People want to feel valued. Giving your team members a voice by surveying them, taking the time to see what is important to them, and continually supporting them creates a sense of ownership within the company. People who are recognized, valued, and appreciated will work harder and with more care because they do not feel like just another number.

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 Kerry Wekelo.

Kerry is the Chief Operating Officer at Actualize Consulting, a financial services firm. Her book and program, Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture and latest book Gratitude Infusion, are the impetus behind Actualize Consulting being named Top Company Culture by Entrepreneur Magazine, a Top Workplace by The Washington Post, FORTUNE Best Small & Medium Workplaces™, and Best and Brightest ELITE National Winner in Communication and Shared Vision category. In her leadership, Kerry blends her experiences as a consultant, executive coach, award-winning author, mindfulness expert, and entrepreneur. Kerry has been featured on ABC, NBC, NPR, The New York Times, Thrive Global, SHRM, Inc., and Forbes.

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.

In 2017, I launched my book and program, Culture Infusion. This was a case study of Actualize Consulting’s internal journey to revamp its culture. Our early years were fraught with high attrition, conflict, and unhappy employees. In 2010, after a personal dive into wellness to ease my own burnout, I learned that compartmentalizing home and work life was unfulfilling and unsustainable. I began infusing Actualize’s operations with the same techniques that I found at home which became the 9 Principles of Culture Infusion.

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 walk the talk as a company. We’re willing to talk about difficult topics and bring them up with safety and transparency so that our team members feel supported in our organization. It has actually been our focus for the last 12 years. Actualize Consulting’s Principal Chad Wekelo once noted, “Now culture is very in vogue, but we have been doing it for years.” You’re not going to find that from a lot of other companies, and that’s something that makes us stand out. We have worked hard to create a personalized wellness system to motivate our employees to participate multiple times a year, and we are constantly refreshing these ideas to keep so that they’re new and fun.

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: We have seen this reflected in our turnover rate, which has been only 4–5% for the last six years. It is also evident in both client satisfaction and overall profitability. In measuring our client satisfaction, it has been rated excellent on average since our inception in 2003. We have also been profitable without any funding since inception as well.

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 advice is this: believe the numbers and survey your teams to determine what they want out of a wellness program. We have found that when we incentivize our team by giving out prizes, they prefer to get more wellness dollars over other options. And we have high participation in wellness challenges, mindfulness sessions, and team activities.

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?

Actualize was formed with the mission to create a niche firm that allowed everyone to participate as a teammate instead of an employee so it is an integral part of our hiring process. We discuss this vision during the recruiting process, and we have an entire page on our website that elaborates on our culture, which includes wellness. Many people say that business shouldn’t be personal, but we disagree. Actualize Consulting puts people first while honoring our mission to be an industry leader. Our smaller size lends itself to an environment of cross-collaboration, a foundation of mutual respect as we practice dual accountability, and a passion-focused project portfolio due to our niche skill sets and expertise. We strive for balance and invest in our teams by aligning individual goals and strengths with company initiatives. Supporting individual health goals is one of the reasons our unique wellness dollar program is so successful; individuals can use these dollars to support their personalized health goals. In addition, one of our core principles is gratitude, and in every relationship, we build, there is an underpinning of care and trust from the very beginning of our hiring process.

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.

Focusing on gratitude, mutual respect, mindfulness, communication strategies, and intentional leadership has strengthened the culture of our organization. And it is from that place that we have developed many innovative programs that support our team members’ overall wellbeing.

Mental Wellness: We are dedicating a month to mental wellness to raise awareness about mental health challenges such as anxiety and ways to foster mental well-being. The first week we will be featuring anniversary videos of gratitude to those celebrating 5 and 10 years and sharing on how gratitude can help your mental wellness. The remaining weeks we will be normalizing anxiety and how to work through it, owning your feelings, and supporting others.

Emotional Wellness: This goes hand in hand with mental wellness. We have an open-door policy, meaning that we focus on honest communication and handling challenges as they arise. We also have a self-reflection section of our goal-setting process to ensure we know what our people aspire to each year so we can support them both personally and professionally. This looks like asking questions such as: What can we do to better support your career aspirations? What do you personally want to accomplish in the upcoming year?

We also feature key players among our team members to foster a community of recognition. Anyone can nominate a colleague which keeps our team focused on seeing the positives in their co-workers. We believe that “the team who plays together stays together” so we bring everyone together for virtual retreats. This allows everyone to join as one team at one “location” even though we have team members in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and the U.K.

Social Wellness: We want to personally cultivate change and see the impact of our time, energy, and assistance. Therefore, we focus on hands-on giving at Actualize to immerse ourselves in the communities to which we belong and provide curated, thoughtful help to the causes we are passionate about.

To keep a healthy competitive spirit, we often tie our fundraising to a wellness goal. A favorite company-wide activity is participating in Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s Million Mile, challenging our teams to see who can bike, swim, run, or walk the most miles while also pledging money to the cause. We also foster second chances by supporting The Doe Fund, an organization that provides housing, educational opportunities, and career training to formerly incarcerated men trying to re-enter the workforce. We are also strong advocates for local community outreach. With so many of our employees located in the Northern Virginia area, we are familiar with the high cost of living that makes it hard for some families to live comfortably. We have partnered with the local organization, Cornerstones, for over 10 years to give back to those facing poverty in our local community and support the various needs of their operations.

Physical Wellness: We organize many wellness challenges throughout the year. We believe that when an employee puts their mental and physical well-being first, they have more capability at work and in all other areas of their lives. Our $900 annual wellness allowance gives each employee the ability to explore activities and classes like kickboxing, dancing, Pilates, gym memberships, and more that light them up and keep them motivated. And for those that need a little extra push, we also have voluntary wellness challenges that pose a fun way to care for our well-being — with a little healthy competition, of course.

Financial Wellness: We are a financial services consulting firm, so our team is very savvy. We are focused on helping our team members create stability for the future and discuss the importance of retirement savings. We host seminars on 401k and explore what their options are.

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?

They would see the ROI that we’re seeing with lower attrition rates, satisfied customers, and team members. They would also see an improvement in team connection especially when you’re doing activities together because it builds a stronger sense of camaraderie. People want to feel connected especially with remote working environments on the rise.

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

We are leading by example, giving people the opportunities to lead certain programs in our organization. We open it up to everybody. For example, we have a senior consultant leading a week of training. You need to choose the people who are passionate about it and have them on the teams that are deploying different activities and programs in your organization, and that comes back to surveying teams about what their passions are.

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?

Survey your team to see what areas they would like to focus on to get well. I was surprised with one survey that the majority of people wanted to talk about sleep and how to enhance it.

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

Here is what comes to mind:

1. People are looking at firms based on workplace culture. With our strong brand around culture and wellness, each recruit I speak to tells me that is why they even took the interview with us. We are attracting top talent with our culture.

2. People will change jobs if they do not have a life/work balance. We have had many of our team members ask to reduce their hours to handle personal situations. We are allowing this to retain our team members and show them we value them.

3. Wellness has to be prioritized year round. It has to be infused year round in all you do. Whether it is mental, emotional, social, physical, or financial wellness, making this a primary focus of your company’s culture allows everyone to show up to work feeling their best which produces better results overall.

4. Team connection is necessary. We all know that a strong team performs well because they have not only skilled members but a strong connection with the teammates and leaders. Fostering an environment of connection limits workplace drama and brings the team together under one mission.

5. People want to feel valued. Giving your team members a voice by surveying them, taking the time to see what is important to them, and continually supporting them creates a sense of ownership within the company. People who are recognized, valued, and appreciated will work harder and with more care because they do not feel like just another number.

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

I have witnessed the evolution of workplace wellness expand beyond the HR industry and into all sectors, including the fields of accounting and finance. I have been a keynote speaker, and I give presentations on gratitude, team building, addressing stress, and mindful communication at finance conferences like AFP, TMANY | NY, and Windy City | TMAC. I am optimistic to see my mantra, “Gratitude is always the answer,” embraced.

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?

We are continually adding events, programs, tips, articles, and outreach and would love to stay connected with you. Visit our website, sign up for our email list here, and 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.