The future of work is flexible. Throughout the pandemic, we learned how to create boundaries that brought a new balance between work and life, unrestricted by commutes and in-office hours. This flexibility has become part of our “new normal” and a requirement for many workers today for both where and when we choose to work. The risk of these boundaries between life and work can easily be blurred while working remotely, so it’s critical that we are intentional and strict about these boundaries in the workplace.

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 Ioana Ellis, Interim CHRO at Marqeta.

Originally hailing from Romania, I moved to Japan while in college and ended up living in Tokyo for 12 years where I started my career in recruiting. I joined the recruiting team at Google in 2013 to work on building several organizations from the ground up for the APAC region. In 2015, I moved to the Bay Area to work on various parts of the People organization for Google Cloud. After almost nine years at Google, I joined Marqeta to lead the Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) function for our technology organization and am currently acting as interim Chief Human Resources Officer.

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 am a mom of a three-nager and one-year-old (still baby) boy. Becoming a parent was the experience that solidified for me the importance of making sure the time I spend away from my kids is spent in meaningful and impactful ways. If I am not with them, it better be worth it. This translates into being very thoughtful about when and what I work on and also frankly, the people I work with.

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?

At Marqeta we believe wellness is deeply individual and needs to be addressed on a holistic level. We built our program anchored on three tenants focused on ‘Powering the Whole You’: Emotional & Mental Health + Physical Health + Financial Fitness. Within each tenant, we provide programs at either no cost or low cost that are aimed at having something for everyone. Ultimately, by providing the individual support at large, we can boost resilience, improve how we function and prepare for future assaults on our wellbeing.

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 see how burnout affects productivity, which in turn affects profitability, so by listening to employees and taking action directly based on their feedback, we’ll see the best results. At Marqeta, we do this by measuring a combination of engagement scores, data provided by our wellness-focused vendors, and direct employee feedback. We then review those results and how we can improve overall employee health and wellness. We’re not always going to get it right, but by collecting insights and measurable data to inform our actions, we can make sure we’re on the right track.

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?

I think, and I’d say this about any area of the business that impacts our employees, not only wellness, the first step is to acknowledge that there isn’t a playbook that teaches us how to navigate what we have been experiencing these last two years. We do need to start with making sure our company is capturing really deep insights into what is going on within our organization and how employees are feeling. Then, decide the best next steps and action plan based on that data and insights. We know we won’t always get it right the first time but we’ll be iterating and listening to our employees in order to drive better results.

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?

In our recruitment and hiring process, we’re very proud to highlight the well-being benefits we offer to all employees.

Some of the main benefits we share with candidates include:

  • Flexible Time Off (FTO) which allows employees to take the time they need along with 16 paid all company holidays.
  • Paid leave to step away from work for the important moments in life including Family Forming (20 weeks for birthing parents and 12 weeks for non-birthing parents), Medical Leave, and Bereavement Leave.
  • Free Therapy or Professional Coaching sessions per year.
  • $500 Annual Wellness Stipend towards whichever wellness regimen most benefits each employee. This can include gym memberships, national or state park passes, and even regular massages.
  • In addition to our Benefits that support Wellness, we do our best during the hiring process to allow new hires to take time between roles to refresh and reset. It’s not uncommon for new hires to onboard at Marqeta and then spend 1–2 weeks recharging on paid FTO.

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.

  • Mental Wellness: At Marqeta we have Focus Fridays, which are “no-meeting” Fridays every other week, and we added more paid company holidays to the year, including “Flexible Summer Fridays”, which allow Marqetans to take every other Friday off work in the summer. With our flexible schedule, 35% of the year is a 4-day workweek. We’ve also partnered with Modern Health to provide mental wellness resources and free coaching and therapy visits.
  • Emotional Wellness: We leverage HealthKick’s wellness platform to host no-cost programs aimed at supporting our peoples’ emotional wellbeing, via workshops focused on those daily activities that often get overlooked and drag our emotional wellbeing down. For example, HealthKick has hosted a nutritional clinic (aimed at understanding sugar impact), sleep health and using sound as a healing tool.
  • Social Wellness: Marqeta leverages our employee resource groups (ERGs) to enable people to receive the support and encouragement of other Marqetans in a community setting. Our ERGs are active, diverse and engaging groups that often host events such as Wellness and Meditation workshop sponsored by Blackcard, Marqeta’s black employee-centered ERG, or the Tackling Career Growth and Parenthood virtual event hosted by our Parents ERG
  • Physical Wellness: We’ve launched a no-cost physical fitness program that supports our people’s physical wellness via regularly scheduled classes, both in-person and available online. The classes vary from high-impact interval training to breathwork, and each class is presented live just for Marqeta. This is a year-old program hosted by a local Oakland-based vendor: Bay Functional FItness.
  • Financial Wellness: Via Ayco’s Personal Financial Management, every Marqetan has access to a financial coach to cover topics including taxes, retirement, and making the most of our pre-tax benefit plans. The coaching is provided at no cost with unlimited coaching sessions available.

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’ve announced that we are a Flexible First company, allowing Marqetans to work from wherever they are most productive and happiest. In addition, we’ve increased paid company holidays — adding “Friday before” holidays to the calendar to encourage 4-day weekends, and in total, approximately 35% of the year is a 4-day workweek. We’ve seen how the pandemic has led us to find a new level of flexibility in how we work, and we continue to crave this flexibility in our workplace. By ensuring work-life balance, employee wellness will be at the forefront, helping to boost our overall company morale and health.

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

Our Flexible First work approach underlines the importance of focusing on work-life balance and empowering managers to allow their employees to determine the best way to blend work with life — allowing them to determine working hours and boundaries that support their individual wellbeing and lifestyle.

We are encouraging all leaders to take advantage of our flexible time off policy and lead by example — we have a very generous leave program and encourage employees to take at least 3 weeks in a year. Our CEO recently shared a story about his priority of taking 5 weeks of vacation in a year — we encourage leaders to model and support this activity.

During Mental Health Month we are planning to promote our wellbeing program with Modern Health. We will host a session for our managers to help them understand and recognize mental health issues and burnout within their teams, provide skills/tools to support the conversation, and resources to offer help and guidance.

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?

One small step we can all take is to make sure we take time for breaks throughout the day. It’s important to bake in time away from your computer; go for a walk, grab a cup of coffee, and refresh your mind multiple times per day. I am also an advocate of removing Slack from my phone and disconnecting completely during my time off. I know my team will be able to reach me in case of an emergency, but by removing Slack from my mobile device, I can fully enjoy my time without the instinct to check in.

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

  1. The future of work is flexible. Throughout the pandemic, we learned how to create boundaries that brought a new balance between work and life, unrestricted by commutes and in-office hours. This flexibility has become part of our “new normal” and a requirement for many workers today for both where and when we choose to work. The risk of these boundaries between life and work can easily be blurred while working remotely, so it’s critical that we are intentional and strict about these boundaries in the workplace.
  2. The future of work will have a tremendous impact on the future of belonging and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Remote work during the pandemic leveled the playing field for many underrepresented and marginalized employee groups, including women and minorities. A return to the office brings with it a risk of returning to many of the discriminatory practices, microaggressions, and unconscious biases that were rampant in in-office cultures. With underrepresented employees, parents, and caretakers being more inclined to choose remote over in-office work structures, a Flexible First strategy allows for more individual choice and influence over the work week. Still, the rise of inequities between co-located and remote employees opens the door to proximity bias and other disparities across promotion, performance and career mobility. It’s critical that companies remain vigilant of how their remote vs in-office cultures evolve in the next year and are prepared to launch the appropriate interventions when evidence of inequities arises.
  3. High performance is driven by improved organizational wellness. Over the last two years, companies have gone through massive change, causing us to rethink how we approach organizational wellness. The sweet spot for navigating this is at the intersection of high performance and high organizational health, which drives true organizational resiliency. It’s important to find a way to drive a positive change experience for our employees because change fatigue, especially during this time and the last two years, is real. We need more sustainable organizations and hold ourselves accountable to norms and practices that promote wellness in our culture. Companies that regularly audit their practices to see whether they are enhancing or inhibiting organizational wellness will stand above the rest.
  4. Employee wellness is a critical component of driving employee engagement. Wellness and engagement are interdependent. Higher wellness across any of the key dimensions (financial, emotional, social, physical, mental) correlates to increased engagement and better business outcomes. We should be tracking how employees are engaging at work as well as with the wellness benefits that they’re offered. It’s important that we look at how many days, on average, employees are taking off, and if they’re taking advantage of our other wellness benefits. If these aren’t being used, it is important to determine how we need to pivot to ensure we’re not only providing the best quality wellness resources for employees but ensuring ease of access to just-in-time solutions.
  5. In addition to employee wellness, companies need to focus on work relationships and work environment wellness. “Workplace Wellness” means more than who offers the best time off policy or wellness benefits. It should be at the core of the company and how we interact with and treat each other. It really starts with how employees feel when they are working at a company and making sure we have fostered a positive, open environment that encourages growth and respect. That’s the foundation of wellness in the workplace.

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

For the longest time, workplace wellness took a back seat on the list of priorities and the fact that both employees and employers are intentionally rethinking what is truly important is a great start. I look at the global pandemic through various lenses and one of these is the learning, reflection and reassessment lens. I see the door open to truly understanding and customizing what we offer to our employees in order to create a work environment where they can truly be at their best. With everything we do for our teams at Marqeta, we apply an experience check — this means we test everything we do, we gather early feedback and we iterate as we launch things so that we can be as relevant as possible to a variety of needs.

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] or Linkedin.

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