Workplace Wellness Pipelines: As mentioned above, employers need to understand that to build a strong workforce for the future, we need to be investing in children’s mental health now. Additionally, as parents throughout the pandemic had missed work or had interrupted workdays to address their children’s mental health, this support is critical.

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 Dr. David Stark.

David Stark is a Managing Director of Morgan Stanley and serves as Chief Medical Officer. He joined the firm in 2018 from Mount Sinai Health System, where he was the creator and director of Lab 100, Medical Director of the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare, and an Assistant Professor of Health System Design and Global Health. Before that, David was a research fellow in the departments of medicine and bioengineering at Stanford University School of Medicine. David has built a career spanning both ends of the healthcare spectrum: as a physician, working directly with patients, and as a bioinformatician, working with data to drive health research and new technology development. David is a licensed physician, board certified in pediatric neurology and clinical informatics. He received his B.S. in biology from Yale University, his M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and his M.S. in biomedical informatics from Stanford.

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 believe the phrase “work-life balance” implies a false dichotomy. “Work” and “life” don’t simply exist as separate entities that compete for the 24 hours in our day. Instead, they are deeply intertwined and can impact one another in profound ways.

For me, work has always been like a gas that expands to fill the space it is given. If I’m working on an interesting problem, I can go deep into the night on it without losing focus. But by the time our second child came along (in the middle of the 2020 winter Covid surge no less), I increasingly found that the drive to enjoy my kids would propel me out of my office no matter how engaged I was. Far from impacting my productivity, I found this made me more efficient, more organized, and more focused. Being a parent made me better at my job while giving me permission to check out.

In the other direction, leading Morgan Stanley’s global Covid response was an intense period, particularly during that first year. I was up before dawn reviewing the latest from the CDC and WHO, looking at our metrics, and meeting with our teams in Asia and Europe. Long after my husband turned off the lights, I was awake in bed consuming the latest journal preprints, reading the day’s news, and getting caught up on email. Importantly though, this period of intense focus at work brought increased focus and attention to everything else too. We potty trained our daughter, I worked out with religious fervor (until I didn’t), and the breaks I took from work to eat with my family and play with our kids are among the most cherished memories I have looking back at the past 2+ years. While ultimately unsustainable for long durations, these periods of intense work focus have a way of making life more vibrant and fuller.

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?

As Chief Medical Officer my primary responsibility is to support the physical, mental, and financial health and wellbeing of Morgan Stanley employees and their family members. To do this, our team develops, deploys, and manages programs that deliver excellent health outcomes, improve employee experience, all while stemming rising costs. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and to deliver these programs we collect aggregate data on service utilization, cost, quality outcomes, employee experience, and engagement.

Across the firm, we are using data and analytics to drive better decision-making at all levels of the organization. Part of that includes a close look at the productivity, working habits and mental healthcare services to better inform how we are creating a well workforce at Morgan Stanley and what more can be done.

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?

Even though I’m looking at the data, it seems at times that the impact of a well workforce on an organization’s productivity and profitability is immeasurable. With an emphasis on wellness, employees are more engaged, less absent, less likely to experience burnout, and experience more exacerbating mental health conditions. And, in my experience, they’re overall more likely to enjoy and feel passionate about a company if they know that their individual wellbeing is of importance from the top level down.

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 numbers speak for themselves. In the U.S., the CDC estimates 200M workdays are lost annually due to depression — at a cost to employers of $17–44B. The cost of mental health disorders was estimated at $2.5T in 2010 — and by 2030, that figure is expected to reach $6T.

In addition to being the right thing to do, it’s a business imperative that you are prioritizing employee wellness.

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’re proud of our wellness programs and we know that candidates want to work at an organization that supports them and their families in achieving physical, mental, and financial health. That’s why we make sure our hiring managers and recruiters are prepared to talk about our programs. We’re constantly evaluating and updating our benefits to ensure they meet our employees’ needs. In the last year alone, we’ve introduced concierge primary care, a global fitness subsidy, paid caregiver leave, an employee stock purchase plan, and enhanced our mental health benefits, 401(k) match, paid parental leave, backup dependent care, and family building benefits covering fertility, adoption, and surrogacy.

Many organizations focus on employee mental wellness, but Morgan Stanley has also focused on children’s mental health as part of the wellness equation. Why is that?

Today, approximately 1 in 5 children suffer from a mental illness. Adolescent depression has increased 41% since 2006. Only 15% of children living in poverty receive any mental health resourcing. That is crisis. And, it’s a crisis that we believe more corporations and employers need to bake into their wellness strategies to build a healthy and resilient employee pipeline.

As part of my role at Morgan Stanley, I also serve as a member of the Morgan Stanley Foundation board, which, for more than 60 years, has had a significant philanthropic interest in children’s health. In February of 2020, the Foundation launched the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health to help scale solutions tackling this crisis we’re facing. By doing so, we’re making sure kids are getting the access and care that they need in a meaningful and culturally affirming way.

Securing a well workforce is unattainable without action in this area.

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

Historically, employers have been concerned with ensuring staff have access to a mental health provider. But access is just one part of the puzzle. As part of the reskilling process for leadership, our teams recognize that attending to employees’ mental health also means focusing on awareness and prevention.

Part of that means eliminating the current stigmas that exist around mental health. When senior leaders discuss mental health candidly, it sends a powerful message that mental health is viewed like any other health topic. That de-stigmatization leads to increased awareness and allows people to step into the light and seek help if they need it.

From a corporate level, we launched our Global Wellbeing Board in October 2021. The board comprises 16 senior leaders across the firm’s geographies and business lines and sets a strategy around our mental health initiatives. We’re increasing internal awareness about wellness from answering emails beyond working hours to engaging with managers on a one-on-one basis.

By rethinking organizational culture and reskilling our teams to prioritize these wellness topics, we can positively impact employees’ mental and physical health.

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?

Start talking. That’s oftentimes the biggest hurdle, but can be an easy and small step that can make all the difference. If you’re seeing a coworker quieter than normal, ask how they’re doing. If you’re feeling like the morale of your team is a bit off, observe and ask why — and listen to what they need. If your organization is lacking wellbeing resources, research and raise your hand. Once you’re able to get these conversations started, it’s amazing to see what can happen and the benefits that can be observed from an individual to corporate level.

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

  1. Going Beyond Access: We’re seeing this shift now, but I anticipate that more employers will start seeing the importance of implementing pipeline programs targeting awareness, prevention and de-stigmatization surrounding mental wellbeing in the workplace. At Morgan Stanley, we have incorporated this through our benefits offering and overall management work to make sure that employees’ mental wellbeing is being prioritized across the spectrum of need.
  2. Increased Data Management: A 2021 McKinsey study found that about 70% of employers planned to invest in mental health resources by starting, continuing and expanding benefits. That’s great and I hope to see that interest and execution continue. However, what will be key in this next stage is implementing data management to understand how programs are being used, how effective they are, and the response from employees. We have a keen eye on this at our firm and are constantly working to make sure that the programs we have in place are effective and utilized.
  3. Workplace Wellness Pipelines: As mentioned above, employers need to understand that to build a strong workforce for the future, we need to be investing in children’s mental health now. Additionally, as parents throughout the pandemic had missed work or had interrupted workdays to address their children’s mental health, this support is critical.
  4. Mental Health Mentors: Being an effective leader can include many qualities, but now more than ever, a focus on the wellbeing of your team members is no longer optional. We have started engaging more senior leaders on conversations surrounding wellness topics and are prioritizing that in managers across the board. I anticipate that moving forward, managers will be judged more often on their ability to not only produce results, but to lead their teams effectively and healthily to be their best.
  5. DEI and its Role in Wellness: Our cultures and how we were raised can make a huge impact on how we approach mental health and wellness. On average, racially and ethnically diverse communities face a higher burden of disability resulting from mental illness — while also less likely to receive mental health care. Employers need to make sure that they are implementing programs and offerings that take that into account. Making wellness a priority cannot be done without the same priority placed on culturally responsive and affirming services for employees.

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

In the wake of so much tragedy because of the Covid-19 pandemic, social injustices and ongoing impacts of climate change on our planet, I am grateful to see how much more open we’ve grown as a society to discussing our mental health in our personal and professional lives. That growth is so crucial for the future of strong workplaces moving forward.

Additionally, as I mentioned above, I’m a board member of the Morgan Stanley Foundation and have seen firsthand the openness, honesty and thoughtfulness of this next generation — particularly when it comes to topics surrounding mental health. They give me hope that the future of workplace wellness — even beyond my time — will be in good hands.

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?

You can get in touch with me at my LinkedIn page and follow along with updates from Morgan Stanley at our website, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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