Appreciation. Employees want to feel valued, recognized, and seen when they’ve done great work. They need to regularly experience meaningful recognition moments (including peer-to-peer) to help them feel appreciated.

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 Lisa Ratner.

Lisa Ratner is Vice President, Workhuman Certified, at Workhuman, the world’s fastest-growing integrated Social Recognition® and Continuous Performance Development platform. Building on her background in strategic relationship management and customer success in the HR space, Lisa is now at the forefront of the Workhuman Certified movement, recognizing those organizations and individuals harnessing the power of human connection and striving for a more human workplace — one that’s fueled by social connection, diversity, individual empowerment, belonging, and a sense of purpose. After 12 years in San Francisco, Lisa now lives in Washington, D.C. with her blended family, including Fronzie the Maltipoo. On the weekends, you’ll find her browsing the seasonal produce and ogling baked goods at one of many local farmers markets.

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.

Being hired as Vice President of Workhuman Certified during a global pandemic has been transformative for me. I was eager to return to a mission-driven organization and given my experience with Great Place to Work and CEB/Gartner’s HR practice, I couldn’t have written a better job description for my next professional home. What’s most energizing for me is that after the disruption of the past few years, there’s never been more alignment with the world around us and the need to bring more humanity to the workplace. So many companies are in crisis mode, with HR teams desperately working to retain and attract top talent, prioritize DEIB, and create the psychologically safe work environments that enable strong business performance — and none of that is quick or easy. As head of Workhuman Certified, I’m in a privileged position to identify and recognize both organizations and individuals leading the movement to harness the power of human connection to transform the workplace and the employee experience. It’s thrilling to work every day with companies and leaders dedicated to that goal.

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 Workhuman, we recognize that there are many components to wellness. We surveyed our employees to see what would be meaningful to them as they think about workplace experience, and their responses covered a wide range of topics, from fitness spaces and healthy food/snacks to personal trainers and classes on mindfulness and yoga — all of which we plan to provide. We also offer a variety of advisory services through our EAP program providers. These include services for mental and physical health, nutrition, parenting, and financial wellbeing.

Broadly speaking, we support employees in fulfilling their needs across eight specific areas, which together form the core of Workhuman Certified. These eight tenets are: purpose-driven meaningful work, appreciation, work-life harmony, a diverse, inclusive culture of belonging, opportunities for growth, fair pay, safety (psychological and privacy), and environmental and social stewardship. Each one of these eight contribute to an employee’s sense of wellbeing, helping them feel connected, confident and cared about. In addition, each can be measured in its own way. For example, our recognition platform can offer insight into human connections and where collaboration is (or isn’t) happening within an organization. Going deeper and applying natural language processing (NPL) to recognition messages can reveal even more and help organizations develop evidence-based understanding of how employee connections are affecting factors such as engagement, retention, wellness, and much more. Measuring the state of wellness and happiness across employees must include not only the standard expected practices, but also the uniquely human moments and milestones, such as marriages, new homes, new children, new pets, and other life events that impact someone’s wellbeing. Celebrating and sharing these life events along with professional milestones positively impacts employees. Positivity fuels positivity. Inclusivity fuels inclusivity.

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?

Numerous studies over the years have shown that employee wellbeing impacts the bottom line. Most recently, Workhuman and Gallup published the report Unleashing the Human Element at Work: Transforming Workplaces Through Recognition, which revealed a number of correlations between wellness, recognition, and business performance. For example, we found that recognition can drive real impact for a workforce, as those who receive the level of recognition that matches their needs and expectations are:

  • 56% less likely to be looking or watching for job opportunities.
  • 4x as likely to be engaged.
  • 3x as likely to feel loyal to their organization.
  • 4x as likely to strongly agree they would recommend their organization as a great place to work.
  • 4x as likely to feel that they belong at their organization.
  • 5x as likely to see a path to grow at their organization.

In addition, recognition was shown to have an insulating effect that can help shield employees from burnout and support their overall wellbeing. More than 70% of employees who have good recognition experiences at work rated their lives more positively overall and are more likely to be “thriving” in their everyday lives compared to those who are not being fully recognized.

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?

Enacting change is notoriously difficult. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about encouraging everyone — both individuals and enterprises — to join the Workhuman Certified community. The application is easy and it’s free! When you become Workhuman Certified, you become part of a supportive peer network where you share challenges, test ideas, and hear from others, including thought leaders, about what’s working (and what isn’t). It’s also essential to remember that progress, not perfection, is the goal and that you need to continue to be responsive to the changing needs of your employees.

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?

Workhuman pioneered the idea to bring more humanity to work over two decades ago, and we know how important it is for job seekers to see that we are living all of our values, including wellness. For example, we recognize that one of the main concerns for new hires is work-life harmony and we understand that humans do their best work in different ways. That is why we offer a range of work environments: in the office full time, hybrid, or fully remote. We also offer employees the flexibility to adjust their schedules when unexpected events arise, ensuring they can achieve a work life harmony that meets their needs. Options like these are just a few of the many reasons we’re consistently ranked one of the best places to work.

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.

  1. Mental Wellness: We offer resources to help employees cope with stress and promote mental health, promote flexible work arrangements, and provide recognition to employees who actively participate in stress management programs. We also require that all employees participate in Anti-Racism Fight Club training with Doyin Richards.
  2. Emotional Wellness: We use our software solution Moodtracker to keep a pulse on employee’s feelings and implement the recommended actions to enhance our culture. We also have periodic open forums where employees can freely discuss their needs and share experiences.
  3. Social Wellness: We are committed to a people-first culture that’s based on gratitude, feedback, and celebration of the whole person. In addition, we offer a variety of employee resource groups (ERGs), including SPARKLE (Supporting Pride, Awareness, Recognition & Knowledge: LGBTQIA + Employees and Allies), Parents@Workhuman, Live Green, DE&I, and Women and Allies, all of which have strong participation.
  4. Physical Wellness: We offer wellness reimbursements and our #WHFit slack channel and others devoted to fitness and sports topics help people motivate one another.
  5. Financial Wellness: We have a culture of continuous feedback and frequent check-ins. We also offer tuition reimbursement, training and development, and fully paid parental and family leave.

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?

Using technologies from the Workhuman Cloud helps companies build high-performing cultures built on positivity. For example, our Social Recognition platform (mentioned above) creates a culture of excellence where peer-to-peer employee recognition lets everyone feel seen, heard, and appreciated for who they are and the work they do. Another product, our Celebrations platform, brings people together from across the organization to celebrate shared interests, events, and milestones, from volunteer projects and CSR initiatives to employee resource groups, cultural events, and more. These solutions, along with others in the Workhuman Cloud, can provide evidence-based understanding of how employee connections affect the gamut of business metrics, including wellness, engagement, retention, the relative importance of company values, and much more.

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

Leading by example is important to us and aligning to our core value of Respect for All ensures we are constantly thinking about our employees. We have leadership programs in place to developing leaders around our core values and behaviors, and these are focused on leading with humanity. Getting to know your teams and understanding where they are personally, as well as professionally, enables a workplace culture filled with wellness at all levels. We also created a “Ways of Working” initiative that reinforced flexibility and placed our humans at the center of all that we do, from human-centered technology to human- centered people strategies and practices to human workplaces and benefits. After all, the future of work is human!

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?

One of the easiest steps an individual or an organization can take is to become Workhuman Certified. After all, joining a community of like-minded peers will help you find the support you need for continuous improvement. Workhuman Certified is recognized worldwide as the premier designation for companies and individuals progressing on the journey to make work human — plus, there’s no cost to participate. All you need is a commitment to progress. You can nominate your company to become a Workhuman Certified Enterprise or you can become your own agent of change by exploring the Workhuman Certified Professional path.

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

  1. Work-life harmony. When the full humanity of every employee is acknowledged and celebrated, their work and personal life can coexist in concert. Here is just a small sampling of how companies can promote work-life harmony:
  • Policies that honor after-hours personal time and/or permission to shut off.
  • EAP and mental health insurance coverage.
  • “Mindful meetings” that leave a few minutes between for comfort breaks; building short breaks into longer meetings, etc.
  • Formal flexible time away programs and practices including ‘unlimited’ PTO, flexibility to support childcare and caregiving in general.

2. A diverse, inclusive culture of belonging. Employees need to be valued as their authentic selves at work and feel a sense of community with their colleagues. Companies can create a culture of belonging with initiatives such as:

  • Documented plans for increasing percentage of women and minorities in leadership roles.
  • Documented standards for behaviors that will and will not be tolerated (i.e., a pervasive culture of respect, valuing of strengths).
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
  • Prayer rooms, designated quiet space, gender neutral restrooms for on-site employees.
  • Anti-racism training for all employees (mandatory).
  • Demonstrated public support for social justice-related movements via social channels and financial support (support/involvement in BLM, Pride, charitable orgs, etc.).

3. Safety (Psychological and Privacy). Employees need to feel physically and psychologically safe in their work environment — safe from harm, safe from exclusion, and safe to learn, contribute, and challenge the status quo. In addition, employees must have control over their personal information available to others at work and are confident in how their personal data is used and protected by the company. Here are a few selected examples of programs and practices that enhance safety:

  • Ombudsman.
  • “No tolerance” policies on harassment and discrimination.
  • Whistleblower line.
  • Manager and employee training on respect, anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, antibullying.
  • Opportunities for interactions with leaders, e.g., town halls with ”ask me anything” channels.
  • Continuous employee feedback/suggestion and “we heard you” channels.
  • Survey data showing employees’ perceptions of respect, trust, and psychological safety in the workplace informs action items.

4. Appreciation. Employees want to feel valued, recognized, and seen when they’ve done great work. They need to regularly experience meaningful recognition moments (including peer-to-peer) to help them feel appreciated. Companies can demonstrate appreciation in a variety of ways, including:

  • Stated goals associated with employee recognition.
  • Opportunities to be recognized for contributions that reflect corporate values, not just results.
  • Opportunities for all employees to recognize others.
  • Significant percentage of employees receiving formal recognition annually.
  • Data showing impact of recognition.
  • Survey data showing employees’ level of feeling appreciated.

5. Opportunities for growth. Employees at all levels need opportunities to learn and develop, with the expectation for everyone to receive feedback and guidance that helps map a path to a future inside (or outside) the organization. The list of many different programs and practices that enhance opportunities for growth includes:

  • Process or system to provide visibility into open internal roles across the org, and what skills are needed.
  • Aspiring/future leaders identification process and prospective new manager training.
  • Manager coaching training and coaching effectiveness tied to manager performance rating.
  • Opportunities for employees to participate in identifying and tracking their own priorities.
  • Performance review process that’s more frequent than annual.
  • Manager training on avoiding microaggressions in performance review documents and discussion.

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

As the VP of Workhuman Certified, I have the privilege of working every day with companies and individuals who are committed to bringing more humanity to the workplace. I have a global perspective that allows me to see that this movement is growing and strengthening, and given that making work more human is directly related to improving employee wellbeing and business performance, I’m very optimistic about the future of workplace wellness.

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?

Yes! I look forward to connecting on LinkedIn or by email at [email protected].

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