Financial Wellness.

Financial stress has been linked to a 34% rise in absenteeism and tardiness, according to the “Society for Human Resource Management.” As a result, employees who worry about their finances are absent from work an average of nearly twice as many days per year as those who don’t.

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 Dawn Myers.

Dawn Myers is co-founder of Guided Leadership Solutions, a Human Resource Consulting Organization. Her 25 years of experience fueled her desire to help people and small businesses succeed. Dawn’s openness about her mental health challenges, as well as her accomplishments and failures, has earned her a high level of respect as a consultant.

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.

I experienced a mental breakdown at the age of 36 and was diagnosed with Dysthymia, a fancy term for a chemical imbalance in my brain that explains my “life-long depression.” Although relieved to get a diagnosis, I was afraid to tell anyone for fear of being labeled “less than,” and I recognized that my workplace was not a safe place for me to heal, so I resigned. After overcoming the feelings of guilt and shame that come with having a mental illness, I made a promise to myself that I would help those who followed after me. I had a platform as a Director of Human Resources to tell my story and help. I was astounded by the number of employees who confided in me, despite the fact that they had been suffering in silence for fear of losing their jobs. I knew from personal experience that a holistic approach to wellbeing (mind, body, and spirit) was essential. I became a catalyst for change in my organization and now help business owners and leaders understand the same.

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?

It’s the state of our mental, physical, emotional, and financial well-being. We measure wellness based on how we interact, how we make decisions and our overall engagement in the organization. We are fortunate to have a smaller team and part of our weekly meeting is a wellness check where we each share how we are really doing and what we are struggling with. We also share calendars and ensure that we hold one another accountable to self-care (exercise, mindfulness, days off, etc.).

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 is critical for any business. Engagement is a sign of a well workforce. Gallup research has shown that highly engaged teams are 21 percent more profitable than their disengaged counterparts. Engaged employees are 41 percent less likely to miss work, while their turnover is 59 percent lower. They show up every day with a sense of purpose, passion, presence, and enthusiasm in organizations that care about their well-being. What employer wouldn’t want that?

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 would say, “what are you costing your business by not doing something?” Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year. These initiatives don’t have to cost a lot and they don’t have to fall on the leaders to make it all happen. Employers can start by creating an employee wellness resource group. Challenge them to come up with a low to no cost program or plan. It is amazing what a small group of passionate and empowered people can do. I worked for years without a wellness budget and created such a team. We hosted lunch and learns with dieticians, financial planners, etc., walking and exercise groups, book club, and more. These measures are even more critical now, given the pandemic’s impact on many aspects of health. You have another layer when you return to work.

Costly or not, there is no program our there that can replace empathetic leadership. Empathy is the ability to recognize and control one’s own emotions while also being aware of the feelings of others. Employees aren’t likely to feel truly valued, empowered and experience overall wellness in an organization that does not demonstrate empathy. A new investigation on workplace empathy found conflicting results — 92 percent of employees feel that empathy is undervalued, while the same percentage (92%) of CEO’s feel their organization is empathetic. That disconnect is a problem.

Empathy leads to the development of positive relationships and organizational cultures, as well as the achievement of desired outcomes. Although empathy is not a new skill, its importance has increased in recent years, new research demonstrates how empathy is the leadership competency that must be developed and demonstrated, now and in the future, of the work environment.

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?

Our organization is built on a basis of holistic well-being. It’s a big part of how we attract new employees because it’s part of our core principles and culture. We only hire people that share our values and who will fit in with our work environment and culture.

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:

  • Weave mental health into workplace culture.
  • Normalize discussions around stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.
  • Share your own challenges.
  • Show acceptance and inclusivity.
  • Integrate into the company culture.
  • Mission, Vision Values.
  • Company Communications.
  • Company and Departmental Meetings.
  • Offer and promote services and programs that promote the employee well-being.
  • Normalize the use of mental health benefits.

Emotional Wellness:

  • Lead by Example.
  • Promote self-care as an important aspect of your company.
  • Model healthy behaviors and communicate how to put into practice.
  • Educate employees and leaders on the signs of burnout.
  • Encourage employees to take time off.
  • Mental health days.
  • Set the expectation to fully unplug when on vacation, etc.
  • Cross train your team so employees will return well rested and not the burden of catching up on all the work that wasn’t done while they were away.

Social Wellness:

  • Create a Sense of Belonging.
  • Promote internal relationships.
  • Non-work events, opportunities to build connection.
  • Find ways to engage remote workers and connect them with others.
  • Don’t avoid conflict, it will not resolve itself.
  • Build a culture of connection through check-ins.
  • Go beyond “how are you?”
  • Ask specific questions about what support they need.
  • Uncover the needs, desires, and goals of your employees.
  • Show recognition on a regular basis.
  • Share your appreciation for who they are; not just what they do.
  • Write notes of acknowledgement.
  • Thank you for specific actions.
  • Support for difficult situations.
  • Just because.

Physical Wellness:

  • Promote healthy lifestyles onsite.
  • Provide healthy snacks.
  • Create fun incentives and challenges as motivation to reach employee fitness goals.
  • Hold standup or walking meetings.
  • Partner with your healthcare provider for.
  • Onsite wellness screening and vaccinations.
  • Complimentary or low-cost programs.
  • Provide fun activities that encourage movement.
  • Host on-site healthy cooking class and/or yoga.

Financial Wellness:

  • Provide financial resources for employees.
  • Onsite education classes.
  • Find local financial institutions to provide complimentary.
  • Financial counseling.
  • Available through Employee Assistance Programs.
  • Find local financial institutions to provide complimentary.
  • Offer direct deposit and encourage employees to add a savings account.
  • Offer and promote retirement savings plan.

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?

The benefits are endless but here are a few most notable:

  • 63% of employers offering wellness programs reported increased financial sustainability and growth. (IFEBP, 2017)
  • 56% of employees had fewer sick days because of wellness programs. (United Healthcare, 2018)
  • 91% of employees in organizations run by executives who support wellbeing initiatives believe they are motivated to achieve their best at work. (American Psychological Association, 2017)
  • 89% of employees who work in companies promoting well-being activities are more likely to recommend their company as an excellent workplace. (American Psychological Association, 2017)

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

Within our own company, we pick a book that supports our culture and read it together, sharing what we’ve learned. Our leadership is constantly evolving.

We share relevant statistics and best practices with our clients and advise them on how to put them into practice and measure them.

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?

The most important step would be to normalize the discussion of job stressors such as burnout, anxiety, depression, and other health disorders. It all begins here — start the conversation. It takes courage for an organization and its leaders to go to this level of transparency and openness. It sounds simple, but it’s not, and it just might be the spark we’ve been looking for to bring about a shift in workplace wellness.

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

  1. Mental Health Benefits.

Mental health is at the top of everyone’s mind this year, according to “Wellable’s 2021 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report” nine out of ten businesses intend to increase their investment in this area to be better prepared to address this aspect of employee well-being.

2. Stress Management.

Sadly, many employees were already aware of the stress of the workplace prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of employees in the United States report they are constantly or nearly constantly stressed at work.

According to a study by Ginger, 81% of workers reported experiencing symptoms ranging from weariness and anxiety to physical problems that resulted in them missing work.

3. Telehealth.

This is yet another workplace wellness trend that should come as no surprise. According to the same Wellable research, 87 percent of employers — including 90 percent of small businesses — want to increase their investments in telehealth this year.

4. Prevention.

This should be at the very top of any company’s list of workplace wellness trends to implement. Companies should focus on prevention rather than offering employees a variety of wellness perks when it is essentially too late — i.e., when individuals are stressed out, have an aching back, migraines from staring at a screen, etc.

5. Financial Wellness.

Financial stress has been linked to a 34% rise in absenteeism and tardiness, according to the “Society for Human Resource Management.” As a result, employees who worry about their finances are absent from work an average of nearly twice as many days per year as those who don’t.

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

The fact that I’ve been requested to speak about it not only here, but also at conferences and workshops. Organizations are understanding that workplace wellness is quickly becoming a “non-negotiable” for employees.

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?

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