Prioritizing transparency around wellness and what it means. Employees should be able to have open conversations with one another and their managers when they’re feeling emotionally, socially, physically or mentally unwell.
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 Samantha Anderl.
Samantha Anderl is co-founder of Harlow, an all-in-one freelance tool to help solopreneurs manage their business and reduce stress. She and her co-founder Andrea Wildt are focused on building a calm and flexible company that is focused on humans above all else. As former marketing execs and freelancers themselves, they built Harlow because they value balance and autonomy and want to help others find it.
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.
Before I left the corporate world to freelance and before Harlow was even a thought, I was swiftly moving up the corporate ladder. I had gone from being an individual contributor to a Head of a department quicker than most. I was constantly taking on more work, saying yes to projects, and doing everything in my power to push our business forward.
Even though I worked from home, and most people viewed that as synonymous with having a flexible schedule, that was far from the truth. As time went on I was working with teams across the globe. We had teams in California, New York, Sydney, London, the Philippines, etc. I often found my first meeting starting at 7 am and my last ending past 7 pm.
When the business started going through a major shift and merger, I had an aha moment that even though this transition was leading to a title bump and salary raise for me, it would mean even more work, longer hours, and getting to know and work with an entirely new team.
At the very same time, a lot of my core team was either pushed out, let go, or left on their own accord. All of this together was sending me major red flags, but I didn’t know how to see or listen to those red flags at the time.
At one point, a colleague, whom I respected, and I were chatting, and he was asking me about my next steps. I told him that I couldn’t leave because I’d feel terrible leaving the company in a bad spot.
He said one simple phrase to me — “Don’t be a martyr to your job.” That hit hard.
I was being a martyr.
I was giving more energy than I had to this job.
I was doing everything in my power to keep things afloat even though I saw people around me not being treated with respect or experiencing the same stress I was.
I decided at that point that constant stress didn’t have to be and shouldn’t be a part of the job. It was at that moment that I took the time to reflect on what I truly wanted in my career.
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?
At Harlow, we think wellness comes from having more control over your path and schedule. We believe that we’re all better and more creative when we’re living well-balanced lives.
We believe that employees feel best when they have more autonomy.
This allows employees to focus on the things that matter when they matter. Therapy, family life, time with friends, self-care, and physical activity isn’t meant to only be focused on after 5 pm or before 9 am.
We plan to measure wellness through surveys and regular employee feedback.
Our company and wellness policies should be ever-expanding to account for the newest needs of our employees.
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’re still in the early stages of building Harlow and our team is small, so we don’t have any quantifiable data on how building or transitioning to a well workforce impacts productivity and profitability.
What I do know is that our team shows up every day with less stress and more openness and transparency than I’ve ever seen or experienced with a team.
If something feels heavy and we need to take personal space, we voice it.
If we’re feeling extra motivated and ready to hit the ground running, we voice it.
We give each other space to embrace the good, the bad, the unproductive moments, and the motivated dashes.
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?
Like I said earlier we believe that employees are more creative, inspired and productive when they are well-rested and happy.
In order to have employees be productive, we must prioritize the programs, processes and schedules that enable them to be their most creative and inspired self.
And at Harlow we don’t think that investment necessarily has to be monetary.
We’re not yet in a position where we can do that, but what we can do is encourage our employees to take time when they need to rest, recover and focus on themselves, and create an environment that encourages that.
We can provide resources, share articles, podcasts and apps.
And we can listen.
We can take the feedback from our employees and continuously improve.
There’s no excuse to not implement the non-monetary steps toward wellness.
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 highlight the way we work above almost anything else in our job descriptions.
Our values come first.
We believe in building a company that respects individual needs. We’re all humans with lives outside of work.
In every interview, we make sure to go through our company policies and give the potential employee a transparent and thorough view of what it means to work at Harlow.
Keeping the right working environment takes a tops-down approach to wellness, but also requires that we bring on individuals who align and want to work the way we do.
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:
- Emotional Wellness:
- Social Wellness:
- Physical Wellness:
- Financial Wellness:
A few of our policies connect to multiple categories.
- Meeting free days — Every tuesday, thursday and friday afternoon are meeting free. That means every employee has these days to choose between executing on work, taking care of personal matters, reaching out and connecting with friends — whatever feels best to them! It inspires more mental, emotional, social and physical freedom when we’re not trying to stuff personal items in-between meetings.
- Thoughtful meeting scheduling — We ask that all employees check in with their teammates before putting a meeting on their calendar to make sure they have the space and availability to have that discussion. This allows employees to be more in control of their own bandwidth — socially, emotionally, mentally. It also encourages employees to consider if the conversation could occur async rather than in a meeting. We’re big fans of using loom & slack audio recordings to communicate with each other. This reduces the number of meetings which tends to be an energy suck for most people. It also provides a more level playing field for people to involve themselves in company decisions, instead of defaulting to the most senior person in the room.
- Work from home stipends — Each new employee gets a $1000 stipend to spend on whatever makes their environment feel most calm and comfortable. This can be used for things like office chairs and equipment or candles and meditation apps. Whatever someone needs to spruce up their space and inspire creativity. This also applies across categories by giving them freedom to spend these dollars on emotional, physical or mental wellness items.
- Flexible working hours. We don’t require employees to be on their computer from 9–5. We just require that they get their work done. While there are specific times people will need to be online and available for meetings, we try to be respectful of the fact that some people may work best early in the morning, while others may be night owls. The traditional 9–5 isn’t the way we thrive as founders, and we don’t want to force that on our teammates.
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?
I think meeting free days is one of the biggest requests we’ve heard from employees at companies of all sizes and those who work for themselves.
The more freedom you can put into the employee’s hand, and the less you’re asking them to react in real-time, the happier they’ll be.
Start with one or two days a week and then see if you can grow from there.
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
Right now leadership is still in the hands of Andrea and I — the two co-founders of the company, so it’s easy for us to stay aligned on what we’re trying to build and accomplish. That being said, we’re constantly looking at how other small companies are structuring their organizations and discussing what approaches would work well for us. We’re also incredibly open to feedback from our employees and the freelancers that work with us.
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?
Start by making a list of the things that you value, the things that make you feel happy, well, motivated, etc. Then start to figure out how you can turn your list into company values and policies.
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
- More employee freedom. Less micromanaging and more coaching and listening to how and when each individual employee works best.
- Less urgency in employee’s day to day lives. More calm work environments and leaders that don’t make employees feel like everything is urgent and a top priority. This will help remove that physical tension that employees get when they feel like they always need to be on.
- No more 9–5. We don’t believe in forcing ourselves into the traditional 9–5 work environment where we are required to sit in front of a computer 8+ hrs a day.
- Fewer meetings. Meetings often can come from habit. Companies and employees should think harder about whether meetings are necessary or if things can be done async. We were inspired to make this a core value after watching this video of Subscript founder Michelle Lee discuss the benefits of no meetings, and once we started to implement these practices, we saw the same.
- Prioritizing transparency around wellness and what it means. Employees should be able to have open conversations with one another and their managers when they’re feeling emotionally, socially, physically or mentally unwell.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
More power than ever is in the employee’s hands. More and more people are demanding accountability and better working environments from companies, which will inspire change if they want to retain and hire new employees.
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?
You can follow me on social where I regularly discuss the future of work, wellness, balance, entrepreneurship and more:
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.