Financial wellness. Financial literacy is such a vital component for employee decision-making and it’s something that is not, in the U.S., a large part of our education. I’m interested in seeing how employers can provide, not only financial benefit options, but also financial literacy to inform employee decisions and provide a clearer picture of financial opportunities available to them.

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 Muriel Clauson.

Muriel Clauson brings insight and empathy to the world of tech. While pursuing her doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Georgia, Muriel Clauson and fellow co-founder and classmate Dr. Young-Jae Kim saw a deep need to provide better communication options to the deskless workforce. The duo co-founded Anthill, a two-way text message portal that provides a secure communication bridge for employers to connect, grow, and retain its deskless workforce.

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 was pursuing a doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Georgia when my co-founder and friend, Dr. Young-Jae Kim, and I quickly identified, through our research, a common complaint among companies — they couldn’t fully engage with or develop their deskless employees. These are employees with whom we strongly identify. As an Alaskan whose family works these jobs, I’ve spent time working alongside them. They’re truck drivers, warehouse workers, and manufacturing laborers — positions that account for 80% of the global workforce. Our research made it clear that the focus of most workforce corporate communications products and policies are generally designed for the desked workforce, leaving a major gap for the remote and deskless population. Our research findings led to my interest and advocacy for this group. I wanted to deliver to the deskless workforce the same support their peers enjoy. If you can bring positive change that supports the work life of these employees, you’ll make monumental, generational changes worldwide for the future of work. That’s what we’re building with Anthill.

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?

At Anthill we define workplace wellness by separating it into three categories:

1. Your individual state of mind — your sense of wellbeing as an individual.

2. Actions/activities you engage with to cultivate that sense of wellbeing.

3. Sense of community — your direct supervisors, colleagues, and anyone with whom you interact. One question to consider is, “Am I a positive influence with my community that I interact with?”

We are especially interested in self-reporting, as this allows employees to tell us how they’re feeling. We start the process during on-boarding, when we have new employees take a survey that informs us more on how they like to work, how they like to be addressed, and how they prefer to receive information. Identifying this information gives us a pathway, right from the start, on how we can be supportive of them as we move through our working relationship. This sets the standard early, and employees understand we seek to treat them the way they want to be treated. This also better develops our layering of individual and community wellness. For instance, we use a baseline of questions when we come back to the employee for one-on-one interviews. We ask, “How in line with these behaviors are we?” This helps the employee to also take a step back and question, “Am I in a state of positive wellness in my current role?” It’s so easy to, at times, get lost in the shuffle of things. This serves as a fantastic opportunity to revisit these questions and measure the individual’s feelings about what’s going on internally, ensure they still enjoy their position with Anthill, and to also check the progress of their career path goals.

We want to make sure we advocate the growth employees seek while also allowing for flexibility and support whenever they need it. These team check-ups allow us to ensure the employee is still actively engaged in their position and doesn’t feel stuck or as if they’re doing something outside their lane. For that reason, we also frequently check to see if the employee is looking for the next opportunity — even if that’s something beyond what we can offer. We want employees to have that open dialogue with us, minus the fear. I think just showing that we’re open to those conversations can make such an impact on the employee individually, as well as on the team. When they’re looking for other roles, we work alongside them to see how we can lend support, whether it’s something we offer internally or if it’s something we can help them find in the marketplace.

Our regularly scheduled interviews and surveys take the pulse of what’s working for the team and what’s not. When we start an employee program and it’s not working, we engage with our team to seek relevant information and to make adjustments to find the next solution. For example, we saw that one of our team members was a morning person, so we started scheduling that team member for the bulk of work in the morning. What we found in surveying this team member was that, while they did prefer mornings, they also were interested in running a marathon. To help them pursue this opportunity, we worked out a better schedule that allowed for training time to work on their wellness goal and re-arranged meeting and work hours to be a better fit. Showing that flexibility led this team member to be happier in their role and achieve a higher degree of wellness.

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?

The impact becomes obvious when you’re doing things right. There are plenty of things we can quantify, in terms of ROI, for productivity and employees completing deliverables on-time when they’re experiencing an environment that supports their wellbeing. Our company passionately believes that when you create an atmosphere where employees feel seen, heard, and appreciated, you’re going to experience positive growth in productivity and profitability.

There are so many examples of how one unhappy employee can impact the overall well being of a team. That’s why we take the approach of — if we see a team member going through something challenging or experiencing a slump where they can’t meet the energy level of others — giving them the opportunity to unplug entirely. This can be beneficial to, not only the employee, but to the company overall. When we allow them to unplug entirely, we watch as they come back refreshed and ready to jump back in on an even greater level. This has benefited the team member as an individual and contributed to the overall strength and productivity of the team, who was ready to support the teammate in their absence. Instead of dragging someone along when they’re in the midst of a challenge, allowing them to take the time they need strengthens their trust in us. It shows them that, as an employer, we will meet them where they are if, at some point, a comparable personal situation arises. When we’ve provided these extended leaves, whether for bereavement, parental leave or just mental health, the rest of the team has risen to the challenge to fill in the gaps and we have never experienced a dip in productivity.

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 would recommend that, if you haven’t had experience with or studied the effects of health on productivity, an easy way to do so is to talk to researchers who have experience. There are thousands of studies to support investing in employee mental health to support ROI. If you’ve never had any mental health situations in your own life or taken part in mental health training, it may seem complicated to get started, but it doesn’t have to be. There has been such an exciting push toward providing resources in tech that can help employers get started. There is, undoubtedly, a solution out there that will fit everything your company needs to be successful while also allowing you to scale quickly in offering these opportunities to employees. Investing in your employees and their mental health will render only positive results — try it and see what happens.

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?

We take a three-pronged approach to incorporating wellness programs into our talent recruitment. First, we frequently forecast to better inform our employees and potential employees of the timelines in place. A question we’re often asked during the interview process is, “What is the overall health of the business?” I think it’s important to be extremely forthcoming in order to provide context. If someone struggles with anxiety — which is quite common — it’s important to address those questions prior to beginning a new work relationship or starting a new project. Ensure you provide potential employees with all the information they need to process their possible participation. For instance, answer by addressing the following factors: this is the timeline, this is the process, and this is how we’ll communicate with you. Starting these conversations at the onset of the work relationship and continuing to forecast post hire will help to provide employees the stability they need to feel supported. When we make a hiring decision, for example, we tell potential employees they will have a decision no later than five business days. Making simple adjustments like this provides positive communication paths and strengthens your relationship with new and existing employees.

We have also implemented inclusive policies on extended leave and use inclusive language when discussing those leaves with employees. Most companies have bereavement and extended leave policies, but, at Anthill, we’ve introduced nuances to those policies. For example, a loss of a family member allows for an extended leave, but the employee may consider a long-term roommate or close friend as a family member. We accommodate for that. The employee may also need additional support and time-off to care for a family member who has Covid or a long-term illness. When we address leave for the birth or adoption of a child, we use inclusive language to refer to the leave as parental rather than maternal leave. We address these conversations early — in the interview process — so potential employees have a firm understanding of the type of atmosphere we encourage here.

Lastly, we provide a flexible work style for our employees — allowing them the freedom to work how they prefer as long as they are getting the work done. At our company, employees work at computers, so we allow employees to fit the work to their schedules — knowing that most are parents or have preferences on when they are most productive. We set up a specific four-hour window with everyone to collaborate and then allow employees to work additional hours at a time that works best for them personally.

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
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Social Wellness
  • Physical Wellness
  • Financial Wellness

One new program that we piloted for our employees at Anthill was unlimited PTO — which we thought would benefit the employees’ overall sense of wellness. We were excited to provide this option to our employees, but what we found is that it actually made employees feel nervous to request PTO without a boundary or limit in place — they were hesitant to take advantage of it. When we added in well-defined PTO hours, with the ability to have a conversation with us if they felt they needed additional time off, we were encouraged to see employees taking advantage of and requesting that time. We also encourage our employees to take at least one three-day weekend per month off to fully unplug. We’ve found that they always come back re-engaged and refreshed, making them a happier and more productive employee. One thing every corporation needs to understand about wellness is, even if you try a new program to support your employees and it fails or doesn’t produce the expected results, it still shows employees that you’re trying. It can also generate other avenues that allow you to find what works for your employees and your business.

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?

People will be happier and share that happiness with the community — showing that you’re an employer of choice. With the challenges the world is currently facing in attracting and retaining talent, it is crucial. Encouraging programs that enhance workplace wellness for employees will lead to better production and profitability. There are amazing options and potential resources on the market for your company to incorporate wellness at your place of business. If you provide service to the deskless workforce, Anthill is a great partner for that. Our team is working to benefit not only our employees, but also the deskless employees of other corporations. We’re giving them the tools they need to be effective and feel supported with open, on-going communication and collaboration. That said, there are a plethora of resources for you and the first place to start is to identify the initiatives you want to pursue. I guarantee that there’s already a solution to help you get started and you’ll see near immediate, beneficial results.

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

We have our employees draft a “dream job description” that paints a picture of how they see themselves at Anthill and what that title and role looks like. The employees were really excited about this process for their own self-discovery, and it showed them that we aren’t making broad assumptions about what they want to achieve, but rather empowering them to get there. For one particular employee, we used the information they gave us to completely re-examine their role and re-work their title and job description. They felt this process showed them a roadmap of what they hoped to achieve and how they could do that with us.

We also allow and encourage employees to seek out opportunities, such as conferences or courses, to develop their skills further without having to defend the ROI to attend. We feel that investing in our employees’ growth is a top priority.

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?

Be an authentic partner for your employees. Be honest and say, “We’d like to be a better employer in promoting wellness and we’d like your help in taking on this challenge.” Encourage employees to be thought leaders on what programs you can implement together. Show them you’re ready to get started with those first conversations and facilitate team outreach. I think that’s the most crucial step you can take.

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

  1. Implementing the four-day work week. I think the jury is still out, and I’m interested to see studies on how the four-day work week affects the workplace on a social level. Some argue that not working Fridays — which is our most social day of the work week — actually takes away from wellness because of our inability to socialize.
  2. Providing mental health resources through the employer. Being included as a part of benefits is crucial, but we are also seeing non-benefit related support of mental health, which will be interesting to track.
  3. Financial wellness. Financial literacy is such a vital component for employee decision-making and it’s something that is not, in the U.S., a large part of our education. I’m interested in seeing how employers can provide, not only financial benefit options, but also financial literacy to inform employee decisions and provide a clearer picture of financial opportunities available to them.
  4. Physical wellness options in the workplace. I’ve seen several employers give deeper daily allowances for physical fitness activity time for their employees — sometimes as much as two hours during the middle of the day. I’d like to see if such actions support my thought that physical wellness measures, with flexibility to use exercise as a means to refresh and refocus, will greatly improve an employee’s productivity. I think this is something we will see supported by unique work models that better allow for physical wellness to support productivity.
  5. Employee listening programs. We can’t underestimate the value of these programs, which support reciprocal authenticity between employers and employees. Employee listening models where employees can safely share and have their voices heard lends so much to the wellness of employees, the strengthening of workplace culture, and higher productivity and profitability. Anthill’s two-way text portal is a fitting example of how we can use a simple mode of communication to connect, retain, and engage employees.

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

The fact that people are talking about the future of workplace wellness and taking up the torch is so exciting to me. So many corporations and leadership teams are now showing that they really care about their employees in this way. We’ve all seen the additional challenges the pandemic brought to the workplace, and, in turn, we’ve seen how this brought about increased empathy for colleagues and employees going through a tough time. We’ve seen how, as a collective, we can come together to provide a more supportive work environment, and I hope we don’t ignore or lose sight of the knowledge we’ve gained.

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?

You can follow my work on You can also watch our new show Being Deskless LIVE or sign up to receive our company produced “Being Deskless Newsletter”, a bi-weekly brief that includes a curated round-up of the latest articles about the deskless workforce.

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