Implement a company sharing network to socialize wellbeing best practices — Creating an environment that destigmatizes mental health and supports wellness is crucial. An easy way to implement this is including a Slack channel where employees can share something about their personal wellbeing that is important to them or something new they have learned about wellbeing that could be of use to others (ie. tips such as useful apps, books read or classes taken). Also, at quarterly meetings, making this initiative a priority where employees (and the leadership team) can speak about their wellness journey openly.

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 Gregg Makuch.

Gregg Makuch (“may-kish”) is a results-oriented marketing executive with 20+ years of experience creating and implementing successful growth strategies. His experience ranges from startups to global, billion-dollar organizations. Gregg is the CMO at PTO Exchange, the first platform that allows employees to self-direct the value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other needs and causes. He’s responsible for getting the word out and educating HR and business leaders on how PTO Exchange benefits both employees and employers.

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.

Like most of us, I’ve had ups and downs in my career. I’ve been blessed to have worked with amazing people and mentors at great organizations like Deloitte, Kraft, and Price Waterhouse. I also have had my share of downs, and this cycle seemed to get more intense as I moved into the tech sector and specifically smaller, early stage companies. After probably staying too long at one of these which had its share of cultural issues and challenges, I’ve learned that I’ll never do that again. I now am thrilled to get up every day and be part of a value-driven company and terrific team, building something truly innovative that we think can help millions of people. Our mission is powerful but we also value the “whole employee” — our professional talents but also the need to balance family, health, faith, and community 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?

We define it along wellness “pillars” — physical wellbeing, financial wellbeing, mental/emotional wellbeing, and social wellbeing. Physical wellbeing relates to our bodies — fitness, exercise, health care, etc. Financial wellbeing relates to fair compensation, retirement planning, paid leave and other benefits. Mental and emotional wellbeing refer to our emotional state and health. Social wellbeing refers to charitable giving, volunteering, and community engagement.

We support each of these pillars within our organization with flexible benefits and support, including the ability to exchange some of our unused PTO for these purposes.

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 believe that employee wellness along these dimensions correlate with higher levels of productivity and profitability. Some of it is self-evident — physically healthy employees show up to work and have fewer sick days than unhealthy employees. More work and hence productivity occurs when sick days are reduced.

Mental and emotional wellbeing are just as important, even though it may be more difficult to observe. Many employees power through difficulties, but we know their productivity is compromised when they are not getting the help they need.

Social wellbeing from our point of view, is a sign of a healthy workplace culture. It’s important that we allow employees the time and resources to give back to the communities in which we live.

We just completed some really illustrative research on these issues. It revealed that 4 out of 5 employees would donate vacation hours to a coworker in the case of an emergency. This research also suggested that employees would have stronger feelings of loyalty with flexible benefits such as PTO conversion. A more loyal workforce is directly related to higher productivity, lower recruiting and training costs, and higher profitability.

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?

My advice would be to just start — somewhere. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. Start with a pilot in one location or department, for example. This could be investing in a fitness center on-site. Or simply offer a modest LPA (Life Planning Account) that employees can use based on their priorities. An LPA is a lump-sum cash benefit that employees can use in pre-approved expense categories, like physical wellbeing (fitness centers, athletic equipment, personal training, etc.) or emotional wellbeing (meditation, counseling, yoga, etc).

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 prominently feature these values and convertible benefits during our recruiting process. We feel this sets us apart in a competitive job market.

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 feature both LPA options and PTO Exchange — the ability to convert unused vacation based on each employee’s personal needs and priorities.

  • Mental Wellness: Our LPA supports counseling services and support. With PTO Exchange, employees can also convert some of their paid leave into discounted travel so they can better afford to get away and decompress from work.
  • Emotional Wellness: Our LPA supports yoga, meditation, and like services and apps.
  • Social Wellness: PTO Exchange allows employees to convert a portion of their unused PTO and contribute to over 1.7M nonprofits. We also provide time for volunteering.
  • Physical Wellness: Our LPA supports membership fees to fitness centers and can also be used for athletic gear and attire. Further, with PTO Exchange, we can convert some unused vacation directly into Health Savings Accounts.
  • Financial Wellness: With PTO Exchange, employees can convert unused PTO into retirement accounts, pay down student debt, establish an emergency fund, or simply cash some of it out for other priorities.

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?

We are big believers that one-size-fits-all benefits are not nearly as valuable as flexible benefits. Most firms have a multi-generational workforce, with up to five different generations. The priorities of Millennials skew toward reducing student debt or traveling. For Baby Boomers, it leans toward contributing more to their retirement funds. For Gen X’ers, they’re more interested in putting money into their kids’ college funds.

So, my advice is to try to provide as much flexibility as possible within the overall benefit budget.

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

We support career development and learning.

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?

Offer a convertible benefits solution like PTO Exchange! By offering employees a choice and flexibility to control the value of their PTO, is a step in the right direction.

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

  1. Convertible benefits option — America’s workforce is losing billions worth of accrued PTO. By offering a way to convert benefits that support employees’ individualized needs and different transitions in life (retirement accounts, student loan repayments, charitable donations, and more), will promote wellness all around. This type of offering supports the changing workforce and ultimately supports employees in more ways than one.
  2. Mental Health Days will become a staple — Employee burnout is an ongoing issue and The Great Resignation is a prime example of this. A recent TalentLMS and BambooHR survey found that a whopping 82% of employed Gen Z employees want mental health days.
  3. Hybrid and remote work promote wellness and are here to stay — The pandemic forced employers to implement a WFH policy and it has proven to be an office model that works and supports employee wellness. An Ergotron survey of 1,000 full-time workers found that 56% of employees said their mental health, work-life balance and physical activity — all improved as a result of their hybrid work environment. And 88% said the flexibility to work from home or the office has increased their job satisfaction. Just recently, the CEO of Airbnb, solidified a permanence of the remote-work era with new policies. We’re going to see many companies follow suit.
  4. Instill an open and supportive company culture around mental health — Employers will be proactive about making employees feel safe and comfortable discussing mental health at work to cultivate a company culture of empathy and wellbeing. According to Corporate Wellness Magazine, the number of employees who said they discussed their mental health in the workplace over the past year nearly doubled, from 23 percent in 2020 to 43 percent in 2021. Far more people now report a higher comfort level around bringing up their own mental health challenges with managers and peers.
  5. Implement a company sharing network to socialize wellbeing best practices — Creating an environment that destigmatizes mental health and supports wellness is crucial. An easy way to implement this is including a Slack channel where employees can share something about their personal wellbeing that is important to them or something new they have learned about wellbeing that could be of use to others (ie. tips such as useful apps, books read or classes taken). Also, at quarterly meetings, making this initiative a priority where employees (and the leadership team) can speak about their wellness journey openly.

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

More and more leaders and organizations — SHRM, World at Work, etc — are starting to see wellness as a serious HR theme and approach to drive employee engagement and ultimately enhance productivity. Also, the fact that we’re having this conversation in your publication is incredibly encouraging to heighten awareness!

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 connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter (@greggmaykish) or via email at [email protected].

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