Career Development. Abbott offers in-person and virtual “Learning Gigs,” which let employees volunteer for special assignments to gain experience in departments they may want to work in one day. The part-time opportunities are intended to support employees’ career goals, networks and skills.

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 Mary Moreland.

Mary is executive vice president of Human Resources at Abbott, a global healthcare company headquartered outside Chicago, where she leads recruitment, development and benefits programming for 113,000 employees who serve people in more than 160 countries. Mary has a background in actuarial science and started her career as a consultant working in healthcare, hospital and manufacturing before joining Abbott. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Applied Math and Economics from Harvard University.

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.

I started my career as an actuary and consultant, and I never thought I would do anything else. But I found myself at a time, when my daughters were moving into high school and middle school, and I was traveling more than I wanted. It was affecting my home life — when I was home, I was disrupting the schedule. So, I made a change and moved into a corporate HR role at Abbott, which had been one of my favorite clients as a consultant. I still traveled for work in my new role, but Abbott allowed me to find a balance that was better for me and my family at that point in our lives.

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?

Abbott defines wellness as employees living their best lives personally and professionally at all stages of their careers. If we are successful, our people stay with us and thrive. The ultimate measure of our success is strong retention of our talented workforce. But that is a long-term indicator. In the near term, we look to leading metrics that can help assure us of the success of our programs, such as the percentage of roles filled from internal talent, engagement scores, and employee satisfaction with our benefits offerings.

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?

Abbott sees the benefits it offers employees as an investment into their future and the future of our company. That’s why we extend our culture of innovation beyond the healthcare technologies we produce and into how we develop wellness benefits and career development opportunities to best meet our people’s needs, no matter where they work for us in the world. These efforts positively impact our business because they help us attract, retain, and serve the best and brightest in our industry. We do this because we want today’s great Abbott employees to also be the great Abbott employees of tomorrow.

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 spent the first 20 years of my career in consulting. I saw so many HR teams try to “prove” ROI for healthcare and wellness programs. The reality is you can find a correlation between benefits and retention, but you’ll always have those saying that it’s hard to “prove” anything more than a correlation. My advice is to stop chasing the ROI. Instead, look at what you are providing employees today. How can you best deploy your budget to address your people’s most urgent needs? Don’t be afraid to stop doing something so you can start doing something else that may better serve your people.

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?

Job seekers want to know a future employer cares about them as both a person and an employee. We know wellness benefits are important to potential employees when they’re deciding where to interview and accept positions, especially in today’s competitive job market. Wellness offerings are a big part of our employment proposition to candidates and our programs are a key selling point for our recruiters. They’re prepared to answer questions about them at any point during the 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.

  • Mental & Emotional Wellness: COVID-19 Testing — A great source of stress for many people throughout the pandemic has been not knowing if they have COVID-19, if they’ve exposed anyone or if they’ve been exposed themselves. Abbott has performed more than 3 million employee COVID-19 tests globally since starting our program. That’s 3 million times we’ve put our employees’ minds — and their family’s minds — at ease, giving them the information they need to make proactive decisions about their health. Testing could naturally fit under physical wellness, but I think it’s important to highlight its vast mental and emotional benefits as well.
  • Social Wellness: Employee Networks — One area where Abbott and our people have seen success promoting social wellness is with our 10 employee networks, which have nearly 15,000 members in chapters around the world. The groups give voice to the diversity of employees at Abbott, representing the Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQA and differently abled communities as well as women leaders, women in STEM, early-career employees, veterans, and those interested in flexible work offerings. Any Abbott employee can join any network, creating a culture of allyship and support. Interestingly, when these groups offer mental health support seminars the response rates are very high, which shows the value of engaging and empowering communities.
  • Physical Wellness: Exercise Across Abbott — The worldwide fitness challenge runs from mid-May to mid-June and lets employees create global teams that earn points when members successfully finish different activities. The program portal is available in eight languages and there are live events, like yoga and meditation classes. It is a social and physical wellness boost for Abbott employees and another way we are building connections across the organization, while encouraging a little healthy competition. I’ve participated for years and have the t-shirt collection to prove it!
  • Financial Wellness: Student Loan Assistance — Our employees in the U.S. have told us in recent years that the combination of repaying student loans and saving for their retirements is a real challenge. Abbott met this need by creating a first-of-its-kind program called Freedom 2 Save, which allows employees who show us they’re putting 2% of their eligible pay toward their educational debt to receive 5% of eligible pay in their 401(k) from the company. Employees don’t have to put any money in their retirement accounts to receive this contribution. Participants say they are grateful to start saving for retirement early and take advantage of compound interest. More importantly they say they’re proud to work for a company that invests in their financial success.

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?

Employee networks define our workplace and community at Abbott, especially across diversity and inclusion efforts. Volunteer employees lead the networks with support from executive sponsors. Some have been around for decades, while others are relatively new, evolving to meet current employee needs. All are successful at helping employees feel connected, engaged, and supported. The groups also help foster an environment where employees can be themselves at work and contribute to their fullest potential, creating a workplace culture that supports continued company and employee success.

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

Last year we launched our “Leading with Impact” training for Abbott managers globally. We want to help managers listen to and understand their employees, build trust, coach, develop, and recognize their teams. The goal is to give managers the skills they need to create more inclusive work environments where employees feel they will be heard and can fully contribute. About 20,000 managers went through the training in 2021 and we’ve expanded it this year. The virtual aspect proved popular because we made it self-paced and available on mobile devices with engaging tasks, like learning bursts and peer pod chats.

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?

Find a way to connect with others. The pandemic was difficult, partly due to the isolation we all felt. So now — whether it’s through employee networks, a program like Exercise Across Abbott that connects colleagues from around the world, or just a cup of coffee with a friend — I find people are energized through connections. For example, recently my husband and I volunteered at our local food pantry stocking shelves and sorting food. We both left feeling better than when we arrived.

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

  1. Educational Support. Today’s competitive job market makes it essential to offer employees ways to develop their careers while remaining with their current employers. One way we’re doing this at Abbott is with our FreeU program, which launched last year. It allows our employees to earn bachelor’s degrees at no cost and on flexible schedules.
  2. Student Loan Assistance. Americans owe $1.7 trillion in educational debt. Abbott’s Freedom 2 Save program is one way to address this challenge but there are other benefits employers can offer, including low-interest or interest-free loan refinancing, payment counseling, and debt consolidation services.
  3. Analytics. Advanced technology has enabled more timely and valuable analytic insights to inform HR leaders’ benefits decisions. We’re using predictive technology to help with employee retention efforts but the possibilities for these tools are endless.
  4. Career Development. Abbott offers in-person and virtual “Learning Gigs,” which let employees volunteer for special assignments to gain experience in departments they may want to work in one day. The part-time opportunities are intended to support employees’ career goals, networks and skills.
  5. Upskilling and Reskilling. Innovation is all around us and its depth and frequency will shape the future of business. This means our workers will need continuous upskilling and reskilling opportunities to ensure they are prepared for future needs.

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

The pandemic has increased our comfort in talking about how we are feeling and what we need to be “well.” That openness will allow our people to ask for help when they need it, and it will help us to understand what we can do to help them. It has also increased our connections to one another, as I see people more willing to be vulnerable, to share that they or their family members are struggling. Being comfortable sharing our struggles is part of being our authentic selves at work. And if we can be ourselves, we will be our best.

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?

On Twitter at @AbbottNews or on Abbott’s LinkedIn channel

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