As a corollary to the above, people are more open to the idea of the four-day workweek than they used to be. With a growing emphasis on work-life balance, I think we will see more workplaces offering this option. It’s not uncommon for us to offer this to associates, as they choose their own hours and make their own scheduling. As a company we prioritize flexibility for employees, and this fits into that.

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 Michael Raphael.

Michael Raphael is the founder and CEO of IndeVets, a locum veterinary staffing company headquartered in Philadelphia. A former journalist with experience in private equity investing and operating animal hospitals, Michael recognized the labor crisis in the veterinary industry and set out to not only address the urgent need for happier, healthier workers, but to offer a new approach to veterinary staffing that puts people first. Doubling revenue every year for five years, IndeVets now employs 32 full time staffers with 135 veterinarians, operating in 43 markets with nationwide expansion planned for the near future.

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 previously ran a business called Community Veterinary Partners, which owned and operated animal hospitals. I saw first-hand that the struggle to hire and retain veterinarians stemmed from a mismatch between what the dedicated, empathetic caregivers attracted to the profession and the increasingly top-down hospitals which left veterinarians with little flexibility, autonomy and support in the workplace. Prior to that, I worked as a journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newark Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and I saw the damage that unhealthy jobs with unreasonable hours and working conditions can cause for people. I no longer wanted this kind of life for myself, and I knew I wanted to build a business that would improve the lives of its people, at least in the workplace, if not beyond.

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 and wellbeing are a core part of IndeVets’ organizational DNA, along with values like empathy and gratitude. We define wellness as encompassing both physical and mental health — on the job, that looks like happiness, balance and positivity. We survey our teams routinely and ask them about their mental well-being and job satisfaction. It’s also a regular part of our team conversations. We are in the people business, and ultimately, happier healthier doctors will provide better care to their animal patients, so in our view, wellness is integral to our success.

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?

Our eNPS surveys have shown above average scores, indicating our vets are likely generating positive word of mouth. Beyond the surveys, we consistently seek out individual stories about our associates. We often hear that once they become an IndeVet, they experience much less stress and that results in lowered blood pressure, fewer migraines, the need for fewer medications, and other healthier outcomes. There are many examples but one of our associates had been in a dark place, working too many hours and never seeing her family. She had lost a veterinarian friend to suicide and considered leaving the profession altogether before she joined our team. She openly talks about how IndeVets saved her career and quite likely her life.

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?

A team that is healthy and well balanced is going to perform better — that’s a revenue driven metric — and those people are also going to stick around longer. In today’s world, retention is so important for workforces, particularly when they’re in an industry like ours, where given the vast need, there’s opportunity for doctors to work everywhere. So yes, there is a business case for prioritizing wellness, but it’s more than that. For a leader, there is great satisfaction in knowing you are contributing to people’s lives and having a positive impact. We believe these are simply the table stakes today — the era of employers yelling at their employees and ignoring their personal challenges to the detriment of all is over.

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 our emphasis on wellbeing is so core to our mission as a company, we communicate very directly about how IndeVets can improve your quality of life, beginning with flexibility to work where and when you want. In addition, we feature unique offerings, including a “choose your own adventure” reimbursement for items like mental health therapy, massage, gym memberships and the like, as well as our “no jerk” hiring policy which benefits all employees who want to work in a culture of competence, kindness and communication.

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.

All of our part time/flexible employees have access to a full suite of benefits that great pay, unlimited vacation, paid lunch hour, health insurance, paid time off, continuing education and equipment allowance, and matched 401k contributions. In addition:

Mental Wellness: Our choose your own adventure reimbursement sets aside money for employees who need mental health therapy, or alternative/holistic therapies. An employee assistance program also helps staffers connect to mental health resources and supports, including financial support for therapy..

Emotional Wellness: Our doctor led-leadership team ensures we have a professional perspective in all leadership decisions, and we emphasize mentorship for associates as well as opportunities to grow into leadership roles where desired. We also provide advocacy for doctors in their respective workplaces at our partner hospitals.

Social Wellness: Our “no jerk” policy ensures that we only hire and retain competent, communicative, flexible and positive individuals who contribute to the overall success of the organization — this benefits all employees, but particularly our associates who tend to be overcommitted and empathetic and thrive with more supports. We maintain a communication network so that doctors working at locations around the country never have to feel isolated.

Physical Wellness: Our choose your own adventure includes reimbursement for gym memberships and holistic wellness practices such as massage and acupuncture.

Financial Wellness: Whether you work at headquarters or as an associate, we offer the opportunity to participate in the growth of the business through profit sharing, and we’ve found that this is an incentive for those who are excited to be part of a startup business and who might have been too risk averse to start their own practice at this juncture in their career.

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?

Keeping employees happy reduces the cost of training and supporting a turnover workforce. Keeping employees healthy by making healthcare accessible reduces the amount of time spent out of work. Giving employees more flexibility as we have makes them more present and productive when they are on the job, and truly fulfilled which better serves our end customers, the hospitals and patients.

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

We have made a heavy investment in our area medical directors. Among veterinary businesses, whether animal hospitals or staffing agencies, it is rare to find built-in support from a management perspective and especially person-centered support. We help our doctors every day, whether that’s in developing their clinical skills, serving as an advocate in their hospital settings, or building a sense of community.

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?

As a first step, it’s important to talk to your team and learn about what they are asking for. My belief — and I’ve learned this the hard way — is that as leaders we must all start by listening and resist making assumptions around what our team wants and needs.

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

1. Remote versus in-office work. At this stage of the pandemic, everyone is trying to find the right mix — to honor individual desires for convenience and also to make space for collaborative creativity. This is one where I don’t think we have the exact answer yet, but it’s something we are working through.

2. Days worked in the office. As a corollary to the above, people are more open to the idea of the four-day workweek than they used to be. With a growing emphasis on work-life balance, I think we will see more workplaces offering this option. It’s not uncommon for us to offer this to associates, as they choose their own hours and make their own scheduling. As a company we prioritize flexibility for employees, and this fits into that.

3. Workplace flexibility in general. In this case, it’s not just about hours and location, but about a plan for immediate and long-range goals that includes major life changes such as having children or caring for sick elders. Most veterinarians are women, and many of our associates are starting families. We support their ability to make a living while balancing shifting life and home demands.

4. Honest discussion around mental health: When I was a kid, people didn’t talk about mental health. That has really changed, as I have seen with my older son who struggles with some of these issues — there’s no longer a stigma attached. We work in an industry with high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide, so If we know our team members need help, we want to be there to listen. We are not therapists but we can keep the dialogue open so that everyone feels comfortable, and knows we see and value them as whole people. It’s important for all industries, certainly but in our field we need to pay special attention to it.

5. Technology associated feedback loops. We have implemented tools like Survey Monkey to communicate with our staff about their experiences, but there are better tools out there that can help gather feedback and which complement your systems. They can help you customize how to gather feedback from individuals, with settings for the time of day they prefer to be prompted. I think we will increasingly see these tools being used as employee satisfaction is prioritized.

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

That we’re talking about this topic. Simply having these discussions is a huge step forward and it bodes well for the future.

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?

Our company LinkedIn page is a great place to find out more about what IndeVets is doing with regard to human resources and workplace culture. We also have a blog on our website where we encourage our associates to talk about their experiences in the field and how wellness issues impact them. We also talk about these issues on our Instagram as well.

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