…Eliminating the stigma of seeking mental health counseling and other EAP services. This is an active effort in many healthcare organizations.

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 Paulette Ashlin and Dr. John Kello.

Paulette Ashlin is a worldwide leadership and business coach and founder of Ashlin Associates, a management consulting company that provides coaching, organizational design and development, and human resources services. She is also the author of Leading: The way — Behaviors that Drive Success. Learn more at www.ashlinassociates.com.

John Kello, PhD, is a scientist and practitioner. As a professor of industrial / organizational psychology, he teaches and conducts research in many aspects of organizational effectiveness.

As a consultant, he draws on such research and gives evidence-based advice to help organizations build positive cultures. Learn more at https://www.davidson.edu/people/john-kello.

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?

We have all experienced the pandemic, with the added stress it has brought into our personal lives and work lives. We have also had the personal experience of working in excellent and nurturing cultures, as well as in cultures that were not collaborative or wellness-promoting. Learning from both, we chose to exit traditional corporate work cultures and establish our own consulting companies. We are entrepreneurs and organizational consultants. We see our work as making a positive difference for our consulting clients and for ourselves. We promote positive accountability as a key to productivity, engagement, and wellness at work.

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 for us is about striving for balance, although it is rarely one hundred percent achievable. The best we can do is to juggle variables in our lives effectively, without letting any balls drop. It is about positive, health-promoting actions that result in personal growth and satisfaction, as well as productivity. We encourage our client companies to include wellness assessment as part of their regular organizational climate/ engagement surveys, and to make sure that their associates are fully aware of health-promoting services such as Employee Assistance Programs.

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?

There is plenty of good research that supports the idea that organizations that attend to the whole life of their employees outperform their competitors. Companies that offer wellness-supporting perks have lower turnover and better performance according to any metrics they track. Increasingly, the best companies aim at the triple goals of People, Planet, and Profit. They intend to care for their employees, focus on long-term sustainability, and grow their business.

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?

We encourage and support wellness programs as a core value and total commitment of the organizations we consult with. Such programs obviously contribute to a positive culture of caring, a culture that employees want to be a part of. But you mentioned the estimated ROI for such programs. Top corporate leadership has to be concerned with profit (as well as people and planet). So, put the issue in dollar terms and link it to specific programs or services. If our EAP helps us retain a productive employee who has a current mental health challenge, how much money did we save? If our safety program reduces recordable injuries and lost time accidents, what’s the annual return on investment? Putting things in financial terms doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means that our active caring also contributes to the bottom line.

Metrics — without metrics, it’s hard for leaders to make a business case. When we advise our coaching clients on how to influence others, we often suggest they develop and track measures relative to the case they’re trying to make. Otherwise, how can you back up a point you’re trying to make? Anecdotal information is helpful, but metrics can be indisputable.

Accountability — accountability begins at the top. Heads of organizations need to sincerely champion any efforts they want to promote. Our recently published book, 5 Actions of Positive Accountability, outlines a model for how to successfully hold people accountable. The 5 Actions (Anticipate, Assist, Appraise, Advise, Affect) describe the circle of accountability from setting clear and realistic expectations, measuring, providing feedback, all the way to implementing consequences — all in a positive manner. We have seen these actions and this focus on positive accountability yield peak results and positive cultures.

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?

Especially in this time of “the great resignation” there is increased emphasis on being “employee friendly”. Hiring organizations are paying more, offering more flexible remote-work options, and offering better benefits, which include a variety of wellness initiatives. It is clearly a seller’s market at this point, and hiring companies are promoting their work-life-balance/ wellness initiatives as a big part of their pitch to hire and retain talent.

We are also coaching individual leaders on how to set better boundaries by systematically holding people accountable in a positive manner, especially with metrics. Often, leaders worry that a focus on wellness will compromise performance and results. By setting up a stringent model of positive accountability, they can relax and see how their associates and teammates can perform well and exceed expectations.

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.

Leaders and heads of organizations have tremendous influence on the well-being of their workforce. By simply leading with positive intent and positive accountability, they cultivate and nurture environments and cultures that minimize anxiety and stress. Environments in which people feel emotionally safe, can talk openly about issues, and solve problems collaboratively have proven to generate better employee engagement and employee well-being. Conversely, leaders who manage through fear and shame cause higher employee burnout, more turnover, and lower productivity.

As OD consultants and executive coaches, we have focused on teaching leaders at all levels how to engage and a productive, effective, high productivity, and positive manner.

Much of our current wellness research is focused on burnout among healthcare providers. So we will draw our examples from that “industry”.

● Mental Wellness: Availability of programs such as the EAP and other counseling services, and de-stigmatizing use of those supports. Availability of meditation training and sessions (becoming more common and widely used).

● Emotional Wellness: Same as above.

● Social Wellness: Building a strong ethos of mutual support and collaborative teamwork in the workplace. Encouraging team members to watch out for each other and speak up if they see something that is “not right”. Recognizing that social support is one of the most effective stress-reduction strategies, i.e., talking it out with family, friends, and trusted co-workers.

● Physical Wellness: Exercise programs to promote physical fitness, and diet and rest programs.

● Financial Wellness: EAP programs to teach budgeting and other aspects of financial management.

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?

Our book, 5 Actions of Positive Accountability, demonstrates how accountability is within everyone’s control, with positive psychology and the right actions. Our 5 Actions model helps transform leaders and their culture by showing proven, positive, behavioral science-based techniques to set fair expectations, minimize unsatisfactory performance, and deal constructively with consequences. They learn how to be highly effective leaders or individual contributors, while achieving peak results through positive accountability.

The obvious benefits are higher levels of retention of employees who feel cared for in a positive culture, and are thus more engaged in their work and committed to the organization. In relation to the focus of our book, these employees are more likely to be highly accountable. They are prone to honor their commitments, and if they make a mistake they are more prone to own it, fix it, and not make that one again.

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

It is a matter of helping leaders understand the essential nature of balance, and the increasing requirement for companies to acknowledge the whole life of their employees. We help organizations establish or revisit their Core Values statements to include clear commitments to the health and wellbeing of their employees. We emphasize that employee wellness is a core value, and not just a priority, as priorities can change, but core values do not.

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?

For one thing, recognize that social support is widely identified as among the most effective strategies for minimizing the effects of stress and the likelihood of burnout. A surprising number of professionals who say they are burned out, or are approaching burnout, choose to isolate themselves and try to “go it alone” instead of seeking and using social support. Some say they don’t want to burden family and friends with their problems. Some say they don’t want to appear weak. Instead they would be better off to talk it out with people they trust.

For another thing, pay attention to diet and exercise. Eating well and staying in shape strengthen the body and buffer it from the ravages of stress.

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

1. Eliminating the stigma of seeking mental health counseling and other EAP services. This is an active effort in many healthcare organizations.

2. Encouraging team members to watch out for each other and be aware of signs that an individual may be suffering. There is more emphasis today on teams and teamwork, to include interpersonal awareness and sensitivity.

3. Management/ leadership training that emphasizes the people-aspects of the leader role and encourages leaders to role-model wellness-promoting behaviors.

4. Positive psychology and positive accountability.

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

That it has become such a visible issue, even before the pandemic, but especially in light of it. Like earlier workplace trends that have reshaped the nature of work, the focus on wellness is here to stay.

Think about the rise of mentoring programs, the focus on total quality, job enrichment, the team-based workplace (instead of the assembly line), the focus on diversity/ equity/inclusion… these are all trends that continue. So will the focus on wellness.

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?

Sign up for Paulette Ashlin’s blogs and newsletters (https://ashlinassociates.com/contact-us/). Dr. John

Kello’s 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.

Thank you for having me!