Work-life balance took on new meaning during the pandemic. Employees are no longer as willing to sacrifice what’s important in their lives for the sake of work. We need to demonstrate that we care about our employees, not just about what they produce, but by encouraging and respecting boundaries.

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 Cori Davis, Chief People Officer at Genentech.

Cori Davis is Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group. In this role, she leads the strategy to foster an inclusive and inspiring environment where the company’s 13,500 employees can grow, thrive, and unlock their full potential to contribute to patients and society.

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.

Early in my career, I was let go from a job — a job that I loved and that was all-consuming. It was the first time I’d lost something so integral to my identity. At that point in my career, I didn’t have the confidence and security to understand that I would be okay. Instead, I was depressed and anxious, and it took some time before I picked myself up and decided to be more intentional about my work and life going forward. From that point on, I stopped moving to new cities for jobs; rather, I started moving to where I wanted to live and finding jobs there. And most importantly, I stopped living for work and started working to live!

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?

As a healthcare company, the health and well-being of our employees is a priority for Genentech. We take a holistic approach to wellness, by offering benefits and services that support employees’ physical, mental, emotional, financial, and social well-being, and continuously evolve our offerings to reflect the availability of new research and resources. We also enhanced many of our benefits during the pandemic to provide increased support for COVID-19-related challenges.

Our primary metric for measuring mental well-being is a “resilience dashboard” provided by one of our vendors, which shows progress against self-care objectives, factors that affect resilience, and personalized training recommendations. We’re also building a proprietary tool that will provide a more comprehensive view of employee wellness, with the expectation that having more robust data will help us identify the effectiveness and utilization of our wellness programs and the areas where our employees need more support.

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?

There are countless studies that prove the connection between employee well-being and positive business outcomes. We believe our success in achieving Genentech’s mission — pursuing groundbreaking science to discover, develop, and deliver medicines for people with serious and life-threatening diseases — is directly tied to the positive experience, engagement, and resilience of our 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?

The return on investments in employee wellness are not as easily quantified as most other business investments; assessing wellness is more nuanced. That noted, there are indicators of the strength and value of wellness programs — higher employee net promoter scores, lower utilization of sick time, fewer abrupt resignations. There are also ways to measure your programs’ effectiveness qualitatively. Think of how you perform at work when you feel physically, mentally, and financially healthy. Multiply that level of performance by your employee population and you’ll have a sense of the business benefits of investing in their well-being.

For those who still aren’t convinced, I’d point out that there are many tactics that support employee wellness — stretch breaks, breathing and mindfulness exercises, expressing gratitude, recognizing team and individual successes, holding walking 1:1s — that cost nothing and can be easily woven into most working environments.

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?

Delivering on our mission requires a diverse mix of the best and brightest people. By providing employees with a comprehensive, competitive, and progressive wellness-based benefits program, Genentech is able to attract and retain the most talented professionals in our industry.

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:

To supplement the mental health benefits available through all of our medical plans, we offer 25 free therapy sessions per person per year for employees and family members through a third-party mental health provider network. We created a dedicated health care team with our national medical vendor that includes patient advocates, nurses, and mental health clinicians who assess, triage, and provide support throughout the employee’s (or family member’s) treatment plan. And we recently added a 24/7 emotional support line to our suite of mental health care benefits to provide virtual mental health urgent care and connect people to ongoing resources — from self-service options through crisis and intensive care.

  • Emotional Wellness:

In 2022, we launched our new well-being strategy, which is designed to embed additional layers of purpose, connection, and health into our lives at home and at work. The strategy employs tactics like “habit stacking” — adding a new behavior you’re trying to adopt, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, to your current behavior — and participating in activities that create “happy drips” of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin — by having a meaningful conversation with a friend or colleague, for example.

  • Social Wellness:

Now that we’ve fully reopened all of our campuses, we’re focused on rejuvenating the energy that makes Genentech such a special place to work; we believe the spark generated from in-person collaboration and spontaneous conversations is essential to the innovation needed to fuel our business. Being together in person helps build cross-team rapport, expands our circles of workplace friendships, enables mentorship, and creates the environment where we can trust, invest in one another, and take risks together. We’re currently packaging and promoting monthly events, social hours, and activities like fun runs and free lunch to help employees “connect on campus.”

  • Physical Wellness:

Our physical wellness campaign for 2022 has centered on a return to preventive care, as many of us missed wellness exams and cancer screenings during the pandemic. Ensuring employees are staying on top of their health and emphasizing the benefits of early detection of illness and risks identification are pivotal components of the campaign — and they’re paying off; just 10 months into the year, we’ve surpassed our pre-pandemic preventive care utilization rates.

  • Financial Wellness:

To encourage employees to take advantage of our financial wellness resources, we offer — appropriately enough — financial incentives. When we began offering employees $25 to complete an online financial wellness checkup, there was a huge uptick in utilization. Many employees then went on to reevaluate their risk tolerance and return objectives and make appropriate changes to their 401(k) investments and savings strategies.

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?

One of the most unique and special features of Genentech’s wellness program is our Mental Health Champions network. Over 300 Genentech employees, representing all geographies, areas of business, and demographic backgrounds, volunteer their time to support colleagues’ mental wellness. In addition to helping fellow employees understand and access our mental health care benefits, our Champions maintain a website of resources — including guidelines for identifying when a colleague is in distress, best practices for reaching out and providing support, and resources to help managers help their team members. Many Champions or their family members have experienced mental health challenges, and being open about their experiences contributes to our efforts to destigmatize the need for mental health care.

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

We’re following our Mental Health Champions blueprint to create a network of Well-Being Champions. Volunteer members will have the dual responsibility of tracking their teams’ needs and challenges and tailoring our well-being resources and programs to deliver the greatest impact.

We’re also embedding wellness into leadership training. For example, we’ve heard that employees don’t always feel they have permission to decline meetings, schedule time on their calendars for heads-down work, or block off time for lunch or exercise. We’ve been reinforcing with leaders the importance of empowering employees to manage their work schedule — and build wellness into it — without fear of disappointing anyone.

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’ll give you two small steps!

First, take a poll at the beginning of team meetings. Ask your team members how they’re feeling — green, yellow, or red — about their workload, stress, or another timely topic. You’ll get in-the-moment insight into how your team is doing so you can adjust in real time, as well as data to track trends over time.

Second, celebrate your wins. We’ve found that employees who are recognized for their contributions become noticeably more engaged. Recognition keeps the focus on the positive and builds camaraderie and connection. A few words of thanks can deliver the most valuable payoff of any five minutes of time you spend with your team.

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

My colleagues at Genentech and I are tracking these five workplace wellness trends:

  • Inclusion and belonging are critical to employee wellness.

With many of our colleagues working hybrid schedules — some time at home, some time on campus — we must be deliberate in our efforts to make everyone feel included. Among our best practices for healthy hybrid meetings are assigning a “meeting champion” to keep an eye out for raised hands and chat comments, asking attendees to indicate in their RSVP whether they’re participating from a home office or campus, and always including a remote participation option.

  • It’s imperative for leaders to model healthy behaviors.

Let’s show our employees that it’s not only okay to build wellness into our workday, it’s strongly encouraged. Don’t check email while you’re on vacation. Block time on your calendar for exercise. Share the only circumstances in which your team should contact you after hours.

  • A one-size wellness program does not fit all.

At Genentech, we’re looking at the utilization data for each of our wellness programs to identify and better support differing needs among segments of our employee population. Parents of young children, for example, need caregiving tools and resources that are different from those we provide to employees caring for aging parents. Similarly, the financial guidance employees need at the beginning of their career is different from the guidance employees need as they approach retirement. We’re looking forward to being able to deliver more personalized wellness experiences for all employees.

  • Health doesn’t happen in siloes.

When you’re not feeling well in one aspect of your life, it affects all the others. For this reason, we’re moving away from talking about specific types of wellness. “Health” encompasses every aspect of well-being — physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial.

  • A healthy culture is essential to attracting, retaining, and maximizing the potential of your talent.

Work-life balance took on new meaning during the pandemic. Employees are no longer as willing to sacrifice what’s important in their lives for the sake of work. We need to demonstrate that we care about our employees, not just about what they produce, but by encouraging and respecting boundaries.

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

Few events have tested our resilience more than the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m both moved and heartened when I reflect on the ways Genentech employees have shown up for each other and our patients. If we can emerge from a global pandemic stronger and wiser, with more compassion for ourselves and others than we had before it, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish moving forward.

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?

Your readers are welcome to connect with 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.