Companies offering to support their employees in ways that go beyond the standard benefits.

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 Celia Balson.

Celia Balson is a seasoned Human Resources and Recruiting expert who has worked with both startups and notable organizations — UniFirst Corporation,, Interior Define, AKG (Automotive Keys Group) — throughout her 10+ years in the field. Celia’s expertise lies in helping companies develop thoughtful and robust HR plans as those companies are engaged in major periods of growth and transition. After experiencing first-hand how often businesses place HR and recruiting as a secondary need versus a revenue-driving and profitable area of business, Celia founded Work Friendly in 2016, a female-founded, people-first consulting agency that partners with clients to recruit, retain, and engage the most important aspect of their business, their people.

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?

Employee wellness is the product of a company’s culture. The three ways we measure it at Work Friendly are: (1) How engaged is our team? (2) Are they achieving their personal and professional goals? And (3) Are we sensing burnout or lack of engagement?

It’s important to emphasize both personal and professional goals when looking at a measure of wellness, because the two are intertwined in many cases. At Work Friendly, we recommend implementing Wellness Scores to our clients, which can be measured in a variety of ways for an organization, including employee engagement, turnover, career progression and development, all which can be quantifiably measured. The harder metric to measure is the mental health of the employee, which takes deep care and understanding from leadership. We recommend using manager and employee 1 on 1 time to not only tick and tie off professional milestones, but to also understand the personal goals and motivations of employees, along with anything else outside of work which may require empathy and understanding from the company.

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?

It goes without saying that a healthy workforce, both physically and emotionally, is a more productive workforce. There are several studies out there showing a positive correlation between productivity and profitability and an employee’s happiness. At Work Friendly, we see the positive effect on productivity and profitability as a byproduct of being genuinely invested in the wellness of our 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?

Business leaders often have a hard time investing in things that aren’t tangible, such as wellness or marketing. At Work Friendly, we understand that many companies have only so much funding to go around, however, there are a number of low-cost options to achieving a higher wellness score at your organization, which can in turn improve the employer brand and reduce turnover. Some of these options include offering additional PTO and telehealth therapy options, as well as ensuring training leaders are empathetic with their team members. Though spending on wellness at organizations isn’t where we ideally want it to be, we are seeing a trend towards investing in the employee. You can see this in the types of benefits being offered which are now commonplace, including unlimited PTO, bereavement, summer hours, stipends on mental health if it’s outside of coverage, and more. Taking care of your employees is not only the right thing to do, but it will also result in fully engaged team members and a reduction in turnover, of which can cost up to 2x the salary of an employee to replace.

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?

At Work Friendly, we always conduct a compensation and benefits analysis before getting engaged in the recruitment process. In doing so, we avoid a long negotiation period when we find the right employee, which oftentimes can either cause the employee to look elsewhere or start the relationship on the wrong foot. We also recommend addressing the interview process with the candidate to make sure that we are respectful of that person’s time, which can directly affect their time at their current role and thus affect their bonus, or affect their mental health by adding unnecessary anxiety to the interview process from slow responses, lack of feedback, or lengthy interview processes.

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: By providing empathy and emotional intelligence training to our leadership, we ensure their ability to identify and help team members at the first sign that mental wellness is trending downwards.
  • Emotional Wellness: At Work Friendly, we believe mental and emotional wellness go hand in hand. Ensuring that our leaders listen with intent is the first step towards ensuring a healthy and happy team.
  • Social Wellness: We encourage our leaders to highlight social events that team members have or will experience. In many workforces it’s considered taboo to talk about what you’re doing on your day off. At Work Friendly, we have found that employees are happier if they are encouraged to take time off and spend it with people they love doing what they love to do.
  • Physical Wellness: Wellness competitions, such as setting group exercise goals or implementing a company softball league, as well as providing gym stipends to encourage physical activity, all have a direct positive effect on the mental and emotional health of employees.
  • Financial Wellness: This one is the easiest to affect as there are a variety of tools to help achieve this. First off, employers should be extremely focused on not only providing good benefits and career progression for employees to earn more money, but they should also be teaching their employees the benefits of contributing and what that means for financial wellness in the future. At Work Friendly, we have provided free training on how to properly budget or reach financial goals like buying a home, saving for retirement, or providing for college.

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?

We’ve cited this a few times throughout this interview, but wellness is the main engine behind the ecosystem that drives successful businesses. The lowest hanging fruit of incorporating wellness programs across the spectrum at an organization is to reduce turnover. Though it may seem obvious, it can be one of the highest costing items on the balance sheet. Turnover results in hard costs like paying recruiters, temporary workers, background checks, and soft costs that can be even more impactful, including the opportunity cost of a leader having to retrain the same position, burnout, and lack of productivity from team members who are forced to absorb additional work, and poor employer branding which in turn makes it tougher to recruit. All of these things, in addition to choosing to be a company that cares for its employees, are reason enough to incorporate wellness as a metric for success.

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

For one, we continuously monitor people analytics to provide information to our clients, such as turnover rates, productivity and engagement stats, and information on overall company morale. We also conduct upper management or HR check-ins with company leaders to ensure they set a proper example for employees.

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?

Take time to understand what is important to your employees from a wellness perspective. There are so many different routes you can take when it comes to supporting the wellness of your employees. They could be looking for a more inclusive leave policy, different work hours, more comprehensive benefits, etc. Not everything is tied to a cost, some wellness initiatives are much easier to implement than others. In order to make the biggest impact, make sure you understand what the desire is.

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

  1. Increased personalization of wellness option. For example, employees choose their own adventure and what works best for them versus the employer deciding. Employee needs can rarely all be met in a “one size fits all” system. At Work Friendly, we have used questionnaires to ask our employees what is most important to them. We then offer new benefits each year based on their responses and what they are interested in.
  2. Increased digitalization. There are a variety of platforms available that employers can put in the hands of employees versus needing an internal person (i.e. HR) that manages wellness programs. For example, Work Friendly implemented the Calm app for several of our clients to support mindfulness and mental health.
  3. Encouraging a culture of self-care at workplaces. For example, encouraging walking meetings or no meeting days, or true lunch hours versus eating at desks can both be great ways to create a wellness-focused environment.
  4. Paying applicants for their time in the final interview phase. As a consultancy, we have worked with a variety of clients that incorporate an exercise as part of the interview process. If an exercise is expected to take an hour or more, the client will offer an hourly stipend for completion of the exercise, which is a great way for an employer to express their culture to a potential candidate.
  5. Companies offering to support their employees in ways that go beyond the standard benefits. For example, many of our clients have developed policies that cover abortion travel costs, have shortened the work week to four days, or have moved towards a hybrid workforce.

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

As a consulting business, we have the pleasure of working with several companies at once. Over the last couple years, we have seen more and more of our clients offer benefits that fall outside of the standard health benefits. It seems as though companies are truly seeing the value of offering a wide array of wellness benefits, and we’re very optimistic about where that will lead the 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?

My personal LinkedIn, or Work Friendly’s LinkedIn or website.

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