… Destigmatizing mental illness — Not talking about something doesn’t make it disappear. Mental health issues are a reality and companies that want to foster an inclusive and safe workplace will continue to build their ability to discuss these issues and support their employees. This is likely to include general awareness building, encouraging discussions in teams, and providing individuals with the support they need.

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 Petra Rosvall.

Petra is Chief People Officer at M-Files, a global leader in information management, and leads a global team of People & Culture professionals, based in Helsinki, Finland. She has held a variety of senior-level HR positions in different industries and regions over the past 10 years. Before joining M-Files, she was the HR Director at a leading sporting goods company where she was responsible for people and culture development across the Americas region and based in Chicago, Illinois. Petra holds a Master’s degree in Economics and is a certified coach and facilitator. She is currently in the process of writing a book focusing on a practical approach to leading corporate culture.

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.

When I was 30, I was promoted to take on a newly established role as Development Manager of Wellbeing for a company with more than 2,000 employees, working in both warehouses and offices. My first task was to define my role and what I should focus on. As I started uncovering all the aspects contributing to wellbeing, I soon realized that almost everything in the workplace is linked to wellbeing and wellness in one way or another. Wellbeing is integrated into how we design every aspect of work and how individuals experience their everyday conditions at work. This was an important realization for me personally. It helped me to identify what I value, what my motivational drivers are, and what needs to be true for me to thrive at work. The key insight for me was that work is part of my wellbeing. I have since made choices in my career to ensure that I can regularly use my strengths, have autonomy over my role, and am surrounded by people with who I feel energized.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Wellness is a holistic concept, it is connected to various aspects of the employee experience in the workplace. However, it is not just confined to the workplace as it encompasses every aspect of our lives. The circumstances we build into the workplace have a major impact on wellness, but we also need to acknowledge that there are other factors beyond work contributing to the health and wellness of each individual.

At M-Files, the People & Culture team approaches wellness through the lenses of Head, Hands, and Heart:

  • Head represents strategic decision-making and creating as much clarity for the team as possible. Leaders have an important responsibility to set a direction and prioritize plans to ensure that people are set up for success, their workloads are manageable, and they can collaborate well together across functions. We need to be transparent and intentional about what is important right now and what the plans in the short and long term are. We also need to have established structures to ensure we have the right capabilities and roles in place and that our rewards and recognition support the overall objectives of the company in a thoughtful and fair way. This is foundational for both wellness and productivity.
  • Hands represents operational excellence. Leaders set the cadence of the organization and ensure that there are processes and tools in place that empower employees to succeed in their jobs. To support operations, there needs to be an emphasis on continuous development, training, and coaching. If the daily operations and processes aren’t built to support the team members’ success, it puts additional stress on individuals. We should design operations in ways that support creating value for customers in smart ways across the organization. When operational excellence is designed to support success, it enables a sense of achievement and positive emotions in the day-to-day work.
  • Heart represents caring about the wellbeing of employees. As people, we all want to feel valued and respected. We also want to feel a sense of belonging and connection to the larger team and its objectives. As leaders, this means we should invest time in listening to individuals to understand what their wants and needs are. This can feel somewhat abstract, however, Heart often manifests itself in very concrete ways. For example, a few years ago I was at a sales kickoff in Chicago and one of the participants who had traveled there from another city had a heart attack. Thankfully, colleagues were quick to react and he was taken to a hospital where he was operated on and went on to fully recover. The leaders of that function only took five minutes to agree that they would pay for his wife to travel to Chicago and stay as long as she needed. Heart is often characterized by “doing the right thing”, it is an important human element of a healthy culture. The more you treat employees as humans rather than just workers, the more valued, respected, and cared about they will feel.

The Head, Hands, and Heart model offers leaders a framework to ensure that they are addressing the different perspectives related to wellness as a whole. Within this framework, we can support each individual in finding the right balance for them and ensuring that they are rewarded and supported in a consistent and intentional way. Depending on the feedback from employees, we should keep tweaking the toolkit to ensure that we are providing the right mix of support for mental, physical, and financial health. On a practical level, that could mean increased flexibility by offering unlimited PTO and working from anywhere policies, or investing in events where the working community can come together to build friendships and create peer-to-peer networks beyond the team they work with. It can also mean offering support for non-work-related issues when employees are going through tough times in their personal lives.

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?

Wellness and productivity are actually two sides of the same coin. If the workplace is burning people out or draining their energy, then it is not contributing to productivity. Integrating wellness into the fabric of the culture not only enables people to have the resources to succeed but also helps to keep attrition lower and to attract new talent to the organization. In the long run, focusing on wellbeing is an enabler for the success of the organization. If you also think about it from the customer perspective, employees who have the energy to be responsive, creative, and fun will be much more pleasant to work with. There is a positive spiral that forms around an organization that has a generally high level of wellbeing. The energy and drive contribute to better achievements and better customer experiences, which in turn create more energy and 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?

We need to look at this question from the perspective of the individual as well as the leader. Mental health issues are deeply personal and the path to recovery can only be taken by the person themselves. As an employer, we want to invest in partnerships and programs to ensure that employees have access to mental health support when they need it. Some examples that we implement at M-Files include the Employee Assistance Program that we have in place in the US. It is 100% covered by the company and offers experienced counselors as needed by individuals. In Europe, we have the Auntie service with on-demand counselors and therapists. In Finland, we additionally offer 5–10 therapy sessions with specialized occupational psychologists, when recommended by a doctor. These investments also give us as leaders an additional toolkit. Mental health disorders often require trained professionals and we shouldn’t try to treat people ourselves. When the company has made these services available, the leader can direct their team members in the right direction to get the appropriate help.

One practical example of combining leadership with communicating a safe space and offering external support to anyone who needs it came after the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. The leadership team wanted to make sure that if anyone is experiencing sadness, anger, stress, anxiety, or other draining emotions due to the violent racism involved, they would feel safe to express those emotions at work and contact a professional counselor to discuss. A note was sent to the full US team expressing concern and sharing relevant contact information.

What we can do as leaders in our daily work is to be open about these issues and show the organization that there is no stigma or shame in having a mental health disorder. For example, anxiety and depression are commonplace and we should be open to discussing the experiences of individuals and showing support. Support can range from listening and showing compassion to actually providing professional help. For leaders who have themselves experienced mental health challenges, it can be beneficial to share those personal experiences if they are comfortable doing so. That level of authenticity will be repaid in trusting and honest relationships, where it is easier to have difficult conversations. Some leaders might feel that it is not their place to discuss or get involved in these issues. However, not acknowledging issues that nevertheless exist can make the situation worse. Being present for team members and supporting them the best we can contribute to a healthier culture. It can seem counterintuitive, but for some people, just the fact that they can express their anxiety in a real way at work serves to reduce their feeling of anxiety. Facing the facts and getting comfortable with some uncomfortable topics can take the culture to a new level of engagement and productivity. The main investment that is often needed is time.

The People & Culture team can drive programs to ensure there is enough structure, communication, and support in place around mental health. I feel lucky that whenever I have proposed a program or initiative that is targeted toward supporting mental health, it has been approved. No extensive business cases have been required, just a discussion explaining the need and how we will follow up on progress. One example of a follow-up mechanism is the M-Filer Experience Survey, which we send via Culture Amp to the organization every six months. The survey helps us stay on the pulse of the organization and gain insights into our strengths and development areas as an employer. We ask the team questions specifically regarding belonging, wellbeing, growth opportunities, and leadership. We have found that by focusing on a limited amount of topics for improvement over a period of 6–18 months, we are able to make a significant impact. For example, we saw a 20% improvement in favorable responses to the question “I have access to helpful resources for coping with stress,” between the Fall 2020 and Fall 2021 surveys due to our investment in mental health services.

The surveys might feel like a lot of work but without them we would not have a reliable way to validate if the investments that we are making are actually translating into better experiences for the team members. Investing in a tool that also provides external benchmark data has helped us evaluate what our relative strengths are in relation to other companies and what we should focus on improving.

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?

At M-Files, we view wellness as an integrated part of our culture. It includes concepts of transparency and trust, as well as allowing for flexibility and fostering a community of inclusion where we all help each other. Those are key features of our culture that we share and discuss during interviews. I believe that job applicants want to hear about these topics from team members themselves rather than through corporate messaging. Glassdoor and other similar platforms offer a glimpse into what people are experiencing. We have also recently been certified as a Great Place To Work, where 97% of employees said that M-Files is a great place to work compared to 57% of employees at a typical U.S.-based company. This is a solid reflection of how our employees feel about working at M-Files.

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: This is a complex topic and includes both work-related and non-work-related topics. I believe that we can best address mental health in the workplace by de-stigmatizing mental illnesses. Shame and discomfort around the issues can stop us from acting appropriately. At M-Files, we have launched a pilot program across Europe that provides virtual, on-demand therapists and coaches to all employees. We have promoted the service in different forums and the information is readily available via our intranet. No approvals are needed to access the service and no one in the company (even P&C) knows who is using it. We receive anonymous reports from the provider and many team members have decided to give us feedback as well. This service has had two major benefits: 1) it has allowed us to acknowledge mental health issues and speak about them openly and 2) many have shared that they have received the kind of professional support they required when they most needed it. The service is not yet available beyond Europe, but we are looking to put something similar in place for other regions as well.
  • Emotional Wellness: Emotional stress in the workplace is often related to conflicts between colleagues, employees lacking the skills to be successful in their job, or having a workload that is too heavy. We have implemented initiatives and ways of working to address each of these three topics. An example of elevating collaboration skills is the use of the Everything DiSC behavioral assessment and the related Catalyst platform. The DiSC assessment, a personality profile tool, increases our self-awareness and understanding of others’ behavior. By using this tool, we are creating a shared language around some basic preferences that people have at work that can otherwise cause confusion or conflict. More than 200 M-Filers have already shared their own profiles on the Catalyst platform, providing them with the ability to compare their own working style with the styles of their colleagues and to get tips on how to collaborate more fluently. We have also included an Emotional Intelligence module in our internal leadership training program, the Roihu Academy. This includes a 360-degree feedback analysis and personal coaching around the topic. Additionally, we have put more emphasis on prioritization and change leadership. We believe that if we lead change in ways that foster transparency, trust, and ownership, it will create an emotionally healthier working environment and ensure more manageable workloads.
  • Social Wellness: At M-Files, we have nominated a Site Executive for each location to ensure someone is looking out for our different communities around the world. Site Executives organize regular get-togethers for employees in their region across teams and functions and keep the pulse on how the team is feeling in general. We encourage teams to build a sense of community and each team manager has a budget allocated specifically for team-building activities. We also hosted in-person events as soon as it became safer to do so. Many companies have decided not to, but we decided that the risk of people not seeing others in person for an extended period of time is also considerable. All in-person events are voluntary and informational sessions are streamed and recorded. Additionally, we piloted a concept in Finland called “Cross-Team Pods” to increase personal connections across teams and ensure a better understanding of M-Files as a company. The idea is simple: we sent out an open invitation to sign up for a series of five lunch-time discussions with M-Filers from other teams. Once we had all the applications we divided them into groups of 4–6 people from different teams. Each month we send a topic for discussion and some questions to ensure the pods have a sense of security about what will be discussed. We also encourage them to go off-script and discuss any topics that are top of mind. This has been welcomed both by new and more tenured M-Filers and has effectively created new connections across teams. We intend to make this an annual program and extend it to other regions.
  • Physical Wellness: M-Files has different benefits in different countries to encourage physical wellness. In Finland, we arrange a wellness week each year. During the week we hold webinars about nutrition, sleep, and exercise, as well as arrange activities led by team members. The week finishes with “Sports Day”, where people can try different sports activities with professionals guiding and supporting them. We also support physical wellness by providing flexibility. For example, I have heard great stories of how the unlimited PTO and working from anywhere policies have allowed M-Filers to go on hikes and start new hobbies. Our CEO is a great example of making physical wellness a priority. He ran the Boston marathon this year. The message to me is that if he can find the time to exercise, then it should be possible for me as well.
  • Financial Wellness: At M-Files, we want to be one of the best places to work in the world. This includes supporting wellness in all its forms. Our main approach to financial wellness is paying our people fairly. Last year, we added a new additional bonus called “Winning Together”, which is paid to all employees except Director, VP or C- level team members when we reach our targets. We also offer voluntary stock options programs, which allow M-Filers to have a stake in the company and its future. Additionally, we offer legal services for our team in the US, which offers them legal help for personal matters such as creating a will or discussing other personal legal questions.

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?

Wellness and productivity are firmly linked to each other. Getting serious about wellness can help your team members have more energy, focus, and motivation to put into their work and their lives outside of work. The ideas above can be thought of as inspirations. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to culture. I would recommend that leaders should try to respond to the questions in this article themselves to uncover strengths and gaps in their culture. Having to stop and think about these topics from this perspective has been very helpful for me. A lot of times the most effective ideas come from the team itself and don’t require much of an investment. What they need most is for someone to own and design the implementation.

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

It’s a holistic effort — we are focusing on the Head, Hands, and Heart methods in equal measures by creating clarity about our objectives, offering coaching and training, and giving our managers the license to care. It’s funny, but you don’t really need to ask people to care about each other, it comes naturally in an environment where caring is valued.

After we started the unlimited PTO program we communicated to managers and team members that we actually want them to use it to support better work-life balance. Our managers have also been offered training specifically to ensure they have the awareness and tools to support life balance and wellness for themselves and their teams.

As most work happens virtually these days, we have also implemented some simple company-wide practices that are intended to support wellbeing. One is that we always have our cameras on in meetings with 10 people or less. The other is that we have automatic settings in Outlook that create 25 and 50-minute meetings instead of 30 and 60-minute meetings, to provide breaks between consecutive meetings. These are small examples, but they have a compounding effect as we spend so much time interacting online. Company guidelines and recommendations help managers put practices in place with their teams that improve day-to-day operations in ways that support wellbeing. Often we focus on the big-ticket items, like annual get-togethers, when the everyday experiences of team members could make more of a difference.

We also need to take care of our managers, they have a tough job and are often put between a rock and a hard place to figure things out. They are accountable for results and in some cases have limited power to make changes. In Europe, we invited all managers with more than five team members to join an in-person wellbeing seminar to discuss their own wellbeing. We had an external trainer who discussed the importance of aligning decisions with core values and making sure that there is enough balance between time at work, with friends and family, and for the managers themselves. The trainer shared about the importance of the perspective we choose and how to manage emotions that can be destructive until we learn to identify and name them. The session offered food for thought and peer-to-peer support. It also validated to the managers that we acknowledge that being a manager can be tough at times. The feedback from the managers was positive and we will continue to offer similar opportunities in the future.

Elevating leadership is an ongoing journey to increase awareness and find the right systems to support wellbeing. We will take it one step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other.

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?

The first thing I would recommend is getting to know yourself. What are your core values in life? What gives you a sense of meaning and energy? What strategies work for you when you feel stressed or overwhelmed? There are plenty of great websites, books, and videos out there to support you. I’ll mention three: “The Core — Better Life, Better Performance”, “ The Happiness Advantage” and “The Power of Now”. Each offers very practical ideas that are helpful for gaining self-awareness, control, and resilience.

For something even smaller and more immediately available, I would recommend learning how to breathe deeply and intentionally to reduce stress and increase concentration. There are plenty of breathing exercise videos online to get you started. If you feel it’s too new age for you, it might interest you to know that some of those same techniques are used by Navy Seals.

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

  1. Building Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills — For some years, progressive companies have been promoting the idea of EI as a skill that can be developed rather than an attribute we are born with. According to Daniel Goleman’s research, 80–90% of competencies that differentiate top performers are related to EI. I believe we will see a rise in focus on intentionally building EI skills as they relate to leadership, collaboration, wellness, and productivity. EI not only improves a person’s relationship with others but also enables a better understanding of oneself. This, in turn, helps to regulate emotions in more effective and healthy ways. There are already some great books, assessments, and coaches out there to support elevating EI. Companies with higher levels of EI will not only function better internally but will also have an advantage in building partnerships and customer relationships.
  2. Implementing research-based people processes — There are many common practices in the workplace that have long been questioned by behavioral and organizational research, that somehow continue to prevail. I believe there will be a tipping point when more companies start aligning their practices with what is known today about motivation, productivity, and wellness. For example, feedback has been ineffective for decades and we are still teaching the same old ways. Understanding human biases and how the brain works will offer us new approaches. This topic is expansive, but here is the very short version: on average we are wired to attribute positive outcomes to our performance and negative outcomes to external factors or bad luck. A discussion about the reasons for a negative outcome is likely to drive the feedback giver and recipient further away from each other, not closer as we would like to think. The motivational effect of giving negative feedback about past behavior is non-existent. However, future-focused feedback results in more motivation to change behavior. One reason is that we are more capable of imagining a variety of outcomes in the future, whereas discussing what could have been different in the past limits the imagination. Also, high-performing teams have a ratio of 5:1 of positive to negative feedback. To get the flywheel spinning, look for every opportunity to encourage team members and recognize strengths so that you earn the right to discuss what they should do differently going forward. Finally, for leaders to get useful feedback, they should ask for more advice. When we are asked for advice, we naturally start thinking about helpful ideas and tips, but when asked for feedback, we naturally start to evaluate performance and have a harder time thinking of useful tips to share. Feedback is just one example. We should revamp our approach to incentive programs, productivity, change resistance, and many other similar topics as well.
  3. Integrating wellbeing into everyday practices — One of the pitfalls when speaking about wellbeing and work is that we tend to focus too much on topics outside of the regular everyday workday experiences. I believe that work itself can support our wellbeing. Work gives our lives structure, motivating challenges, and a sense of achievement. Furthermore, being part of something larger than us, such as a shared target and the work community gives us a sense of purpose and belonging. As corporate culture continues to become a key factor in attracting and retaining the right talent, it will naturally guide more companies to create more healthy work environments. On a practical level, this can mean communicating an inspiring vision, having clear roles and responsibilities, acting according to shared values, focusing work to allow for more achievement, fostering a sense of community, etc. I would argue that establishing basic structures and ways of working that are conducive to wellbeing at work is the most important thing we can do as leaders to take care of our people.
  4. Destigmatizing mental illness — Not talking about something doesn’t make it disappear. Mental health issues are a reality and companies that want to foster an inclusive and safe workplace will continue to build their ability to discuss these issues and support their employees. This is likely to include general awareness building, encouraging discussions in teams, and providing individuals with the support they need.
  5. The rise of the virtual on-demand therapists and coaches (paid by employer) — On-demand virtual coaching and therapy services are likely to become a more common benefit offered by employers. This benefits the employees as they personally have access to professional support. For the employer, it is also a benefit if more team members are feeling healthy and motivated with the help of these services.

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

In my position as Chief People Officer at M-Files, I can directly impact what we as an employer offer and how we approach wellbeing. It makes me really happy and proud that when I bring these topics up to the leadership team, they are met with sincere interest and willingness to do our best for our employees. My optimism stems from my personal experiences of working with leaders who care. I hope many of my fellow People & Culture leaders are feeling it too — change happens one person and one company at a time.

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?

LinkedIn is the best channel to stay in touch with me. Feel free to connect with me and send your thoughts my way.

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