Companies will explore flexible work arrangements that integrate wellness initiatives. They can provide custom classes and services that cater to their organization’s interests. For example, one month there are on-site yoga classes hosted every week while another month there are nutritionists visiting on-site to provide counseling to members who sign up for the perk.
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 Sasha Laghonh.
Sasha is the Founder of Sasha Talks, an educational and entertainment platform that integrates self & professional development into nurturing meaningful outcomes. As a speaker, mentor and author, she partners alongside clients, from individuals to organizations, to capitalize upon their talent. Through her work as a strategist, speaker, and author Sasha strives to make a real difference to every aspect of her clients’ goals. Learn more at www.sashatalks.com.
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 been working since a young age entertaining professional opportunities for development and reward. I was accustomed to being booked for engagements during my academic and early professional years which left one with no imagination since everything in my diary had a purpose with a predictable timetable. I knew where I had to be, whom I was spending time with, for how long and the obligations I had to honor. When that pattern continues into adulthood it slowly starts to take a toll on the mind and body. How I was interpreting life around me started to shift to the point I was starting to suffocate myself with mental battles that didn’t exist. My body started to fight back by shutting down! When one is functioning at 150 mph, then coming to an abrupt halt at 0 mph — it’s not a shock to the body but definitely to one’s mind and heart. The body knows when to break up with you if you ignore the symptoms along the way. My body had spoken and I was finally ready to listen. I needed to reevaluate whether I was putting pressure on myself, or whether the regimen I was conditioned to adhere to was no longer working with my core being. After working through burnout in my early 20s and seeking counseling in stress management, I promised myself that I would not reach such a sensitive juncture again. I’ve kept my word. If I catch myself making decisions or exhibiting symptoms that may lure me back in time, I know to immediately change course and continue forward. My relationship with work is healthy and balanced. Balance is a touchy concept because balance doesn’t always mean 50/50, it is determined by the context of the relationship. When I’m productive at work, other parts of my life flow better. I take pride in my work; at the same time it’s work that I’ve chosen based on priorities that resonate with me at a given moment in my life and career path. If the decision doesn’t align with my optimal self, I am not ashamed to rectify the decision by modifying my choices. We all get one body and one life. No one is responsible for our well-being but ourselves. Many people host a negative relationship with work that they project onto others. I’m grateful for the work I do because it’s truly an investment that can’t be feigned emotionally, mentally or physically. Quality of life takes work. It comes down to knowing yourself well and integrating that into your life plan. Work can nourish us but it can also destroy us. This is why it’s important to pay attention to our mental and emotional investments before making decisions that demand our bandwidth.
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 one’s overall ability to operate well mentally, emotionally and physically in alignment to yield financial health which contributes to quality of life. We don’t have isolated wellness metrics in place other than personality and performance assessments that take wellness into consideration. It’s not possible to be hosting substandard health long term and hitting home runs in other areas of life. Sooner or later our deficiencies in the health and wellness arena start to bleed into other parts of our lives regardless of our man-made status and identities. Wellness is a human condition needed to survive day to day. Wellness can be measured based on an individual’s attendance record, performance and organizational culture to name a few. There are several variables that each member contributes to paint an organizational picture defining their strengths and weaknesses. There are some organizations that provide stipends for wellness plans that range from gym memberships to nutrition counseling, i.e. More companies are paying attention to the type of candidates they hire because credentials can get you only so far but if one lacks the healthy personality, healthy mindset and healthy lifestyle choices — it can make or break a company’s culture when toxicity enters the picture. This goes beyond the physical form. Some people interpret wellness measures to be shallow or superficial, when in fact research and studies prove that healthy employees perform better by improving morale and encouraging others to embrace a positive lifestyle. Executives that fail to understand the mission of what they’re selling and why they are selling to specific market audiences struggle with leading their staff. Credibility is discounted when executives fail to align their staff to exhibit the healthy and positive organizational qualities as part of their selling strategy. Wellness is not a situational metric which can be turned on and off like a light switch. It’s a lifestyle. For example, if an executive is selling a certain type of lifestyle in their message, then managing a group of unhealthy and toxic personalities within their brand isn’t going to convince me to purchase any of their services. When such executives stop trying at their job, it’s only a matter of time complacency and lack of self-care kicks in. Hypothetically, selling strategies that worked well in 1959 do not align well in 2022. Effort takes risk, it’s not a secret. Risks come with their rewards so to offset risk it’s better to invest in wellness sooner than later. Wellness in most industries is the underlying theme for what most organizations sell in the market. It may be a layered dormant theme but most products and services sold in the market ultimately want to enhance one’s lifestyle & wellness. For example, companies in the financial services sector are selling the literal and metaphorical idea of security — financial security harmonizing with emotional and mental security. Having poor finances will sooner or later have an impact on one’s health. How many people can sleep like a baby when they know they are one paycheck away from losing everything? There’s no room for myopia when it comes to wellness — we all learn at a different pace. It comes down to education, communication and exploring avenues that encourage people to become better for their sake not others. One can only lead by example. This is where all leaders, with and without titles, can elevate their game by participating in a healthy life & wellness regimen. We need to recognize that self care is also a form of self respect.
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?
I believe when people are functioning optimally well, they focus and produce better thus enhancing their individual and organizational performance. This leads to less sick days, better organizational culture and morale. Also organizations invest in tools and services that educate employees how to take better care of themselves. It’s important for people to learn how to cultivate their own happiness rather than rely on third parties, including their employer, to nourish their well-being. I’ve seen multi-million and billion dollar corporations stressing the work/life balance theme into their daily operations. It’s real and happening in the market. If employees are working overtime or seen extending themselves at work, it is noticed and questioned whether healthy work practices are overlooked by managers and executives. Such scrutiny does exist because it takes a village to produce great results at such high performing organizations. People are human, they are apt to become sick but it shouldn’t be because of work itself or toxic environments.
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?
This is a tricky predicament for some executives to face because most companies would rather pocket their profits instead of making an investment in something which some perceive to be an individual’s responsibility and not the employer’s. Since the majority of people invest their time at work, it makes sense to consider some degree of investment to enhance wellness among the staff. There can be beta testing done by conducting a trial of resources that employees respond to and apply with a healthy performance metric. Every place I’ve frequented that invested in their employees had a higher job satisfaction index with more content employees wanting to explore more performance opportunities. The latter places also provided a mature work flexibility option that allowed employees to take better care of themselves and their families. I’ve witnessed a few rare cases where people were disengaged in certain work environments because employers hosted bad hires to begin with for multiple reasons — this was unfortunately due to discriminatory practices, poor leadership and defunct human resources that were propped up for the optics but in reality non-existent. This is why having qualified leadership is necessary to implement these changes. Not all executives are leaders, some make great managers who can benefit from visionary leaders on their staff that can educate and sell ‘wellness’ initiatives to their members. From personal experiences, I’ve aligned exceptionally well collaborating with executives who practiced wellness in their lives because there’s a certain type of respect that is extended and received in knowing what an investment it takes for us to function well as individuals. These practices are conveyed through how they think, how they speak, how they work and how they make their day-to-day lifestyle choices. The “how” dictates the “how well” they perform over time.
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?
It’s important to us that candidates know themselves well enough to host a healthy perspective on what matters to them most. It’s more important they have interests and wellness measures in place to offset the stresses of life & work. If all they do is eat, breathe and “work-speak”, then it’s not a healthy mindset. There’s a difference between being ambitious and a competent performer vs. a workbody with limited channels for engagement. I’m always interested in learning what social and life activities keep people sane, what recommendations they have for me and how they have reached such recommendations. Organic conversations provide more insights rather than asking generic questions that limit the ability for one to express their life outlook. Good people can’t hide their positivity even if they try. They start talking about their regimen without being asked about it. Oftentimes they’ll reference it in conversation.
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: Health is not a negotiable asset. Our mind is with us 365/24/7. We need to show it some love.
- Emotional Wellness: When the mind and body are out of alignment. It’s only a matter of time when emotions need attention. The mind, heart and body work in unison. Don’t abandon any one of them.
- Social Wellness: It’s important to have social outlets for creative expression and growth.
- Physical Wellness: Without health, you are nothing. Take my word for it. I’ve learned this the hard way.
- Financial Wellness: I didn’t realize health and financial health go hand in hand until I heard James Arthur Ray speak at one of his Harmonic Wealth events around 2008. I’ve learned with time, health and financial wellness go hand in hand. When things go well, it shows in our health. When things go wrong, it shows in our health.
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?
Topically speaking, organizations can explore apps that provide therapy, wellness and meditation channels. For example, I’ve recently contributed my insights to Five Minutes for Me, an app that provides sound guidance on wellness & lifestyle productivity. There are affordable and timely resources that can educate employees how to take care of their mind, body, emotions, time and resources. Some companies hire niche speakers to provide educational talks on financial management, professional development, work / life balance and topics that resonate with their audiences. Other entities provide health & wellness stipends which are linked to certain brands pertaining to gyms and food preparation services. Then there are companies, contingent upon their size, hosting an in-house chef that prepares healthy menus for employees to enjoy during daily engagements, including catering services for special events. Wellness comes in different forms for different people. There are some companies very limited in their offerings, instead they offer one Friday as paid time off every month to their employees. This is separate from offering paid time off to members for volunteer days which are invested to perform social service for good causes. The latter also contributes to nurturing wellness by paying good-will forward while bonding with others for a good cause.
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
In our case, we’re fortunate we’re on the same page when it comes to enforcing wellness initiatives. Our approach may vary but we’re all on board. We have personal experiences that have molded our outlook towards this topic. People want to be treated like human beings and not machines. There’s no reward for rushing through life and not remembering any milestones along the way. We want to make each memory count for the right reasons.
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?
Baby steps will lead to true progress. Be patient with yourselves as these initiatives are rolled out. I’ve learned through trial and error that being patient with ourselves yields higher rewards long term. Refrain from getting a bullhorn to announce these initiatives which may trigger more stress rather than mitigate it as employees adjust to new ideas being implemented for their benefit. Craft a communications strategy that provides a transparent plan on how these wellness initiatives will be rolled out. Include the basic information along with FAQs that can start a healthy conversation between the leadership and staff. Pivot as changes are needed, remain flexible and open to learning from one another. Make sure the communications strategy entails a mix of emails, video and live engagement. People need to be heard and seen to experience wellness too. It’s important they witness “wellness come to life” rather than a predictable email greeting them in the inbox.
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
- More employers will start integrating a “Wellness Budget” into their annual planning. Instead of excessive happy hours, it’s time to find creative ways of self-care and bonding that benefits organizational performance and bottom line ROI.
- Hiring new candidates in the workplace will entail more screening measures. This goes beyond technical interviews, personality assessments, take home cases and exploring lifestyle habits. A positive workplace benefits from panel interviews as a starter to learn about their candidates and understanding how their personality & habits can positively (or) negatively impact their existing work culture.
- Companies will explore flexible work arrangements that integrate wellness initiatives. They can provide custom classes and services that cater to their organization’s interests. For example, one month there are on-site yoga classes hosted every week while another month there are nutritionists visiting on-site to provide counseling to members who sign up for the perk.
- Organizations serious about their wellness initiative will invest more money in Flexing Spending Arrangements (FSA) and Health Saving Accounts (HSA).
- Some companies need to revisit their health insurance plans rather than focusing on supplemental initiatives. It’s important employers offering health insurance to employees are choosing the right core benefits to address basic health needs prior to expanding their supplemental wellness benefits. We need to revisit our core health before worrying about the wellness frills because not everyone has the privilege of affording insurance. Decision makers need to remain mindful of this reality.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
Organizations making an effort to better understand how wellness is a top priority to perform well in the long term. This will help with employee satisfaction and employee retention strategies too.
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?
People are welcome to drop a hello at Sashatalks.com by clicking the contact page.
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 entertaining my insights.