Financial wellness pertains to a person’s relationship with money, and it essentially has a lot to do with a feeling of safety. People need a way to future-proof their existence by having enough access to resources that allow them to live the lifestyle they want. A healthy relationship with money, and financial literacy, gives people a feeling of stability.

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 Nena Dimovska.

Nena Dimovska, Head of People success at Semos Cloud, is committed to reimagining people experience with HR technology. A PhD Candidate in Organizational Science and Leadership, she is exploring the exciting world of rewards & recognition, as an effective instrument in improving people experience in the digital workplace.

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. 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?

I’d start by saying that employee wellness and well-being are essential in Semos Cloud. So, they are not just ‘things we talk about during the Covid pandemic.’ We see wellness as an aspect of well-being, entailing several aspects of the human life experience; physical, mental, social, and financial health.

There’s a fine line between addressing employees’ psychological well-being and respecting their privacy. The window of opportunity to encourage their overall well-being lies in reviewing the company’s value structure, establishing a culture of caring for employees, and communicating these values clearly.

We believe that as an employer, we offer our employees a chance to strike the optimal work-life balance, as a prerequisite to all forms of well-being. We are aware of the importance of what well-being means to the company’s success, and thus take measures to preemptively block risks such as burnout, where our general approach is ‘prevent’ rather than ‘cure’.

One way we provide our employees with an optimal work environment is by allowing huge flexibility in the way work is conducted. Flexible, remote, or hybrid work models are available, depending on what best suits their current needs and the needs of their families. Some of our employees take care of aging parents, and some have children, but what is certain is that the flexibility we offer and the trust we have built with them allows for healthier workplace culture.

Those who choose to work remotely find a better work-life balance in reduced commute time, which leaves more time to do other things they love. We encourage our people to be their best selves by being themselves. We value authenticity, and our employees know it well.

Pulse surveys help us measure different areas of our people’s well-being. Everyone provides self-assessments on various aspects of wellness that are important to them. The information we gather from surveys provides insight into employees’ thoughts and attitudes about what is going on in the workplace. These surveys change per need and circumstances. Even our people’s engagement with the surveys is indicative of their overall engagement. For surveys to be effective, it is crucial to tailor the questions to get meaningful data that inform further actions towards working well.

One thing to look out for with surveys is that it’s important what you ask and how the questions are structured. For example, as HR professionals, we should understand the company culture and reflect it in the questions asked. Let’s suppose the company’s value system centers around growth and advancement. In that case, one thing to ask people is what kind of professional development opportunities we can offer to support their growth goals. Some questions can be formed based on the demographic information, as people in different life stages define wellness differently.

We also reward certain types of behavior. Our Rewards and Recognition system is an excellent way to highlight healthy activities. We encourage our people to support each other by acknowledging effort and adhering to company values and goals.

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?

We know that when employees feel well, their engagement rates spike, directly influencing the company’s bottom line. Highly engaged employees show 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability for organizations

Further on, investing in employee wellness plans and strategies impacts employee engagement. According to SHRM’s Mental Health Research from 2021, 58% of workers believe mental health benefits are more important than higher pay or salary. Engaged employees are more motivated, and they spend their time at work better, they are motivated to think about their jobs creatively, and are more likely to recommend a workplace to other people, thus lowering the cost of hiring new employees and increasing the quality of the talent pool.

Our line of work requires us to understand how the workforce impacts organizations’ productivity/profitability and offer guidance to other organizations, which wish to keep their employees healthy, engaged, and thriving. The attrition rate at our company is extremely low. I believe there are many reasons behind this, the major one being we’ve heavily invested in our company culture and continuously work on nurturing/improving it.

Within our organization, we use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that we know how our employees think and feel, that everyone is aligned to company goals and values, and that everyone is cherished and appreciated for their contribution and efforts. We nurture our company culture with the tools and knowledge we facilitate to other companies. We are lucky to have intelligent EX and rewards and recognition software, such as JobPts, Nurture, or SurveyRocks at our disposal and run our well-being projects with ease and minimum people power.

Our communication with clients reveals that those who put well-being first, can turn their workforce into ambassadors and engage their employees more efficiently. We have witnessed how organizations with low engagement rates struggle with productivity. The culprit is not paying close attention to how people feel within and outside the workplace. For example, companies offer mental health services without really understanding employees’ needs and preparedness to utilize those services. Let’s say your workforce is more traditional, and those same health services are still taboo? Some would be surprised to realize to what extent mental health is (sadly) still taboo in some cultures/regions. If you are an enterprise and your workforce is dispersed worldwide, you must “know your audience” and what they are (not) ready to utilize since uninformed actions often backfire.

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?

The first step is for companies to realize that they need to take action to support the well-being of their workforce, and once they do, it’s about planning a good strategy. No good strategy comes without informed decisions, so making data-driven decisions is my number 1 advice.

The old saying goes that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, and similarly if the action is uninformed, it might backfire. Pulse surveys, self-assessments, regular check-ins with managers, communication above all, and knowing your employees’ heartbeat can help draft an excellent strategy that impacts your people’s well-being. If, for example, you decide to spend a lot on a well-being program and offer free counseling but do not change the way work is done in your company or your company culture, it won’t do the trick. You are only superficially repairing the damage you are doing and not significantly impacting the employees’ well-being.

Companies need to review their work processes and culture to understand if they might want to improve them. A good and honest review could identify the ways of error and reveal the path to correction. Companies might unknowingly contribute to employee burnout with some practices, such as sending late emails, lacking appreciation or feedback, and not being flexible enough. All these factors contribute to company culture.

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 care to offer a seamless and cozy recruiting process to our potential new hires. From the first point of contact with our company, let’s say the job ad, potential new talents immediately have a comfortable experience. We design inclusive job ads that genuinely portray the job, inspire and encourage rather than deter talents. For example, the use of gendered wording in job ads sadly still exists and promotes gender inequality.

While many see this as a diversity issue alone, we know inclusivity is a staple of workforce well-being; therefore, we take care not to deter potential talents.

Aside from the clear and gender-neutral job ads, we take care to communicate our values, expectations, and timelines clearly from the start. Our people-first attitude is reflected in how we hire new candidates. Our hiring process is quite efficient, and we are very transparent about it. We share all the steps and requirements on our website for everyone to see, so we manage expectations. If a candidate does not meet our requirements, we tell them during the interview, we don’t let them wait for weeks to receive an answer. We don’t make candidates go through any more loops than necessary. We communicate on time and keep a friendly and relaxed attitude. Job seeking is stressful enough, so we do our best to make people feel at ease by practicing a relaxed form of interviews. If there is a more complex assignment a new potential hire should do, we compensate them for it, ensuring their contribution and time feel valued from the start, regardless of the outcome of the process. Later on in the hiring process, we offer various attractive wellness programs as perks and benefits before a candidate chooses to work for us.

Last but not the least, we are searching for A+ talents who contribute to our value system and who will take our mission further. People who contribute to wellness culture and who have strong ideas and personal practices are an excellent cultural fit for us.

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:

To ensure our employees’ mental wellness, we offer digital support and community-based opportunities. Digital communication tools are intertwined into our daily lives, and we like to explore the opportunity to effectively use them for mental wellness interventions. We provide digital support via telephone or apps. That way, constraints such as time or ‘feeling ashamed to go to therapy’ are mitigated. Community-based opportunities such as activities in which employees of all seniority come together for meals or nights out provide a chance to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company outside the workplace. The result of these practices is an increased connection, building empathy and mental wellness of our people.

  • Emotional Wellness:

Talking is the first step. Then comes acknowledging the importance of emotional well-being, trying to de-stress people, organizing mindfulness workshops, supporting yoga and other activities, and encouraging rest/breaks during the workday. Also, as an initiative, I’d mention offering consultation sessions with counselors/ psychologists/doctors. We’re considering doing “no meetings Fridays” to help our people have an entire workday for focus time, declutter activities, and prepare for a relaxed weekend.

  • Social Wellness:

Social wellness is mostly about maintaining healthy relationships with other people, and for most people, it requires deliberate effort. We’ve taken steps to develop tools that might help build healthy relationships. For example, to boost communication practices between our people and help them nourish their interpersonal relationships both in the workplace and outside, we’ve defined a set of golden rules to live by. In a way, we teach our people to build/sustain healthier relationships by following clear guidelines such as ‘assume that the other party has a positive intent, ‘kindness always matters’, ‘respect the environment’, etc. The extra benefit is that people can easily transfer these practices to their personal lives, ultimately influencing their overall well-being. Also, as a company, we proactively try to encourage our people to nurture healthy social well-being by engaging in hobbies, sticking to healthy routines, participating in volunteering programs that are meaningful to them, trying to find new social connections/meet colleagues they don’t usually work with, emphasize the importance of limiting their daily ‘screen time’, etc.

  • Physical Wellness:

Semos Cloud encourages physical wellness by subsidizing exercise programs that fit people’s needs. We offer a plethora of options such as pilates, gym memberships, yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes, swimming, tennis classes, football, and much more. Additionally, we offer flexible working hours so employees can fit these workouts into their work schedules.

We also organize company-wide physical health initiatives, in which our people engage in various activities that promote a healthier work-life balance that enforces teamwork and recognition.

Further on, when designing our new office spaces, we ensured there are plenty of bike parking spaces and showers — so people can bike to work, take a shower, stop by for a healthy snack in the kitchen and start work fully energized. Additionally, we’re working on implementing a program for subsidizing bikes soon. It not only promotes physical wellness, but also supports our sustainability objectives.

  • Financial Wellness:

I think this area is still a novelty for many companies, and we’re still exploring ways to support our people. We are developing a program to help our people get accurate knowledge of their finances and maximize their likelihood of having a healthy relationship with money and a stable financial future. We understand that our people might have personal finance concerns, and one of the challenges is they are sometimes reluctant to share these private concerns in the workspace. We want to design an appropriate program that will offer online/live counseling and workshops that address some of the most critical aspects of financial wellness, such as budgeting, credits/loans, savings, goal-setting, crisis management, etc. Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that we offer a total rewards package that includes fair and stimulating financial compensation for their work. We are compensating local rates based on the market cost and trying to be competitive based on location, seniority, experience, and contribution. We are transparent with our compensation principles. People are encouraged to contribute to our “comp calculator”, which is being adjusted based on survey data and feedback from recruitment candidates and employees.

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?

We advise our customers to tackle the issue of unhappy and disengaged employees on several fronts. Surveys are essential for knowing what is going on with our employees and predicting which employees show signs of disengagement and, consequently, attrition. Surveys only work when the data gathered is analyzed and implemented as actionable plans. Agility is our core value, and by being agile, we can respond to challenges before they become unmanageable. Our people’s needs are our starting point, and we try to respond to what they need so they can be happy.

Another concrete way companies can influence their employees’ well-being is by ensuring that communication is transparent and effective. Are your communication messages reaching out to all your employees equally, regardless of where they work? What about the ‘deskless employees’ or those with limited access to technology? How are you ensuring they receive the same care and support as anyone else? It’s important to ask yourself these questions, although it might be challenging to come to an answer. It’s equally important for everyone to feel included and not discriminated against. A sound, internal communication system ensures everyone receives company messages and stays informed and well-aligned.

We also put great emphasis on accommodating the various needs of our employees. Different people or even different groups of people have specific needs. As an employer, we are responsible for responding to those particular needs. For example, we do not offer the same benefits to a fresh graduate and someone nearing retirement. While it is OK, it’s not enough to have a general benefits package. Companies nowadays should have the know-how to design systems and practices that offer meaningful benefits to everyone.

In our company culture, not taking vacations is frowned upon. It’s not heroic not to take a vacation and be exhausted. So in a way, we “force” people to utilize their vacation days because we know it’s something that one needs to be happy and fully productive.

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

All our employees are familiar with the golden rules we’ve established for behavior both within and outside the company and are expected to live by those rules. For example, we assume positive intent, celebrate each other’s success, and choose kindness, inclusion, health, and the environment as rules to live by. We nourish empathy as a value in our culture and accommodate our leadership practices based on our people’s needs.

In The Future of Jobs Report 2020, the WEF predicts seismic changes (85 million jobs being redundant by 2025 and 97 million new roles emerging), greatly affecting the leadership roles. As a company that wants to thrive and remain competitive, we must foster a culture of continuous development. So we dedicate a lot of effort to understanding what skills and competencies our people, including leaders, will need in the future.

We understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to professional growth, so we try to offer various suitable options for our people’s career paths. For example, we leverage advanced technology and consider AI and digital opportunities. Still, we also provide internal coaching and external education for leaders that helps generate a new generation of leaders. A fundamental principle we live by is that our (somewhat loose) hierarchical structure allows any employee to freely reach out to their superior(s) for feedback.

While it’s challenging to follow all trends in the learning and development domain, we try to keep up with the latest trends and offers. For example, we understand that degrees are not enough, especially for our leaders. That’s why LinkedIn’s latest learning report shows that 59% of HR professionals make learning programs a top priority. Korn Ferry’s Work trends 2022 report shows that 69% of the most admired companies put learning, agility, and curiosity as a priority in recruitment. IBM’s CHRO recently said that 50% of their US jobs are open to anyone with the right skills or willingness to learn them. So our response to these challenges is enforcing a continuous learning culture.

Our leaders are aware of what is considered acceptable and healthy leadership. When our employees struggle with something, first, we try to build an environment where they can share what they are experiencing without fear of being judged or discriminated against. We provide all the help they need so they can sort out their issues and feel well. This entails not being too strict with sick days and being genuinely and honestly understandable when you know they have a sick kid, their kid’s birthday, or something official to do. We offer empathy and huge flexibility, and our employees value it a lot.

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?

Let’s remember we are all people with specific needs, wants, desires, aspirations, and challenges. In the midst of deadlines, sales to close, projects to finish, etc., we often forget that kindness is the greatest gift we can give each other. A friendly word goes a long way.

Appreciating one another for our unique strengths builds strong relationships and agile teams.

The world is full of conflict, and it takes strength to be gentle and understanding, but it is within our power and responsibility to give that to one another. The true strength lies in supporting one another, working together, acknowledging our differences, and having patience for our individual challenges. Starting from ourselves, how can we be more kind? We need to understand that only by working together can we make a significant impact.

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

  1. Wellbeing as a Serious Societal Topic.

Well-being, as opposed to ill-being, wouldn’t have been as talked about as it is now if humanity hadn’t experienced a significant threat to our well-being and instances of increased ill-being scattered all over the Globe. The Pandemic is only one instance that impacted us all simultaneously. But we are also continuously struggling with: anxiety, stress, burnout, depression, climate change, wars, poverty, starvation, and obesity, just to name a few.

The first time the topic of well-being was discussed on a global scale was in the aftermath of the 2nd World War — when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 1965) was founded. Only then did people start seriously talking about well-being globally. Today, there are many approaches and resources to reach a state of well-being, and yet, it seems like in the workplace, it’s a topic that is not getting enough attention. Luckily, we are witnessing how that is about to change.

2. Prevention, Tracking Stress Levels and Nurturing Stress-Resilient Mindset.

Some cultures still view mental health as a taboo, and it’s terrific that it is slowly changing. The first step toward preventing and minimizing stress is being aware of stressors. In Semos Cloud, we openly communicate about and validate events that cause stress and try to educate our people on mental hygiene. We train leaders to talk about stress and help them recognize it in their teams. A prerequisite for stress-resilience at the workplace is a strong company culture that nourishes open communication and empathy.

Also, the past decade saw a rise in the popularity of health-related wearables. Believe it or not — the first wearable were glasses — invented in the 13th century. The wearable tech we use today, like smartwatches, smart jewelry, fitness trackers, ECG Monitors, etc., track the user’s health data. Step counts congratulate us on our goals, and we can share our achievements on social media for everyone to see. Being a tech company makes us entirely dependent on our superb products (we use everything we create). We rely on them not only for recognition, but also for wellness goals (setting, achieving, competing), communication, feedback, etc. If your company uses a rewards and recognition technology like JobPts, these wellness goals/achievements can be shared with everyone in the company on a social wall, be celebrated, awarded, and perhaps even motivate someone else. These gadgets and accompanying apps will continue to be on the rise in the upcoming future.

3. Leading a more Eco-Friendly Lifestyle / Building Sustainable Life Habits.

Our end goal is to embed everyday life habits aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals. For example, to motivate people to donate things they don’t use and do not excessively purchase items (minimize consumerism), reduce food waste (in our office, we do not throw food, when we compensate meals, we order daily depending on the number of people in the office). We’ve also encouraged our people to take part in shelter kitchens for the homeless in their hometowns. Hence, we raise awareness about a large number of undernourished homeless people. We support vaccination and promote good health and well-being with plenty of projects. We have made annual doctor’s check-ins compulsory. We stand for quality education and thus support professional development initiatives. One of our most significant CSR projects will be to teach digital skills to homeless children.

Moreover, we passionately fight for gender equality and empower women in all teams and leadership roles. We try to reduce inequalities and always support the marginalized and disadvantaged groups, from recruitment to promotion and development of talents, partners, clients, etc. We save water, use only energy-efficient appliances and recycle paper, plastic, and aluminum. As a team, we stand for responsible consumption. Climate change makes us aware that there is no well-being without the planet’s well-being. So one other large SCR project we are planning has to do with planting trees, but I won’t disclose more since it’s still in development. By acting as a responsible employer, we are learning by doing. We hope that what our people experience in the workplace will be an extended practice in their private lives. Such responsible life habits have the potential to make the world a better place and boost feelings of optimism, confidence, and happiness, ultimately encouraging others to repeat the same behavior and contributing to a more positive community.

4. Personalized and Digital Wellbeing Solutions.

The Pandemic brought certain matters to light when it comes to mental health. Before the Pandemic, mental health was talked about, but not nearly as much as now. Being in lockdown and working remotely upended the work-life balance in so many ways. The most crucial and least talked about consequence that happened is that it forced people to be with themselves. No longer being able to talk things out with friends and family, being at home forced them to face their mental states. The response came quickly, in the shape of various AI therapy and mindfulness apps that allow users to access support, keeping it private and straightforward.

Another major breakthrough we’re seeing is that well-being initiatives have become an essential part of benefits packages. What’s more, we’re seeing a digital-first approach to employee benefits take hold. Digital-first benefits solutions allow employers to scale their efforts and make well-being support accessible to everyone, whenever and wherever needed.

5. Financial Wellness.

Financial wellness pertains to a person’s relationship with money, and it essentially has a lot to do with a feeling of safety. People need a way to future-proof their existence by having enough access to resources that allow them to live the lifestyle they want. A healthy relationship with money, and financial literacy, gives people a feeling of stability.

People who are overwhelmed with financial demands, loans, mortgages, and other expenses are not doing well, which significantly impacts their ability to work and live well. 16% of US suicides occur in response to a financial problem. Moreover, health insurance in the US is costly. Someone getting ill in a family can significantly impact the whole family’s well-being.

Financial literacy courses and initiatives are one way to help relieve the stress and worry people experience when it comes to their economic well-being and teach them to handle their finances better.

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

Companies have started looking at employee wellness, understanding there is no company success without people’s success. A study from London Business School suggests companies with high levels of well-being outperform the stock market by 2–3% a year. Also, diversity incentives give me great hope about reaching a more inclusive work climate. Millennials and Gen Z being more health conscious than the generations before them is another source of optimism. Gen Z is also more likely to report mental health concerns, so this is a positive move toward removing the stigma from disturbances to mental health.

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?

I’d be pleased to connect with all HR enthusiasts via LinkedIn

or email [email protected].

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