Leveraging data for decisions: We’re a tech company and using data and surveys to make decisions is not just about our products. I think there will be an increase in using data to make HR decisions in the future in a way that will promote equity across standards and can give leaders comparable metrics for their teams, regardless of which time zone their teams live in.

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: David Green, CEO of Earnest.

David Green is the CEO of Earnest, a fintech lender focused on making higher education accessible and affordable. As CEO, David has broadened the scope of Earnest’s impact, leading the company to become America’s largest refinancer of student loans. He ensures Earnest empowers anyone seeking higher education to get on the right financial track for life, and has grown the company through its recent acquisition of Going Merry, a national financial aid platform. David received his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. from George Washington University. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife and two young sons.

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.

When I became CEO of Earnest, I reflected a lot on my path, which was not “standard.” I wanted to give my teammates something of value to learn from, so I took stock of how I went from being a guy with no real title who was underwriting loans — a department we called “risk” early on — to the top job. See, I had applied to more than 60 jobs before I landed the interview at Earnest. The risk team was like no other I’d ever been on: I was surrounded by people who worked extremely hard for a cause beyond just making money, and did so while having fun and not taking themselves too seriously. That pushed me to do better and be better. I had never been in a place where I felt more energized to help our customers and more empowered to have an impact. It enabled me to perform at my best, which ultimately helped me get to this stage today.

What I learned was that community, the people I worked with and the common goals we shared, helped curate work relationships beyond professional output.

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?

We define wellness as people feeling and being set up to do their best. That means different things for different people, but we like to think we support them across mental, physical, and financial health goals. Because we value it so much, we look at the overall wellness of our company as a metric for our people. In that, we assess an employee Net Promoter Score each quarter. This allows us to let our team, our Earnies, talk to us about how they’re feeling at work and overall. We’ve seen this score fluctuate through the pandemic and remote work options, and that has led to many positive changes throughout our 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?

In my experience, a good workforce knows that we see them as people first and that their potential is inextricably linked to their wellness. We have a company-wide dialogue about career growth and professional development, but it is always couched in doing what’s right by our Earnies. Having a low turnover rate in key roles (and across the company) is a point of pride because we like to think people are happy in what they are doing and feel supported in doing it.

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?

I think that question can be answered by asking: how strongly do your people believe in the mission, and what are you doing to help them see their part? A truly mission-centered organization inspires its teams to achieve their goals by having their back. If investing more in wellness can show your teams that you are serious about achieving your mission, then it follows that they will rally to help achieve it.

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?

We really believe in work-life balance as a key to wellness, and because of that, we have been offering benefits that stand out among other employers, like annual travel bonuses and remote work stipends. We want our employees to know we value them and want to contribute to making their time outside of work as restorative as it can be. It’s one of the reasons we are a remote-first company!

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: Since launching No Meeting Thursdays , our teams report liking that they have a dedicated space each week to take time and be alone with their work. It’s also been a great stress reducer and made our workweeks really productive.
  • Emotional Wellness: We became officially remote-first and are aware that feeling disconnected from co-workers can take an emotional toll. We know community-building takes effort, so Earnest invests in companywide get-togethers and leadership touchpoints to support our remote workers. It gives everyone something to look forward to and recharges everyone.
  • Social Wellness: I think our active and lively Slack channels can tell you a lot more about that than I can! Setting the tone of open communication starts from above, and our leadership and employees know that anyone who is an Earnie is open for connection and collaboration. We recently held our first post-Covid all-company off-site meeting, where we spent a little time discussing business activities but then intentionally focused on community building through karaoke and additional fun group activities. The bonding and connection there were incredible. Leaders at Earnest are also encouraging more offline ways to connect with their teams so that we keep up the momentum of community outside of special once-a-year events.
  • Physical Wellness: We know that having time to take care of our health and the benefits of meeting those needs can help us do our best. We ensure our benefits are robust and allow enough flexibility for employees to stay on top of check-ups or even setting health goals to climb a mountain! I love the outdoors, so personally, physical wellness has been a huge connection point for me with our teams.
  • Financial Wellness: Proudly, many of our Earnies also use us for their financial needs! They are customers and employees, and we use the tools we build for our customers, too. It’s neat to have a workforce that can rely on us for some of their most personal matters.

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?

Retention is a constant worry for leaders, especially in remote organizations. Well employees are happy employees. When you give employees the space to dictate the path of their own life — where they live, when they work, when they play — they will give you their best. Allowing our Earnies to live wherever they wanted to, for instance, we found made them more productive and made them feel better. Without having to be tied to an area with high taxes, they could explore their own interests but didn’t have to change jobs to change locations. We encourage wellness through a remote work culture.

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

We encourage our leaders to support skills development and professional progression for everyone on their team. Great talent can be grown within — as I mentioned earlier, with me starting in ‘Risk’ and now steering the ship as CEO. We actively champion growth for employees as seen through our ‘Covered Costs tuition and education reimbursement’ benefits program. We provide benefits of up to $5,250 for full-time employees when the costs are applied to tuition, course fees, books, supplies, and more. Employees can further job-related degrees or certificate education that will prepare them for career growth. We also offer a learning benefit for employees to take courses online in any area of their choosing that doesn’t have to be job-related.

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?

Get back to basics: keep your mission and what you are trying to accomplish top of mind. This will help you stay on top of what your people need. For example, we wanted to do more than just be an amazing refinancer of student loans. After all, our mission is to make higher education accessible and affordable for everyone. After we made an acquisition with a scholarship platform called Going Merry, we saw that our employees were really excited by the purpose our work brings to their roles. Whenever we add benefits or make employment decisions, we need to be able to say that it will help us deliver on our mission. Everything else falls into place after that.

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

  1. Remote work, it has to be said, is not going anywhere: We love this aspect of our company because we can recruit more broadly and grow as a company from regional expansion without opening new offices. We are aware that shifting the work to remote operations was fairly easy during Covidm and while the culture has taken some more concentrated effort, we are committed to it.
  2. DEI as more than a corporate checklist: Our company is committed to making a large social change for people who have not had access to complex financial systems in the past. We can’t deliver on this promise — and our mission — if we don’t live by DEI as a matter of doing right by our customers. I hope other companies adopt this viewpoint.
  3. Frank and open discussion of personal mental wellness: A recent national recommendation that adults between 18–64 be screened for anxiety is a bellwether of our national need to prioritize mental health. We value our employees and their needs across all dimensions, so we encourage and create space for honest conversations across all levels of the organization.
  4. Promotion of ongoing, lifelong learning: People everywhere change careers, turn passions into jobs, and adapt their skill sets. This is a good thing! We want our people to be open to innovation and personal growth. We think this keeps our company fresh and able to retain Earnies who invest in themselves. Furthermore, our teams like working here and we have the data to show it: hundreds of internal referrals happen and we think that reflects well on our company. We also promoted a sizable fraction of our total workforce last year (about 25%).
  5. Leveraging data for decisions: We’re a tech company and using data and surveys to make decisions is not just about our products. I think there will be an increase in using data to make HR decisions in the future in a way that will promote equity across standards and can give leaders comparable metrics for their teams, regardless of which time zone their teams live in.

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

As a whole, society has become much more open to talking about the workplace and workforce. Individuals have been and continue to advocate for themselves and others when it comes to wellness. We are seeing this in our employees. They are honest about where they are. A good leader will listen, and our culture of promoting within makes me optimistic about our future.

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?

Follow me on LinkedIn. And if you’re looking for great resources on student lending, check out the Earnest blog here.

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