Combine the idea of finding what you love, what you are talented at, and what the world needs. Then overlap them to guide your life and career choices. By doing so, happiness to find your destiny becomes obvious. Then once you have that clarity in vision, a balance to do it calmly, lovingly, and at a pace that can be sustained will become apparent. Your job is no longer a job but is your life’s dream and passion. Google “Ikigai in the workplace” and articles from Forbes, and CEO World, the BBC, The New York Times will show up. Employers are trying to find a better fit for their employee’s happiness and their long-term stability and growth.

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 Francesca Elisabetta Owens.

Francesca Elisabetta Owens is a Thought Leader. Through her participation in numerous industries, she utilizes her international experiences and perspectives to offer unique guidance to mature women. Francesca inspires women to identify and prepares them with the tools necessary to achieve their goals. She jokingly calls herself the gray-haired wrinkled influencer to women 50+ years of age. She narrates her journey towards realizing the “Il dolce far niente” lifestyle (the sweetness of doing nothing) and teaches others how to achieve it too!

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 spent 25 years working as a successful investment consultant while serving in public office for over 9 years. I became an award-winning environmental grant writer, a fitness bodybuilder, and a mother of two. At the age of 40, a permanent medical crisis completely transformed my life, not for the best initially. My second pregnancy at the age of 40 irreversibly damaged my heart’s birth defect leaving it undiagnosed for years.

My overactive lifestyle masked the deterioration of my condition and rendered doctors to misdiagnose me for years. At the age of 44, an emergency open-heart surgery occurred followed by mini-strokes and VTACs in the two-subsequence months. In the years that followed these events, I suffered an embolism stroke that semi-blinding my left eye, another cardiac surgery, and complex migraines. Complications continued through the age of 52 until I was correctly diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency. At this point, I began partaking in 8-hour monthly immunoglobulin intravenous sessions every three weeks in the Italian hospital system.

It seemed as though every time I seemed to get my life on track, another medical crisis knocked me back down. As recent as 2018, I remember laying paralyzed on the floor with seven paramedics surrounding me. They were trying to understand if I had had another stroke. Though my words might have seemed incomprehensible to others, through my slurred speech I attempted to say, “I can’t die. I have too many unfinished things to accomplish”. I kept fighting against what seemed like “a calling” home.

My disabilities constrained me to spend most of my time laying on the couch. I envisioned if I ever escaped this living hell, I dreamed of planning a new and better life if given another chance. One of my dreams was to create a non-profit with the intent of pursuing diversified creative callings. Low and behold I did, and it is called “ a 501c3”.

A year after that first heart surgery and mini-strokes, I packed up my 6-year-old daughter, myself, and with three suitcases in hand, I moved to an Umbrian hilltop village of Spoleto. I spent my prior disabled year researching where I wanted to live. I knew not one soul living there and I had never seen this village. After arriving, I remained in “clandestina” status, which signifies being an illegal immigrant for two years and so did my daughter for 4 years until the Italian Consulate finally granted a permission to stay. It took quite a few years before my health stabilized but I made a promise to myself that if my health returned, I would live every day as though it was my last, dedicating myself to my passions improving my life and the lives of those around me. Around 2016, Spoleto’s Mayor granted my application for Italian citizenship through heritage blood rights. Antonia and I became official Spoletini, Italian citizens of Spoleto.

Regardless of my health struggles, in the years that followed, I committed to living this life ideology: work is play and play is work. I live the “IL DOLCE FAR NIENTE” lifestyle, “the sweetness of doing nothing” and now teach others how to master the lifestyle as well.

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?

I define wellness as being a life free of anxiety and depression, which is an increasingly hard task to accomplish given the circumstance of the world today. Nevertheless, negative events, which include emotional and physical challenges, are an inevitable part of life. What is important is to understand, is that struggles are a natural phenomenon of which life is composed, and to learn how to be in harmony with all the negative and positive experiences that you will face. This is the base of Buddhist philosophical thought.

It is important to stay in touch with the entire spectrum of your feelings, accept the curveballs that life throws at you, be able to overcome these difficulties, and appreciate the positive aspects, which surround you. Additionally, one should value time spent relaxing and talking with your friends and family, walking in nature, reading a book, meditating, etc. Life is not merely about work and constantly filling your time with activities. By doing this, it is hard to find harmony and truly be happy in the end.

Many mature women are staying in the workforce longer and even starting new businesses.

With that comes the responsibility of society to be emotional cheerleaders and advisors to guide these transitioning women. Sadly, as more of the workforce becomes increasingly stressed, there is not enough support for these women to efficiently balance work and time to enjoy the beauties of life. As someone who has already walked in their shoes, I can conduct discussions with them that regard embracing grief, loss, difficulty, disappointment, and tribulation. Acknowledging and understanding your feelings, accepting the challenges that present in front of you, and being able to live life to its fullest are all qualities that my business encourages and teaches. I, along with these women are in the third phase of our life and possibly the last phase. We examine what they want to create in this third and final phase.

Being a 60-year-old disabled international living and traveling woman myself, who has the mature wrinkles and white hair to show my age, I tell them, “If you want people to be interested in you, you need to become interesting”, eliminating being invisible.

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?

Volunteers, volunteers, volunteers… since wages are not within the scope of my nonprofit, honesty, authenticity, presentism, vulnerability, transparency, and encouragement are my recruitment tools along with providing the participants with tools to be able to change and create their happiness. The results are in the productivity of our volunteers and the women we reach out to in our group.

Bohemiare’s 3-month course creates this transformation opportunity to believe in themselves once again, and to no longer be invisible in the world we live in merely because we are older.

As a Travel Curator, my contribution is that of being a guiding influence in helping women take this journey. In my “Travel from the Inside Out — Italy & Europe Group”, I poll the mature female population. I take their attitudinal pulse, read their inner emotions as well as encourage them to be vulnerable. If I am facing a challenge, then I assume someone in my group is too. I start that discussion by polling them and validating the priority or intensity of their struggle. I then try to find a solution. Often the woman will write me in private and then I make a new video addressing these issues for all to benefit from.

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?

Because of climate change, many people, especially the new generation is faced with uncertainty about their future and with confronting the fact that our world will not last forever. Because of this, people are realizing that there is much more to life than spending most of their time working. Corporations should acknowledge this and try to look at the current situation from a bigger perspective. We only have one life on earth and should spend it doing things we enjoy like spending time with family, enjoying nature and activities, in addition to living responsibly. For these reasons organizations should take into account the needs of their workers and the anxiety, they feel regarding the present and future.

“We are clearly the last generation that can change the course of climate change, but we are also the first generation with its consequences,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank. When confronted with a quote like that above, how can a company not realize change is needed? The Great Resignation as Deloitte calls it, has placed a demand on corporate America to change.

I continue to notice how corporate America is still not treating employees fair. I have noticed this through listening to first-hand experiences of three senior female employees. One is over the edge of burnout and the other is teeter-tottering on a clinical post-partum depression regardless of devoting a majority of her life working for a company. Another female executive is worked to the bones without reasonable support or even quality benefits. The results of these complications were that all three women quit their jobs and have found a replacement.

When I compare the American lifestyle to the Italian way, I notice how the Italian lifestyle has a deeper more sincere approach to the quality of life. Italian society overall is focused on family, friendships, quality time, and not mass consumption. The need for this balance and self-preservation should become obvious to employers.

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?

I am a firm believer in helping accommodate people’s needs. It is important to dedicate time to ensure that they feel like someone sees them, hears them, and cares. This allows workers to enjoy the creative process of contributing to society, feeling higher self-value and enrichment, while also caring for their well-being and others. No one states my intentions better than Frank Sanborn, the author of The Fred Factor. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from him “When those who know can show, those who learn can grow”, “The only thing better than an acknowledgment is action”, and “You are the spark that sets others on fire when you initiate” and “Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, just take an opportunity and make it as perfect as you can”

A nonprofit business is a different creator as it is more about volunteers and partners instead of employees. If these programs do not emotionally and individually touch their souls, you will not get your workers.

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.

In early 2023, the “Travel from The Inside Out” course will be available. It will be offered to a select group of 70 mature females in that year. It is a 3-month online, weekly transformation experience. We start with an opening live group video chat. Then midway we have a group progress check-in chat and a final achieved results revelations group sharing. The end goal is for the participants to confront their fears, hesitations, or lack of action on living their life-long dream of an extended stay in a small village in Italy or Europe. I refer to it as taking your 10-year BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) down to a 3-month trigger point. By the end of the course with the participants’ desire to have a solid transformation, they will have organized their departure, decided on where to travel and stay, working through emotional stumbling blocks that were holding them back, and live “Il Dolce Far Niente”, which means the sweetness of doing nothing. They will embrace this solo trip while also gaining some minimum Italian language skills, embracing art and personal growth exercises.

“We are invisible, because no one sees beyond the wrinkles and grey hair”, with that as the premise, this course assists them in re-find the “inner you” that they lost. The women learn the skills to accept responsibility to become interesting and attract others who will embrace their inner change in a foreign country. It does not take a lot for mature women to make a transformational change. With a bit of guidance and personal effort, these fabulous 50+ women start to re-believe in themselves before life led them astray.

  • Mental Wellness: BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) comes from the 1994 book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Our exercises for mental wellness range from written brain dumping exercises, to organizational planners to get out of the country, and defining what type of experience you want. As we work along defining your BHAG, the participants create a vision board and color in mandalas focused on color themes to identify their levels of happiness, joy, calm, anxiety, sadness, and depression.
  • Emotional Wellness: We start with general and customized positive affirmation cards, inspiring quotes, personal growth self-discovery worksheets, fun self-discovery quizzes, and sing-along videos with upbeat Italian songs. The addition of emotionally moving Italian films shows the tribulations and challenges of everyday life. By presenting these women with these films, they can better understand that life is composed of a spectrum of emotions, which are inevitable, and a normal aspect of being human.

Social Wellness: My motto is that if you want others to be interested in you, then you must become interesting! So how does one go about doing that? We teach you to invest in cultural activities and learn interesting facts about Italian culture. As an example, this program includes art instruction videos, journaling tips, lessons on what food to try, and the ever so distinct differences between pasta and sauces. You have directions on how to create a traveling art pouch, which offers the participant a chance to doodle, work through personal growth exercises, and journal in addition to making simple art with watercolor pends as an example. When sitting alone sipping your tiramisu cappuccino and warm cornetto, you can work through thoughts and emotions or even list goals and activities. Over time, people will notice you and become curious about what you are doing. Investing in yourself attracts positive energy around you.

Physical Wellness: Since my followers are ages range 50 through 85, a few lightweight hand weights, a sitting thigh master, and several facial yoga exercises are taught. Just enough to tone our flabby arms for summer sundresses and tone out our thighs to make it up the steep Italian streets. A slight minimization of a facial wrinkle can convert insecurity into confidence and a smile.

Financial Wellness: The women that are interested in my course usually already have a financially stable situation at home and their preoccupation is how to enjoy existence and live life to its fullest. Since financial wellness is not our focus, I prefer to focus on cognitive acuity wellness or brain health wellness. My course teaches basic top phrases in the Italian language that we teach by repetition and memorizing, just enough to show respect to the culture in which you are arriving. Italian idioms are also taught as an insight into understanding how Italians look at life.

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?

Workplaces could benefit from my program by learning how to give a voice to their employers. Understanding an employer’s concerns is important to ensure that their physical and emotional needs are being met. Rendering an employee’s happiness is not only beneficial to this individual but is also beneficial to aid a company. Studies have shown that if an employer is more content with their work conditions and the generosity of their boss giving them a voice to express their needs, the employer will most likely perform better. This can increase the efficiency of the business and attract many new employers through word-of-mouth.

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

Human nature was not meant to be performing like robots for an exaggerated amount of time and under extremely stressful circumstances. When I see someone getting past a reasonable time focusing on a bad thing, I try to work with them in reframing the way they speak about it, converting it into positive action. I have been guilty of the downward spiral that anxiety brings. Therefore, as I work on myself, I encourage others to follow this path.

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?

I believe the transformation starts from within. I also recognize that rest is crucial in repairing one’s body. If I see myself having a difficult period, I allow myself to rest and re-approach the challenge another day. This can allow the body to efficiently recharge and will render the mind clearer which can aid the creative process.

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

“Il Dolce Far Niente” combined with the Ikigai Exercise are improving the work and lives of employees.

Within this global movement of Americans, we are learning from other cultures. The Japanese term Ikigai (pronounced ick-ee-guy) means your reason to get up in the morning. The Italian expression, Il Dolce Far Niente means the sweetness of doing nothing. Americans of my generation were overworked, exhausted, and burnt out, but new international influences are reshaping how the workplace operates.

Combine the idea of finding what you love, what you are talented at, and what the world needs. Then overlap them to guide your life and career choices. By doing so, happiness to find your destiny becomes obvious. Then once you have that clarity in vision, a balance to do it calmly, lovingly, and at a pace that can be sustained will become apparent. Your job is no longer a job but is your life’s dream and passion. Google “Ikigai in the workplace” and articles from Forbes, and CEO World, the BBC, The New York Times will show up. Employers are trying to find a better fit for their employee’s happiness and their long-term stability and growth.

April 1, 2022, Lancet published their findings that “Having Ikigai (vs. not having Ikigai) was associated with a 31% lower risk of developing functional disability and 36% lower risk of developing dementia.” “Ikigai was associated with decreased depressive symptoms and hopelessness as well as higher happiness, life satisfaction, the instrumental activity of daily living, and certain social outcomes.”

Culture is being radically redefined by new social norms in the workplace.

Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a term used for the last three-quarters of this century and Digital Nomads became popular just in the last quarter. Post-COVID and the Great Awakening movement have created personal freedom for traveling while working. Countries all over the world are changing their short-term working residency policies to allow the arrival of new international jetsetters to arrive.

Forty-one countries now have international Digital Nomad Visas and it is sure to grow in time. As working remotely is still occurring post-COVID, working from a foreign country is also on the rise. The need for employers to offer international health insurance is in demand. The long list of countries modifying their criteria for extended digital nomad visas becomes more competitive monthly. Flexible work arrangements, remote or homework location with flexible hours, employee assistance programs, and International medical benefits lead the list of desired benefits. Showers in offices for bicycling employees to massage chairs and hypnotic mediation and mindfulness rooms are all the latest fads but are becoming old compared to the international travel spree.

It is not uncommon to find someone sitting at an international café typing away but not for the traditional reason of writing a book or travel journal, rather they are working for their employer back in the states.

This past summer I had the chance to meet an American working for a national company and was able to execute their job in an Italian hilltop village for just under 3 months to avoid the 90-day visa rule.

Changing the Spectrum: Autism in the Workplace.

Current national statistics show that 1 in 54 children has autism in the U.S. Between the workplace shortages during and post COVID and only about 22% of autistic adults being employed, there is a social need to re-evaluate the extremely brilliant capacities to focus on the ability to work.

One example is Blue Star Recyclers, a 501c3 social enterprise. They currently employ 48 people with autism and other disabilities as they recycle 7,000 tons of electronic waste each year at five sites in Colorado and Illinois.

Bill Morris the founder of Blue Star stated that surprisingly that little to no special accommodations are needed except possibly playing background music; instead, he offers the applicant a “working interview”. Often the applicant cannot share about their about themselves and have no resumes with prior work experience. He allows them to go out on the work floor. They are offered three or four common tasks and try their hand at them, even up to weeklong trials at these tasks. The applicant is allowed to try to sort materials and take them apart on computers. As they move through the 3 to 4 stations, by the end of the week, the applicant chooses where they want to do.

Development disabilities programs often focus on their deficits and no one allows them to find their talents. BlueStar focuses on the assets of the individuals. Bill shared he has zero absenteeism, less than 10% annual turnover, and less than 1 lost-time injury accident per year. His employees are 98.43% task engaged on the clock as compared to the national average of 49%. People with autism can help companies increase profitability while providing a safer and more enjoyable workplace. They have trained about 20 other U.S. recyclers to employ people with disabilities, including in Chile and the United Kingdom.

Personal responsibility… If you want others to be interested in you, you must become interesting.

Older women are trying to reconnect with their lost selves. They have money, their kids are grown, and finding love is not easy. They must explore who they are and who they were before they deprioritized themselves, at work or in the home.

Women are turning to online coaches. Currently, there are 23,000 certified coaches in the USA alone. These professional coaches help women to take calculated risks. Coaches teach women to do things they normally are afraid of but to do it with guidance. For example, these women have many fears about traveling abroad but in reality, these fears whether they are in the US or overseas. The real challenge is that they need guidance on how to get back to the states if an emergency happens, assuming it even happens.

Working with mature women we identify these repetitive worried voices in their minds that masquerade as real issues versus habits of anxiety. When we identify the real issues, then we try to identify a potential plan to prepare for that issue if they are confronted with it. This reduces the frequency of that repetitive worried voice.

Personally, at the end of 2021, I felt I need a re-vamping. I decided to embrace my white grey stripes and allowed the hairdresser to highlight my entire head to match the feel in front. I pulled together my accessories and matched them up with fund new boots and scarves. As the external transformation happened to me I felt the changes emotionally within. The same is true with my group of women; we chat and support each other in defining this lifelong dream of experiencing Il Dolce Far Niente and mustering up the courage to do it.

Top Small Personalized Colleges are touching the lives of the latest and brightest entering the workforce.

American sociologist and anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem (31 May 1915–10 September 2003), in the 1950s, described children who spent part of their developmental years in a foreign culture due to their parents’ working or living abroad. Third Culture Kid (or TCKs) later became repackaged to Global Nomads in 1984 by Norma McCaig, a TCK herself.

A personal example is my 20-year-old daughter, Antonia, having grown up in the historical center hilltop of Spoleto. As a “true Spoletina” from Italy, her college search was not for academics only. Antonia looked for an American College that specialized in the lifestyle she had lived, La Dolce Vita (the sweet life) surrounded by all flavors of gelato, as we often joke. After reviewing over 20 great college scholarship offers in hand, Antonia knew the College of Wooster in Ohio was her choice after interviewing their admission officer.

In her first two years at Wooster, new friends from Slovenia, Hungry, Morocco, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nepal, India Mongolia, Australia, Kuwait, Mexico, Kazakhstan, and an autistic young man from New Yorker to name quite a few. She did not want to waste her first two years with uninteresting required courses. She demanded more from her education than the generations before her.

Anne Ober, director of Counseling Services on the campus of the College of Wooster stated “that what was a crucial time for emotional development in the age of senior high school students and the first two years of college students became derailed into a period of isolation. The pressures of social media combined with COVID lockdowns exacerbated their isolated experience and not always in a positive way.”

Wooster’s “Be Well, Be Kind” programs offer Puppy Enrichment Program (PEP), forest bathing experiences, morning meditation, slow flow yoga, massage chairs, and creating miniature Zen mediation sand-stone gardens. Therapist stations are strategically located around campus in three different locations with 15-minute open sessions that can jump in and out of on a needed basis.

If the experiences of our college youths are nurtured with a diversified learning environment of International Students, courses that intrigue the mind from the first year, to stress alleviating programs, why would not it be normal that they will expect that from their future employers? I believe employers will have to work harder at caring for the emotional well-being of their employees going forward.

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

To thine own self be true, might be the most relevant expression that is coming out of the Great Resignation as we move into the Great Awakening! People are realizing if we do not manage our health and stress well, we may not make it to retirement. A person’s well-being and balance is becoming a top priority. The acknowledgment of the complexity of human needs is a topic that is becoming more popular. I am optimistic about the spreading of awareness that will lead to concrete changes regarding how society views life and work.

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?

Instagram: @travelfromtheinsideout

Facebook Page: Francesca Elisabetta

Facebook Group: Travel from the Inside Out — Italy & Europe

Email: [email protected]

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