… Personalized benefits enrollment. Selecting the best health plan or whether to enroll in voluntary policies is incredibly convoluted for people who understand these things. It’s impossible for your average employee. The services now that help employees navigate enrollment based on their situation is going to be huge.

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 Founder and CEO of Parento, Dirk Doebler.

With Parento, Dirk is transforming the landscape for employers and making increased retention and engagement of parents a reality. He is committed to helping businesses capture the missing $12 trillion in global growth (McKinsey) by reducing the ⅔ of women, with at least 2 kids, who leave the workforce for at least 6 months after having a child. Prior to founding Parento, Dirk held roles in the finance and the consumer wellness industries, serving as CFO at the women-founded Dame Products.

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 worked in equity research on Wall Street, an area not known for its work-life balance. Despite enjoying finance and investments, I discovered it wasn’t the industry for me. After leaving the industry, it was in my next role that I had time to pursue my hobbies, and it was there that I had the opportunity to pursue my lifetime goal of becoming a pilot. I realized work should be both fulfilling and enabling. It should enable us to get out of life what we want and to be happy, both directly through work but most importantly outside of it.

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?

Wellness to us boils down to employee satisfaction with work and life. For most people, work is there to enable them to live the life they want. When people can’t achieve even the most basic and attainable things they want out of life, that hurts morale, increases stress, and reduces loyalty. We are constantly asking ourselves: Are employees happy at work? Are they feeling strained managing home and work? Are they sleeping well? Are they achieving their personal goals? These questions allow us to learn about our employees and provide them with what they need to succeed and maintain balance at work.

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?

We’ve done extensive research on the costs of retaining employees full time after they welcome a new child. One thing we’ve discovered is that companies don’t effectively budget for the cost of turnover or employees converting to part-time work. When employees go from full time to part time, that has real, measurable costs, if companies took the time to measure them. Projects get delayed, additional resources have to be purchased, headcount added, or more work piled onto other employees, hurting morale.

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?

HR & Finance should leverage proxy data — and even subjective data — when implementing programs that have harder to track financial benefits. Utilization rates of new programs and employee survey responses should be just a minimum; look at general surveyed employee happiness, satisfaction, willingness to recommend working at the company, etc. over time. If you look at just turnover rates — it’s already too late. At the same time, if you cut turnover 20%, that’s huge savings but Finance may struggle to measure how many dollars that amounts to, and so they may not care. We’ve seen it first hand where a department’s turnover is less than expected and has to suffer budget cuts because their personnel costs came in above budget. It unfortunately implies the smarter financial decision is to drive people to quit or randomly fire someone.

We believe strongly in the need for Finance to add expense lines in budgets for negative outcomes as it relates to personnel, whether that’s a cost for turnover, productivity loss, lower morale, or what have you and not just assume there are no costs — which current budgeting practices too often assume. Delays in projects, reduced morale, higher turnover risk are all costs and will have direct cash costs and expenses even if we can’t easily follow the path.

Companies should also have metrics based on employee feedback and morale, and all senior leaders should be held accountable for hitting them. Tie some portion of compensation to employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity. Companies should also be willing to take the time to figure out what new metrics they should look at to judge effectiveness of new programs.

Paid parental leave and supporting working parents after they return has an ROI for the vast majority of businesses, though not all, and one we quantify during the sales process. The impact to productivity, headcount, and greater incidence of part-time work after an unsupported mom returns to work makes it easier to quantify.

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?

We think companies need to make this one of the top aspects of their recruitment strategies. Show employees how you really take care of them by investing in a variety of wellness services that can address the diverse array of needs. Too many firms invest in just mental wellness. Well, what if I need help but I don’t want to talk to a therapist and don’t want to use an app? Or what if an employee’s challenges stem from a history of substance abuse? What if they’re caring for an ailing family member? Giving them easier access to therapy or mental health apps doesn’t assist them with the underlying causes of their struggles.

With our paid parental leave program, employees have access to unlimited, tailored, human-based support. Instead of just saying, “We offer paid parental leave,” companies can say “We really take care of you when you’re adding to your family, and afterward.” That’s a game-changer.

Companies need to offer an array of services that are as diverse as their employees and not take a one-size-fits-all approach. Some employees won’t care about some of these services and will never use them, and that’s ok. They’ll still benefit from their colleagues receiving the support they need.

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.

A big piece of our efforts focus on just driving awareness toward the benefits + coaching opportunities that are provided when using Parento. When we set up a paid parental leave policy for a company, we call out our parent coaching program everywhere the policy is mentioned, and make it extremely accessible.

We also offer group support sessions to employees within our program; we all have our own challenges, but colleagues often face very similar ones just by being subject to the same company policies and culture. Group support sessions not only provide targeted advice but allow employees to bond over shared experiences — and even commiserate together.

Parents of children with special needs have even more niche needs, and can struggle in ways existing resources can’t address. Parneto is consistently rolling out developmental support for these employees in our program and providing important additional resources for companies and employees. We’re all about addressing the universal and unique needs of employees with kids.

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?

When employees feel confident as parents or caregivers, they’re less distracted at work. Productivity increases, projects get delivered faster, and morale increases. When employees feel taken care of, especially during a crucial period in their lives, they’re substantially more loyal. They’ll remember how their employer supported them when they needed it the most.

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

We think it’s really important that employees have access to a variety of training resources and are encouraged to be empathetic leaders. Being a strong leader requires empathy and vulnerability. When we’re vulnerable with those following us, they know we’re honest with them and can be trusted in all situations.

Having leaders encourage employees to use wellness resources at their disposal is incredibly important; better yet, encouraging leaders themselves to use these resources even if it’s just briefly so they can better understand the experience and use cases is important.

Training leaders in empathy and vulnerability as well as what wellness resources employees have access to makes for a more cohesive organization while increasing utilization of programs companies pay for.

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?

Talking. I think if employees were encouraged to speak more openly about their personal challenges — even if that’s just their personal challenges with work — they’d see how everyone needs a little bit of help and how varied those needs are. They’ll better empathize with the need for disparate wellness programs, which they can use as a jumping off point to demand more from their employer.

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

1. Remote & hybrid work. More companies are moving to fully remote work or remote-first models, and it’s not just the most generous tech firms. The flexibility of not having to commute day in and day out (come on, who ever really loved their commute?), and to run errands or care of family during the day has been hugely beneficial for people that can’t stick to the strict 9–5 due to the demands of their lives.

2. Paid parental leave. Obviously we have to call this out, but it’s really for good reason. Paid parental leave has been extensively studied and tied directly to improved outcomes across numerous areas. When men and women have access to 10 weeks or more of parental leave at sufficient pay they have higher household income over time, healthier children and families, lower risk of c-section and preterm birth, higher vaccination rates, improved long-term career prospects, greater job satisfaction, and more equal sharing of the childrearing burden.

3. Mental Health Days. We’ve seen a number of companies provide additional scheduled days off every month or quarter for employees to use as they want. So much of stress in our lives comes from work, and the ability to step away from work and take a breather is really helpful. Giving days off for that is a really great way for companies that say they care about employee wellness to put their money where their mouth is in a way almost everyone will appreciate.

4. Personalized benefits enrollment. Selecting the best health plan or whether to enroll in voluntary policies is incredibly convoluted for people who understand these things. It’s impossible for your average employee. The services now that help employees navigate enrollment based on their situation is going to be huge.

5. The 4-day workweek. Employees are twice as productive now as they were 30 years ago, yet companies have retained the vast majority of the benefits of that productivity. The 4-day workweek will effectively provide a significant raise to employees and let them capture the benefit of decades of productivity gains.

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

I’d say it’s what we see everyday around our own program. The excitement around our product, the love parents and HR has for our program, and the incredible word-of-mouth we see amongst not just HR but the C-suite of our clients and employees. We see COOs and CEOs referring us to other companies or groups.

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?

They can learn more about our comprehensive, fully-insured program on our site: https://www.parentoleave.com/ and schedule a time to meet with us here.

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