… Financial wellbeing investment. In order to thrive in life, we need to have the basics right and it’s very difficult to feel great and effective when you have financial burdens looming over you. I’m seeing that companies are starting to invest in this area.

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 Michelle Velan.

Michelle Velan is the CEO and founder of Wondersource, a B2B wellbeing and empowerment platform built around a relentless focus on driving organizational impact, leadership development and employee mental health and wellbeing. Michelle holds an Executive Global Master’s in Management from the London School of Economics and Wondersource has been accepted into well known accelerators including Day One and What If.

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.

The formative experience that changed my relationship with work was experiencing insomnia in my mid 30s. I was going to see my doctor to get help and while well intentioned she suggested I was stressed and should meditate more. I was already meditating twice a day for years and I knew there was something off in my system. I felt disconnected from my body and my intuition, which scared me because I was losing a sense of myself and my motivation. Research led me to functional medicine, which aims to get to the root cause of health issues, and a new practitioner. Working with a functional medicine practitioner uncovered that my cortisol levels were off and I was essentially burnt out. I was given a personalized protocol that included a variety of changes like introducing probiotics to support my gut health and supplements to support my stress levels and cutting out intermittent fasting. Within 10 days I was sleeping through the night and feeling much better.

That experience changed the way I approach life. Everything fro gut health to finding more moments of quiet and stillness and reliance on external validation shifted. I began to accept myself as I was, and started nourishing and loving myself, as well as listening to and honoring my feelings.

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 specific behaviors like healthy eating habits, exercise and quality sleep that support positive health outcomes. At Wondersource, we’re focused on well-being which includes wellness but is broader in scope. It is about whole body health and feeling good and overall positive about life. We integrate the problems of mental health, work-related stress, leadership development, and personal wellbeing, because we know they’re all connected. We’re supporting people to learn how to cope with the stresses of life, having a kind and supportive inner dialogue, being connected to and comfortable with their emotions, and cultivating a sense of worth, and gratitude amongst other things. Taking a broad approach to well-being builds a foundation for positive health ourcomes and it sets you on a path to realize your abilities, unlock your potential and empowers you to live a life that feels aligned with who you are. At Wondersource we make sure our clients know that well-being is a journey and while perfection is never the goal, it’s something that anyone and everyone can work towards as long as there’s a willingness to do so.

We strive for connection and real ROI at Wondersource, something our KPIs back up. Our most recent measurement found that 94% of participants have improved their self-awareness, and 85% used Wondersource’s education to overcome difficult thoughts and improve confidence and self-esteem as a leader. Our high-level aim is for people to feel truly supported, lower their disease risk, boost their mental health and show improved performance at work.

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?

Wondersource has shown people perform at a higher level when they prioritize their health and wellbeing. For instance, employees who participated in our corporate coaching wellb-being program, 53% increased their confidence and self-esteem as a leader, 93% were able to use the tools they learned from our coaching to improve their work relationships and 94% increased their self-awareness. The research on improved work relationships, confidence and self-awareness leading to improved performance and productivity is clear. According to Dr Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, her research showed that improved self-awareness means we work better, we become more effective leaders, we have higher job satisfaction, and we are more likely to get promoted and work in more profitable companies. So much of what we consider to be successful and a life well lived comes down to our mindset and how we feel we can cope with stressors and uncertainty, what opportunities we believe are available to us and how worthy we feel of obtaining them. And when we’re not feeling healthy or sleeping at night, it’s really difficult to deal with the daily stressors.

Health is something that is too often taken for granted and the consequences are enormous. The Financial Times just reported that the UK workforce is the sickest in the developed world due to chronic illness and over 60% of US adults have a chronic illness many of which are lifestyle driven and preventable. There are more toxins in our environment and food, people are living with more chronic stress than in the past and it’s affecting us. And yet, when we prioritize health and wellbeing it has so many benefits far beyond the obvious. I’m incredibly motivated to help people believe in their potential, to live healthily and thrive.

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?

My advice would be to think critically and avoid simple band-aid solutions. Look for companies who are dedicated to providing meaningful results and want to partner with you for the long-term. There are no overnight solutions when it comes to Increasing well-being and there’s no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to supporting employees. The long-term partner you choose will ideally grow with your team as they learn and evolve and offer a comprehensive solution to meet your employees where they’re at. Wondersource’s corporate partners had previously tried to solve company wellbeing by purchasing self-led apps, which unfortunately no one used. When they partnered with us, we were able to customize our live programming so that employees obtained real-life, actionable tools that led to improving self-awareness, supporting mental health, increased job satisfaction and better communication with their teams. Both employees and the HR teams felt supported from our sessions and saw results in real-time

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

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.

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?

Health is complex and everyone is different, therefore people need to be supported in different ways. That’s why Wondersource has a variety of solutions — we want to meet people where they are. Having said that, there are fundamental health and wellbeing basics that set the foundation for growth and it’s where we recommend all our partners start. Those basics include: group sessions on mental health and stress management, emotional health and intelligence.

Wondersource’s Offering are available in a set program or a la carte and include:

  • Group Coaching — focused mental health, stress management, leveling up as a leader, effective communication.
  • 1–1 coaching — weekly sessions that solve for specific performance and leadership goals and mental health maintenance.
  • Workshops — company wide deep dives on tailored topics.
  • Classes — weekly offerings that build consistent wellbeing.

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?

Get more comfortable seeking support. Support can show up in a variety of ways: anything from asking for help on a project or bringing in a company like Wondersource to support a broader company vision. For me, one of the best things I did in my career and for my mental health was find a coach. Asking for that support allowed me to navigate stressful work relationships, build confidence and even negotiate a promotion. The results were better than I could have imagined and the support made the process fun and engaging, relieving me of a lot of stress.

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

  1. Investment in mental and spiritual health. McKinsey just published an article about the secrets to great health where they stated that mental, social, and spiritual health are as important as physical health and are deeply interconnected. It’s really exciting that McKinsey is talking about this because it helps to raise awareness and bring credibility to the need for taking a more holistic approach to health. The stigma has gone down a lot around mental health support but I still hear from employees who don’t want to use their benefits because they’re scared of what management will think. Thankfully business leaders like Grant Cardone and James Altucher are talking about how spiritual health was instrumental to their well-being and success and you have more and more leaders who’ve struggled with mental health sharing their experiences. As we normalize the conversation around the different aspects of health, it will become more and more the norm to invest in these areas.
  2. Thinking more critically about the outcomes of wellbeing programs. 85% of people who attend Wondersource’s live sessions have a greater impact: Most of our corporate partners make our live sessions mandatory for their teams. Why? Companies had previously tried to solve company wellbeing by purchasing self-led anxiety and mindfulness apps, which unfortunately no one used. By partnering with Wondersource, employees were able to obtain real-life, actionable tools for improving self-awareness, supporting mental health, increased job satisfaction and better communication with their teams. Both employees and the HR teams feel supported from our sessions which results in real-time change.
  3. Solving for HR fatigue. Wondersource has solved vendor fatigue: HR executives told us there are too many single point solutions in the marketplace and a16z’s research showed the same. Working with Wondersource, who recognises that people are different and need to be supported in different ways, HR teams have a fully integrated ecosystem designed to address everything from work-related stress to leadership to mental health: a one-stop shop with valuable ROI for each employee.
  4. Financial wellbeing investment. In order to thrive in life, we need to have the basics right and it’s very difficult to feel great and effective when you have financial burdens looming over you. I’m seeing that companies are starting to invest in this area.
  5. Getting to the root cause of health issues and prevention. 60% of adults in the US have a chronic illness and in the UK the Financial Times just reported that chronic illness makes the UK workforce the sickest in the developed world. According to Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD. about 80% of chronic illnesses are lifestyle driven and preventable. We have to start looking at things like gut health and inflammation. We know that the mind body connection is real yet nowhere is this treated as such. According to Dr. Mark Hyman: “Our thoughts have a profound physiological effect on the body and can either help or hinder the healing process. Even just thinking about a negative experience can set off a cascade of physiological events in the body just as if it’s happening right now — the mind-body connection is truly that powerful.” This is one of the reasons we’re offering functional medicine as part of our solution. We want people to get the support to get to the bottom of health issues and truly heal. They can also help massively with stress and sleep.

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

I feel excited about the potential of functional medicine to support employees with stress and other health areas and the way in which companies are starting to invest more in mental health solutions. Covid presented us with an opportunity to reconsider how we work and you can see that it’s having a lasting impact. Employees are back at work, but it’s often a hybrid model of 2 or 3 days in the office. The latest Gallup poll showed that people are more stressed and unhappy than ever before which is alarming. But I do think people are finally waking up to the need to focus on their overall wellbeing and we’ll see a lot more well executed mental health and wellness solutions at the office.

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?

@Wondersource_ on IG and follow me on LinkedIn at Michelle Velan

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