportunity to change how we reward work and what we place emphasis on is truly exciting. There are so many ways to support our team and encourage sustainable employment and I love chasing those opportunities.

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?

Please contact [email protected]

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