Wellness as a key metric in organizational success. We are already seeing an increase in the recognition of good people practices as a measure of success with certifications like B-Corp or Best Place to Work. This will likely be expanded to ensure that it covers employee wellness in a much more comprehensive way. We predict that it will soon be commonplace to see employee wellness as an essential element of a company’s valuation. In the same way that we currently measure goodwill on a company’s balance sheet as an intangible asset, we would suggest that employee wellness should also be measured in the same way. After all, a company’s most valuable asset is its people.

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 Marisa Elizundia and Clodagh Beaty of the Emotional Salary Barometer.

Marisa Elizundia and Clodagh Beaty are creators of the Emotional Salary Barometer, a unique online tool that measures the non-financial benefits that people get from work. This interest in making the most of the opportunities we have at work to enhance our lives comes from their decades of experience working in the area of people management and organizational development. Marisa is originally from Mexico and has worked extensively in various European countries and Clodagh is from the UK; they met in Spain where they are both currently based.

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.

Marisa: I’ve always had the privilege to work closely with people at all levels in all the organizations I’ve had the honor to work with. I’ve been able to experience first-hand the huge role that work has in our lives and the impact it has on us, on the persons we have a close relationship with our communities and in society itself. And despite the key role that work has in our lives, we only see it as a way to earn money. I’ve also observed that when people are giving their best or their worst at work it rarely is about the financial benefits they receive from work. Other perceived intangible factors play a key role in this. And by researching the topic of Emotional Salary we wanted to make these intangible aspects of work tangible so that by distilling what it is that is important for us and affect us on an emotional level at work we use the time we spend at work as a platform for growth at all levels.

Clodagh: My time spent working in Human Resources and managing organizational change projects highlighted to me the impact that work has on our wellbeing. My experience was that when employees were disengaged and disheartened about their work or work environment, they were not always able or willing to articulate exactly what was wrong (often through no fault of their own). Our research into Emotional Salary has created a framework that can be used to have meaningful conversations about what we want from our work and how we can create workplaces where everyone can thrive.

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?

Wellness in the workplace is defined when work has a positive impact on an individual’s overall health. When it comes to defining and measuring wellness in the workplace, there are personal, professional, social and even transcendental variables that need to be considered and interrelationships at play. Our mental, emotional and social wellness have a very strong relationship with the intangible aspects of our work — for example, how much we feel appreciated and valued, the relationships we have with others, how much pressure we are under. If our manager has unrealistic expectations about the amount of work we can do, we don’t get on with our colleagues and have no opportunities to develop or grow, this is likely to have a substantial negative impact on our health. Our physical wellness is so closely connected to the other elements of wellness and is highly likely to be compromised when our mental, emotional, social or financial wellness is under strain. Our financial wellness has a strong correlation with our financial salary and tangible benefits that we receive from our work, although there are obviously other factors that need to be considered, such as our ability to manage our finances and our own personal circumstances.

We measure Emotional Salary, which is the non-financial gains we obtain from working that motivate us, change our perception of work and lead to personal and professional development. Emotional Salary is subjective and fluid, and in no way do we wish people to consider Emotional Salary as a substitute for Financial Salary. On the contrary, everyone should have a living wage that is in line with their talents, competencies, experience, skills and abilities. The Emotional Salary Barometer measures on an individual and organizational level the ten key factors that comprise Emotional Salary according to our research: Autonomy, Belonging, Creativity, Career Direction, Enjoyment, Inspiration, Mastery, Personal Growth, Professional Growth and Purpose. By measuring these factors, we can provide individuals and organizations with key insights and a strategic action plan on how they can improve Emotional Salary and make it a key aspect for their culture and a fundamental element of wellness in the workplace.

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?

Firstly, you need to determine what a well workforce looks like and establish how you’re going to measure it. We work with organizations and do Emotional Salary Audits to measure their Emotional Salary, which plays a huge role in our wellness at work, particularly in relation to our mental, emotional, and social wellness. Once you’ve determined the baseline level of wellness in the organization and compared it with your current productivity and profitability metrics you can start to implement changes to enhance employee wellness and determine how they impact each of the metrics, thus allowing everyone in the organization to flourish as well as the company performance. There are some points that you need to take into consideration: you need to be consistent throughout, and in all levels of the organization, it is also important to recognize that you must allow enough time for the changes to take effect before you see an impact, and we generally advise our clients to wait between six and 12 months before they measure for a second time. Additionally, it is important to maintain awareness of any changes at all. Even supposedly minor changes, like a change in working practices or team members, have the potential to impact wellness substantially. The other point we would emphasize here is that any measurement should be done for the right reasons. If your organization is driven to prioritize employee wellness purely to see an increase in profitability, you’re missing the point and any initiatives are likely to fail as the culture will not support it. When you measure wellness, you must be prepared to be transparent and take swift and positive action to increase it based on the results.

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?

Wellness initiatives don’t always need funding — sometimes honest attention, intention, communication and behavior change can reap the biggest rewards. And therein lies the challenge! Sometimes it is easier for organizations to focus on quick wins to treat the symptoms rather than do the harder work which goes deeper into the culture. We encourage organizations to start by determining what their employees value most when it comes to wellness. You may be surprised to find that it’s not about having the latest yoga app or access to a counsellor 24/7 but rather the opportunity to manage their own workload without being micromanaged or to feel that their talents are recognized and appreciated. For example, according to a research from Gallup shows that only 20% of employees think their supervisor knows their strengths, knows how to apply their strengths at work or knows what is important and valued by them. When you know what is important to your employees, the next step is identifying small incremental steps the organization can take to move towards a greater level of employee wellness. In our experience, involving employees in co-creating a wellness strategy and ensuring that they can see the progress being made is essential for success and to create a positive corporate culture.

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?

Aside from sharing with potential candidates how the organization prioritizes and measures employee wellness, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to wellness by looking at how it is impacted in the talent recruitment and hiring process and eliminating anything that could potentially cause problems, whether it is in relation to mental, emotional, social, physical or financial wellness. Transparency is key — transparency in relation to salary and benefits, the recruitment process, the role itself and the career development prospects. Responsiveness throughout the process is important, together with giving candidates the opportunity to meet coworkers and ensuring that the process is fair and unbiased. The recruitment and hiring process should give candidates a real insight into the real culture of the organization so that they can make an informed decision.

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.

The primary thing to recognize here is that programs and policies are worthless unless the organizational culture supports them 100%. There are countless examples of organizations with unlimited PTO where employees don’t take more than one or two weeks because their workloads won’t allow it, or their career development opportunities will be damaged. And this often takes place in organizations with a long list of wellness initiatives. In our experience wellness initiatives that focus on treating the cause rather than the symptoms tend to be more successful.

  • Mental Wellness: The most valuable aspect of good mental wellness in the workplace is to have a culture that supports it. When leaders show vulnerability and there is an openness and acceptance of mental health issues this facilitates a culture where employees feel supported on mental health issues.
  • Emotional Wellness: Encouraging employees to develop an awareness and understanding of what emotional benefits they gain from their work is a great foundation for emotional wellness. Encouraging frank and open conversations about this at a team and organizational level and giving employees the opportunity to co-create a work experience that takes these factors into account enables organizations to build on this foundation and personalize the employee’s experience of work putting their emotional wellness at the core. We designed our Emotional Salary Barometer so that individuals could gain a greater understanding of the emotional aspects of their work and to provide individuals and organizations with a simple framework they could use to facilitate conversations and identify practical actions that will make a difference.
  • Social Wellness: Initiatives that support our sense of belonging and enjoyment will have a positive impact on our social wellness. In terms of our Emotional Salary, belonging is about having a sense of connection with our team, organization or peers and being “seen”, i.e., acknowledged, appreciated, valued and identified with the role that we play at work. Enjoyment is the opportunity to experience pleasure and diversion and have relaxed, respectful, trusting and authentic social interactions that allow for spontaneity, appropriate humor and play. These are areas have both been substantially impacted by remote and hybrid working. Relatively simple practices like ensuring that people are consistently and authentically acknowledged and valued for the work that they do or ensuring that there are opportunities during the working day for employees to disconnect from their work and connect with one another and have fun are essential. In a virtual or hybrid working situation, having virtual coworking sessions where employees working remotely connect via videoconference and work together can help to facilitate a sense of connection.
  • Physical Wellness: The key to success with physical wellness initiatives is to have different options to suit all employees, no matter what their physical condition is. There is such a strong correlation between physical wellness and mental, social and emotional wellness, any initiatives that support in these areas are likely to have a positive impact on health. In terms of initiatives that are likely to benefit the physical health of all, technology free days or days where employees are not sitting at their desk all day are gaining popularity and employees are reporting a really positive impact.
  • Financial Wellness: Initiatives that support the development of good financial management habits are becoming increasingly more popular. These can take the form of policies or benefits like pension contributions or educational workshops. We know of several organizations who have taken this one step further by giving access to an independent financial adviser to all employees.

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?

We know from our research and from client feedback that the development of awareness and understanding of the emotional benefits employees gain from work leads to a greater level of responsibility and commitment towards initiatives. Research also shows that increasing employees’ sense of belonging increases commitment which aids staff retention as employees are more likely to remain in an organization and put in more discretionary effort. Also, encouraging humor in the workplace is associated with enhanced work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout, stress, and withdrawal. We personally think — and our experience in working closely with people and teams in organizations demonstrates it over and over — that a company culture where employees have a good time at work and feel that the time spent at work (which, by the way is one third of our lives) is time well invested as it allows them to grow personally, professionally, socially and transcendentally is invincible.

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

We advise organizations to take a three-step process with their leaders. The first step is personal awareness. We encourage leaders to undertake a wellness audit to recognize how their work and behavior impacts their own wellness. This is often the catalyst for a change in perspective and recognition of the potential there is for leaders to have a positive impact on their team’s health. The second step is team awareness, where leaders are provided with key data about their team’s wellness and encouraged to reflect on how their leadership might be contributing to the situation. The third step is education — training and coaching leaders on the different elements of wellness and providing them with practical steps and activities they can do with their team members at a group and individual level to facilitate wellness.

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 thing we all need to be more conscious of is how our behavior impacts others. When you send an email at 10pm expecting an answer, when you dismiss someone’s ideas in a meeting without giving them a chance to explain, when you criticize a colleague without taking time to understand what might be going on for them — all of these are examples of common behaviors that have a huge impact on wellness. We need to get better at thinking about situations from the perspective of others rather than simply from our own perspective, or from the perspective of the organization.

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

  1. Greater recognition of the emotional components of work. For employee wellness to increase there has to be a corresponding increase in prioritizing the emotional elements of work alongside the financial. The emotional benefits we gain from working such as a sense of belonging, autonomy and enjoyment are fundamental to our mental, social and emotional wellness. Recognition and awareness by employees of how these elements contribute to their wellbeing will facilitate their taking responsibility and make it easier for them to identify how they can improve their wellness at work. For leaders and organizations, the invaluable information available from understanding which emotional elements of working employees value most will enable them to tailor wellness initiatives to benefit their employees to the greatest extent. Using a tool like the Emotional Salary Barometer has the dual advantage of providing individual employees with insights about the emotional benefits they gain from work and providing organizations with valuable information they can use to design a working environment that supports emotional wellbeing.
  2. Personalization. Instead of organizations opting for generic wellness initiatives and offering a limited number of options in a “one-size fits all” approach, we are likely to see a greater number of options together with complete personalization. This is likely to increase participation in initiatives, as employees perceive that whatever their wellness needs are, the organization can support them in achieving them. Imagine that I want to prioritize my physical and emotional health. My workplace will explore what is important to me so that it can offer me a range of different options that will suit my personal situation together with support and advice on how I can meet my goals.
  3. Refocusing of Leadership priorities. As the focus on wellness increases, we’re likely to see large scale corporate culture change as organizations recognize the importance of eliminating behaviors and practices that are inhibiting employee wellness. We will start to see an alignment of policies and practice, where there will be no space for leadership behaviors that fail to take employee wellness into account. This is likely to necessitate a shift in priorities for leaders, with much more focus on people development and prioritizing their team’s wellness. In some organizations this is likely to lead to a complete change in the profile of leaders or dual leadership roles with the emergence of function leaders who will be technical experts and people leaders, focusing on people management and development.
  4. Wellness as a key metric in organizational success. We are already seeing an increase in the recognition of good people practices as a measure of success with certifications like B-Corp or Best Place to Work. This will likely be expanded to ensure that it covers employee wellness in a much more comprehensive way. We predict that it will soon be commonplace to see employee wellness as an essential element of a company’s valuation. In the same way that we currently measure goodwill on a company’s balance sheet as an intangible asset, we would suggest that employee wellness should also be measured in the same way. After all, a company’s most valuable asset is its people.
  5. Innovation. There is still further scope for wide-scale innovation and technological advance in the area of corporate wellness. This is likely to be a key factor not only in the increase in personalization of wellness initiatives but also in the other trends mentioned above. Whilst using technology to gather data on what emotional benefits employees gain from their work is not new, using this information to facilitate a personalized wellness plan is still not commonplace in organizations.

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

Recognition by the majority of organizations that workplace wellness is a priority and is not just a passing trend. The fact that employees are voting with their feet and are no longer willing or prepared to put up with toxic working environments that are damaging to their physical and mental health. And, above all, that our next generation of leaders coming through are not prepared to compromise on wellness and are committed to creating organizational cultures where everyone can thrive.

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 love to connect and engage with people on LinkedIn. You can connect with Marisa or Clodagh.

We also have a company page on LinkedIn where we share our insights on the world of work and emotional salary.

If you’d like to learn more about our Emotional Salary Barometer and how emotional salary impacts wellness, we have some great free resources on our website.

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