People want to be happy and we now know happiness needs to be taught. When people learn the framework for happiness they will then adopt what works for them on an individual basis whether it’s yoga or a fitness class, goal setting, better social interactions travel, or simply unbridled optimism.

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 Rob Dubin.

Rob is a serial entrepreneur who built multiple 7 figure businesses. He started his career as a film director motivating large teams to work towards a common vision on his film sets. Today he lives in the mountains of Colorado where he enjoys numerous outdoor pursuits.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I’ve started four companies and in each case I earned income for doing what I wanted to do anyway- but I never would have referred to it as work. As a professional filmmaker I got paid to travel the world making exactly the kind of films I wanted to make. I did that for 20 years and loved it for 19 1/2 of those years. When I stopped loving it- I stopped doing it. Then, at age 42 I sold my home, bought a sailboat and my wife and I spent the next 17 years sailing around the world studying human happiness and fulfillment.

While I have been an employer I am currently a solopreneur engaged in motivational speaking and corporate training on the subject of happiness and life fulfillment, or as HR prefers to call it — wellness.

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 is a poor word since we don’t share a common definition for it. Especially when we refer to mental wellness. If I said I want to achieve mental wellness- what is that? Is it the absence of mental illness, the opposite of mental illness? Is it one step above needing counseling?

I use the term happiness, because that describes the outcome of thriving mentally. It may be a bit soft or fuzzy and sound like it does not belong in a business environment but we can all understand it and most of us want more of it.

When it comes to physical and financial health we spend our energy, resources and particularly our focus on getting to the positive side of those attributes- more health and more wealth.

When it comes to mental health our focus is the opposite- we focus on mentally unhealthy- dealing with depression, having counseling available for those that need it, etc. What if we also put our focus on the positive side of mental health like we do for physical and financial health- helping people be as happy and thriving and fulfilled as possible?

The Harvard Business Review article you cited specifically mentions that only 40% of employees took advantage of programs offering “wellness.” If you ask people if they want to improve their “metal wellness” you will probably get a shrug. If you ask people if they would like to be “happier” you will get significantly more buy in.

As to the second part of the question on measuring wellness. This should not be 1–10 on some arbitrary scale, it should be outcome driven. The outcome would be a more fulfilling life for the employee which will result in better employee engagement and retention and increased profitability for the organization.

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 ample data to show the effect of happy employees on a companies’ bottom line- here are a few statistics from just one source. There are dozens of studies that show wellness pays.

  • Companies with happy employees outperform their competition by 20%.
  • Happy salespeople produce 37% greater sales.
  • Engaged teams generate 21% more profit than disengaged ones.
  • Employers who increase their employees’ engagement by 10% can boost profits by $2,400 per employee a year.
  • Actively disengaged workers cost the U.S. upwards of $550 billion in lost productivity per year.
  • A highly engaged workforce is 59% less likely to find a new job at a different company.

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?

Humans in general resist change. Organizations run by humans are no different.

If you suggested remote work as a wellness incentive pre pandemic most employers would have, as you put it- been stuck between intention and impact. Now allowing remote work is mandatory if you want to attract the best talent. So the change to remote has been forced on employers, but most found out to their surprise that productivity went up.

I believe the majority of the coming changes may follow that pattern. Employees with increased leverage will force change, the change makes the employee happier and healthier and so increased profits follow. Most of these programs will be a win- win because every metric shows happier and healthier employees increase profits.

Some organizations will be dragged forward kicking and screaming while others will quickly embrace new paradigms. As always those who change first will be the economic winners.

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?

I believe the new norm is going to be employers focused on helping employees be happy fulfilled human beings — not just 9–5 but in all aspects of life. Employers are going to be vested in helping their people find happiness and that is the kind of culture that keeps talent, attracts talent and has your employees being your best recruiters.

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.

The initiatives you mention to combat burnout are important but they treat the symptom not the disease. PTO can reduce stress and burnout, but why let the situation get to that point at all? The diseases causing burnout are unhappiness, pessimism and negativity. If you can move someone from seeing the glass as half empty to seeing it as half full they begin to think differently. When they think differently the situations causing the stress change from mountains to molehills. The positive thinker then find inside themselves resiliency which is the antidote to burnout. And unlike the temporary fix of PTO this resilience lasts and gets stronger over time.

It is also important to recognize burnout is not the only problem. What’s being called “Covid Clarity” is perhaps causing more disengagement and resignations. That is the millions of workers who examined their lives and recognized; I graduated college, got a good job, have an OK boss, an OK salary, an OK home life, OK physical and financial health- so why am I not happier?

They’ve resigned by the millions and yet their concerns don’t show up on engagement surveys or exit interviews. The point is people now want more than OK, and especially younger workers. They want happy, fulfilling lives.

The disconnect is we thought happiness happened when we checked the right boxes. In fact happiness needs to be taught- just like learning a new sport, playing an instrument or the many other things we took a course to learn. The application of training based on positive psychology and neruo-linguistic programming is well proven and can have huge impacts in all the areas of wellness, not just the few mentioned in your questions.

The Happiness Studies course at Harvard is relatively new and yet is the most popular course in the history of Harvard University. Eventually happiness studies courses will be more mainstream but until universities catch up, organizations need to be proactive in teaching their employees the skills and methods of how to be happy.

There are various frameworks for teaching happiness and getting to the outcome of thriving humans. The five criteria you have mentioned below are only part of the picture; there also needs to be focus on cultivating optimism, rewriting your personal story, positive self image, gratitude, contribution, goal setting, living in the present, combatting anxiety and worry, breaking through fear and more. The only really successful approach for moving people from disengagement and dissatisfaction with their lives to happiness and thriving will be a holistic approach to the multitude of elements that make up happiness.

Mental Wellness:

People who have serious trauma in their past or diagnosed mental health issues of course need to be provided professional mental health resources. Most of us may not need professional counseling yet are nevertheless carrying some sort of trauma, childhood stories or experiences that hinder us. Happiness training helps people rewrite those past traumas so we carry the life lessons forward without carrying the pain. This turns a lesson that hinders someone into one that provides rocket fuel for their future.

Emotional Wellness:

The reality of our lives is not what actually happens to us- but how we think about what happens to us. How you think about the way your boss treats you is ultimately more important than what they actually do. Happy optimistic people actually think differently than unhappy people. People who see the glass as half full respond differently to stress than those that see the glass as half empty. Optimistic people have significantly more ability to be resilient and resiliency is a key antidote to burnout.

Social Wellness:

Extensive research over 30 years shows significant correlation between happiness and strong personal relationships. Happy people consistently display more and stronger relationships in the workplace and outside of the workplace. Almost every workplace satisfaction survey confirms employees are both more engaged and less likely to leave a job where they have close friends in their workplace.

Physical Wellness:

Better physical health contributes in so many ways. Fewer sick days, more productivity, and it contributes to happiness and improved mental health. This has been the low hanging fruit of wellness for years and many companies already have successful programs to promote physical health.

Financial Wellness:

One of the huge failings of our school system is the lack of instruction in basic finances. It is a travesty that millions of people were taught trigonometry instead of how to balance a household budget or the value of investing. Until this is remedied corporations should invest in teaching their employees personal financial skills. Thriving financially regardless of your salary level is one way to reduce stress.

A Major Caveat

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the key researchers in the field of happiness says the circumstances of our life only account for 10% of our happiness. That means your job, your boss, your health, your finances all combined only account for 10% of your happiness or mental wellness level. Wellness efforts that focus on those areas exclusively are missing the major opportunity to create happier more engaged employees and the outcomes organizations want. If organizations implement efforts in just those areas they will likely be unsuccessful and disappointed.

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?

Preservation of organizational memory.
A new threat given the domino effect of resignations among baby boomers with decades on the job is loss of so many employees in one department that organizational memory is lost. So employee retention becomes even more important. Increased productivity, creativity, sales, and retention have all been well documented for years, as has SHRM data on the costs of replacing employees.

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

Leaders need to sincerely care about their teams’ whole lives, it can’t be faked. They need more than typical leadership training, as they need to themselves be able to reach physical, financial and happiness goals. They need to themselves have high levels of well being.

One exercise I do in the course I teach is Dream Harvesting, where each person creates a list of both personal and career dreams and goals and co-workers get invested in each others goals. Leaders invested in their team members deeply held goals is a game changer for engagement.

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 simplest idea to implement is a gratitude practice where towards the end of each day you sit down and write 6 things you are grateful for that day. They could be very simple things- your favorite song came on the radio, you closed a new sale, your suggestions got recognition in a team meeting, whatever. It may only take a minute to write all 6 but you then need to spend 5 full minutes thinking about your list and getting in touch with why you are grateful for each one. Do this EVERY DAY for a month. This simple 5 minute practice can be life changing.

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

  1. Focus is shifting to employees’ whole life satisfaction not just the 9–5 portion of their lives.

Engagement surveys should be not just be asking are you happy at work, but also are you happy in life? This kind of data and ROI numbers are going to be important to drive C-suite buy in to the importance of worker well being. Employee well being is going to be not just an HR concern but a top down company wide effort. Employee wellness will move from being a slogan or benefit to becoming an organizational strategy.

2. Remote work is obviously here to stay and a corollary trend will be overall increased job flexibility. Job sharing will be more common along with employees having flexibility to design their jobs so they do more of the tasks they enjoy and fewer of the tasks they don’t enjoy. Also designing jobs so employees have several months at a time off for travel, family time and life experiences that matter to them.

3. Tech that helps workers disengage and d- stress is going to be more widely used. Telemedicine, health monitoring, apps that monitor your voice and detect stress, apps that block work emails when you are off will all get more acceptance. There will be some shift away from cultures that expect you to be always available.

4. Self directed well being options will come into play. Just as some companies now offer a use it or lose it health stipend where an employee has X dollars to use on running shoes or a massage or fitness experience, organizations will expand their ideas of what and how employees can spend time and benefits money towards.

5. The key trend is going to be a holistic approach to happiness and sincere effort to creating thriving humans. If organizations get overly narrow and prescriptive in their approach they will fail- taco Tuesday, yoga, massage chairs have all had low long term utilization.

People want to be happy and we now know happiness needs to be taught. When people learn the framework for happiness they will then adopt what works for them on an individual basis whether it’s yoga or a fitness class, goal setting, better social interactions travel, or simply unbridled optimism.

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

I think the silver lining in the pandemic is that millions more people are now looking for personal happiness. If they get help finding it from their current employer they will stay on the job, if not they will find it with the next employer. If millions more happy fulfilled humans is the new norm we all benefit.

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?

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