… We have a tradition of starting meetings with meditations and check-ins. We ask, “How are you? How are you really?” We want to know, and we act on it. We’ll change an entire meeting agenda over that. It’s embedded into everything we do.

We have found the number one way leaders can help reduce stigma is to share their stories and experiences. Hearing from leaders about their own struggles, or family members’ struggles, humanizes leaders and creates a safe environment for others to share their own struggles. By first recognizing that everyone has some kind of struggle, we can then begin to create psychological safety and build trust.

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 Jill A. Santecier, SHRM-CP, Vice President, Global People Operations, at Headspace Health.

Jill Santercier is the Vice President of Global People Operations for Headspace Health. She believes in a people-first approach with a focus on retention and human flourishing in a psychologically safe space. Employee development and happiness over the long term is critical, so each person becomes an invaluable contributor to the mission and the business.

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.

Almost two years ago, my family and I were headed to central Illinois to visit friends and family over the 4th of July holiday weekend. I intentionally left my laptop behind, but (full transparency) snuck my Surface tablet with me in order to stay connected. You know, “just in case.” In case of what I wasn’t exactly sure…

What if I’m needed in an urgent situation?

Newsflash: People will figure it out when you are unavailable, and if you have built a strong team, they will shine in your absence, which is exactly what you want. It’s a win-win, and I say to anyone feeling fear or anxiety of disconnecting, let it go and disconnect. Your people will be okay, you will model behavior that you want them to replicate, and YOU will have the chance to rest and recharge.

On that vacation in central Illinois, thanks to a technical glitch on my phone and sketchy internet service, I found myself totally disconnected. It was okay! I wrote about this experience to share it with others, and to this day I strongly believe that rest, recovery and recharge fuels true resilience and supports a healthy relationship with work. You can read about my full experience here.

Since that time almost two years ago, I’ve made it a point to fully disconnect from work when taking time for self-care or while on vacation. It’s still not an easy practice for me, but the incredible feelings of space and clarity and creativity I experience after successfully disconnecting fuels my consistency in this practice.

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 as a metric is not new, but the way we define and measure wellness is critical. Our message to employers — look not just at utilization of benefits, but measure how those benefits and wellness programs more broadly are impacting retention and overall happiness. Do employees feel safe to speak up? To take PTO when they need a break? Do employees feel that their leadership is living the company values? This all feeds into happiness and “wellness” at work.

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?

At Headspace Health, we are committed to proving our outcomes through rigorous peer-reviewed research. We offer people leader training, which includes encouraging and modeling behavior for time away, how to spot and deal with signs of burnout, and creating sustainable workloads.

We’ve spent a lot of time researching overall wellness attitudes in the workplace. In our recently released 2022 Workforce Attitudes Survey, our research found a marked difference in the number of days employees are missing work due to mental health, particularly those in top leadership roles. Why is this significant? We know that good leadership is key to top-down stress management of the entire workforce, and this calls for leaders who are purposeful, present, and plugged-in.

While the survey found COVID-19 related stress among some workers has started to fall, however, employees are increasingly feeling stress from burnout and ineffective challenges with management and leadership.

  • 83% of CEOs and 70% of employees reported missing at least one day of work due to stress, burnout and mental health challenges. Only 28 percent of employees report feeling “very engaged” in their work.
  • Top global stressors for employees are COVID-19, burnout due to increased workload or lack of staff, poor work-life balance, and poor management and leadership.
  • More women (40%) feel burned out at work than male (33%) or non-binary employees (34%).
  • Non-binary employees report a wider range of stressors at work than their male and female counterparts.

What we know is that happy people are productive people. The goal is to have a stable, happy workforce, and the end result of that is to have a profitable business. That might jar someone in the financial world a little bit, but that is the truth. First and foremost, our resources, assets and our whole business is our people, and they are always worth the investment.

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’d like to shift our collective mindset from return on investment to value of investment. I’ve had conversations with CEOs who ask, “how much will we save on our mental health care spend by implementing a solution like yours?” I’d suggest leaders zoom out and think about the impact of what their people are doing day to day, and how best to support them. It’s not about moving health care dollars around; it’s about supporting your employees so they can show up every day as their best, most authentic and productive selves.

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 addition to relying on our amazing recruiters and other traditional ways to find talent, we have created a community of like-minded people who interact with us through Linkedin, at conferences and at other events, in person and virtually. We have discovered that people who have real buy-in to our mission of creating a healthier, happier world — both in and outside of work — form a diverse talent pool for us to recruit within and who share their love of our mission with others.

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?

At Headspace Health, we offer full-spectrum mental health support within our benefit programs and company policies, with a focus on preventative and early intervention support, particularly when it comes to combating burnout and stress at work. A few examples of these programs are:

  • We encourage employees to take time to rest and recharge by offering and encouraging employees to take advantage of our flexible time off policy.
  • We offer twice monthly MINDays, which are paid days off so employees can be mindful of how they are feeling and have time to focus on self-care.
  • We offer daily meditations and regularly incorporate meditations into our team meetings.
  • We offer organization-wide group coaching sessions designed to build psychological safety at the individual, team and organization levels.
  • We offer all employees access to dedicated external mental health coaches with unlimited 1:1 sessions.
  • We train all people leaders on early signs of burnout, and how they can spot and support employees who may be exhibiting these signs.

We realize that each person is on their own mental health journey and may need additional support at certain times throughout this journey. It’s a critical focus of ours to provide affordable and easy access to care, and to couple this with support through company-wide policies like a comprehensive leave of absence policy, which allows those who need it to hit pause and take a step back in order to prioritize their mental health without fear of losing their job.

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

At Headspace Health, we have a tradition of starting meetings with meditations and check-ins. We ask, “How are you? How are you really?” We want to know, and we act on it. We’ll change an entire meeting agenda over that. It’s embedded into everything we do.

We have found the number one way leaders can help reduce stigma is to share their stories and experiences. Hearing from leaders about their own struggles, or family members’ struggles, humanizes leaders and creates a safe environment for others to share their own struggles. By first recognizing that everyone has some kind of struggle, we can then begin to create psychological safety and build trust.

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 think the number one thing is to check in with each other. How are you doing? How are you feeling? Is your workload sustainable right now? Mean it. Listen to the answer. And take action if needed. That is something simple you can do today to start.

If I zoom out on that, are you supporting healthy boundaries? Are you protecting work time vs home time? Are you using tools such as email or slack scheduling when sending after hours messages and being mindful of time zones or PTO time?

Modeling behavior that supports mental health in the workplace is another powerful strategy. If you are a leader, and you are taking time off from work to support your mental health, say it! Say it in your out of office message, share it with your teams and encourage them to put it into practice as well. It is much easier for others to take time away as needed if their leaders are modeling and encouraging this behavior.

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

People are talking about mental health and wellness, and that alone is a big step. Digital tools like Headspace Health can help reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace by normalizing the conversation. If I am someone who wants to put into practice the areas I recently mentioned to reduce stigma, adding digital tools will just up the ante.

Let’s say you want to begin by introducing mindfulness to your workplace. Maybe you want to begin a meeting with a short meditation, which will encourage those in attendance to be fully present. You don’t need to hire anyone or be well versed in the practice of meditation; you could simply play a short 3-minute meditation from the Headspace app.

At Headspace Health, we start each of our all-hands meetings this way, and we receive overwhelming feedback immediately after each meditation that people truly appreciate and value starting meetings this way. Even if it just gives some of us a minute to breathe and remember which meeting we are attending!

The future is bright! The use of digital tools has an important role to play in reducing stigma and ensuring that people are receiving the right type of care. Headspace Health is on the cutting edge when it comes to our ability to be able to predict the level of care that people should be receiving. We are able to power our clinicians with data and insights which helps them make better decisions. This in turn is directly related to better outcomes for our members.

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?

Readers can find me on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jillsantercier/.

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