GREATER INVESTMENT IN WELLNESS TECHNOLOGY. In the remote world, it’s harder to have on-site wellness programs. Technology to measure and promote wellness is important. This could mean investing in new collaboration or communication platforms, technology to measure employee happiness, or digital health tools.

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 Matthew Lewsadder.

Matthew Lewsadder is the Founder and Managing Director of Brighttail, a full-service marketing agency that helps B2B technology companies create bold brands and commercially effective demand-generation programs. Matthew is a strategic, creative, and growth-minded leader with 15+ years of experience working with B2B technology firms. Over the years, he has worked on rebrands for multinational corporations, helped businesses rediscover growth in highly competitive markets, and assisted start-ups around the world with building and scaling successful demand-generation programs. Highly collaborative, Matthew enjoys partnering with CEOs and B2B marketing executives to solve the major challenges facing their brands.

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’ve always been a workaholic; I really enjoy the challenges of work and the road to mastery. But while I get a lot of enjoyment out it, there are also some unhealthy things behind it — deep-seated imposter syndrome that comes from constantly trying new things and growing into new roles, the need to control outcomes, and a general fear of failure.

A few years ago, as Brighttail was really starting to grow, I found that I was working longer and harder than ever before. Over 80 hours a week easy, and I was falling further and further behind as the responsibilities of growing a team and business piled onto my shoulders.

I was constantly stressed, my relationships were fraying, and I was losing hope. Finally, my body broke down. I got a bad case of shingles, a painful disease that affects the nervous system when you have too much stress. Because of that, I took a week off — the doctor wanted me to take several. This gave me the opportunity to step back and reevaluate my priorities. Gain a deeper understanding of my motivations. And begin to build a healthier, more productive relationship with work.

I realized I needed to rethink my approach to work. I couldn’t carry the business on my own. But I didn’t need to, because we have a great team. After that, I delegated more responsibility to the team and focused on empowering them. Setting guardrails on my life — times when I’m working, and when I’m not working — helped me refocus on my life outside of work. Along the way, I discovered that our business started growing faster than ever. Our people started growing faster too. Now they had the opportunity to take ownership of things and learn along the way.

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 think of wellness as a combination of programs, processes, and practices that promote health and wellbeing inside and outside the office. At Brighttail, we think of it as more than workplace wellness. We think of it as employee happiness. We want to promote wellness in the totality of our employees’ lives.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. So, we set out to find a way of measuring employee happiness inside and outside of work. Initially, we thought that others may have already developed a solution, so we looked for a SaaS platform that could help us survey employee happiness. But as we dug into it, we saw there wasn’t a great solution. A lot of companies think about wellness only in the office. They focus on employee engagement, not how well people are thriving in all aspects of their lives.

We did our own research looking into independent studies by academics and experts on this topic. We pulled that information together to build a Brighttail Happiness Index. This is a comprehensive survey that looks at how well our employees are doing across all areas of their lives — financially, mentally, physically, socially, and of course, professionally. We’re actually in the process of rolling this out right now in order to help us better understand our employees and then to be able to prioritize our investments in wellness programs.

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?

Workplace wellness is good for people, and it’s good for business.

When we look at what Brighttail does in terms of demand generation for B2B technology companies, one of our differentiators is our ability to build domain expertise in our clients’ businesses. This is the key to success in B2B marketing. We’re selling to very sophisticated buyers who are expert in their industry. To influence their thinking, you need expertise. Building this knowledge base takes time and is a big investment.

Being able to retain our people is critical to our business. We’ve found that by focusing on wellness, creating an environment in which people thrive both inside and outside of work, and investing in growing our people enables us to achieve an extremely high retention rate. It makes our teams more productive, and ultimately enables our business to be more profitable because we’re spending less money on recruiting and on training new hires.

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?

Take a look at how much you spend on recruiting, hiring, onboarding and training. If you can reduce these costs by retaining employees, you’ll ultimately be saving money and have a higher ROI. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but we’ve found that it’s cheaper to invest in our existing employees’ wellness than to find and hire new ones. Not only will you have less turnover, but your employees are also going to be more productive and innovative.

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?

Because so few companies invest in this, workforce wellness has become a big differentiator for us. We share our vision, thinking, and practices on social media, on our blog, and on hiring platforms. This has enabled Brighttail to create a very strong hiring brand for ourselves.

Thanks to this approach, we have tremendous brand awareness in the hiring market. Candidates are attracted to the culture and wellness programs we have here. We consistently hear that candidates choose Brighttail, a small agency startup, over sexier, more established brands because of our commitment to workplace wellbeing.

Many companies talk about wellness but don’t invest in it or put it into practice. So, one of the ways that we differentiate our talent acquisition program is to integrate a culture-fit session into the hiring process. This gives candidates an opportunity to interview our team members, so they can learn exactly what it’s like to work at Brighttail and about how sincere our commitment is to workplace wellness.

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: In terms of mental wellness, we have people on the team who have identified themselves as mental health advocates, and we’ve encouraged them and created the space for them to give talks and brown bags on mental health. That’s ignited some really great conversations around these topics within our team. Additionally, we have the new Brighttail Happiness Index that we’re rolling out, which we’re using to really engage and discover how well people are thriving at work and at home as well. We’re also getting ready to roll out unlimited PTO for the team.
  • Emotional Wellness: We recognize one of the drags on emotional wellness is stress. Stress is often caused by a lack of transparency, alignment, and clarity.

Our open, transparent culture removes many traditional stressors. We involve the whole team in the decision-making process. It gives the team visibility into what we’re doing and allows them to provide feedback and identify potential negative impacts. This creates greater buy in and eliminates much of the stress associated with change management.

Another common stressor is concerns about professional growth. One of the things that’s really important to creating an environment where people thrive is allowing them to grow and giving them clarity around what’s needed to grow into the next position in their career ladder. The approach we use is to work with each employee to develop a custom professional development plan that identifies what their career goals are, and how we support them in achieving those. That has helped reduce stress around professional development and also increased overall happiness and engagement.

The third thing we do for emotional wellness is foster an environment of recognition. Employees are happier and more engaged when their work is meaningful, celebrated and recognized. We integrate practices to routinely recognize people, for example, on a bi-weekly basis with our scrum process and sprint planning. We have a recognition component built within that, so every two weeks the team is getting together and recognizing individuals for their growth and contributions. We also have a monthly townhall that highlights major initiatives and people who are leading those and the growth that different members of the team are experiencing.

  • Social Wellness: Work-life balance and flexibility in how we work are integrated into employees’ lives. It’s important that people thrive outside of work. When they have the space and resources to do that, they’re more productive, creative, innovative, and engaged.

Another aspect of our social wellness program is our commitment to our community. We are members of Pledge 1% and, as part of that, we pledge 1% of employee time every year towards contributing to the causes and nonprofits that they support. Each employee gets three days off per year to volunteer for an organization of their choice. Additionally, as a company we organize team volunteering events. As an extension of our Pledge 1% commitment, we are currently rolling out Brighttail Uplift, a pro bono consulting program to provide free marketing assistance to non-profits in Malaysia.

  • Physical Wellness: We provide every employee with health insurance. In addition to that, we have a claimable wellness allowance that can be used for optical, dental and other physical wellness needs that aren’t covered under the standard health insurance.
  • Financial Wellness: We are committed to sharing our success with our employees and empowering them to achieve their financial goals. We share 20% of our net profits with employees in the form of biannual bonuses.

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?

What we’ve seen from our business is that when you invest in employee wellness, it reduces talent acquisition costs. We have a reputation in the local hiring community. Candidates and recruits are excited about being part of a company where they can thrive.

A high rate of retention also reduces onboarding and training costs; it saves money and increases profitability. And when you have happy, engaged employees who are part of a team that’s thriving together, you’ll have higher levels of productivity and innovation.

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

It’s less about reskilling and more about having a sclear management philosophy around workplace wellness and then hiring leaders who are aligned with it. To reinforce this approach, we do a number of things.

There’s the professional development plan (PDP) where managers work with employees to identify and support their career aspirations. Managers hold weekly or bi-weekly one-on-ones with each employee to check in on progress against the PDP, identify blockers, and address any areas where additional support is needed. During these conversations, managers also seek to discover if employees are “happy, engaged, and growing.”

We also implement 360 management reviews to create a feedback loop for managers. Are managers leading with empathy? Do they empower their teams? Do they hold themselves and others accountable? We count on our employees to support their managers with constructive feedback that helps everyone grow together.

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?

Where I would recommend people start is looking at their culture and values. Do you have company values? Is the idea of wellness integrated into those values? If it is, then the next step is to routinely evaluate how well you are living up to those values. I’d say start with being sure that you have a values-based approach to employee wellness, that you are committed to it, and that you’re living up to it.

Beyond that, an initial investment area should be technology platforms that promote an environment of transparency and open communication. Because those are not only going to increase workplace wellness and create an environment where people are happier and more engaged, they’re also going to help the business be more productive and more innovative. It might be easier to make a business case to invest in these technologies and then build from there.

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

  1. NEW PROGRAMS TO SUPPORT EMPLOYEES IN THEIR NON-WORK LIFE. With the shift to remote working, the employee-employer relationship has changed. Before, the relationship ended when the employee left the office. Now work and life are happening in the same place. Employers who find ways to support employees in their life outside of work will find that employers are happier, more productive, and more innovative at work.
  2. GREATER INVESTMENT IN WELLNESS TECHNOLOGY. In the remote world, it’s harder to have on-site wellness programs. Technology to measure and promote wellness is important. This could mean investing in new collaboration or communication platforms, technology to measure employee happiness, or digital health tools.
  3. VIRTUAL TEAM BUILDING. Within this remote environment, businesses need to figure out how to replace water cooler conversations and team events in the office with virtual ones. This is an exciting space. New startups are emerging to address these challenges with things like virtual office spaces, virtual team building games, virtual escape rooms, and things like that. This is going to be a fast-growing space within the next 5–10 years.
  4. GREATER FOCUS AND PRIORITIZATION ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE. What we’ve seen with remote working over the last couple of years is that the lines between work and life have been blurred. A lot of employees are suffering from burnout. Because of that, they are looking for greener pastures, and turnover is high. Companies are finding that they need to have more systems, processes, and practices that reinforce work-life balance in order to better attract and retain talent. It’s something that employees themselves are actively evaluating when they’re looking at joining a new company.
  5. INCREASE IN OUTSOURCING OF WELLNESS PROGRAMS. Given the highly digital nature of wellness programs today, as well as the increased sophistication of program design, I expect organizations to increasingly partner with external vendors who can provide an integrated technology platform, deep expertise in wellness matters, and proven playbooks. This move will be spearheaded by business leaders who see wellness as a value driver, rather than a cost center, and understand the competitive advantages it can deliver.

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

I’m optimistic that the shift to remote work will lead employers to take a more holistic approach to the wellness of employees. Gone are the days when employers could imagine that the employer-employee relationship ends when workers leave the corporate parking lot. Today, work and life are happening in the same place, and this creates a need for stronger relationships and partnerships between the employer and employee. This encourages employers to invest in wellbeing outside the office. I expect this trend to accelerate with a greater focus around culture, mental health, and work-life integration so both businesses and employees thrive together.

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?

Please connect with me and follow 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.