Financial wellness will be important. With the looming recession, price increase and job cuts, there is a genuine need to secure the financial well-being of employees, and provide schemes/options that not only help employees maintain a safety net but also equip them to make smart investments for the future. Employers could come under pressure to introduce innovative financial benefits as part of their compensation package to attract the right talent. Personally, I think access to financial advisors will be a great thing to democratize.

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 Saniya Sharma.

Saniya Sharma is a London based lawyer with a passion for and a keen interest in human behaviour. In 2022, she launched her project Peoplenovate, an online platform that seeks to celebrate “being human” at workplace by framing people centric issues, reviewing existing literature, challenging assumptions and providing solutions — through blogs and storytelling. The goal of Peoplenovate is to help organisations unlock their people power and support employees in their journey to realising their full potential.

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 have always had this push to achieve, which naturally wired me towards embracing “continuous grind” as the normal state of being. I shined academically in school, in law school and then I joined one of the world’s biggest law firms. The grind continued until one day when I noticed my body reacting in odd ways. Those days multiplied gradually, but because my training was to be a Standford Duck, I initially continued grinding despite all discomfort. I would have continued this way, had it not been for what honestly I think was a divine intervention of sorts that gave me the courage to take a break and prioritise my well-being.

Post self-reflection, I realised that my education didn’t prepare me to create a fulfilling and sustainable relationship with my ambitions and work. As an example, my pre-dominant attachment mode with work was one based on fear, the need to be perfect and to brave it all by myself. A number of courses, books and articles have taught me how my thinking was flawed — that work must and can be something that contributes to my well-being and regenerates me.

During my break, I have focused on developing a positive relationship with the idea of going to work and my personal ambitions. I have created an identity outside my work — my voice, which is my website. The great thing about this is that I feel very grounded in my values, which has given me my personalized north star and sparked a whole lot of positive emotions. I have learnt to respect the needs of my body and mind, which holds priority today in my life. I wasn’t trained to do that, but shifting my mindset has brought me much happiness and contentment. It has also ignited a deep passion within me to contribute in this space because how our work makes us feel on an everyday basis truly matters.

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 project define wellness, and how does your project measure wellness?

For me, wellness is a state of feeling productive (mentally and physically), valued and connected (emotionally) and secure and well-equipped (financially). A culture of wellness for me then is one where, as many authors suggest, employees “feel taken care” of and motivated to “take care” of their colleagues. If one were to translate this into action points, it would mean being comfortable asking for support, knowing that support will be available and that the support provided will match one’s individual needs at any given point in time.

There is no straightforward formula to measure wellness, which is always the leading issue when it comes to rolling out wellness programs. I think it makes sense to measure it as the overall mood and state of being at workplace, on a consistent basis. My personal test is: Am I feeling happy and fulfilled?

I have always had this idea of installing mood meters/indicators in departments such that they are visible to everyone. Surveys can be used to inform how the team is feeling as a whole — happy (sunny), gloomy (cloudy) or miserable (tundra).

Based on your experience or research, how do you think organizations can correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on their organization’s productivity and profitability?

I have identified four key methods that can help us measure the impact of well workforce on an organisation’s productivity and profitability, which I call the SMART method:

  1. Survey: We can ask employees and team leaders if there has been a change in individual/team productivity post roll out of a targeted employee well being program. There is no better way of assessing impact than hearing the unfiltered voice of those affected.
  2. Measure: We can calculate the revenue increase since the date of wellness program roll out. This activity can yield clearer results when performed over a period of time and compared against historic trend. We can also go one step further and divide the increase in revenue by the cost of wellness program roll out.
  3. Assess: We can monitor employee behaviors and moods during the course of any wellness program roll out. Positive behavioral changes are often the stepping stone to inclusivity and increase in productivity.
  4. Record: It is sensible to record and analyse the themes that emerge in exit interviews, which give a good insight into people’s reasons for leaving.
  5. Track: We can measure employee turnovers, sick leaves, cost incurred in medical insurance claims before and after wellness program roll out to spot differences.

Organizations may find themselves frustrated if they rely solely on broad/blanket wellness program roll outs to drive results, which can often take time. A good way to build up organizational momentum could be to roll out focused interventions, be clear about the goal one wishes to achieve and measure focused outcomes. Small wins can inspire confidence in bigger programs.

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?

First, there is the point of principle and overriding social and moral responsibility to provide a regenerative and psychologically safe space for employees. Investment in employee wellness is about valuing and securing the life and livelihoods of those that ultimately bring profits to the business. I think that is a worthwhile cause in itself.

Second, there are ways to measure impact and collect evidence, as discussed in the previous question.

Third, leaders can educate themselves with the vast literature available on how focus on employee wellness has transformed workplaces and driven positive changes when it comes to driving profit, culture, retention, innovation and creating inclusive cultures. I have personally found many articles very thought provoking.

With the rise in technological advancements and stellar innovations, most of the work we do is going to get automated. What is going to attract and retain employees in a particular organization? I think the USP will be the employee experience and the culture that an organisation has to offer.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How can organisations incorporate wellness programs into their talent recruitment and hiring processes?

There are a few ways to reflect wellness programs in talent recruitment and hiring processes:

  1. Improving job descriptions: The role description can focus not just on the technical expertise that is required, but also the positive behaviors that are encouraged and expected at workplace.
  2. Wellness package: I would certainly find it helpful if an employer presents to me graphically what my wellness trajectory in their organisation is going to look like. A snapshot of tangible benefits that show how my wellness will increase in an organisation should I join it will certainly help me in making an informed choice.
  3. Mission Statements: I think it is sensible to express what is on offer, not just in term of tangible benefits but as an environment on the whole. One of the best mission statements I have seen recently is that of a leading charity which clearly outlines what it is like to work in their organisation, and what it is not like. This shows an employee the types of behaviours and values that will be encouraged (e.g, collaboration, growth, support) and those that won’t be tolerated (e.g., defensiveness, apathy etc). It is a good way to figure out early if an employee would be the right fit for an organisation.

How can organizations reskill leaders to support a “Work Well” culture?

If the mission is to enable leaders to create a “Work Well” culture, organizations must first support the wellness of their leaders. The stress and isolation at the top of the ladder needs to be reduced to provide leaders the space and mental bandwidth to support employees below them.

Second, it will be helpful if leaders are aware about the core values underlying employee wellness programs and how they tie to and drive business objectives. I definitely think that leaders who demonstrate commitment to a “Work Well” culture should be rewarded on a consistent basis.

Third, it is important to equip leaders with the skills needed to promote wellness. From my personal experience and research, skills such as active listening, compassion, empathy and appreciation of differences have helped in understanding people around me and responding to their needs. As to how such skills should be taught, my preference would be organising a mix of online training and workshops where these skills are dissected and put to test.

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?

I am a big believer in the power of stories. My suggestion would therefore be: what if, we tried to understand the stories of those around us better? What is the story of my office colleague? What are the challenges my boss is facing? What are an indvidual’s strengths? Is my colleague struggling with anything? I have noticed that when I think like this, I focus more on showing care and support to those around me, which naturally creates a ripple effect.

I think we can definitely transform a lot of our relationships if we started focusing on each other’s strengths more often, rather than nitpicking on weaknesses.

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

  1. The focus on workplace connections is set to increase.

With hybrid working here to stay, there is a need to provide workers with a sense of community and belonging, reduce isolation and increase engagement at workplace. As per the 2022 Workforce Purpose Index, there is a large gap in supportive and purpose generating relationships at workplace. There is a need to put in place initiatives, trainings and/or systems that maintain an inclusive culture and provide employees opportunities and skills to develop strong workplace connections.

2. Mental Health will be a priority

A report by Wellable Labs notes that mental health and access to healthcare is set to be a top concern for many companies in 2023. The increase in burn-out rates and stress makes it necessary to provide psychologically safe spaces to employees (both within and outside workplace) where they can embrace “being human”, without fearing judgment, penalty or isolation. I think there is an increasing recognition of the fact that one size does not fit all, and flexibility at workplace means different things for different people.

3. There will be a need to make work culture support and value oriented.

If the “great resignation” and “quiet quitting” figures are anything to go by, it is evident that a large percentage of people feel disengaged, unfulfilled and stressed out at workplace. From my own personal experience, resilience and stress management are skills that can genuinely save lives. Workplace can certainly help employees on this front, for instance by introducing purpose in business, providing focused trainings and putting in place mentorship initiatives that help employees navigate the workplace confidently.

4. Financial wellness will be important.

With the looming recession, price increase and job cuts, there is a genuine need to secure the financial well-being of employees, and provide schemes/options that not only help employees maintain a safety net but also equip them to make smart investments for the future. Employers could come under pressure to introduce innovative financial benefits as part of their compensation package to attract the right talent. Personally, I think access to financial advisors will be a great thing to democratize.

5. Renewed focus on people innovation.

A supportive, dignified and caring work culture allows employees to maximise the chances of realising their potential — be it by being more productive, creative or innovative. As more leaders realise this, we will hopefully see organisations focus on driving change through investment in people (as opposed to investing solely in technology). A good example is the inclination shown by some companies (including law firms) to adopt a skills based framework to match the right employee with the right role, in order to capitalise on the strengths of their people. It will be interesting to see how different companies “peoplenovate” in 2023, and set their employees up for success.

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

The plethora of opportunities available to people today to go independent or explore different career options have created a real need to focus on employee wellbeing, if organisations are keen to retain the best talent or distinguish themselves in the market. As more people talk about wellness and prioritize work-life balance and their overall happiness, I am optimistic about wellness becoming a key priority in organisations.

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?

They should keep reading the content on my website. If they want to get in touch with me, they can drop a line at my project id — [email protected] or DM me on LinkedIn.

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