Your employees know what’s best for them. Inviting them to participate in problem solving and creating initiatives and programs that support their wellbeing helps them have a greater buy in. Greater buy in means, the wellness programs your organization develops will be more successful, useful, and productive.

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 Shirani M. Pathak.

Shirani M. Pathak (she/her) is the founder of the Fierce Authenticity™ Movement, where humans all over the world are learning how to rewrite their stories and create legacies of Love. She partners with organizations who value employee wellness, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to support their leaders in creating cultures of belonging through her proprietary method Fierce Authenticity™: The Workplace Edition. Reach out to Shirani if you’re ready to create a company culture where your employees are excited to get up and go to work every day.

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.

Karen, I clearly recall the day my relationship with work changed. It was September 23, 2020 and I was on the final day of launching a coaching program to support female leaders in liberating themselves from the social and emotional conditions which limit them and keep them stuck, and not a single person had signed up. I sat there on my bed, distraught, looked up and I cried out, “Why, God, why? Why did this happen to me, again?” You see, this wasn’t the first time I launched an offer and had zero sign ups.

Clear as day I heard, “Because you have been doing it the colonizer’s way.

In that very moment I saw the image of a long line of my ancestors flash before me, indentured servants and their descendants, people who had been conquered, colonized, and oppressed, led to believe that they aren’t good enough, aren’t worthy enough, and had to hustle to prove themselves.

There I was, hustling, thinking I’m not worthy, struggling with imposter syndrome, and working myself to the bone. I was anxious, stressed out, burnt out, and had poured tens of thousands of dollars into this launch — replicating all the same systems of oppression that my program promised to liberate participants from.

That was a huge turning point for me in reorienting the way I work in my own business and how I support others as well.

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 about how H.U.M.A.N we feel. H.U.M.A.N. is an acronym I developed for Heard, Understood, know we Matter, And are Nourished — mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, spiritually, sexually, and energetically. Assessing each area is a matter of asking yourself: Do I feel heard? Do I feel understood? Do I feel I matter? How nourished do I feel in this area?

Part of feeling H.U.M.A.N is also about feeling resourced and whole. In this context resourced means capacity. Questions to assess this include: How resourced do I feel? How much capacity do I feel I have in this area? Do I feel I have access to additional resources in these areas when needed? Do I feel I have time to take care of and nourish the areas that don’t feel nourished right now? How whole do I feel? Am I feeling well balanced and integrated in these areas, or do parts of me feel depleted in any of these areas?

Wellness isn’t an entirely qualitative measure (although looking at physical health through the lens of lab results, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid hormones, etc is helpful). We also need to ask ourselves the qualitative question: What is the quality of my capacity in each of these areas?

When we feel nourished, resourced, and whole, our wellness flows. When we feel depleted or that our needs aren’t being met, our sense of wellness tanks.

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?

Hands down, a well workforce will exponentially increase an organization’s productivity and profitability. You’ll see it not only in your company’s bottom line, you’ll also see it in the quality of interpersonal relationships amongst your workforce: How well are teams getting along? How well does management respect employees? How often is HR dealing with HR headaches because of preventable interpersonal challenges and conflicts? Is there a sense of psychological safety and does everyone feel a sense of belonging?

The secret underlying any wellness strategy is to understand that our deepest desire is to know that we belong. We want to know that we are H.U.M.A.N. — Heard, Understood, know we Matter, And Nourished. Unfortunately, belonging is the one area that most companies are falling short on in both their wellness and DEI initiatives.

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?

The answer to this is really simple, Karen:

If you want to increase your organization’s bottom line, reduce the number of workplace absences, and stop dealing with HR headaches, high employee turnover, and a constant revolving door, then you need to invest in both your mental health and wellness initiatives and your DEIB initiatives around belonging.

Otherwise you’ll keep bleeding money through missed work, employee absences, higher healthcare costs, hiring and training new employees to replace the ones who leave, and possibly even litigation and claims brought against your organization. Nobody wants that.

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 are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

I work with a remote team that supports me with my podcast and other behind the scenes tasks in my business. As a former mental health therapist, I’ve always prioritized the mental health and wellbeing of my people, and they know it from the start. It’s very clearly communicated. My team members are whole humans, with families and robust lives, as am I. I keep that at the center of all my decisions as a business leader. That means understanding that not everything is a fire that must be put out immediately. There are no major crises in my business — not after September 2020 anyhow.

One of the major drivers of mental unwellness in our fast-paced culture is the sense of urgency all around us. As leaders it’s important to know that not everything is an emergency, not everything is a crisis. Deadlines can be adjusted. And here’s the best part: When valuing your people as exactly that — living breathing humans with their own robust lives — you’ll enjoy a greater sense of productivity, team unity and cohesion.

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.

When developing new programs and initiatives, it’s always best to invite your employees into the conversation. They are the experts in their own lives. They are the experts in the day-to-day working conditions in the business. They know what their needs are, and they know what would feel supportive to them. This is a community model of care and does wonders in promoting a sense of belonging and wellbeing.

That said, here are some ideas organizations can use as a starting off point:

  • Mental Wellness: Train your leaders in how to create psychological safety with their teams. This makes your leaders more approachable when things aren’t going well and creates trust between employees and management teams.
  • Emotional Wellness: Help your leaders develop their emotional intelligence skills so that they can respond to their employees and teams in a softer, gentler way. Contrary to what people may believe, the softer, gentler way always yields better outcomes.
  • Social Wellness: Promote a culture of inclusion and belonging rather than a toxic environment of exclusion, competition, and othering. I cannot tell you how many times, especially in the tech sector, I’ve heard how toxic and cutthroat the environment is and how it negatively impacts the mental, emotional, and social wellbeing of employees.
  • Physical Wellness: Provide people who menstruate paid time off during the menstrual phase of their cycle, without docking them for it or taking it out of their PTO bank. Research shows that the hormone levels of a menstruating person during that time doesn’t make for great productivity anyway. Rest will yield better outcomes when they return to work. Chani Nicholas is a great example of doing this for their employees.
  • Financial Wellness: Pay your employees a fair, equitable, and livable wage. Also be very mindful of who you are promoting — are there any unconscious or implicit biases coming into play?

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?

Absolutely! Employers must remember that their employees are the lifeblood of their organizations. Treat them with dignity and respect, invite them into the conversation, and support them, and they will give you their best. Besides, HR nightmares and employee turnover is expensive!

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

When I work with leaders we focus on the skills involved in treating their people as H.U.M.A.N. — helping them develop the skills to create a company culture where everyone feels like they’re Heard, Understood, know they Matter, And are Nourished. This includes helping them develop and grow the skills for psychological safety and belonging, and the soft skills for active listening, setting clear expectations and boundaries, emotional intelligence and the ability to navigate their own stress especially when triggered by a potentially highly charged situation.

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 most important thing is to understand is that your people are human. They are not machines, and they are not property you own that should be available to respond to your emails and phone calls at all hours of the day or night. Which also means you need to understand that not everything is a crisis or an emergency that needed to be resolved yesterday. Yes, there are deadlines, and if you’re not building in room for flexibility in those deadlines, that’s the real problem to address.

The one small step to take is to remind yourself of the above over and over and over again, a million and one times, and then repeat it again.

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

  1. Trauma-aware workplaces.

Everyone has trauma, some personal and some systemic related to race, gender, sexual orientation, age, abilities. Understanding that everyone has trauma and how to not replicate these traumas in your organization, will go a long way in promoting workplace wellness.

This one can be abstract, so I’ll give an example: Deadlines. Deadlines trigger the nervous system into a fight, flight, or freeze trauma response in the body. When deadlines are constantly tight with no flexibility or when there’s never ending deadlines, the nervous system will stay activated in this threat response mode and employee wellness will go down — as will productivity and profitability. Same with judgment and criticism. The nervous system interprets both of those as potential trauma and threats — to the same degree as physical threat. Which leads me to my next point…

2. Psychological safety.

Project Aristotle by Google found that psychological safety is the most important factor in how well teams work together. That was in 2012 and unfortunately a decade later, most organizations are still struggling in this area. The good news is more and more organizations are actively trying to develop their leaders to support greater psychological safety in the workplace.

An example of psychological safety is creating an environment in which people can speak up and take accountability if they’ve made a mistake without fear of punitive action.

Let’s say Sally made a gender-based remark that would be seen as a microaggression. Sally needs to feel safe enough to say, “Hey, I made a mistake. What I said wasn’t okay. How can I make it right? And, here are the steps I’m taking so that this doesn’t happen again…”

Without the ability to take ownership and accountability in that way, hostility, anger, and resentment grow, team unity deteriorates, and employee wellness also takes a downturn.

3. Cultures of belonging.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of creating a culture of belonging in order to support the wellbeing of your people and your organization.

A culture of belonging is one in which each person feels H.U.M.A.N. — Heard, Understood, know they Matter, And are Nourished.

Helping someone feel heard is as simple as taking the 30-seconds it takes to fully be present and listen to what someone is saying, rather than brushing them off. As leaders this is essential.

4. Emotional intelligence.

Another buzz word that’s been around a while, and one that’s getting more attention. A good way to think about emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your reactivity when someone else is reactive. If we all learned how to do this, we’d have significantly fewer problems with each other and amongst our teams.

For example, if Hakeem walks into Lupe’s office and he’s feeling pressured under a deadline, he might get short with Lupe. If Lupe is up on her emotional intelligence skills, she’ll be able to take a breath, hold space for Hakeem to be heard in the 30 seconds it takes, validate the pressure he feels under this deadline, and not take it personally. Hakeem’s stress is reduced a little and both he and Lupe can move on with their day. If Lupe isn’t up on her emotional intelligence skills, she could get reactive and then you have a potential rift in team dynamics and an HR mess.

5. Employee Involvement.

Your employees know what’s best for them. Inviting them to participate in problem solving and creating initiatives and programs that support their wellbeing helps them have a greater buy in. Greater buy in means, the wellness programs your organization develops will be more successful, useful, and productive.

For example, if you’re working on a wellness initiative, invite your employees into the conversation. Ask them where they’re most struggling, what they most need, and what would be most supportive to them. Their answers might surprise you (and may not be as costly as you might think).

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

I’m optimistic that more organizations are starting to see and recognize workplace wellness as a need and a priority. There’s even organizations that are prioritizing psychological safety and belonging as DEIB topics to help address workplace wellness. Organizations are starting to understand that it’s not about offering a lunch-time yoga and meditation class or celebrating heritage months, it’s about helping their people feel like they matter and they belong.

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?

I share my most insightful information with my private email community. It’s free to join. Just head over to to sign up.

You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. While you’re over there, let me know what you thought of this interview!

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