Always Learning: Ongoing learning is part of our culture at Media Minefield. We have optional book clubs for everyone in the company. The books focus on personal development or learning from a respected leader. We also have Always Learning discussions with our leaders and teams. During the meetings with our services team, we discuss a different monthly topic related to the work we do. It’s an opportunity to not only educate each other about new and existing processes but to also uncover new ways of doing things.

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 Kristi Piehl.

Kristi Piehl is the founder and CEO of Media Minefield, a rapidly growing Minneapolis-based PR firm offering expertise in Storycentric Marketing℠ — a combination of earned media, owned media, paid media and social media services. Utilizing her 25 years of experience as a journalist and entrepreneur in the PR space, Kristi and her team have developed a transformational approach to PR providing clients with guaranteed results. All the while, Media Minefield continues to be on the leading edge of developing employee wellness initiatives and has been identified as a great place to work by various publications.

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.

My relationship with work changed not necessarily by my choosing. During the Great Recession in 2008, I was laid off from my job as a TV journalist. While it was a disheartening experience, it gave me the opportunity to build the company I lead today.

I started Media Minefield with the goal of positively impacting lives — both our employees’ lives and our clients’ lives. We have grown this company so more people can work for an organization that does PR differently and so we can share more stories while helping people live the life they want to live. I came from the news industry where employees’ needs were sacrificed due to the fast-paced nature of the job, and many of the people I’ve hired had the same experience. I knew there was an opportunity to create a company that changed the way people would think about work.

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?

Even before the pandemic, Media Minefield was diligent about employee wellness. Benefits like unlimited vacation and the ability to work from home when needed were notable ways we addressed Miners’ (what we call our employees) personal needs. We looked to job satisfaction as a key indicator of wellness and used weekly check-ins with managers, quarterlies, questionnaires and engagement surveys to measure it.

The pandemic spotlighted how important mental health and flexibility are to today’s workforce. At Media Minefield, one of our core values is “Nimble,” and our response to this change was exactly that. During COVID, we introduced a program called Media Minefield Unplugged, which required employees to take at least one day off per month. Remote work blurred the lines between work and life, and that is why we started this initiative. It served as a good reminder that taking a day to rest — at least once per month — is necessary for wellbeing.

In August 2022, we took a bold step by introducing a four-day workweek mindset, or 4M. This is an acknowledgment of the way people work post-pandemic. The 4-Day Mindset is about empowering employees to log off when their work is done, to shift the hours they work to best fit their needs or their family’s needs while also serving their clients’ needs. We made no changes to employee pay to ensure employees’ financial needs could still be met.

We will survey our employees at the end of the year to see the impact of 4M. Based on studies, we are expecting to see happier, more productive employees.

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 did a lot of research before introducing 4M. The spikes in employee happiness, productivity and engagement stuck out to me. How is it that a simple wellness initiative can have such a big effect? Richard Branson sums it up in one sentence: “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” A well-rested, empowered workforce is going to deliver even better service to customers. Make your employees’ wellness your priority, and productivity and profitability will follow.

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 started my business to positively impact lives, but you can’t have a purpose about helping others if you’re not helping your employees first. That’s why wellness and great service are my top priorities. I’m seeing profitability stem from these priorities.

Leaders often think in tangible terms. If you want to reduce heating costs, set the thermostat to a lower temperature overnight. If you want to boost output, increase headcount. Wellness is not a tangible concept. When someone is enjoying their job, it’s difficult to deduce what the return on investment is for the business. I would challenge leaders to think past this mindset and explore how a well-rested, engaged workforce can positively impact your business. There’s value in keeping your employees happy so they want to stay with your company. There’s a significant cost to interviewing, hiring and training new employees. It’s much more efficient to keep your people and simply add new team members as your company grows. On a larger scale, if employees show up more well for their families, friends and communities, the impact of our well workforce is multiplied.

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?

The labor market is tight and competitive. Job candidates have the upper-hand and are being choosy. Any organization not messaging their wellness benefits in the recruitment/hiring process risks missing out on great talent. We emphasize our wellness initiatives in job descriptions, social media, job interviews and throughout the onboarding process.

A huge part of our wellness efforts are having clearly defined core values that we talk about daily, measure, coach and promote, as well as encouraging a culture of collaboration. Once new Miners are hired and onboarded, they continue to hear about the importance of wellness, and managers are constantly checking in to ensure this need is being met.

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: We know from holidays that most people come back feeling recharged after a 3-day weekend. Resting and/or doing something enjoyable is critical to good mental health, and 4M provides our team flexibility to recharge. Additionally, we encourage Miners to take vacation time which allows them time away while a colleague covers emails and their responsibilities. This provides for a full mental health reset.
  • Emotional Wellness: Ongoing check-ins are an important part of our organization. Weekly one-on-one conversations with managers give employees an opportunity to talk about development, goals, capacity and any concerns that could impact their work. This goes a long way in ensuring that employees are able to feel their best.
  • Social Wellness: Our culture of collaboration and teamwork is reinforced with our social events. We offered these pre-pandemic and even worked to maintain them virtually during the pandemic. They’ve taken on even more meaning now since we all learned how important connection is. Between midday happy hours to celebrate new coworkers, yearly offsite team building activities and my monthly “Cocktails With Kristi” mingling events, we place a high priority on these initiatives. We celebrate each other with parties on our company anniversary and team building outings. Our hybrid work policy gives employees the latitude to be part of the culture while also working in a way that’s best for them.
  • Physical Wellness: During the pandemic, we launched a Slack channel for employees who voluntarily wanted to hold themselves accountable to how much water they were drinking. We’ve done a similar initiative for personal fitness too in the past. We also want to give employees the tools they need to take charge of their own personal health, so our employee health insurance offers incentives for things like visiting the doctor, exercising and eating right.
  • Financial Wellness: All employees at Media Minefield have access to a financial planner who can answer questions about personal finances. We proudly offer an employer match in our retirement plan and recently did an assessment with an outside organization to ensure salary compensation was in line with the market.

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?

Leaders can’t overlook the importance and value of people. They must be at the center of your business. If you want to make impactful change across your organization, start with your people. Wellness initiatives must be flexible enough to adjust to the changing needs of team members. We’ve done everything from online yoga during the pandemic to 10,000-step challenges. Employees who are well are able to give back and invest in their communities, too. Our Miners Serve program allows employees paid time off to volunteer at a non-profit of their choice. We will continue to adapt to ensure these initiatives are having the intended effects.

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

We empower all our Miners to be leaders. We offer the support of a weekly manager check-in, goal setting, development conversations and open collaboration. Those who are leading teams take part in ongoing group dialogues — something we call Always Learning for Leaders — to share tips and advice about how they can best support their teams, and it helps with their development as leaders. We also offer Always Learning monthly to our entire services team. At Media Minefield, we put future leaders through Flight School — an internal program I developed. Participants read a number of assigned books offering diverse perspectives on leadership. This is complimented by one-on-one meetings with me and our Executive Director of People & Development to ensure the material resonates. There are a growing number of opportunities for upward mobility at the company. Nearly all our leaders came from within.

4M is an entire shift in how we look at work, and implementing that shift starts with our leadership team since they are helping teams navigate this new way of working. Ensuring they feel supported is essential.

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?

Every organization is unique, so you need to think about what wellness initiatives are needed and would be most valued by your people. Wellness is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Employees today crave flexibility and health as part of their wellness needs, but the exact initiatives you put into place should fit your organization. The first thing businesses need to do is to seek feedback from their people before moving forward on wellness initiatives. If you have not taken the temperature of your organization and identified what employees value and need, how are you going to implement meaningful programs?

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

  1. Flexibility: Employees were craving flexibility before the pandemic, but COVID accelerated this trend. This will remain a need for the foreseeable future. Business leaders who overlook this risk turnover or prospective talent going elsewhere. I’m proud of the work we’ve done at Media Minefield to evolve our business to be in line with this trend, including our latest 4M initiative.
  2. Collaboration: We all had to innovate during the pandemic, and many companies saw the value in teams working together to get through an unprecedented time. Whether virtual or in-person, all organizations can benefit from collaboration. At Media Minefield, we use a Slack channel to do this, but everyone is very receptive to do this in the office, in real time, too.
  3. Health: The pandemic put into perspective the important role employers play in supporting employees’ health needs. One way we do this is by offering mental health support through our insurance. We know health and work are interconnected. We take care of each other and have open-door policies so people feel like this is a place they belong and can bring their whole selves to work. We proudly support the personal goals each of our employees have, too. One way we do this is through our voluntary Dream Program. Employees have the chance to meet monthly with our Executive Director of People & Development to identify dreams and action steps needed to achieve those dreams. The goals can include anything from buying a house to taking a dream vacation. It’s a unique way we’re investing in the personal needs of each of our team members.
  4. Development: There is a much greater focus today on the qualities of being a good leader. We saw this trend start even before the pandemic. Today’s leaders are empowered to be servants and a resource for the people they lead. That’s why we strongly believe in the benefits of developing our leaders, using programs like Flight School, a program I developed to train future leaders at our organization. All of our employees are asked to formulate and document a professional development goal each quarter. The employee identifies 3–4 metrics to go along with their goal that are used to track progress toward achieving it. All of this is documented and discussed in one-on-one meetings and quarterly conversations.
  5. Always Learning: Ongoing learning is part of our culture at Media Minefield. We have optional book clubs for everyone in the company. The books focus on personal development or learning from a respected leader. We also have Always Learning discussions with our leaders and teams. During the meetings with our services team, we discuss a different monthly topic related to the work we do. It’s an opportunity to not only educate each other about new and existing processes but to also uncover new ways of doing things.

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

Collectively, we learned how productive and capable people can be when they are in control of their time and lives. This realization is causing many employers to innovate all aspects of their wellness programs and that is exciting. Over the last decade, much of the stigma associated with mental health concerns or the shame of saying, “I don’t feel well” has been reduced. I’m optimistic about how this will positively impact businesses and families.

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?

You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. I also host a podcast produced by our Media Minefield team called Flip Your Script. You can learn more about the wellness initiatives we are deploying at Media Minefield by following the company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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