Holistic wellbeing is what organizations are moving towards. It truly encompasses everything that people have been focused on. It will allow organizations to look at how everything will work together, and it allows a complete wellness view and option for the employee.
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 Natasha Thomas.
Natasha Thomas is the Manager of People and Culture at Curate Partners. She studied at SUNY Fredonia, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology and currently resides in the North end of Boston, MA. With over a decade of IT industry experience, Natasha is passionate about building programs and opportunities to support people of all backgrounds in achieving their career ambitions.
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.
In a previous role, I had taken time off for a personal event. The personal time that I had requested coincided with an important event within that organization. Even though I had taken the time off over a year in advance, I was told that I needed to be present for the event. I had to fly in for 8 hours only to fly back right afterwards. I felt like I was working for an organization that did not care about me. It made me question if it was a place that I wanted to be long term. I eventually decided to leave to focus on building out my career at another organization who valued my well-being and personal time. I never forget that moment and I encourage people to truly unplug when they take time off.
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?
Our organization defines wellness in terms of “you” as a whole. It is important to look at all aspects of an individual. Emotional, financial, mental, and physical all play a role in who we are as individuals. It is important for us to do check ins to see how our team is doing. It is not just about how they are doing at work, we want to know how they are doing personally. This is an opportunity for employees to truly express themselves on a more personal level and in turn this helps us, as an employer, offer unique perks and benefits that truly matter to our employees. True ‘wellness of people’ is to know they have a network at work of people who truly care about them. In fact, we had a lunch and learn last may that was focused on mental wellness; practicing mindfulness, stress relieving techniques, and this even led to employees feeling comfortable enough to share how they manage mental health and eventually reduced the stigma of asking for support. The feedback we received after the workshop was inspiring, employees felt closer to each other, more confident taking breaks when they felt burnt out and there was a better sense of belonging — having that deeper understanding of their colleagues. Additionally, our office has a has a gym that our employees can workout at for free, but we encourage people to get out and take walks throughout the day as well. Finally, we are looking at ways to help people plan for the future (even after their time with us!). Our CFO makes it a point to be available for any questions people might have regarding how to save and what to save. We have our lunch and learns, so we can learn how to be more emotionally aware of how our actions might impact each of us and others. We think of ourselves as an organization that is constantly working on ways to be better individually and as a whole.
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?
I think that most people think of a Sales organization as being more competitive than anything else. I believe we differentiate ourselves, because we put our people first. Our founding members have always said “People are the core of our business. Not numbers. Not spreadsheets. Not profits.” We had our annual new year kick off early February 2022 and at one point our CEO, Dan Foley, opened up the discussion to questions from the team. One employee asked “where do you see us is 5 years?”, and Dan eluded to “I don’t care how big we get ($), I care that we are perceived as a trusted employer/partner and I want to continually be associated with an organization I’m proud of” This translates to a culture built around authencity where employees are proud of their work and aim to do better and be better because they want to and not because their “numbers” are being watched or compared to other employees. Anyone in our company would confidently say that we see the best results when our people are thriving. The productivity and profitability that we see is a direct correlation with our team members reaching their personal and professional goals.
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?
Our core value #1 is people first, that means you do everything you can to support your people even if it costs the company money. I think companies need to dive in and start to mold their wellness program and funding around the needs of employees. Pilot some program initiatives with employees as they arise, that way you can obtain feedback, adjust and rollout to the entire organization. We’ve experienced situational wellness needs with our employees that have translated into a company-wide standards. For example, we had an employee share some personal struggles and voiced that they needed to take some time away to recollect themselves. We decided NOT to dock this employee’s pay for the 12 weeks they were absent and afterward they came back better than before, refocused, reenergized, appreciative and excited to be back. Employers need to weigh their priorities; do you want to lose employees and pay the cost of attrition, or do you want to pay to support your employees for the long haul? We also implemented a 5-year anniversary vacation bonus, where we give employees an experience (not cash per se) by paying up to $5K towards a vacation for their 5 years of service with us (10 years = $10k, etc etc.). Is this costly, yes, but the benefits are tenfold. The employee gets a mental reset on us, no financial burden weighing them down and the chance to unplug from any negativity going on in their life. The employees come back with higher levels of productivity and these rewards contribute to the longevity of their journey with us which is hugely cost effective.
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 are in the process of developing a perks quick facts sheet that we can share with potential recruits and new hires. During the hiring process, we discuss a lot of the things we feel differentiates our organization from others. We discuss our unlimited PTO, hybrid schedule, free lunch Thursday’s, Healthcare reimbursement for fitness expenses and health screenings, departmental & company-wide outings to destinations, employee resource groups (ERGs), and our monthly Lunch and Learns that focus on wellbeing and genuine learning of how to be and do better as individuals and a team.
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: I think the biggest thing any company can do to support mental wellness is to continue to talk about it. It is something that has been so taboo for many years. People need to know that it is okay to see a therapist, ask for help, talk about what you are feeling. Some organizations are offering the calm app to employees to help with mental wellness. Others are offering yoga and other meditation options. We did a lunch and learn where we learned about some breathing and meditation exercises for mental health and discussed normalizing asking for support.
Emotional Wellness: Emotional wellness really deals with understanding emotional intelligence and emotional regulation. Focusing on what can be accomplished as a team is one way to promote emotional wellness in the workplace. It is important to do things that encourages the team to thrive. We like to have internal challenges that lead to team outings to build fun, positive camaraderie. This helps reduce burn out and even prevent turnover.
Social Wellness: In terms of social wellness, I think that we do a lot of things as a team. We do weekly team lunches every Thursday, and we typically go out afterwards for appetizers and happy hour. We have at least one trip (sometimes multiple) every year where the entire organization attends, even our remote staff. Most recently we went to Stratton, VT where people got the option to either ski/snowboard or have a spa treatment. We have shoutouts and kudos to employees in our monthly newsletter as an additional way to recognize success and key milestones.
Physical Wellness: In terms of physical health, we have a gym on site at our HQ that employees can use. We encourage flexible work hours, so people can take walks or do whatever workout aligns to their goals throughout the work week/day. The managing partners share when they are taking a break to work out or go for a walk, which helps the employees relax and feel comfortable doing the same.
Financial Wellness: We promote financial wellness in a variety of ways including a portion of cell phone reimbursement, catered lunches, allowance of certain expenses, competitive annual bonus structures, and we will be rolling out an additional savings plan option outside of a 401K.
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?
Financial wellness tends to be at the top of what is important for individuals. People need to feel secure knowing they can care for themselves and/or their families. They want an employer that they feel is supporting their long-term goals. Any organization that is thinking outside of the box and covering some additional expenses will surely help their internal team’s financial wellness. As a result, employees are far more loyal and confident in you as their employer, which can also translate into internal referrals and positive word of mouth for future hiring goals.
In terms of social wellness most people state that their colleagues and team as the main reason why they stay with organizations. The idea that an organization can promote retreats, team outings, volunteering together, etc., builds internal rapport and morale. It allows people to find a place where they can connect and feel socially accepted. When individuals feel a social connection then it can help with their internal emotional connections and emotional intelligence. It leads to a more inclusive environment which is really at the core of all wellness initiatives.
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
Our executive team members are always on the monthly Lunch and Learn calls; having the partners listening and being a part of the workshops each month is, in itself, reskilling. Meaning the best way for employees to see continuous improvement is to experience their leaders’ willingness to learn first-hand. Therefore, having them actively participate and listen into these monthly workshops for employee betterment has been one of the ways our leaders are reskilling themselves for the future.
Additionally, we initiated a virtual anonymous suggestions box at the beginning of the pandemic and still use it to this day. It is an additional outlet for employees to voice their concerns or suggestions anonymously. Often times senior leaders are never critiqued nor have the ability to reskill themselves and I believe this outlet for employees is a way for leaders to listen to that feedback, positive or negative, and act on it.
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?
I think the first small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas is to listen, provide multiple ways and outlets for employees to verbalize themselves (1:1’s, anonymous suggestion boxes, employee engagement surveys, judgement-free workshops, employee resource groups, etc.). It is important to listen and facilitate feedback on what is working and what is not working. Everyone wants to do better and be better to get well and be the best version. It is also helpful to listen to what has worked for other organizations as well because there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
- Mental Health has been and will continue to be a trend. It is important to remember that your mind is the center for all things. Employees will continue to invest in ways to promote mental health whether it be taking days off, promoting yoga and meditation, or having onsite places for people to go to speak about what is happening for and to them.
- Stress management will continue to be an area of focus. When people feel relaxed and balanced then they will be more productive at work. Stress is an area that can be managed, but it needs to be at the forefront. People feel stress inside and outside of work focusing on programs that manage this will not only be beneficial overall for organizations, but it will truly impact how people manage their feelings inside/outside of work.
- Overall organization activities to connect the team. There will be people back in the office, but there will continue to be people who work virtually. There needs to continue to be activities that brings the virtual and in person teams together. There should be monthly options to connect the team. People need to continue to feel engaged and a part of the team as people head back into the office.
- Personalized wellness will be important in organizations. People are different and their needs are different. Wellness is not a one size fits all. I think some organizations will have different platforms that are available to employees, so they can shop and see what is right for them. EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) will continue to add offerings to align to different employees’ needs.
- Holistic wellbeing is what organizations are moving towards. It truly encompasses everything that people have been focused on. It will allow organizations to look at how everything will work together, and it allows a complete wellness view and option for the employee.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
I think the greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness is that people care. People really care about their employees and want to see individuals that are healthy and feel good from the inside out. I think it is important to remember that change can take time to truly be impactful. It is important that organizations continue to be mindful of the changes, so they will be long lasting.
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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.