When you have active advocates on your team who are providing a consistent feedback loop, this can help you quickly determine whether or not people are actually using the benefits you’re putting into place. Have you offered a concierge program, or a sports club membership, or a daycare benefit? Your wellness champions can give you the inside scoop on what’s working and what’s not, so you can adjust your programming accordingly.

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 Diane Egbers, Founder and President of Leadership Excelleration (LE) Consulting, a national leadership development firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Diane is an inspirational and dynamic executive coach, management consultant and facilitator who leverages the latest research and proven strategies to challenge leaders to reach their full potential. For the past 25 years, she has been engaging with Fortune 500 clients, major healthcare systems and government entities, while guiding her consulting team to offer transformative leadership development, organizational assessments and support for high performing teams. She is also author of The Ascending Leader, and founder and board chair of the teen suicide prevention non-profit, Grant Us Hope.

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.

About 12 years ago, I was your typical driven executive and quite the perfectionist. I was not only burning the candle at both ends, but right in the middle. I then had an unexpected health issue emerge that forced me to take a step back and really think about what was most important to me…to really reflect on the kind of mom I was to my kids, the importance of legacy and longevity, and I began to understand that this life is a marathon not a sprint. That difficult season really helped me to implement real wellness principles, balance and integration into my life.

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?

Because our organization provides wellness courses for our clients, it’s essential that we set the standard from the inside out. We want to model what we recommend to our clients, so our approach is centered around best practices. Our definition of wellness takes the whole person into account, including the social, physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of each individual’s unique wellness. We measure wellness by determining how integrated wellness initiatives are in workplace cultures.

Many studies have proven that isolation leads to anxiety and depression in our culture. The millennial generation is reported to have a higher rate of isolation than any generation before. The paradox of social media is that is has functions under the guise and promise to provide more connection and, in reality, it does the opposite. The distinction and evidence we’re experiencing in our culture now is that people are experiencing less intimacy, less togetherness, less in-person relationships than ever. This separateness and false sense of connection can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, and more.

In Erica Dhawan’s book, Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance, she notes a New York Times article citing that 43 percent of working Americans spend at least some time working remotely, a percentage that skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic. She also notes another study reporting that 25 percent of respondents said they socialize more frequently online than in person.

Dhawan also says that in most of today’s workplaces, there is more physical distance, fewer face-to-face interactions and that we have become more indifferent towards the needs and emotions of our colleagues. She says this digital disconnect leads us to misinterpret, overlook, or ignore signals and cues from employees, leading to new waves of organizational disfunction. She also says that the loss of nonverbal body language cues is among the most overlooked reasons why employees feel so disengaged from others.

Our wellness was already at stake before Covid. With the addition of the two years of extreme isolation, most of us have become further disconnected from relationships and a sense of community. The opportunity for workplaces now is that there is a tremendous desire for Millennials and Gen Z to rebuild and pave paths that facilitate new meaningful connections. This is why a focus on workplace wellness is so important and must be nurtured in organizations.

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?

Every employee wants to be valued. They want to know they are making a difference. When an individual knows their employer cares about them not just for the work they do, but for who they are as a person, this creates a loyalty dynamic and personal connection. To walk the talk of this philosophy in daily workplace interactions is really the foundation of high productivity, high performance, and the key to achieving big organizational goals, together.

This kind of unified success is only possible when employees have fully dedicated their purpose, passion and commitment to an organization. It’s easy to tally labor hours on a clock. But when we have captured the heartfelt passions of our team members because they each feel cared about valued, that’s when they’ll commit themselves to go the extra mile to really help your organization achieve a high performing culture.

To quantify the impact of a well workforce, leadership continuity is key. Every time a leader leaves an organization, it takes three to five years to recover that vital knowledge that that leader carries with them, and team performance is significantly impacted. With great leadership continuity, high performing cultures are possible. And with high performance, then comes team alignment, empowerment, collaboration, innovation and productivity.

It’s all possible. But it all goes back to focusing on our leaders. First to sustain their commitment to create continuous cultural environments where leaders choose not only to stay but are encouraged to forge a career path for themselves. If leaders are content, see future opportunities, and are engaged, then there exists the potential to create high performing teams. Leader engagement is the essential foundation for team engagement.

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?

Wellness strategies are only as good as they are representative of employees’ needs and reflective of their interests. I consistently see disconnects between what organizations seek to provide and the real needs of their employees.

It’s vital to really listen and seek to understand the unique needs of your leadership and teams. You may be surprised to find that some wellness solutions your team is seeking do not require a significant financial investment. There are many solutions that simply require the development of partnerships or providing resources, at little to no cost.

For example, exercise and physical activity are key to overall well-being. Partner with a local gym or fitness studio and request that they offer a discounted rate to your employees in exchange for promotion. Offering enhanced mental health resources is another example. Negotiate some mental health sessions into your existing employee assistance programs if that’s what your community needs.

Or perhaps schedule flexibility is most important to your population. Then ask yourself, how do you foster flexibility as your teams navigate raising families and working? Offering daycare options or partnering with daycare centers is an excellent and practical solution. Even just offering a discount could do wonders in making your team feel seen and their family needs noticed.

Consider offering a concierge service. Everybody has a ‘honey do’ list they can’t get to and everyone struggles to get errands done… from grooming the dog, to servicing the car, to buying a gift, or scheduling that orthodontist appointment, we’re all struggling with balance. There are many concierge service options available that you could offer as a perk or even just at a discounted rate.

Really it comes down to understanding and elevating the nuances of your employees’ wellness needs. It’s crucially important to provide wellness resources to prove to your employees that you value work life integration. The key is listening to your employees and actively responding to what they need.

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?

Wellness is the new talent trend. Organizational brands must incorporate wellness into their identities in order to attract today’s top talent. Smart recruits are first going to check out your website and review your banded values when determining whether or not you are a cultural fit for their lifestyle and value system. Millennials specifically desire to work for a place that values them as a whole person and is making a difference in the community.

Does your company practice and offer employee wellness benefits? Top recruits want to know not only if yours is a culture they can see themselves professionally thriving in, but one that values their personal wellness as well. Making sure your brand accurately and thoroughly reflects your wellness benefits is key to top talent recruitment and hiring.

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.

We are seeing and suggesting a variety of initiatives to our clients that are unique to their needs which include everything from changing their flextime policies to offering fitness benefits and more. Listening to your leaders and employees is the first step when determining what areas of wellness to focus on.

  • Mental Wellness: Ask yourself, how do we help an employee struggling with anxiety or depression, especially since COVID? There are many resources and community opportunities that offer free mental health evaluations, counseling sessions and support groups that you can source and provide for your team.
  • Emotional Wellness: After these many months of isolation, community is key for emotional wellness. Invite introspection and connection through something like a book club, if your staff is open to that. Or perhaps a wine tasting or happy hour is more your team’s style. The key is to create connection opportunities that reflect the interests of your team that foster connection, emotional wellness and even spiritual growth.
  • Social Wellness: Building community by encouraging people to socialize, offering outings and providing interest-based social events are very important inside organizations. Some team members may be interested a sport such as a corporate softball or sand volleyball team, while others may prefer something more intimate and low key. Get creative and personalize social opportunities that invite team engagement.
  • Physical Wellness: Is there a partnership opportunity available at a fitness facility nearby that you could leverage? Are there discounts or access to activities that can help people get moving and focus on their physical health? Think fitness and sports club memberships, boutique fitness studios, gyms and more.
  • Financial Wellness: Consider offering self-study financial wellness programs or free financial planner consultations for your teams. Many employee assistance programs offer financial planning services and financial support. Adapt your programming to the unique needs of your team and their lifestyles.

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?

Listening carefully to the unique stressors and pain points of your team are critical. You must not only address the symptoms are, but really dig deep to uncover the root cause causes of stress for your team in order to develop effective solutions.

Identifying ‘wellness champions’ can greatly assist with encouraging team participation in new programs. Chose a few people on your team who you know are interested in wellness and consider designating them to provide ongoing feedback to you throughout program implementation. Having these wellness program advocates actively collecting objective feedback will help you hone in what’s working and what’s not, how leaders and employees are receiving the program, and whether or not it’s meeting their needs. Then, making program adjustments based on this feedback will help your brand to align on which wellness practices and services make the most sense to sustain your current team and also recruit future talent.

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

We’re incorporating wellness practices and a deep understanding of what working well means into the mindsets and skill sets of our teams based on our coaching and leadership facilitation programs. All of our programs begin with a wellness focus and on high performing culture development. Wellness is not only the foundation for all of our leadership programs, but our onboarding programs as well. The first six months to a year in a new role as a leader can be very stressful. So wellness is incorporated into all of our leadership offerings now.

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 first step is really to survey your leaders and employees, specifically as subgroups, then publicly commit to the top three strategies you identify based upon those survey results. Declaring and committing to what’s reasonable and possible for your company to implement within the next six months and developing a phased approach if necessary.

Keep in mind that developing community partnerships and offering discounts is often not much of a cost at all. But it does take a concerted effort to reach out and facilitate partnerships with providers that may need additional business. Remember to offer your corporate promotion as a mutually beneficial opportunity, and you may be surprised how responsive and low to no cost some of these wellness benefits may be.

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

  1. Define what wellness uniquely means in your organization.

How companies define wellness is vitally important. We recently had a client who loved the social, physical, psychological and spiritual components of our wellness program and wanted to replicate it in their organization. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Wellness programs must be personalized and accommodating to meet the needs of your specific team, and reflective of what is most valuable to them.

2. Focus on workplace wellness as a recruitment differentiator.

Company engagement and retention efforts will thrive or suffer based upon how effective their wellness program is. Those that are excelling at this are retaining and attracting key talent because they are innately focused on and in tune with the needs of their employee population.

3. Incorporate wellness as a corporate brand element.

This is something that takes time, but it’s also very effective. Wrapping wellness initiatives into your overall corporate brand messaging and value system means that your programs are not only perks and benefits, but they mean that you are paying attention, and that you care for your employees as individuals. High potential recruits are not only drawn to high performing cultures, but they’re drawn to a place where they’re going to be valued, cared about, and where they know they can make a difference.

4. Survey employees to understand team wellness needs.

Wellness solutions are going to be different for every team, but the trend we’re seeing, and one that works, is really adjusting to listen and accommodate what your employees need. Understanding what employees’ biggest stressors are where they also have the least wellbeing.

One of our clients just partnered with a local daycare center and they’re offering their employees a 25% discount. The leadership understood that the number one issue with their working moms was a concern about affordable daycare. This facility is located within a mile of their business. They also had cameras installed, so all of their employees can see what their kids are doing at any moment in time. This is a great example of really listening and responding to the unique needs of your team.

5. Utilize wellness champions to spearhead progress and provide feedback.

When you have active advocates on your team who are providing a consistent feedback loop, this can help you quickly determine whether or not people are actually using the benefits you’re putting into place. Have you offered a concierge program, or a sports club membership, or a daycare benefit? Your wellness champions can give you the inside scoop on what’s working and what’s not, so you can adjust your programming accordingly.

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

I find so much hope in our work communities today. The workplace is superseding other forms of community in our world. Our culture and the ways people connect are vastly different than even just 10 years ago, and the workplace is a crucial part of connection in our lives today. Organizations that promote that sense of belonging and connection are the ones that are going to be the most attractive to top talent in the future.

When we think about wellbeing, isolation is not part of that equation. True wellness includes being part of something greater than ourselves and being part of a community. There is so much opportunity now for organizations to step up and develop leadership communities, employee communities, learning communities, and more. People want to commune because we have an innate need and desire to connect and relate with others. To belong.

So if we want to promote workplace wellness, then nurturing communities and organizations is key. I am seeing so much of this already, and I am optimistic that even more corporations are going to realign their focus toward workplace wellness integration, resulting in a healthier workforce overall.

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 feel free to connect with me personally on Linkedin, check out our website at LEI-consulting.com and follow Leadership Excelleration on Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter as well.

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