Family planning assistance.

This is another rather new trend I’ve seen pop up over the last few years that has really expanded the way we work well (and support wellness). Traditional family planning benefits may include maternity leave (and sometimes paternity leave) but now we’re seeing a rise in many other perks and resources. Some of my favorites include fertility benefits, adoption assistance, and childcare stipends.

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 Kassandra Chas.

Early in her career, Kassandra identified “human wellbeing” as the sole focus of her professional endeavors. Starting in the behavioral and mental health field, she quickly identified that these areas of wellness needed to be addressed in more than a clinical setting. She has since brought her focus into the place where people spend the largest amount of their time — work — by serving nonprofits, associations, and a variety of organizations in applying behavioral and positive psychology approaches to the employee experience.

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.

Thank you for having me. I’ve loved reading through this series and am grateful to be included in it.

I was raised in a “hustle” culture. In grade school, I made sure I was a part of as many exclusive academic and extracurricular groups as possible. Going above and beyond was the standard, and anything below that felt like complacency. That attitude followed me into university, where I made sure every semester was packed with an excessive amount of credits so that I could graduate early. Soon, I found myself in the “adult world”. After years of family, and teachers, and role models telling me that only hard work paid off, I dove into my career head first. I was quickly overwhelmed and overworked. Every job I took, I did more than what was expected. Every role I played, I made sure to give it 101%. All my life I was taught that this was commitment, this was passion, and this was the only path to purpose and success. When I found myself in a role responsible for education programs and specialists across the country, I hit rock bottom.

It was then, while I was trying to pick up the pieces from burnout, that I realized how unhealthy and unsupported my professional “hustle” lifestyle had been. Through taking a quick life inventory, I was able to confirm that yes, I was doing work that I loved. Yes, I felt fulfilled by the work I was doing. “The work” wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the work wasn’t even a balanced part of my life, it had become my life. If anyone had seen me become this obsessive about another part of my life (food, a relationship, a hobby) they would’ve called it out as unhealthy right away. But because it was my career, because we’re all taught to grind and compete, no one thought anything of it. In exchange for doing work I loved, I lost the ability to care for myself. My sleep, my nutrition, my stress levels, my relationships with family and friends, all fell victim to my lack of work/life balance. And from that pit of exhaustion, and disappointment, I committed to a new way of working. I set new standards for myself, allowing my work to be a passion but never again an obsession. I set new standards for my employers, vowing to only work in environments where there was an emphasis on balance, psychological safety, and wellbeing. I set new standards for my boundaries, complying with and finding comfort in my set work schedule, my time off, and my demand prioritization.

I found that inviting my career into my life instead of allowing it to absorb my life made me a happier person both in the professional setting and out in my personal world. At times, I looked back and wished there was someone who would’ve watched out for me in those earlier years and protected me from building a toxic relationship with my work. But since there wasn’t, I decided to be that person for others. Now, the work that I do is both healthy for myself and teaches others how to prioritize wellness while still succeeding in their field.

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 Dopple we look at life as a venn diagram, with work life on one side and personal life on the other. The middle part, the overlapping part, that is where WELLNESS resides. Wellness can benefit from either side of the diagram, and it can be negatively impacted by either side of the diagram. If we focus on health and intention in both our work lives and personal lives, then we can maintain our wellbeing.

We measure wellness in a few different ways.

  1. GRADE: We use in depth engagement surveys to dive into not only the employee experience but the human experience and where those two overlap. Using pointed engagement survey questions, we are able to gauge the current state of wellness within our organization.
  2. ASK: We are always asking for feedback from our employees. Tell us what is working, and what isn’t. Tell us what has improved your wellness, and what has obstructed your wellness.
  3. SHARE: We go straight to the source, and meet one on one with employees for “Wellness Checks”. We start with a high level topic (either something the employee wants to share about, or a trend we’ve identified internally and want to learn more about) and then get into granular details. With wellness checks we are able to focus on each individual, and find out where they are thriving versus where we can support them.

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?

I look at wellness as a power source. When employees are well, they are fully charged and able to invest their time, energy, and skills into working well. There is a relationship between an employee or team’s overall wellbeing, and their performance at work. When we see employee metrics surrounding rest, capacity, and relationships start to fall, we can expect to see drops in productivity and morale as well as increases in execution time and burnout. On the other hand, when we intentionally prioritize and practice wellness within the workplace, we see upward trends in efficiency and team cohesiveness.

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 biggest piece of advice is don’t let your resources be reactive, get ahead of it. Just like any other big business cost, we analyze both the cost of immediate implementation and the risk of delayed implementation. Instead of waiting for a wellness crisis to threaten an employee or team, give wellness your attention now. Proactivity gives you the time to speak with your employees, and identify what they really need instead of prescribing what you think is best. Just this process alone, kicking off the discussion, will begin to build trust and safety within your organization. And who knows, you may find out that the programs that best fit your employee’s needs come at a more feasible cost than what you originally anticipated. In the same way we choose to offer medical insurance now, instead of waiting for a possible hospital visit, start building other wellness benefits that can support employee wellness and prevent larger crises.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

We go beyond listing our “perks” in job descriptions and company profiles. When it comes to recruitment and hiring, we focus on how we can best communicate and represent the employee experience at Dopple. A good employee experience is built off of a healthy and safe foundation. We want our employees, present and future, to know that we are looking out for their wellbeing. When we talk about benefits with candidates, items like health insurance, 401k match, and wellness benefits are all mentioned with equal importance.

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.

Here are a few benefits and twists I’ve recently heard about, looked into for our organization, or started implementing with our employees:

  • Mental Wellness: This could apply to any wellness area, really, but we applied it most within the mental wellness category. Wellness Webinars or trainings. Make regularly scheduled wellness topics available to all employees at the company. Discuss areas such as Stress Management, Setting Boundaries, Coping with Change, Time Management, etc. Allow these sessions to be a safe space where employees are not only armed with new information and skills, but they are also able to share their own experiences and seek support.
  • Emotional Wellness: I wouldn’t count this as “new” or “innovative”, but I highly recommend leaning on your EAP services if you provide them. EAP services are highly beneficial, extremely underutilized benefits that most companies are already investing in. Take time each year to educate employees on the purpose, scope, and benefits of your Employee Assistance Program. Many EAP benefits include more than the standard number of counseling sessions, they also include access to online and phone resources. There is an abundance of services and materials available, employees just need to know where to look for them.
  • Social Wellness: Community service days! While happy hours and morning yoga classes have been popular for years, you may find that attendance has started to drop. What better way to bring people together than a shared purpose? Planning company service days to get together and give back is a great way to get your teams together, build a social bond between employees, and do something impactful. We have started to build in biannual “Community Service Days” at Dopple, where employees get the day off of work in exchange for a few hours of community service. This is available to everyone across the organization. Some employees get together in small groups with other remote employees, some participate in an activity near our headquarters, and some spend the day volunteering with family and friends.
  • Physical Wellness: Bring on the healthy competition. I’ve seen this done well with companies of all types and sizes. Physical Wellness competitions hosted by employers are a fun way to get people active and committed to their health, while also benefiting from peer accountability. The most important part here is to be mindful of the “goal” you are setting for participants. Instead of the traditional “biggest loser” style weight loss competition that may not align with everyone’s physical health needs, consider something based more on activity and less on outcome. Some good monthly examples include Recipe Challenges (employees share photo of their healthy meal and share the recipe), Get Outdoors Challenge (employees log outdoor activities such as walks, runs, hikes, bike ride, etc.), H2O Challenge (tracking water intake and hydration daily). Implementing something like this requires a bit more active participation from the organizer to ensure everyone stays active throughout the challenge- but it is a great way to have fun and stay healthy.
  • Financial Wellness: How many times have you heard (or thought) ‘I wish they taught us THIS in high school’ when it comes to financial items such as taxes, retirement accounts, or keeping good credit? Though financial literacy might not have been a part of the K-12 curriculum, you can help your employees by offering financial wellness as part of your benefits. There are many different avenues to secure financial wellness support for employees, from financial planning sessions to financial advisors. While these topics shouldn’t be handled internally, consider adding support from a financial services company that can guide and educate your employees.
  • Other: One big wellness program we recently committed to implementing in 2023 is a wellness stipend library. There are platforms popping up that create a catalog of different wellness services that employees can select based on their individual needs. A common example would be Holisticly, where employers can contribute a wellness stipend on a monthly or quarterly basis in the form of Holisticly credits. Employees are able to cash in these credits for numerous wellness items such as virtual therapy access, gym memberships, financial coaching, meditation apps, and more. This is a really great option for smaller companies who want to invest in employee wellness, but are unsure how to build a program that is inclusive enough that it covers a multitude of wellness needs while remaining in budget.

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

Any level of culture change has to start with leaders, and wellness starts there too. We have been doing our part to break the “professional norms” to create a people centric culture that prioritizes wellbeing, and a big part of that is in how we lead and model for our employees. The employee experience is a commonplace topic in our managers meetings and trainings, placing people priorities at the same level as business priorities. We host in depth conversations around shifting our professional perspectives, leading by example, and supporting the wellbeing of our employees. Some of the topics we’ve tackled with our leaders include protecting employee time autonomy, taking time off for your wellbeing (not just for vacation), and setting healthy boundaries. When we change the way we see, talk about, and show up at work with our leaders, we are creating a culture within our organization where people feel comfortable prioritizing their own wellbeing knowing that they have the support of their managers and other leads throughout the company.

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?

Talk. Open the conversation. Be honest about not having the answers (yet) but wanting to set the stage. Wellness initiatives may take time to implement, but the values behind them can be automatic. When you start discussing how your organization can shift and grow into a “wellness focus”, you will learn more about your people’s needs and values. While kicking off an idea such as “on-demand mental health services” may have to wait until next year’s open enrollment, you can start shifting behaviors and communication within your company to create a more mental health friendly environment right away.

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

  1. Flexible Hours.

Time autonomy is so important to empowered, productive workforces. By allowing flexible hours instead of structured workdays, you give individuals the opportunity to decide when and how they work best. I suggest making sure you commit to “prime hours” mid day where collaborative work can take place while most of the organization is actively working. That way you don’t miss out on shared knowledge, meeting time, and other peer opportunities. “Prime hours” might look like 10am-3pm, everyone is working. Outside of that, the time belongs to the employee. They have the autonomy to decide when they can show up and be their best. For some, that may mean starting earlier. For others, that may be while their children are at school. Some people, such as myself, may get a wave of creativity after dinner and prefer to clock an hour or two of focus at 8pm. It shouldn’t matter when the work gets done, or how long it takes, what matters is the output. If someone can achieve that during unorthodox hours, let them!

2. People Ops.

Maybe I’m biased, but I think every company can benefit from investing time and resources in having a people operations focus, separate from HR duties. While human resources technically focuses on the people side of things, it is more of an administrative and compliance focus. Consider having an independent role that’s focus is on employee experience, performance, and development.

3. Holistic Wellness benefits.

It’s true, offering health insurance and a 401k is now the bare minimum. When you are building out benefit offerings, make sure you are focusing on the whole person. Review your company’s current selections and make sure it is well rounded. You should have benefits touching physical, mental, emotional, financial, and social wellness.

4. Family planning assistance.

This is another rather new trend I’ve seen pop up over the last few years that has really expanded the way we work well (and support wellness). Traditional family planning benefits may include maternity leave (and sometimes paternity leave) but now we’re seeing a rise in many other perks and resources. Some of my favorites include fertility benefits, adoption assistance, and childcare stipends.

5. Digital Wellness.

As we are a few years post-lockdown, many employers have opted to remain remote or go hybrid. As we’ve learned, work/life boundaries can go out the window when “work” is no longer a location you enter and exit. Fatigue and burnout are rising, partly because we are adjusting to a new relationship with work (and our computer screens). Organizations have started prioritizing digital wellness to take a proactive approach to these levels of exhaustion or disengagement. With the implementation of discussions around digital wellbeing, desktop break timers, and other tracking applications, employees are supported in decreasing screen time and meeting fatigue, while simultaneously increasing productivity and engagement.

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

What makes me optimistic is the very same thing that is scaring those stuck in “traditional work”. The ideas of ‘The Great Resignation’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’ actually show that people are paying attention to individual wellness and advocating for balance, empowerment, and engagement all in one workplace. I believe this is a new era for how we show up for ourselves and others in the workplace. Gone are the days where paying the bills was the only priority. Now, people are looking for careers where they can find purpose, develop their skills, and build community without having to compromise their wellbeing or lifestyle.

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?

LinkedIn is the best place to keep in touch.

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

Thank YOU.