Designed workspace. Meeting employees where they are will lead to a happier and more productive workforce. Peoples screen time has skyrocketed according to HealthPartners adults average about 8.5 hours of screen time per day. Bringing nature into your workspace through a desktop garden you have built, and you nurture has scientifically proven to help with productivity, creativity, a growth mindset, and overall mental health. Having nature as part of your desktop design promotes a sense of well-being and always brings nature into view.

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 Donna Letier.

Donna Letier is an entrepreneur, mom, wife, and co-founder of Gardenuity. Originally from Texas, she has lived in Singapore, London, California, Alaska, and Denver. After graduating from Southern Methodist University, she worked and learned the fine points of retail and creating customer experiences from Neiman Marcus and credits a lot of her success to learning lessons from the NM executive team and the legendary Stanley Marcus. Prior to founding Gardenuity Donna spent 20 years in leadership positions in areas of operations, brand marketing, and product development where she focused on consumer trends and merchandise development.

She lives in Dallas with her husband Scott, is the mother of two girls, one of whom is a Gold Medalist from the Special Olympics. She believes that sometimes you must get a little dirty to reap the benefits of living a good life. Donna does not believe in convenience over compassion, she practices patience in a hurry, does not believe well-being is just for some, or that cussing, and praying are mutually exclusive.

The Gardenuity science and data-backed approach to gardening and gardening experiences is impacting lives across the country and has been adopted by employees at more than 100 companies. Well-being is embedded into every garden and designed to meet people where they are. Gardenuity works in three key verticals, Mental Health, Food is Medicine, and the health of the planet.

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.

Thank you for having me. First, I have to say, I love working, I have worked since high school and have always enjoyed working outside of the home. Being a single mother for quite some time of two girls, 17 months apart, one of which had and has severe special needs I was often asked to talk about work life balance and how to find it. I always thought that was a ridiculous question because there is not one or two things you can do to find work life balance. It is a conscious choice you make every day. Thankfully, today the conversations are more about life-work amalgamation. My reality is that work and life, wellness and well-being do not have to be in competition with productivity. When you increase one, you increase the other. I believe we have a once in a generational opportunity to redefine the way we live and work- it is different for everyone, but we are all benefitting from the fact that conversations are happening.

For me personally, I have had a lot of “aha” experiences that reminded me of life’s priorities. One of these experiences was watching my youngest daughter Jillian compete in Special Olympics. She approached the competition with pure joy, determination, and grit. Watching her cross the finish line was a good reminder that I needed to recalibrate by life work balance. Another formative experience that has impacted my role as a leader for 30 years dates back to my time working for Jerry Murphy at Neiman Marcus. We were deep into the holiday season, all putting in 18-hour days and one morning while meeting with Jerry to review numbers I fainted. He had a fellow employee drive me home and later had hot soup delivered. This was well before Uber Eats or Door Dash- he took the time to make sure I was resting and nourished.

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 by definition is the state of good mental, physical, and emotional health. It is the active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. According to the World Health Organization, health is defined as being in a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Gardenuity, like many companies defines wellness as social connectedness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, and living in a state of gratitude. Each one of these dimensions has an impact on overall wellness. The question we ask is how are the companies we work with defining wellness? While the answers vary slightly brand to brand there are several key items that are consistently part of defining wellness- physical health, mental health, and the health of our planet.

Many companies operationalize well-being throughout their organization; every leader and department are held accountable to wellness as a core value. In the current era of corporate accountability businesses realize well-being is everyone’s responsibility.

At Gardenuity we are committed to making wellness a priority and we talk daily about how selfcare is not selfish. Our company’s foundational mission, to make gardens and gardening experiences accessible to everyone — because we know how good gardening is for overall wellness. As we grow, we are constantly learning from the companies we work with on how to support every aspect of our teams’ lives — inside and outside of work. Our studio in Dallas combines a creative and inspirational work environment — we are taking a purpose driven approach to well-being with benefits that promote and prioritize health and well-being for every team member.

We also look at wellness through the lens of employee satisfaction, mental and physical health, balance, and the emotional connection that exists between our team members. Not everyone always has a great day. We are a quickly growing business and some days are naturally more challenging than others, but we celebrate big and little milestones together, celebrate each other’s time away from the office, and always enjoy getting a little dirty in the garden together.

We measure wellness the same way our partners measure wellness. Albeit on a different scale, the key measurements remain consistent. Even before the pandemic, nearly three-quarters of American adults said they wish they had more access to everyday tactics to improve their mental wellbeing and half said that when it comes to managing stress, they were not sure where to start. We make sure each team member knows without a doubt that their work is valuable and meaningful to the organization and the growth of the business. We believe in having fun and going through growth together as a team. We also look at things like productivity levels, number of sick days an employee takes, productivity levels and the connections that come from being together. Our employee turnover is low, and our team members feel appreciated. They know the work they are doing plays a vital role in our mission, making gardens and gardening experiences accessible to everyone.

We work to help our team focus on what is in their control- growing resilience requires planning for mindful moments throughout your day. We help manage time with stop and grow time off. When we work late to deliver on a project, we give stop and grow comp time. When we know someone is struggling, we work in Leadership bonus boosts- sometimes it is a gift card, sometimes it is lunch brought in, and all the time it is shared vocal gratitude.

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?

Companies globally are working to build a culture of wellness. Tolerance for employees being unhappy at work has decreased and the brands we work with are focused on fostering employee’s well-being. Employees who are happy and healthy are central to delivering a positive financial return for the business.

The pandemic has been an incredible time of grief and challenges, but a crisis is also a catalyst for change. Organizations around the world are working to build sustainable standards of excellence. There is a connection between employee well-being and company performance. When you take care of yourself and your employees you are in a better position to deliver the needs of the business. We are building cultures of nurturing- ourselves, our peers, and our business. A culture of well-being will successfully attract the next generation and retain the current team- they are investing in wellness initiatives across the organizations.

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 leaders we work with are first data driven so they look at the data that clearly shows the impact a healthy workforce has on the bottom line. The data helps move teams and organizations from intention to action. The impact on a well implemented, multifaceted wellness program is felt right away. Many businesses who successfully navigated through the pandemic with a complete remote work force can reach out to their teams and ask them what programs and initiatives helped them feel connected and less stressed during the pandemic and how can we bring these programs back in the now hybrid work reality. The way we work and live has changed, and we have a once in a generational opportunity to redefine both.

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?

The focus on incorporating wellness programs into a company’s talent recruitment and hiring process is exciting- we are partnering with many of these companies through our offerings. We currently have a Together We Grow on boarding platform. Each new employee is gifted a desktop garden, employees are asked to take a picture of their new garden and share it socially with their contact information. The responses from friends and new colleagues is always strong and socially rewarding. The Desktop Gardens are personalized and maximize the employee’s first introduction to the team. The Together We Grow platform also becomes a point of conversation in the recruiting process- it brings up conversations around health, connecting and what growth means to a person and within a business 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?

Gardenuity offers fresh ideas for employee well-being. Each is built on data and science with decades of research showing how good the experience of gardening is for the body and mind. Our innovative programs bring a fresh focus on mental, physical, and community goals. Our programs are designed to reflect our partners company’s culture and to create a meaningful impact for employees — and for creating opportunities to grow healthy habits.

  • Gardenuity On-boarding. (Together We Grow) We help organizations welcome their new employees- those who come to the office and those who are working remotely. From Desktop Gardening experiences to seasonal outdoor gardens, we are creating connecting points for new employees to have with existing employees.
  • Growing Greatness. We have partnered with thousands of employees and leaders through the Gardenuity Growing greatness workshops. Each workshop is designed to deliver the wellness benefits of gardening and tools that bring a fresh focus to physical, mental, and social wellness.
  • Getting Dirty for Good. It feels good to give back and many of our partners work to give back to their communities. One example is our Give one Grow One program where teams build two gardens, one to gift to schools or other community organizations and one to keep at home.
  • Growing Gratitude Platform. The Growing Gratitude program shares creative micro steps for growing gratitude- through insights, education, reminders to help employees understand the impact gratitude can have on reducing their stress and increasing their overall well-being.

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?

Our corporate wellness programs offer opportunities for companies to grow greatness with their teams. To meet their teams where they are with proven stress-reducing garden experiences, reasons to connect with their peers, and micro steps that help build healthier habits. Gardening has been proven as a wellness tool, we are positioned to bring it to our corporate partners and help them grow a culture of well-being. Our gardens are rooted in the latest science. Our methodology brings horticulture together with technology and our team of experts guides companies through our wellness programs.

We know stress is unavoidable, but cumulative stress is avoidable, and gardening is proven to help reduce stress. Many of our partners gift gardens to all their employees, with outdoor gardens they setup Slack groups so they can continue to gather over the season, share recipes, harvest tips and enjoy the fun of competitive growing.

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

The saying, put your own oxygen mask on first is key in creating a lasting 
“work well” culture. Selfcare is not selfish, and we have a culture of everyone getting a little dirty. From gardening at work to gardening at home we prioritize self-care with our entire team. We have created a culture of fun, an open environment where creative idea sharing is part of the culture.

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?

Don’t be overwhelmed by the task at hand. Work with partners who can help manage the process and keep the program simple. For example, 90% of employees work at a desk, their desk may be at home, an office, or a communal space but adding a desktop garden that includes micro-steps for reducing stress and growing gratitude is an easy way to get started. Work with organizations that can make implementing new ideas seamless can remove many of the hurdles.

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

Wellness has many dimensions and companies will take a broader approach to help employees perform at their best. In addition to the hybrid work option, flexible work hours, gym memberships etc. workplace wellness trends are extending to experiences that bring in well-being for the entire family.

Mental Health. Employers have realized that mental health is just as important as physical health. With stress and anxiety levels at an all-time high companies will implement programs and resources to help teach coping and management techniques, like gardening and meditation. The Gardens to Grow program that brings moving, nourishing, recharging, connecting and focus to each participant. Research shows that engaging in gardening activities, however big or small can be a tool to building sustainable habits that lead to better mental, physical, and social health. By celebrating the “I grew that” moments, we tap into the power of growing your own well-being and inspire meaningful change in the communities around them.

Growing as a family. When your family is happy and healthy it is easier to stay focused on work. Programs that involve the entire family, Partners, Pets and Kids will be ever present. Making connections, beyond just work will have impact on the health and happiness of employees. Gardenuity has introduced our Growing Together curriculum. The garden options change by season but the tools shared before planting, during planting and throughout the growing season help families grow together. In 2021, a coalition of leading pediatric health groups declared a “national emergency” in children’s mental health. The Growing Together program brings healthy, fun habits that help families grow greatness together. For example, our diets play a large role in our physical health and also our cognitive health. When you can harvest fresh herbs from your patio garden it has been proven to help you make more conscious food choices.

Designed workspace. Meeting employees where they are will lead to a happier and more productive workforce. Peoples screen time has skyrocketed according to HealthPartners adults average about 8.5 hours of screen time per day. Bringing nature into your workspace through a desktop garden you have built, and you nurture has scientifically proven to help with productivity, creativity, a growth mindset, and overall mental health. Having nature as part of your desktop design promotes a sense of well-being and always brings nature into view.

Organized Growing- Networking for the way we live today has become a work in calendar coordination. Companies that make networking events easy to access, attend, and coordinate deliver well-being through the network effect of connecting. Gardenuity hosts thousands of employees in virtual gardening workshops. From Patio to Plate gardening events with chefs, to Cut-to-cocktail events with mixologists and Growing Greatness virtual and in person events that bring people together. When you are digging in the dirt everyone is on an equal playing field, conversations are easy, natural and happen between colleagues that might not normally occur.

Food is Medicine– Conversations, seminars, and tasting events will bring the Food is Medicine conversation to employees. Gardenuity offers a Passport Garden program where different herbs from around the world are planted and used in cooking programs. The health benefits of herbs and what herbs can do for your health is part of the conversation. We also offer “#SIPS gardening events, where teams work to increase their water intake throughout the day and decrease the number of sodas they consume. Herb infused water recipe challenges bring the conversation to the forefront and teams get creative. Everyone loves a good competition.

Nurturing Nature. Companies will continue to offer meditation classes and subscriptions, yoga events and many of these programs will take place outside. Technology has made it easier for teams to gather from anywhere and this trend will continue. Gathering in the garden, on campus or at home will continue to grow as a wellness trend.

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

The conversations that are happening in board rooms, with leaders from every department, with families, and in how holistic well-being is prioritized. The overall narrative of the conversation has changed and people are recognizing the connection between well-being, wellness and the bottom line.

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?

[email protected]

Linkedin Donna Letier

Linkedin Gardenuity


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