Connection — Companies must be intentional about how employees connect to each other and the organization. With remote work, leaders should intentionally structure together-time like team offsites, virtual team meetings, and All Hands meetings.
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 Katie Cox Branham. Katie is the Vice President of People at Salesloft. After taking the reins to lead Salesloft’s People Ops in 2020, she helped design and execute Salesloft’s hybrid workplace model amid massive company growth. With employee headcount more than quadrupling since she joined the then-200 person team in 2018, Katie leads a growing team that recruits the best and brightest talent, guides the entire employee experience, including onboarding, training and leadership development, as well as focuses on designing industry-leading perks and benefits. Her background includes 10 years experience in human resources, recruiting and employee engagement roles.
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.
There are two moments that stand out to me. The first is probably the hardest leadership lesson I’ve had to learn about being vulnerable. Over the past several years, I’ve had a leader at Salesloft push me to recognize that it’s okay for people to want to know you more deeply at work. Bringing my whole self to work gives other people the ability to do the same.
Vulnerability at work lets people know who you are. The people you work with, the people who work for you, your peers, and even cross-functional partners want to know you. You can build incredible trust when you have a deeper understanding of each other.
Once you have that trust, your relationships can be much more powerful. You can accomplish so much more with a team that trusts each other than with a team that doesn’t. Realizing this pushed me to want to become a more vulnerable, open leader.
The second moment of reckoning that’s not necessarily unique to me is the year 2020. It taught us all to reevaluate what’s important to us. I used to commute an hour each way to work but I got several hours back each week with the transition to working from home. Initially, I didn’t really know what to do with that time. I started off by spending the extra time working, but I quickly learned that wasn’t healthy and set a bad example for my team.
Since then, I’ve learned to give myself more boundaries. I block my calendar for focus time or administrative tasks where I’m doing heads down work. This ensures I don’t spend my entire day in meetings and allows me to avoid working all night to catch up on other items.
I’ve also learned it’s okay to say no to meetings in both my personal and professional life. One way to make sure you’re being judicious with your time is by asking for an agenda in advance. Determining the goal of a meeting can help you decide whether it’s worth attending. Realizing I could say no to things that weren’t a valuable use of my time allows me to be more focused on the things that matter.
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 typically associate wellness with mental and physical health, but it also includes the social connection that people need. Without meaningful social connection at work and at home, you’re not going to be well. Those fundamental relationships where we connect with other humans are such an important part of everyone’s life. We need to include them when we talk about supporting wellness across the board.
Salesloft measures our employee wellbeing in our quarterly engagement survey. One of the areas we measure is employee capacity. Are people feeling like they’re burnt out, or like they have too much going on?
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?
Everything should be measured, even employee wellness. At Salesloft, we do a number of things to ensure we stay on top of this, one of them being our quarterly engagement surveys.
Once the surveys are closed, we deep dive into each team’s results by reviewing the data with every team leader. We also evaluate the performance of their organizations, including attrition reasons. This helps us understand the correlation between quarterly turnover, engagement scores, and factors like work-life balance.
We use all of this data to create solutions that address concerns within the organization. By segmenting the data by department, leader, and different demographics, we can identify any correlation between scores. From there, we are able to come up with a targeted game plan to improve.
Every company should run an engagement survey to check-in on their organizational health. Employee engagement surveys give you a glimpse of what’s working and what’s not working, but from an internal perspective. Similar to an NPS score, knowing how your employees are doing is just as critical to your business as customer feedback.
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 are lots of strategies that you can employ to show your ROI for different programs. No one should make decisions without data around the programs that they roll out. Leaders still have a responsibility to their organizations to make wise financial recommendations. At the end of the day, there’s still a company to run. Salesloft is really lucky to have great finance partners that understand people are at the center of our business.
One of the things I look for in vendors is a true partner. I want someone that’s going to work with me and help me build the business case. Partners should provide support with clear communication and regular check-ins. They should also have a genuine desire to see the program succeed. I don’t want to roll out a program and then not think about it again until it’s time to renew. We’re tracking data and engagement to make sure the program is utilized and valued. If a vendor can’t help you figure out a plan for what engagement data should look like, that is a big red flag.
Programs aren’t always successful and that’s ok. We evaluate our perks and benefits annually and if usage is low, we remove it and spend that money somewhere else the next year. Finance and executive teams are generally supportive if you plan to reallocate the funds somewhere more impactful.
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?
Wellbeing is very much front and center for us. Our recruiters are equipped to talk about all of our perks and benefits, including our wellness initiatives. We also have a page on our website that outlines our perks and programs.
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: I’m really proud to offer In-house counseling to all employees as well as access to the Headspace app. We don’t want access or cost to hold back Lofters’ from mental health benefits. I’m addition to these perks, we also offer regular rest and focus days and a holiday shutdown week in December. It’s important that we give our teams space to rest and recharge.
- Emotional Wellness: This year we started offering EQ training for employees and managers.
- Social Wellness: Relationships are at the core of everything humans do. Connection to each other is so important. At Salesloft, we have been really intentional on how to develop those relationships by giving employees spaces to connect instead of forcing them back to the office. We’ve set up a quarterly sync week, which is when the entire executive team and senior leadership group visits our Atlanta office for a week, once a quarter. That naturally draws people in.
- Generally, those are the times when people want to have their team offsites or team meetings. The people that are in Atlanta will find that it’s worth the commute if all these people are going to be in the office. We take advantage of that time with company wide lunches, happy hours and events. ERGs do consistent virtual events throughout the year but they also offer in-person sessions during our quarterly syncs.
- Last year we did a company wide retreat where we took 400 employees to Mexico for four days. There was no meeting and no agenda. It was just about building connections and relationships after being apart for 18 months. It was an intentional opportunity to spend time together and connect.
- In addition to these programs, we also started Lofter groups. Lofters get an addtional opportunity to develop both personally and professionally. I led a group on vulnerability while other groups met on topics like time management, public speaking, and working with parental responsibilities in a pandemic. Lofter groups can cover any topic that as long as someone raises their hand to lead. Anybody in the business can sign up and groups are generally capped to 10 people. The groups meet for an hour a week for 6–12 weeks. Establishing a timeline allows employees to understand the commitment that they are making. This way, old groups organically dissolve and allow for new groups to form.
- Physical Wellness: Most Lofters use fitness devices to monitor their health activity, so we began offering incentives for step challenges to encourage physical health benefits. We’ve also offered different gym programs but ultimately saw low engagement/usage. Transparently, we haven’t nailed this one yet but we continue to look for ways to help our Lofters stay fit and active.
- Financial Wellness: Last year, Salesloft doubled it’s 401k match and offered 401k courses for our employees. Occasionally, we offer lunch and learn lessons with guest speakers about different topics including how to buy a house or begin investing.
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?
It starts with really investing in your people. You can’t just tell them. You have to show them that you’re investing in them and that you care about them by checking in regularly and making yourself available.
Additionally, I see most workplaces benefiting from not telling people to return to the office. Right now, employees generally don’t want to go back into the office five days each week. And we shouldn’t ask them if their jobs can be done remotely. Our employees have proven to be just as productive and effective working from home for over two years now.
For those who prefer in-person work, we’re making the office a desirable place to retain the people who want that connection too.
These are some of the reasons Salesloft’s retention rate, or turnover rate, dropped almost 15% last quarter. It’s really awesome to see that employees want to stay at Salesloft, during one of the craziest talent markets in the history of software.
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
Salesloft has offered a robust leadership program for several years that all of our people managers attend. Leaders complete the training if they’re hired externally and have decades of experience, or they’re promoted internally to their first leadership role. A major part of the program is how to lead your people while meeting them where they are. Additionally, the program teaches leaders how to have tough conversations, and how to connect and understand employees. We’ve also rolled out the EQ training for leaders, which is our newest addition.
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 about wellness strategies openly with employees.
It’s as easy as sharing the programs that you’re thinking about evaluating. Even if you are just getting their opinions by sending out a quick survey.
Consider trying something along the lines of:
“Hey, we’re looking at programs and benefits for next year. What are the programs you like? What should we avoid adding? What would you want to see changed?”
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
- Fulfillment: Take wellness one step further. Are your teams fulfilled? Do they have all they need? You can have the greatest wellness programs in the world but why would employees stay if they don’t like their work/their teams/what the company stands for and feel like they aren’t learning/growing? This is where the workforce is headed. Wellness is great, but it does not retain people if they’re not fulfilled in what they do every day. Fulfilled employees like the people that they’re working with. They’re also invested in the company because they feel like they’re learning and growing constantly.
- Remote work/flexibility — Workplaces have to stop asking employees to return to the office if it’s not necessary. If you want people to meet in person, make your office a place people want to be. Some of them will never return and that’s okay too.
- Connection — Companies must be intentional about how employees connect to each other and the organization. With remote work, leaders should intentionally structure together-time like team offsites, virtual team meetings, and All Hands meetings.
- Development — Invest in people. Talk to them about the opportunities for professional development. Ask them where they want to develop and how you can help them reach that goal.
- Part-time work: We don’t see much of this at Salesloft but people want more flexibility. If you can offer part-time work to employees, you’ll have a competitive advantage by tapping into a relatively untouched talent market. People with care-taking responsibilities, people building their own side-hustles, and people that just don’t want to work 40 hours a week can still add value to your teams.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
The great resignation has shown companies that they need to level up to keep top talent. How can this be bad? We need to show people that we care by investing in them. People are at the center of every business.
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?
Feel free to connect with me on Linkedin.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.