Make it top of mind. Open meetings with wellness stories, not business stats. Make it organic and non-programmatic. Some people just want the playbook or manual but others want to see action. Playbooks and manuals sit on the shelf; action sustains.

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 Jim MacPhee.

Jim MacPhee is a former executive leader at Walt Disney World. He started his 43-year career as a boat driver and retired as the COO/Senior Vice President, responsible for Operations of the entire site. Since retiring, Jim has now become a consultant to help other businesses in leadership development, operational excellence, and transformation.

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.

Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to engage on these all-important topics. Having been retired for the last 14 months following a 43-year career with Walt Disney World/the Walt Disney Company, a cancer survivor, and as someone who intensely values personal relationships: for me, the reality that life is in fact fleeting and fragile serves as the catalyst in recognizing that work is more than just work. Work is about embracing a strong relationship with products, people, and culture.

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?

There’s a wide array of definitions and perspectives when talking about wellness. In my role as COO for Walt Disney World, it was clear that we asked people to work diligently and deliver extraordinary experiences. To do that, they had to be more committed than compliant. To drive commitment, employees must feel like they’re a part of the organization regardless of their position and title. In the purest sense of wellness, we defined it as a whole being and had metrics associated with health, mindfulness, and overall well-being.

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?

A “well workforce,” in my opinion, is felt throughout the culture and the experiences delivered. Obviously, there are significant financial benefits to reducing illnesses and injuries, but I think the end game here is through the hearts and minds of the team members.

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?

There is no easy answer to quantifying ROI in terms of wellness, but I believe the value of wellness, commitment, and loyalty shows itself in lower turnover rates, lower healthcare costs, and the like. My advice to any organization is to certainly focus on the data from a results orientation/outcome perspective but to focus more on lifelong, healthy relationships with employees at all levels to demonstrate deep, genuine care as a leadership team. Depending upon the industry, these employees could be living paycheck to paycheck or only slightly beyond, and with the cost of living, there are certain priorities that come first. Unfortunately, some put themselves and their health last. To me, the key is to create a committed, engaged, and inspired culture to work towards the common goal of mindfulness and good health.

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?

There are obviously laws and regulations that prohibit deep discovery of individual health and well-being statuses before hiring. I believe the creation of a vibrant, optimistic, and realistic culture is critical, valuing all team members as whole people.

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?

This is difficult for me to elaborate on having retired from the corporate world 14 months ago. I personally feel that leadership matters, and the relationships that leaders have with their team members serve as the fuel for motivating the workforce toward wellness.

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?

Team participation and equal levels of respect within an organization are key. When folks on the frontline see and hear from their leaders on the organizational commitments, they see them walking the talk and living in wellness. It needs to feel like care and a commitment instead of a specific metric, and that wellness will emanate among most when they see genuine commitment.

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

I believe actions speak far louder than words, and people manage what they are measured against. My 43 years with Disney were fueled by people who genuinely cared about me and wanted to invest in me in my life, not just at work. It’s like the topic of safety. Many organizations try to split focus between employees, guests, and customers. Safety is a way of life, not just a way of work. When leaders are vulnerable enough to share learnings gleaned from their mistakes, they knock down the barrier between bravery and perfection. Humility and vulnerability create open and honest cultures. That, in my opinion, is the key enabler.

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?

Make it top of mind. Open meetings with wellness stories, not business stats. Make it organic and non-programmatic. Some people just want the playbook or manual but others want to see action. Playbooks and manuals sit on the shelf; action sustains.

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

Now more than ever, today’s workforce owns the workplace. I believe that as multi-generational lines get blurred and the challenges we face in the world and our lives get more complex, people are turning toward the self as a priority. While some organizations may have it nailed, many don’t. Engage your teams, inspire them to wellness, and lead them by example.

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?

I’ve just released my first book, Engage, Inspire, Lead, in which I share many of my life and leadership learnings throughout the years. My website,, will be live by July 1, and I look forward to hearing from readers. My email is [email protected].

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